From plumbing to precious

Transform a common plumbing supply into a delicate double-sided pendant

Like so many of us, I am always looking for new materials and innovative ways to use them. I often feel like a prospector, mining the aisles of the hardware store for gems. And then, one day, Eureka! — a bag of plumber’s copper crimp rings, like diamonds in the rough. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with them, but I liked their weight, their shape, and their $8.00 price tag. They were also (bonus!) ready to use.

SUPPLIES

  • Plumber’s 1⁄2-in. (13 mm) copper crimp ring
  • 22-gauge (0.6 mm) sterling silver sheet, at least 1 x 1 in. (25.5 x 25.5 mm)
  • 20-gauge (0.8 mm) gold-filled wire, dead-soft, 3⁄4 in. (19 mm)
  • 26-gauge (0.4 mm) scrap wire, 3 in. (76 mm)
  • Sterling silver gallery wire, 2 1⁄2 in. (64 mm)
  • Sterling silver patterned strip, 1 in. (25.5 mm)
  • Soldering/annealing toolbox
  • Wirework toolbox
  • Finishing toolbox
  • Dapping block and punches
  • Brass-head mallet
  • Disk cutter (optional: can use jeweler’s saw or shears)
  • Ball-peen or texturing hammer
  • Gold paste solder: Hard
  • Silver paste solder: Hard, medium, easy, extra easy
  • Bezel pusher
  • Half-round pliers
  • Barrier flux (optional)
  • Heavy steel straight pins
  • Small flat-head stamp or punch

INSTRUCTIONS

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Dome the copper crimp ring. Set a 1⁄2-in. (13 mm) plumber’s copper crimp ring onto a charcoal block or soldering pad, and anneal it using a bushy neutral flame. Quench, pickle, rinse, and dry the ring.

Set the crimp ring on top of the 19 mm depression of a dapping block [PHOTO 1]. 

NOTE: Given the thickness of the crimp ring’s wall, the depression that you use should be only slightly larger than the ring’s outer diameter.  

TIP: I use a fine-tip permanent marker to label the depressions in my dapping block so I can quickly identify the correct size depression when needed. 

Use a brass-head mallet to hammer directly on the ring until it is completely down into the depression. Remove the ring, and place it in the 20 mm depression of the dapping block.

Use an 18.25 mm dapping punch (slightly larger than the crimp ring’s inside diameter) to dap the ring [PHOTO 2] until it conforms to the depression. Re-anneal the ring as needed.

Cut and dome the silver disk. Use a disk cutter to cut a 20 mm disk from 22-gauge (0.6 mm) sterling silver sheet. 

NOTE: If you don’t have a disk cutter, use a jeweler’s saw or metal shears to cut the disk. You can also purchase precut disks from many jewelry suppliers.

Place the disk on a steel bench block or anvil, and use a ball-peen hammer to texture one side of the disk [PHOTO 3]. 

TIP: When texturing a piece of metal that is hard to hold, use clear packing tape to secure it to your bench block so you can see the texture you are creating without sacrificing your fingers.

Place the disk texture-side down into the 19 mm depression of your dapping block, and dome the disk. Remove the domed disk, and fit it into the wider opening of the domed crimp ring. The disk should fit inside the ring with a small edge protruding above the rim of the ring [PHOTO 4].    

Shape the wire embellishment. Cut a 3⁄4-in. (19 mm) piece of 20-gauge (0.8 mm) gold-filled wire. Grip the midpoint of the wire in the tips of roundnose pliers, then bend the ends around the pliers’ jaw to form a V shape [PHOTO 5]. File and sand the wire ends so they are smooth and flush with each other.

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Use the tips of your roundnose pliers to curl the wire ends toward the center, making a half-circle on each wire end. Pull the curled ends toward each other [6]. Use chainnose pliers to grip one side of the heart near the V, and squeeze to straighten the wire [PHOTO 7]. Repeat on the opposite side.

Place the heart in the 19 mm depression in your dapping block and lightly dome it [PHOTO 8]. Test the fit of the heart in the domed disk; it should nestle into the bowl of the disk with no gaps underneath.

NOTE: Straightening and doming the wire may open the heart a bit, so push the curled ends back together as necessary.

Solder the domed pieces. Clean the copper crimp ring, the silver dome, and the wire heart with soapy water, then rinse. Apply hard gold paste solder to the inside edge of the wire heart [PHOTO 9], and place the heart in the center of the silver dome. Place the silver dome and heart on your soldering surface and heat the dome evenly until the solder flows. Quench, pickle, rinse, and dry the dome

Apply medium silver paste solder to the inner edge of the copper ring [PHOTO 10] and press the silver dome in place. Use a clean cloth to wipe off any excess paste on the top of the ring. Place the assembly face-down on the soldering surface and heat it until the solder flows. Quench, pickle, rinse, and dry the assembly. 

Make the gallery wire bezel. Wrap a piece of 26-gauge (0.4 mm) scrap wire around the outside of the copper crimp ring at the ring’s widest point, and twist the wire to hold it in place [PHOTO 11]. Remove the wire from the crimp ring. Use flush cutters to snip the wire circle, and lay the wire out flat. Lay a 2 1⁄2-in. (64 mm) piece of sterling silver gallery wire along the length of the scrap wire, and use flush cutters to trim the gallery wire to the length of the scrap wire [PHOTO 12]. Use needle files to refine the gallery wire edges.

