Tuesday, September 7, 2010


So, I've been crazy with my torch these days. My super-cool micro-torch. First, I began working with heating copper to add color to the metal. You can create a forest of fall colors simply by applying heat to copper. I've also discovered what happens when you heat sterling silver. It's called "reticulation" and you get amazing texture in the metal. Gorgeous. Both of these techniques are perfect for me because I am the most impatient person on Earth, and you can get amazing results very quickly. Believe me, if I can do this YOU CAN DO THIS!

I'm going to describe the two processes here so you guys can all run out to Home Depot and buy yourself a micro-torch (they start around $20.00) and create something amazing. This is perfect for those of you (ahem, that includes me...) that have ever been terrified to work with fire and metal. I have never been what you could call "handy" and always figured I'd burn my house down if I ever tried to work with a torch. But, I have conquered my fear and now have not one, not two, but THREE different micro-torches at my bench. Propane is now my friend.

So, take notes - here's the deal: I get all my metal discs, which is what I mostly use for rings, from Etsy . My favorite seller of metal discs and supplies is Hodgepodgerie. I use a variety of disc sizes, great for layering, etc. To really see the colors and textures in copper and silver you don't want to go much smaller than half inch. You'll also need a fire-block upon which to heat the metal and a steel bench block to hammer/shape/texture your metal. All these items are INEXPENSIVE and available on Etsy! Be sure to have safety glasses, a tall cup of water and pliers on hand to handle the hot metal.

Creating Color on Copper with Heat
First, shape your copper disc. If you want a cup, use a dapping block to curve the metal. You may want to simply hammer all over the surface--that's one of my favorite textures. You need to do your hammering, cutting, shaping prior to heating. Drill any hole you need for a pendant, ring layer, etc. NOTE: You cannot solder this after heating--you'll totally ruin your colors!

Next, clean your copper. I use a medium grit sanding sponge and really give both sides of the metal a good sanding. Then I rinse the copper in water and dry. Try not to handle the metal too much, you have oil in your skin sticks to the metal and will affect how the colors come up.

Place the copper on your ceramic fire block. Turn on your torch and hit the copper with a nice even flame, circulating around the metal to heat evenly. You will see the color change almost immediately. Play with this, move your torch closer to and farther away from your disc to see what colors appear. You'll get orange, red, blue and deep purple. The really great thing is that if you hate what you see, simply place your flame a bit closer and the colors will disappear! Once you have a color pattern you like, pick the metal up with PLIERS (it's screaming hot) and quench by dropping the metal in your cup of water. Remove from the cup and gently dry. If you don't like the result, you can always sand the surface clean again and start over. IT'S SO SIMPLE!!!

You need to seal the metal when you are completely done to keep the colors true. You can use a variety of sealants, I prefer a matte or gloss metal spray from Sculpt Nouveau. These sprays are specifically designed to seal metals like copper. You can also use automotive clear coat, available at any auto supply store (like Auto Depot). These are also specifically designed to seal metal. Two coats should do, make sure to let completely dry between coats.

THAT'S IT!! Here's a ring I made using heat-treated copper. Note: This doesn't work on brass. Brass just turns a yucky pink or black in flame.

Now, on to silver...

Reticulating Silver with Heat

This process is similar, but very different from working with copper. You can't shape your silver prior to reticulating. Heating the silver like this sometimes shrinks the metal, so you should actually start with a disc slightly larger than what you plan to end up with. It's very hard to reticulate small pieces of silver, they simply shrink away under heat, so start big. Remember, you can always cut and shape the piece when you are done.

First, clean your silver. Again, I use a medium sanding sponge, give both sides a good sanding, then rinse and dry. Place the disc on your ceramic fire-block and turn on your torch. Heat the metal evenly with the flame, moving the flame around the surface. What you are actually doing is heating the surface of the silver almost to its melting point. The silver usually turns dark first, keep moving the flame around, DON'T STOP. Don't leave your flame stationary either--if you point it too long in one spot you can burn a hole in the silver! The surface will begin to get really shiny and glow a bit red--you're getting close! When the silver is shiny everywhere it will actually go liquid on the surface--you will see the surface begin to "boil" in teeny-tiny bubbles. That's when the reticulation is beginning! Keep that flame moving and all sorts of things may happen. Bubbles may form that lift the metal in places, ridges and valleys may form. Bumps and lumps will appear everywhere depending on how you move your flame, etc. At this point stop, turn off your torch and quench the silver by picking it up WITH PLIERS and dropping it in your cup of water. When you take it out it will be an ugly, flat grey/black. That is the impurities in the silver coming to the surface. You have two choices here. You can "pickle" the metal chemically using a crock-pot (again, search this on Etsy--all questions will be answered) or you can do like I do (ever the impatient girl) and go at the silver with your sanding sponge. The black will come right off. Sand, rinse, sand, rinse, etc. till you can really see what you have. If you want more texture simply set the silver back on your fire-block, turn on your torch and get busy. Each time you quench, sand, and rinse, the silver it will heat easier and reticulate even quicker. You can do this several times till you get the effect you want. When I am totally done, I sand, clean and buff the silver with a dremel tool. Tarnex, yes, good old fashioned Tarnex, works really well as a final, super fast cleaning agent. Now you can shape the metal VERY CAREFULLY if you wish. Reticulating silver makes it brittle, so if you want to curve it be careful, hammer very lightly. You may find that the edges are especially brittle, bits may even break off, but that's part of the beauty of the effect--simply file your edges smooth.

Here is an example of a ring I just made with reticulated silver fused with sterling silver shot, set with an amethyst. YUMMY!!!!

Now it's your turn! Get online, get some tools, then start creating. I'd love to see what you make. Send me some photos and I'll post them here. If you have any questions about the processes described here, please contact me! Have fun playing with FIRE!

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