© QuickTips


The Society of American Silversmiths, its members, editors, contributors, and executive director disclaim any responsibility or liability for damages or injuries as a result of any construction, design, use, manufacture, restoration & conservation advice, or other activity undertaken as a result of the use or application of information contained on this Web site and all other Society publications.

These are tips of the trade. You can submit up to one paragraph along with images to illustrate your tip. Please be sure the tip is not infringing on any copyrights. If accepted upon review, you will of course be credited with your submission. E-mail your QuickTip!


Colander as a Soldering Pan: Try using a large stainless steel colander that will hold pumice stone. What's great about this "pan" is that after soldering, if there is residual flux or other impurities contaminating the pumice, simply run hot water over it to dissolve the flux. Plus you'll never have to worry about the pan rusting.  Jeffrey Herman

Cleaning Solder Wire: Try stainless steel wool in place of Scotch-Brite and normal steel wool for a more effective cleaner of oxides and grime. Stainless steel woll won't rust and the Scotch-Brite won't contaminate the soldering area. For hardened flux on wire, place it in warm water and it will dissolve. Keeping solder wire with flux adhered may lead to contaminated flux. Jeffrey Herman

Keep a Heat Retardant Glove Handy: To the left of my soldering/annealing area (my right hand is my torch hand), I have a non-asbestos glove. This glove is in a metal binder clip that's attached to the side of a table. If I need that glove immediately, especially if an accident occurs, all I have to do is slide my left hand down into it and push down, releasing it from the clip. This way I don't have to scramble for it and use the other hand to put it on, saving valuable and maybe life-saving time. Jeffrey Herman

Uses for Saran Wrap: If you're working with water on a steel surface or with epoxy on any surface you want to keep clean, cover the area with Saran wrap then roll it up into a ball when done and throw it out. I find it especially useful when leveling candlesticks on the surface plate if I fill the basses with plaster. Jeffrey Herman

Determining Acidity: When you neutralize your acids or want to determine how acidic your drag-out water bucket is, use a piece of litmus paper; it's cheap and available at most pharmacies. Jeffrey Herman

Cutting Hard Wire: We've all done it. You use your prized flush cutters to cut what you thought was a soft material and instead put a notch in the cutting blades from what turned out to be piano wire! Label all your wire, and if you need to cut some nasty piano wire, save your cutting pliers and use your bench grinder to notch around the circumference, then snap the wire. Jeffrey Herman

Mark Your Solder Boards: Do you have a selection of boards used specifically for different metals or solders? If so, use an indelible magic marker and label each board so you never make the mistake picking up the wrong one. Jeffrey Herman

Dirty Flux: Flux, over time, may become contaminated; the color change can be so gradual that you may not notice it. Hair from a flux brush, a little rust from a brush ferrule, even minute particles from your soldering board may sneak in. Always keep a cover on your flux when not in use and have a back-up jar of flux just in case you start to experience poor brazing results. Jeffrey Herman

Removing Gold Wash From Silver: Objects that have embossing can pose problems when trying to buff off gold wash. Vermeil (gold over silver) can be removed from intricate pieces, especially fancy flatware, by sending the piece to a reputable plating company (like Mueller Kaiser Plating or Patrick Gill Co.). They use a cyanide solution to strip the gold, while leaving the underlying silver in a condition where it can be easily polished. Jeffrey Herman

Solder Identification: For ease of identification, I write the type of solder with a large marker on a wooden dowel, ½" diameter and about 1½" long, which I drill with a #62 drill bit. I then feed the solder through the dowel and snip off solder as needed. For stick-soldering on small work, I use the dowel as an insulated handle. Kathy Hart

Cleaning Stick Solder: After stick soldering, I'm left with hardened flux on the wire that can get contaminated if not used for a while. I put the wire in a glass of water which will eventually dissolve the flux, leaving me with a clean wire to dip into fresh flux for the next job. Jeffrey Herman

Polishing Compound Labeling: It happens every time. You pick-up a bar of polishing compound, only to find that you can't remember if it's for polishing sterling or brass. The first thing I do when I receive a new bar is to use a scribe and label one end if it's a small bar, or break the bar in half and label both ends. Jeffrey Herman

Polishing Glove Safety: Discard polishing gloves that have developed holes, otherwise, you run the risk of friction burns from the fast running buff. Also, always be aware that a buff can get caught in your cuff, tearing off your hand along with the glove! Jeffrey Herman

Bent Flexshaft Mandrels: Never use a mandrel that is not absolutely concentric. These mandrels can bend to a right angle if running at a high speed and applying very little pressure, causing quick removal of a thumb. Jeffrey Herman

Cleaning Fine Files: The wires on file cards are too course to remove residue in fine file teeth. Take a piece of square brass (or square an end of round rod) and file an angle on the tip. Run the sharp end of the rod over the file and parallel with the teeth. The steel file teeth will bite into the brass creating an exact replica and removing all debris. When the rod becomes blunt on the end, file it to a point again and repeat the process. Harold Schremmer

Easy Access Safety Glasses: Safety glasses are inexpensive. Count the number of work stations in your workshop that require the use of safety glasses and place one pair at each station, eliminating the need to hunt for that one pair you always seem to misplace. Jeffrey Herman

Fire Extinguishers: It may be obvious, but I've visited workshops that don't have a fire extinguisher. I have my extinguisher three feet from my soldering station. You should have an extinguisher wherever high temperatures exist so you won't have to go far should you suddenly need it. Periodically check to make sure the extinguisher is maintained fully charged. Jeffrey Herman

Shipping Carton Pilferage: After sealing a shipping carton, stamp the word FRAGILE over all seams. This will deter anyone from breaking into the box, stealing the contents, then resealing it without showing obvious pilferage. Jeffrey Herman

Universal Vises: These vises have heads that rotate 360° and are more versatile than vises with stationery heads. The other advantage is that opposite the vise jaws is a pipe holder–very handy. Spend a little more for a better, heavier model, otherwise, the swivel head may rotate even when tightened. Jeffrey Herman

Drying Silver: Air compressors are great for blowing away beaded water after your highly polished piece has been cleaned. Make sure you install an air filter between the air compressor and the spray gun so you don't blow impurities onto your piece. As always, aim the spray gun away from you. A hair dryer will dry out castings and quickly evaporate water that remains in the bottom of a coffeepot spout and rolled edges. Always wait until the piece is cool before packing. Jeffrey Herman

Non-Rolling Solder Paillons: Round wire solder can sometimes roll away from where you want it to stay. Hammer the wire flat then snip the paillon. Harold Schremmer

Socks & Horses: A horse is a pipe or heavy cast iron, L-shaped or straight holding device placed in a vise and used to hold heads (short, polished, cast metal mushroom-type stakes that fit into a horse and are used for planishing and burnishing metal objects over). One problem with these holding devices is that they can mar the inside of the object you're working on. Everyone has old socks with holes in them. Instead of throwing them away, why not place the entire length of the sock over the holding device, protecting the interior of the object from scratches? This method of preventing scratches is especially important when restoring silver objects that already have a high polish on their interior. Jeffrey Herman

Back to ShopTalk
Back to Home Page