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Handsawn overlay bracelet

Use a premade inlay cuff blank as the foundation for a handsawn overlay

Jewelry makers are masters of repurposing. What rule says that a tool can be used for only one purpose, or that you can’t find another use for that discarded bit of wire or metal? Or, in the case of this elegant bracelet, that a cast cuff designed for stone inlay must be inlaid? For this elegant, unisex bracelet, I left the inlay channel empty, instead covering it with a pierced panel to create an intriguing shadow box effect.

The concept is simple; the finished bracelet is composed of just two elements soldered together. However, “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.” The challenge is in taking the necessary care to ensure that you properly prepare the two elements to join seamlessly.

SUPPLIES

  • Sterling silver cast cuff with inlay channel
  • Sterling silver sheet: 22-gauge (0.6 mm), 90 x 13 mm (31⁄2 x 1⁄2 in.)
  • Polishing lathe, medium-grit silicone polishing wheels (optional)
  • Steel bracelet mandrel
  • Bench shear (optional)
  • Glue stick
  • Nylon-lined pliers (optional)
  • Ammonia
  • Pro Polish pads (optional)

Cuff from Indian Jeweler's Supply Co., www.ijsinc.com. 

INSTRUCTIONS

Handsawn overlay bracelet 1
Photo 1
Handsawn overlay bracelet 2
Photo 2
Handsawn overlay bracelet 3
Photo 3

Prepare the cast cuff. First, you’ll need to clean up and customize a cast cuff. The cuff, as supplied [PHOTO 1], will have rough areas and surface flaws that need smoothing and polishing. You can do this by hand using sandpaper in successively finer grits, or you can use medium-grit sanding wheels in a flex shaft. 

I used a polishing lathe fitted with a 4-in. (10.2 cm) silicone polishing wheel [PHOTO 2]. In a medium grit, these wheels and their flex-shaft-size counterparts remove material fairly aggressively but leave a smooth, almost polished surface. 

Use smaller wheels to smooth and polish the inlay channel. Make sure the channel is well polished; after you solder the pierced strip on top of it, you’ll no longer be able to access it.

Using a file that is wider than the cuff, file lengthwise along the top of the channel until the top of the cuff is very smoothly curved and there is a right angle between the vertical sides of the cuff and the top of the channel [PHOTO 3]. 

NOTE: It is important to have a clean, crisp right angle where the sides and the top of the cuff meet in order for you to achieve a solid, invisible solder seam between the cuff and the pierced strip.

Texture the “arms” of the cuff. Once the cuff is smooth and polished, shape it and adjust the fit as necessary by hammering it on a bracelet mandrel, using a rawhide or plastic mallet. 
Tip!
Why use paper?

Drawing your design on paper and pasting the paper to your metal is a good idea for a few reasons. You can work out the details in pencil, then redraw the final result in ink. You can then make a photocopy to paste on your metal, preserving your original drawing for later use. Or, you can scan the design into your computer to alter details or change its size. And, while piercing, I find that the paper keeps my drill bit from slipping off the correct spot, which eliminates my need to use a center punch.
Handsawn overlay bracelet 4
Photo 4
Handsawn overlay bracelet 5
Photo 5

 

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Photo 6
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Photo 8
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Photo 9
Handsawn overlay bracelet 10
Photo 10
Handsawn overlay bracelet 11
Photo 11

Then, using a hammer with a domed, polished face, hammer the tops of the two “arms” with firm, overlapping strokes to create a handsome texture [PHOTO 4]. Stop hammering just short of the channel, leaving a narrow untextured area that you’ll solder the pierced strip to. Be care-ful to keep the cuff well supported on the mandrel as you hammer, especially when you work close to the channel, or you could distort the cuff.

Pierce a metal strip. Using a bench shear or a jeweler’s saw, cut a strip of 22-gauge (0.6 mm) sterling silver sheet that is 2–3 mm (approximately 1⁄8 in.) larger on all sides than the inlay channel. The channel in my cuff is 83 x 11 mm (3 1⁄4 x 7⁄16 in.), so my strip is 90 x 13 mm (3 1⁄2 x 1⁄2 in.). 

Draw your design on a piece of paper, keeping the dimensions of the pierced area slightly smaller than the inlay channel. My design is 80 x 8 mm (3 1⁄8 x 5⁄16 in.) [PHOTO 5]. Make sure to design your piercing so that after you’ve removed areas of metal, there’s enough metal left to keep the panel sturdy.

Cut out your drawing, and use a glue stick to attach it to the strip of silver. Using a drill bit in your flex shaft, drill a small hole in each section that is to be pierced [PHOTO 6]. Thread your saw blade through one hole at a time, fasten it in the frame, and carefully saw out each opening [PHOTO 7]. 

TIP: When piercing an intricate design, a small saw blade, such as a 4/0 or 5/0, makes sawing easier. 

Peel off the remaining paper template from the silver strip. Use 4-in. (10.2 cm) needle files to clean up the interior edges of your pierced design.

Fit the strip to the cuff. This is the most delicate part of this project. The pierced strip must fit very precisely onto the curve of the cuff in order for you to be able to solder without gaps, and there is no shortcut or trick to it. Using your fingers or nylon-lined pliers, carefully curve the strip to match the bracelet [PHOTO 8]. Inspect the fit closely to note where the two components do not match, and adjust the strip in tiny increments, checking both sides.

NOTE: Bend the pierced strip carefully to keep it even. Areas where more metal has been removed will bend more quickly and to a sharper angle than will areas with less metal removed.

Prepare the solder seam. Paste solder is a big help in this situation. Apply dabs of easy silver paste solder all around the back edge of the strip [PHOTO 9]. Be generous; this seam requires a lot of solder, and if some leaks out, you can file it off later. 
 
If you don’t have paste solder, you can sweat sheet or wire solder onto the top of the channel before you put the strip in place, but the solder will be lumpy and the components harder to fit together.
 
Heat the cuff gently, and apply spray flux to the whole cuff, including the channel. Allow the cuff to cool so that there’s a dried coat of flux over it.

Solder the strip. Fit the strip into place, double-check that it is properly centered, and bind it in place with iron binding wire [PHOTO 10].
 
Heat the inside curve and sides of the cuff with a large bushy flame. Do not aim the heat directly on the strip, or you could melt it! If there are gaps after soldering, add more solder from the sides, re-flux inside the channel and outside the seam, and reheat. 
 
Once the solder flows and there aren’t any gaps, quench, pickle, and rinse the cuff.

Finish the cuff. Use large, flat hand files to file the long sides of the strip flush with the cuff and to remove any solder mess. Smooth the cuff again, using sandpaper or abrasive silicone wheels. Use a minimal amount of abrasion to bring the shine back to the hammered parts so that you maintain the crispness of the texture. I use Pro Polish pads and my hands for this purpose, although any polishing paper would do. 

Add an iridescent patina. Make a dilute solution of liver of sulfur, adding a small chip about the size of a grain of rice to a cup of very hot water. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a splash of ammonia (the exact proportions aren’t important). Dip the cuff briefly, take it out, and watch the colors develop in the channel [PHOTO 11]. 
 
If the solution is too strong, the metal will go to black rather than iridescent colors. There is no way to remove the color from this inaccessible area other than by heating and pickling the cuff, so err on the side of caution and work slowly to build up the color. Continue dipping and checking the color until you are pleased with the result, then rinse the bracelet in water.

Polish the cuff. Polish the front, sides, and back of the cuff to your desired finish, using a polishing cloth. Rub the hammered parts very lightly with fine steel wool, a polishing pad, or other gentle abrasive to remove the color from the high points.

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