Today’s DIY: How to solder copper links with beads
If you like bead-embellished wire links, but wire wrapping is not your forte, then this is an excellent project for you!
See previous blog post for basic soldering instructions, including links to torches, soldering surfaces, basic tools and setup.
- When cutting or soldering, wear eye protection to protect your eyes from flying bits of wire or solder.
- Make a few coils: as many as you can comfortably fit on your ring-bending pliers, a suitable size of Wubbers bail-making pliers, or the fun new shapes of Wubbers mandrel pliers. For round links, I prefer ring-bending pliers for 20-22mm loops (3/4″ – 7/8″), and the X-Large bail-making pliers for 12mm and 15mm links. (I’m really looking forward to making oval links with the new oval mandrel pliers.)
- Use flush cutters or a jewelers saw to carefully cut the copper wire — either all the same length, or various sizes. Cut carefully so you don’t have to do a bunch of filing or re-cutting. (For clean flush cuts, see tips at end of this blog.)
- Verify that your ends align precisely. Re-bend and re-cut if necessary. Solder does not fill gaps … click the image below to see what it will look like if you don’t line them up nicely:
- To embellish a link with a bead, rip off a small piece of paper towel and dip it in water. Wind the wet paper towel around the bead. 3-4 full wraps is good. Make sure the bead is completely hidden inside this wet paper towel, then push the bead to the far side of your link, as far away from the solder point as possible.
- Begin heating the wire on both sides of the spot to be joined. Have the solder ready in your other hand, and when the wire begins to glow on both sides of the join, move the flame to the join spot, touch the solder to the join, and it should instantly flow. (Practice makes perfect.)
You can line up a few links, and solder them one after another, then use steel tweezers to pick them up so you can quench the heat in a cup of cool water.
- If the paper begins to burn or smoke before your solder flows – Stop! Let everything cool off (use steel tweezers to pick it all up and drop it into a pot of cool water for a few seconds), get a new piece of paper, re-wet it, and try again. Blackening paper is a sign that your bead is about to get too hot. Shattered hot beads are no fun (you are wearing eye protection, right?). If you’re careful, you can use this method to solder links with most materials: glass, ceramic, precious metal, gemstone and even pearl beads!
- When you’re done with a link, or a few links, quench: Using steel tweezers, pick up the hot links and drop them into cool water for a few seconds.
- You might prefer to solder your links off the edge of the soldering block. I stacked my magnesia soldering block on top of my ceramic fire block to provide a bit more distance between my flame and the baking-sheet-covered tabletop, and found that small links heated faster and more evenly. This placement made it easier to solder jump rings when attaching a clasp.
- I would give you some tips on making your own copper toggle clasps … but based on my first two (which are NOT shown here) … I’d better recommend these solid-copper toggle clasps instead.
- When using a toggle clasp, keep in mind that the bar end needs a few small links between it and the rest of your bracelet, to make sure you can get the bar into (and back out of) the loop portion of the toggle. Use pre-made solid coper jump rings, or make your own of any size. Test to make sure you can open and close the toggle BEFORE you solder the links shut!
- When the design is done, I like to hammer each link with a chasing hammer or small ballpein hammer. 3 reasons: I like the look of hammered copper, it helps disguise my occasional extra-blobby solder join, and it work-hardens the wire — you will notice these links are very soft and bendable after being heated.
Caution: Copper solder seems a bit more brittle than silver solder (I assume this is due to the phosphorous). So if you attempt to re-shape a solder join when hammering, you are likely to break the piece right at the join. Don’t worry — just re-solder it! Odds are, you won’t even need to add more solder. Just line it up nicely, wrap any beads with wet paper towel, position the broken join near you on the block, pull all the other parts as far to the back as possible, and re-heat the wire on both sides of the join. Wave the flame back and forth on the wire until the solder flows smoothly where you want it.
- To clean the finished design, drop it in a pickle pot for a few minutes, or tumble it with steel shot and a few drops of ShineBrite for 2-3 hours.
Note: Not all beads can tolerate tumbling or pickling, but most can tolerate both! If in doubt, test a single bead for the full amount of time before soldering a whole strand.
For basic information about copper solder, refer to previous Blog Post: I Love Copper Solder!
Both of these copper bracelets were tumble polished for about 2.5 hours:
Tips for efficiently cutting wire with straight ends:
For an absolutely perfect cut, use a jewelers saw (do a quick search for tutorials on making your own jump rings). At the moment, I don’t have a good space for sawing, so here’s how to get good joins using flush cutters:
- Use a good pair of flush cutters, like these Lindstrom or Xuron flush cutters, and pay attention to the angle — hold the blades perpendicular (90 degrees) to the end of the wire.
- Do a few practice cuts. Notice that the outside of your cutters gives you a nice straight (flush) cut, and the piece of wire that was on the inside of the cutter blades has a “v” shape. If both sides of the cut have a “v” shape (see below), then they aren’t the right type of cutters, and it’s time to invest in a good new set.
- To cut matching links, trim off the “v” portion, then for the 2nd cut, position your cutters at the other end of the coil (or flat piece of wire, if you haven’t coiled it yet), so both ends of this new piece of wire will be flush (flat). This gives you a “v” on the spool end again, so keep repeating this process for perfectly matching links.
- If you forget, and the end of your new link receives a “v”, simply snip the “v” off and you now have a slightly shorter link — this is probably fine for a bracelet or necklace (or a design made of random-size links), but not so good for matching earrings.
Questions? I’m happy to answer them! ~Polly