Overcoming Bench Mistakes

From the Editor: It’s happened to everyone. You’re working on a project and everything is going along well until…. Oops. You melt something that wasn’t supposed to be melted, or chip something that’s hard to replace. After a few seconds of sheer panic, you calm down enough to realize that the world hasn’t ended and that with a little time and effort you can fix the mistake you’ve made.

In this new occasional column, jewelers share some of the biggest mistakes they’ve made at the bench and how they overcame them. First up, Noël Yovovich of Noël Yovo-vich Art Jewelry in Evanston, Illinois.

Keeping calm in the face of a meltdown

In my early days I was working on a pin project that incorporated three different types of settings (bezel, prong, and tube) in the same piece. I was creating the pin using sterling silver sheet as well as a sheet of reticulated silver, and I was working on a tight deadline to get it completed.

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My plan was to cut the shapes out of both sheets of silver, solder them together, then solder on the prong, bezel, and tube settings. Things were going well, and I had most of the piece complete when I began to work on the prongs. As I was soldering on the first prong, I overheated part of the piece. I didn’t think of it at the time, but reticulated silver contains more copper than standard sterling, giving it a lower melting point. As I heated up the sterling silver to attach the prong, I wound up melting part of the reticulated sheet.

I had ruined it

In a panic, my first thought was that I would have to completely start the piece over. But after the panic passed I realized that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I thought I could fix the problem by unsoldering the pieces—heating them until the solder released and the pieces separated. However, upon further examination of my mistake, I realized that the silver sheets had melted together.

But all was not lost. I wound up sawing off the part that had melted and carefully grinding off the rest of the melted metal. Once I smoothed out the back of the piece, I was able to solder a new piece of reticulated silver back into position. After my detour, I completed the piece as planned, being extra careful to avoid overheating the reticulated silver sheet as I soldered on the prongs.

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Not having to completely start over saved me time and money, as well as gave me a good dose of confidence. It’s good to learn how to do things the right way, but sometimes I think it’s even better to learn how to fix things when you screw up. I always like to say that “things turn out for the best for people who make the best of how things turn out.” Sometimes you just have to go with it.

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The award-winning Journal is published monthly by MJSA, the trade association for professional jewelry makers, designers, and related suppliers. It offers design ideas, fabrication and production techniques, bench tips, business and marketing insights, and trend and technology updates—the information crucial for business success. "More than other publications, MJSA Journal is oriented toward people like me: those trying to earn a living by designing and making jewelry," says Jim Binnion of James Binnion Metal Arts.
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