Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ask Auntie EM - Pinning

Well, it's Tuesday and we are back again answering your questions in EtsyMetal's weekly blog post called "Ask Auntie EM". If you're new here, this is a weekly blog post written by Sue and Ann where we tackle your metalsmithing and non metalsmithing questions. Having trouble with your solder? Need some help with stone setting? Have a problem 2 year old? We and EtsyMetal's 100+ members probably have the answer. If you'd like YOUR question answered in the future, please email your questions to askauntie@etsymetal.com and we will get to it as soon as we can. If you'd like to read past posts, they can be found here.

This week's question is one we get a lot. It's about "pinning" and it comes from a beginning metalsmith:

I've wondered this forever, how do you attach small drilled beads to a silver sheet, I have seen many with 2 little balls on each end and I have tried to solder them, trying to protect the little bead but they always break, how can I do this?

Pinning is a great technique. It can be used in many ways and I'd consider it a cold connection because it doesn't require solder. You do need the right kind of torch though, but we will talk about that in a minute. These earrings use pinning to connect the three sections together.
Pinning works because, when heated, sterling silver, argentium silver and fine silver as well as karat golds will form a ball when melted. Creating a ball on the end of a piece of wire works well up to about 18g, after that the wire is just too thick and the molten ball will be too heavy to create a nice shape.

The first step in pinning is to drill a hole through the object you want to pin. The hole needs to be slightly bigger than the wire you are going to ball up. You want the wire to go through the hole easily but you don't want it sloppy in there. If the hole is too big, the ball on the end of the wire will pull through.

The next step is to ball one end of the wire before you assemble your piece. To do this, you will need a really tiny and really hot flame, most likely you will need compressed oxygen to pin. I use a smith little torch when I pin anything. It makes a super hot, super small flame. To ball the wire, aim the flame where you want the ball to be, not at the end of the wire. As the wire melts, it will draw itself up into a ball at the level of your flame.

So, now you have a piece of wire with a ball at one end. You need to remember at this point that, sometimes, once all the pieces you are pinning are assembled and the pin in completed the piece cannot be pickled. If you pin organic items, pearls, or some gemstones they will not be able to go in the pickle so everything needs to be completely finished before you pin. Now that you have made a ball on one end of the wire, assemble all your pieces and clip your wire, leaving a tail hanging out. This is the tricky part and sometimes trial and error is the only way to succeed. Once you have completed several pins you will get a feel for how long your extension needs to be. Once your piece is assembled you will make another ball at the end, aiming your small, hot flame as close to the base of your piece as you can. When the ball gets as close as you want it, pull your flame away quickly and you're done!

Pinning is easy once you get the hang of it. It takes lots of practice and I'd suggest doing a lot of pins before trying to pin something delicate, like a pearl or a gemstone bead. The only real requirement is a very tiny and very hot flame and a lot of patience.

Thanks for checking in this week! Remember, email your questions to askauntie@etsymetal.com and we will get to an answer as soon as we can!

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