Chain Smithing

I am currently working on a new silver necklace. The main feature of the piece will be two silver branches modeled after manzanita which interlock to form the clasp of the piece. The branches will each have 4 stones set into the front to add a little sparkle. However, for it to be a necklace I have to have something to go around the neck. So, I made a handmade chain. I documented the steps up until finishing to give you an idea of how a chain like this is made.

The first step is to get some metal to work with. I went to my tin of silver and found a couple small pieces to melt down. This is part of the beauty of being a goldsmith–everything is recyclable. What was once a spoon becomes chain. I put my metal into a small ceramic crucible so that I can melt it and then pour it into an ingot mold. The mold will give me a piece of metal that I can begin to work.

I am just about ready to pour the metal. The image doesn't capture it, but the metal is starting to look like liquid mercury.

I am just about ready to pour the metal. The image doesn't capture it, but the metal is starting to look like liquid mercury.

Here is the finished ingot. I have taken it out of the mold and cleaned up the edges.

Here is the finished ingot. I have taken it out of the mold and cleaned up the edges.

After the ingot is poured I need to remove all of the flashing the hangs off the seams so that my final piece doesn't have flakes coming off it. After I do that it is time for the rolling mill.

This is the rolling mill. This machine allows me to take ingots and roll them out into sheet and wire.

This is the rolling mill. This machine allows me to take ingots and roll them out into sheet and wire.

Here is my ingot in the first wire groove. As it gets smaller and smaller I will move down the groves until I can begin to draw the metal into wire.

Here is my ingot in the first wire groove. As it gets smaller and smaller I will move down the groves until I can begin to draw the metal into wire.

After rolling a few times, the metal become stiff and hard to work. This means that it needs to be annealed. Annealing is the process of heating up metal and then treating it so that it becomes soft and malleable again.

The metal is just up to annealing temperature. See the fain glow? That is my signal to stop heating.

The metal is just up to annealing temperature. See the fain glow? That is my signal to stop heating.

After the metal is annealed it needs to be cleaned so that the final product will be easy to finish. This is done using something jewelers call a pickle. The pickle is simply a heated milk acid bath which cleans the metal.

Here is the ingot going into the pickle pot.

Here is the ingot going into the pickle pot.

After the metal is pickled I continue to repeat the process again and again. Roll, anneal, pickle. Roll anneal pickle...Eventually though, the piece will be small enough for the next step: drawing wire. Before I can draw the wire I have to point the end of the metal so that I can fit it through the draw plate.

I just finished filing a long taper at the tip of my rolled metal. Now it is ready to be drawn.

I just finished filing a long taper at the tip of my rolled metal. Now it is ready to be drawn.

Next I begin to draw the wire.

I am half way through this pull. The steel plate with all the holes is called a draw plate. This is the method that is used to make all wire in the wold, even on a huge scale.

I am half way through this pull. The steel plate with all the holes is called a draw plate. This is the method that is used to make all wire in the wold, even on a huge scale.

Just like rolling I have to periodically anneal and pickle my wire as I draw it down.

More annealing.

More annealing.

Once I get my metal to the desired gauge I am ready to start forming links. Once I found a rod that had a good diameter for the chain I am making, I begin to wrap a tight coil.

It can sometimes be hard to keep a really tight coil.

It can sometimes be hard to keep a really tight coil.

After my coil is wrapped the first time I anneal it again and then tighten it up so that it is more uniform.

The green is caused by a substance called fire coat which the metal is always dipped in before it is heated. This helps keep it clean.

The green is caused by a substance called fire coat which the metal is always dipped in before it is heated. This helps keep it clean.

The glow tells me that the coil is ready to go.

The glow tells me that the coil is ready to go.

Once my coil is nice and tight I wrap it in tape to keep it in place.

The coil is taped and secured in my Benchmate (thats the black clamp)

The coil is taped and secured in my Benchmate (thats the black clamp)

Then I cut the coil. Because this one is so big, I am using a cutting disk to separate my links. Normally I just use my jewelers saw.

The beginning of the cut!

The beginning of the cut!

The product of the coil: chain links.

These links are almost ready for soldering.

These links are ready for soldering.

Next I clean up the cut in each link and then push them together.

These rings are all lined up for soldering.

These rings are all lined up for soldering.

Next I put some flux on each joint and get my solder out. The flux keeps the joint clean and makes the solder flow.

My pick carefully brings the solder into the joint to make the weld.

My pick carefully brings the solder into the joint to make the weld.

These links are soldered and cleaned with a sanding wheel.

These links are soldered and cleaned with a sanding wheel.

I only solder about half of the rings to begin with so that I can use the other ones to link the chain together.

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Here is the beginning of the chain.

I continue to link the pieces until I have them all together.

The chain is getting there! But I still have to solder all the open links closed.

The chain is getting there! But I still have to solder all the open links closed.

Every other loop is still open, so now I go through and solder all of those pieces together.

I am nearly done with all the soldering. Just a couple more to go.

I am nearly done with all the soldering. Just a couple more to go.

One everything is soldered the whole chain will be pickled again. Then the loops are formed into ovals.

First I stretch the links into a loose oval.

First I stretch the links into a loose oval.

Then I squish the links to make them a little narrower.

Then I squish the links to make them a little narrower.

Now the piece is ready for finishing. Stay tuned because I will be posting the final chain and piece as soon as I finish it. If you are interested in more of my metal and chain work check out my online portfolio. I specifically think that you will enjoy this Etruscan chain.

- Graceson Aufderheide

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One response to “Chain Smithing

  1. Graceson I love the beautiful photos and clear explanations that illustrate your process. It highlights the painstaking artistry that separates handcrafted jewelry from the pack. Well done.

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Image of GracesonMy name is Graceson Aufderheide, but you have probably figured that out already. I am currently a senior in high school who photographs, teaches, and makes jewelry. I have always been creating, that is what I do.
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