DIY Jewels: Brass Top Knuckle Ring8:56 PM
Hi y'all! I'm super pumped about today's tutorial – it's one of the first things I taught myself how to make when I decided to learn how to solder metal jewelry and it's a great starter project for anyone else interested in learning.
Plus, top knuckle rings are so fun to wear!
Now soldering requires fire which might seem scary, but this project and many, many others can be created using a basic handheld butane torch like this:
Mine is a only a little more heavy-duty than your run-of-the-mill kitchen torch (think creme brûlée). It has an adjustable flame so it is versatile for different projects. You can buy it from Rio Grande jewelry supply here. For small brass, silver, or copper projects you're making on your kitchen table like this, this small torch is really all you need.
The rest of the supplies are a very basic soldering set up. Once you have them, you'll be ready to make just about anything you can dream of.
I use: a firebrick set in a pie tin surrounded by pebbles (these are to catch any molten hot metal that might fall from the brick), a set of stainless steel tweezers with heat-proof finger grips, a third hand to hold it in place, and some brass soldering paste.
There are a few other supplies in the above photo that are very basic jewelry-making tools and will be a good foundational set of supplies to have: the #2 hand file for getting rid of rough edges, a rawhide mallet for shaping your metal without marking it, the stainless steel bench block as a hammering surface, the ring mandrel for shaping rings, and the snippers for easy, short cuts.
So, gather your supplies and let's make a ring!
DIY Brass Ring
Brass bezel wire (mine is 26 gauge, 1/8 inch wide, purchased from this etsy seller)
Brass soldering paste (I purchase mine from Rio Grande)
Soldering surface like a firebrick
Stainless steel tweezers + third hand
#2 hand file
Your pickle solution of choice, see below for my organic pickle recipe
To polish and seal:
Your preferred polishing device, I used a Dremel and 3M radial discs, see below, and then I seal with Renaissance polishing wax.
Step 1: Cut your brass bezel wire to the desired length.
The easiest way to know what length you need is to measure your finger with a piece of string and then measure that string. You can make this a regular ring or follow my lead and make it a top knuckle ring.
Step 2: Shape your brass.
If your bezel wire is a little bent at the end from cutting it, flatten it out with your rawhide mallet against your bench block. Also notice if your cut was clean and straight - if not, you many need to file the edges a bit. Shape your ring against your ring mandrel, hammering with your mallet to get it into shape. For soldering, you want your edges to align perfectly and smoothly with no space between them. Any space at all will mean your joint won't solder correctly.
I usually shape with the mandrel, then take the ring off and push the edges together, moving them back and forth, edging them closer together like you would when you're closing a jump ring. Play with it until your edges meet nice and neatly.
Step 3: Get ready to solder.
Place your ring in the stainless steel tweezers (I always use the kind with heat-proof finger pads) and place in your third hand over your soldering surface. I currently use a firebrick which is essentially just a heatproof brick.
Step 4: Solder!
Make sure your soldering paste is right in the ring's seam - I used a needle to really it in there.
When you've heated your metal up to the point it glows a dull red your solder paste will "flow" and liquify and seal itself into the ring's joint. You'll see it bubble up and change colors and move really quickly. It happens fast and as you'll see in the video, it doesn't take long for this to happen.
Now, at this point, you have a ring! You'll just need to clean it up a bit. Let it sit in the tweezers for a minute and then quench in a bowl of water. Be careful! Your tweezers, your ring, and your soldering surface will all be extremely hot at this point and should not be touched (hence the heat-proof finger pads on your tweezers).
Step 5: Pickle your ring.
Pickling is the process of cleaning the fire scale or dark, burntness off of your metal. There are many, many formulas for this out there but most involve some pretty nasty chemicals. I make my own basic organic formula.
It works pretty great, though I have to say not as quickly as the toxic stuff. Let your ring sit in this solution for 15 minutes or so, stirring it around in there every once in awhile to loosen the gunk up.
I'll take my piece out after 15 minutes and rinse with water and scrub with a little steel wool - if that doesn't take most of the fire scale off, the piece can go back in for a bit. Note that leaving your piece in this solution for too long will etch the surface with a faint texture - basically the solution eating into the metal. This isn't the end of the world and will likely be buffed out when you polish the piece.
Your solution will turn a bright blue when it is used up – in my photo above, my solution is only just barely starting to turn blue so I can likely use it again to pickle my next project. Keep it covered so it doesn't evaporate.
Step 6: Polish / Finish
Polish your ring with any method you know and like. I use a Dremel power tool with a flex-shaft attachment and an assortment of 3M radial discs to get any remaining fire scale off and buff out my surface. When using a Dremel or any other buffing tool it's a good idea to hold small things like this ring in a wooden hand vice (these are super cheap and super handy and keep your hands from getting too close to danger).
This is a really great tutorial on how to use 3M discs.
I then seal all my brass with Renaissance polishing wax and a lint-free towel.
I also paint a thin coat of clear nail polish on the inside of all my brass rings since brass has a tendency to turn some people (like me!) green.
And voila! You can solder a ring!
This project might seem complicated, but simple joint soldering like this is one of the foundational skills that will allow you to make so, so much more once you've mastered it. And in the process, you'll make some pretty sweet rings!
Love and happy making,