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Filing and Sanding (silver smith getting it mostly wrong)

Updated: May 2

Learning to craft silver pieces without formal tuition throws up all kinds of insights, contradictions, highs and lows. The past few weeks it's been mostly the joy of filing, sanding, buffing and, inevitably, making more work for myself.

A jeweller once told me how filing and sanding pieces can take days, descending into a zen-like state and working through the grades to get that perfect shine. I believe that to be completely true, though recently, I have found that I create the necessity for days of sanding and buffing through my own inexperience and gung-ho nature - an 'interesting' combination when working with precious metals. There have been a couple of occasions this week when I have buffed a piece to a lovely shine, proudly taken photos to share, and then realised the camera has picked out a wonderful collection of file-induced scratches. Cue much muttering- the road to learning the art of the silver smith is full of steep learning curves!

The main culprit, apart from my own inexperience, is the purchase of a new rotary tool for sanding and shining without much real clue as to what all the attachments are for. They all look good, and at £30, it was a lot less of an outlay than a Dremel (ah, I will have one someday!) but I think I overestimate how hard silver is. It wasn't till I started trawling through various YouTube videos that I began to understand why people often prefer to work in gold - silver conducts heat so well, the danger of popping previous solder joints is ever present, though I have taken the advice of the jeweller I spoke to at the start of my journey and only ever use hard solder. It has helped the torch and heat control to not have the luxury of lower melting point medium of soft solder. No, my vigorous nature with the file and rotary sandpaper are the main challenges, leaving me with beautiful shines over sneaky scratches. Nothing to do but start the process again.

The chap across the road from me, who I never knew was into jewellery making, swears by only using two grades of sandpaper - 800 and 2000 on all his pieces and whenever I watch YouTube videos, like the excellent Estona Tutorials from Brejge, they make the whole process of getting their pieces looking beautiful to be so effortless. I have to remind myself that they don't record all the time they spend adding shine to the pieces, or use a chromium filled tumbler.

Another key factor, that I need to understand, is that I am a very chaotic creator. I don't sketch out creations beforehand, though I know it is the best approach. In work, managing projects, I know how frustrating it can be to not plan out new processes properly and spend lots of time ironing out 'teething issues' that really could have been avoided with a little more thought. I am starting to make peace with it however, and the same is with jewellery making. I just need more time to understand the best approach for my style ton finish pieces, with less time fixing my over-zealous file attacks!

The positive side of the chaotic approach is that everything produced is unique, and I am not scared to try new things as I don't have the experience to understand what the consequences might be. Last week, I created a nice open band ring from 4mm square sterling silver wire with hammer flattened ends - very proud of it, despite the scratches that appeared. I created another similar ring from the same material, same approach, with slightly different shape to the hammered ends. I brought one end in closer to the parallel band and thought, what would it be like if I drilled a hole through that to stick a bezel setting in for a 4mm white topaz? With only a passing fear of my drill bit slipping and a trip to A&E, the hole was drilled, and a bezel welded in place. It's currently in a horribly messy state and in need of a little more soldering, but I am very pleased with the creation, despite some less than perfect grinding out of the drilled hole.

All in all, I'm pleased with my progress, learning to be patient with myself and fully open to any recommendations on how I don't give myself crap-tonnes more work to do at the filing and buffing stage. Peace!


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