Form the gallery wire into a circle around the widest part of the copper crimp ring. If the ends of the gallery wire overlap, file the ends until they fit flush with no gaps when set around the crimp ring. Remove the gallery wire and place it on your soldering pad. Use hard silver paste solder to solder the join. Quench, pickle, rinse, and dry the gallery wire.

NOTE: If you are using Argentium sterling silver gallery wire, use medium silver solder instead of hard.

Fit the gallery wire bezel over the copper crimp ring. Use a bezel pusher or similar tool to press the edges of the wire flat against the crimp ring [PHOTO 13]. Remove the gallery wire from the crimp ring and re-clean the ring and the gallery wire.

Solder the assembly. Apply easy paste solder to the inside of the gallery wire [PHOTO 14]. Slip the gallery wire back onto the crimp ring. Remove any excess solder from the front of the piece and along the edge of the gallery wire, but make sure there is still plenty of solder around the seam to ensure a good join [PHOTO 15].

Place the assembly on the soldering pad and heat it until the solder flows. Let the piece cool, then quench, pickle, rinse, and dry the assembly. Check the join; add additional solder and resolder if necessary.

NOTE: Place the assembly on the soldering pad so that the wider side faces down. Check the bezel; if the gallery wire has sagged in a few places, use the bezel pusher or similar tool to press it gently back into place.

File the wider side of the assembly so the silver disk, the copper crimp ring, and the gallery wire bezel are all flush [PHOTO 16]. Start with a #0 flat file, then progress to a #2 flat file. Sand the assembly with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper on a flat surface using a figure-eight motion. Thoroughly clean the assembly with soapy water, then rinse.

Make the bail. Use a fine-tip permanent marker or a scribe to mark on the assembly where the bail will be attached. Cut a 1-in. (25.5 mm) piece of sterling silver patterned strip. Use half-round pliers to form the strip into a U. Use a half-round needle file to file the ends of the strip so that they match the profile of the copper ring where you made the mark. Clean the strip with soapy water.

At this point, you may wish to apply a barrier flux to all pieces before soldering (See “A Note on Flux,” below ). Apply extra-easy silver paste solder to the inside tips of the strip [PHOTO 17]. Set the crimp ring assembly wide-side down on your solder-ing pad, then set the strip in place. Insert heavy steel straight pins into the soldering pad so that one pin is against the rounded top edge of the strip and the other pin is against the opposite side of the pendant [PHOTO 18]. This keeps the pieces held tightly together for soldering. Heat the metal until the solder flows along the seams between the bail and pendant. Quench, pickle, rinse, and dry the pendant. 

Finish the pendant. Use 80-grit radial bristle disks mounted on a screw mandrel in a flex shaft to remove any excess solder from the bail and around the bezel [PHOTO 19]. Sand all areas of the pendant using polishing papers, starting with 400-grit and working through progressively finer grits until you reach 8,000 grit. Polish the silver areas with a small chamois buff charged with polishing compound. 

NOTE: I like to use Picasso Blue; it’s a nice all-purpose polishing compound that creates a beautiful finish.

Use a small flathead stamp or punch and hammer to create lines on the wide perimeter of the pendant [PHOTO 20]. Use a patina, such as Black Max, to heighten the contrast between the metals. 

TIP: Apply Black Max or liver of sulfur to your metal with a paint-brush rather than dipping your piece in the solution. This gives you more control over how much solution you use and where you apply it.

Use polishing papers to remove the patina from the high spots, and lightly re-polish the silver with a small chamois buff charged with buffing compound.

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A note on flux
Paste solder is made up of tiny particles of solder that are held together with their own unique flux and binder. Since I’m using a paste solder for all of my connections, I’m not using a “flow” flux, like Handy Flux, because it will interfere with the paste solder. For most paste solder applications, I prefer to use a “barrier” flux, like Pripp’s Flux, because that doesn’t interfere with the paste solder’s flow, but will still protect metals like sterling and fine silver from firescale. 

The barrier flux that I use is a mixture that I make myself that consists of two parts denatured alcohol and one part boric acid. To use it, clean your piece, dip the cleaned piece in the flux solution using a tongs, and then remove the piece. While still holding the piece with your tongs, use a lighter or torch to ignite the solution on the outside of the piece and allow it to burn off. This will create a seal around the piece. Once the flame has died out, place the piece onto your soldering surface, let it cool, apply the paste solder, and heat as normal.

Since I used Argentium sterling silver gallery wire for this pendant, I didn’t need to use a barrier flux until I attached the bail to the pendant, but if you’re using traditional sterling silver gallery wire, you may want to use a barrier flux during earlier steps. I also knew that the gallery wire wasn’t attached everywhere, and it was imperative there be no firescale forming as I tried to get the solder to flow. If you have trouble with the gallery wire at the final soldering step, adding a little bit of flow flux will help.

You can make this entire pendant using wire or sheet solder, but it’s a bit more tricky to get the solder behind the gallery wire, and you may wish to solder the pieces in a different order. Experiment to find what method works best for you.
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