Balling up wire
Conventional sterling silver wire forms asymmetric, rough ends when balled up due to firescale (cupric oxide). The lack of firescale formation for Argentium leads to beautiful, perfectly smooth balls of silver. To draw a ball on a wire, hold the wire vertically with a pair of tweezers. Direct a hot oxidizing flame at the lower end of the wire until it melts and draws upward into a ball [PHOTO C]. A bit of practice will help you learn how much wire is needed to form a ball of a predictable size.
When working with conventional sterling silver, forming a second ball on the opposite end of the wire is difficult. The high thermal conductivity of sterling silver makes it difficult to heat a small area because the adjacent metal acts as a heat sink. The poor thermal conductivity of Argentium allows for spot heating. After the first ball cools, insert the balled wire through the pieces to be connected. Trim the excess wire with a cutter, leaving just enough to form the ball without binding. Use a tight oxidizing flame oriented cross-wise to minimize collateral heating, and focus the flame on just the tip of the wire connection, which will easily draw up into a second ball.
Work-hardening is a common technique to improve the strength of metal jewelry. However, not every piece of jewelry is amenable to work-hardening. Some metals can also be heat-hardened, but in the case of conventional sterling silver this requires an inert atmosphere to prevent the formation of firescale. Easy heat-hardening of Argentium is possible because of its lack of firescale formation. Pieces that might be otherwise left in an annealed state, such as castings or delicate forgings, can be hardened by a factor of approximately two. The process is simple: Just place the piece in a household oven or kiln for two hours at 570°F (299°C).
Argentium is much easier to fuse than fine silver. Because it is a pure metal, fine silver fuses at its well-defined melting point, and thus requires quick reflexes to pull away the heat and to avoid an un-sightly bump at the seam. Because Argentium is an alloy, it has a broad temperature range over which fusing occurs, so the process is more relaxed and controlled. With smaller projects, like the Argentium Floral Pendant
, a butane torch can take the place of a gas-oxygen torch. With practice, you can flick the torch flame on and off the metal to maintain the fusing temperature as you check the piece carefully for complete joins. Of course, too much heat can melt Argentium, just like any other metal.