Exploring the Tempers of Silver
Sterling Silver Findings and wire c come in a variety of tempers (hardness). Dead soft (very soft) is the state silver is in when it’s just been annealed (softening of silver through heat, usually by torch). This is a desirable state for wire that will be used for wire-wrapping, or a casting when a stone will be set. However, when a casting is too soft, it bends and loses its shape. For almost all jewellery findings , and especially filigree designs , it’s far more desirable to have tempered silver, or hardened silver. However, this process is much more expensive and many manufacturers will not or cannot make tempered silver findings.
How to Temper Silver
You can temper, or harden, Sterling Silver Findings by hammering or tumbling them. To make earring components , many designers form the wire into the shape they want and then use a leather mallet to tap it gently. With a few repetitions, the wire will be hardened to retain its shape. To achieve a hammered finish in the process, you can use a textured hammer with a steel block. A steel block; whether smooth or textured, flat or anvil shaped, is absolutely necessary. Do not hammer on stone or concrete as you can damage the surface it’s sitting on and or lodge a piece of rock into the silver that might be difficult to remove and smooth over. Also, avoid hammering on hardwood flooring as you’ll leave a mark on the floor and you won’t make a significant difference to the silver. Wood is far softer than silver. The downside with hammering to harden is that you flatten the piece in the process, also, bringing the piece back to a high shine is no small feat.
Silver can also be tempered by simply working it, such as wire wrapping or bending the component back and forth. If you have a polishing wheel, the simple act of polishing a piece will harden it to some extent.
Tumbling is a common silver hardening process. However, you need to make sure you have the right mixture of materials in the tumbler. Many people use steel shot and, depending on the final texture you want, you can select materials that are more or less abrasive. The main drawback of using a tumbler is that the cleaning and sorting of the pieces from the tumbler can be tedious.
Some factories have tumblers that don’t spin vertically in the way a washing machine or ferris wheel does, instead, they spin horizontally and vibrate more than they spin. The pieces are less likely to tangle, but fishing them out from the mixture of steel shot, pebbles and pellets remains a difficult job. This machinery represents a large investment, because of this cottage industry manufacturing, which is often practiced in India and Bali, doesn’t often use them. Their finished product is often far softer and not conducive to filigree designs.
The ability to temper, or harden, silver findings is a highly valuable skill that can result in beautiful, airy and three dimensional shapes that otherwise would be impossible to make.