Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ask Auntie EM - The other "G" word...gold

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.

I know we were absent last week, sorry about that. Both our lives got in the way of blogging. We are back this week, however, to answer another question and this week it's about working with gold.

I've been comfortably working in silver for a few years now, and want to start incorporating some gold into my work. Do you suggest starting with 14k (cheaper) or 18k (heard it's easier to work with)? Can either of these be fused? What should I know about soldering - do I really need Easy, Medium, Hard or can I get by with just one to start? Is it true or just a nasty internet rumor that you can use lower karat gold to 'solder' a higher karat (or is that vice versa)? What if I want to solder gold to silver - the different flowing temps of silver vs gold vs solder (gold or silver solder?) make my head swim. Any tips or general rules you could provide would be very, very helpful for someone who's terrified of turning gold into a puddle.

I think the answer to most of these questions depends on what you will be making. And, here, I'm going to be assuming you're talking about yellow gold. White gold is a whole different can of worms that we can tackle another day.

In general, I do think 18k is much easier to work with for a few reasons. It is less springy so bezels fold down much nicer than bezels in 14k. You will find it more difficult to bezel set a stone in 18k than in silver but it's a world nicer than setting that same stone in a 14k bezel.

I think you get much more bang for your buck with 18k. The color is much richer (especially Hoover and Strong's royal 18k yellow gold) than 14k and shows up much better against sterling silver. I think 14k can look washed out next to silver and the 18k really pops.

I don't believe 18k can be fused, I think the lowest karat that can be fused is 22k but I could be wrong about that. As for solder, I think that's up to you. Solder adds greatly to the expense of working with gold, that's for sure, but if you're well equipped you will have an easier time making what you WANT with gold and not making what you CAN with gold. That said, if you're going to just be adding accents to your sterling you may not need gold solder at all. I use sterling hard solder to attach gold accent pieces to my sterling pieces. You need to make sure you're using teeny pieces and heating correctly though because if the silver solder jumps where you don't want it....it'll ruin your gold. I usually use the color of solder that's easiest to clean up if it jumps where I don't want it on a two tone piece. Using gold solder is a snap. Gold solder doesn't "jump" like silver solder, it just melts right into your seam. It's terrific, you'll love it. You heat it the same, use the same flux and pickle. I would highly recommend using Firescoff flux on 14k gold. In my home studio I had a huge problem with my 14k turning pink whenever I heated it. I tried every different type of flux out there and nothing helped. The Firescoff completely eliminates the problem, it's a life saver. Higher karat gold doesn't have this problem but if you decide to work with 14k, do yourself a huge favor and get some Firescoff. Oh yeah, you asked about flow temperatures. It really depends on what you're making but just use them in order from highest temp to lowest temp and you'll be fine. I honestly never thought about it before and I would encourage you not to dwell too much on "what flows when" unless you're making something hugely complicated. Just start with hard and then move to medium and if you need to, use your easy. Remember, each time you heat your solder the flow temperature raises a little bit, up to a point, so you can use hard several times and then medium a few times...and so on.

As for the "soldering higher temp gold with lower temp gold"....that's just nuts. Don't do that, ok?

I hope that helps. Gold is terrifying to work with, I know. It's incredibly expensive and it feels so important to get everything right every time. Give yourself a break and play with a little at a time to get the feel for it. Make a skinny, little ring or a teeny pendant or add some accents onto a sterling piece. If you mess it up, you learned something and won't make that mistake again. Have some fun with it!

That's all for this week! Check back in next week and we will answer another one of your questions!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One major difference with working with gold, and the one thing that takes some serious getting used to, is that gold conducts heat very differently from silver. Silver conducts heat incredibly well, so when you solder, you tend to need to heat the whole piece up in order to reach your solder flow temperature.

For gold, it does not conduct heat well. So you can solder say, the seam of a ring without heating the whole ring. This means it's really, really easy to melt your gold, especially when you're used to silver. Soldering jumprings are particularly more likely to melt with gold than silver, as that point where you're trying to get your solder to flow can get very hot, very quickly.

But, so what, you melt some gold when you're learning to work with it. Remember, gold is expensive, but it retains its value, too! Even if you totally ruin a $500 sheet of gold, you'll get most of that back when you recycle the metal. You're playing with the metal, and the most you'll lose is the milling costs. When you think about it that way, it's not so scary!

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