Over the last few years I have been dabbling in silversmithing. As with anything, it took quite a lot of practice before I could manipulate the metal and successfully solder anything. But thankfully, a friend has shared a little tip about annealing sterling silver with me that has really made a big impact on my metal work, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
When manipulating sterling silver wire, either by shaping it or texturing it with a hammer, the wire will start to become inflexible. This is called work hardening. Work hardening is the process when the molecules become interlocked after too much manipulation. This causes the wire to become too rigid to shape. You can make your wire soft again with a process called annealing. Annealing requires torching the sterling silver to a specific temperature. The heat causes the rigid structure of the molecules to loosen up, thus making the wire flexible again. It takes a little experience to know when you have applied enough heat to properly anneal sterling silver, but this great tip will help you master the technique.
Use a Sharpie pen to mark your sterling wire prior to torching it. As you bring the temperature up you will see the metal give off a dull inner glow and the Sharpie marks will dissipate. When the Sharpie mark burns off completely, you have reached the perfect annealing temperature at about 1200F. At this point, remove the flame and quench the wire in water. Your sterling wire should now bend easily!
If your wire is not yet fully annealed, you can begin the process again and allow the wire to get hotter for just a little bit longer. Proper annealing only takes 30 seconds at the correct temperature, so take care not to heat your sterling too long. If the sterling starts to become shiny or have a liquid surface then you have raised the temperature beyond the safe annealing point. Avoid overheating your metal or else it will become brittle or melt completely. I hope this little trick will help you the next time you delve into more advance wire work.
Happy Tuesday! – Rebecca