Next time you’re in the jewelry making studio, experiment with setting a cabochon on sterling silver sheet to make a custom pendant. It takes about three hours and it’s a perfect way to practice soldering layered joins. There are a lot of ways to make this project your own. So grab a cabochon and let’s get started!
- Gemstone Cabochon
- Sterling Silver Sheet (20ga) (size based on pendant)
- Sterling Silver Bezel Wire (size based on pendant)
- Sterling Silver Bail
- Sterling silver or copper wire (any scrap pieces will do)
- Finished necklace chain
- Files (regular and needle files)
- Sandpaper (variety of grits)
- Solder– hard, medium & soft
- 3rd hand (you may want two, depending on the size of your pendant)
- Charcoal Block w/ holes (optional) or Soldering Board
- Ring Clamp
- Flex Shaft or Drill Press
- Bezel Roller
- Bezel Burnisher
- Tumbler or polishing tools
- Drill Bit
- Bench Polisher (optional)
Step 1: Bezel
1. Choose your cabochon. Round and oval shapes are easiest to work with and are a good place to start if you’re a beginner.
3. Cut about 2-3mm past the exact size.
4. Put your bezel wire into the ring clamp making sure it is straight and extending upward.
5. File straight across removing about 1mm off each end of the wire to prepare the ends for soldering.
6. Wrap it around the cab again to make sure it is still overlapping.
7. File a little more (checking it often against the cab).
8. When the fit is tight and the ends are flush, you’re ready to solder.
9. Use sandpaper to clean the ends of the bezel wire.
10. Place bezel wire in the third hand clamp(s) with the ends on the top.
11. Flux the entire piece, then add a piece of hard solder to the join.
12. Tilt the flame so it’s aiming upwards and then heat the entire piece until the solder flows.
13. Pickle and quench.
Note: Make sure the cabochon fits tightly into the bezel wire! Be sure you are able to slip it all the way through from one end and out the other end.
Step 2: The Back Plate
1. Cut the sheet to your desired shape. You can get really creative here or stay with shapes that are more geometric, like a circle or square.
2. Place the bezel wire on the sheet to determine placement of your cabochon.
3. Remove the cab and make sure there are no gaps between the bezel wire and sheet. If there are, sand the bottom of the bezel wire with 600-800 grit sandpaper in a figure-8 shape while pressing down from the top of the wire, until it fits flush on the sheet.
4. Using 800 grit sandpaper, clean the bottom of the bezel wire and the sheet where the bezel will be soldered onto it.
5. Replace the bezel wire on the sheet.
6. Check for gaps again.
7. Attach it to the third hand(s), with the bottom of the sheet in the air so you can heat it from the bottom.
8. Flux the piece, then add pieces of medium solder 5-6mm apart around the inside edge of the bezel wire.
9. Heat the entire piece from the bottom until the solder flows.
10. Pickle and quench.
11. This is an ideal time to clean off all of the extra solder from the piece using sandpaper, a bench polisher or flex shaft attachments.
Step 3: Granules
1. Cut bits of wire (copper or silver) to different lengths to make granules. In general, small pieces make small granules and large pieces make large granules. Experiment to see which size you prefer and remember that the wire gauge will affect the size of the finished granules.
2. Place the wire pieces into the holes in the pre-drilled charcoal block (optional) or place them separated far apart on your soldering board.
3. Aim the torch on the wire pieces at full blast.
4. Heat each piece of wire until it forms into a round granule.
5. Let the granules cool down naturally. Or, if they’re large enough, you can drop them into a pickle pot.
6. Sandpaper the bottoms of the granules, so each one has a clean, flush contact with the pendant.
7. Put your pendant into the third hand again.
8. Flux where the granules will lay on the pendant.
9. Carefully place your granules (be patient! They tend to roll everywhere).
10. Flatten some tiny pieces of easy solder.
11. Place solder around the granules nudging up to them so they are touching.
12. Heat until the solder flows and attaches the granules to the pendant.
13. Pickle and quench.
14. Clean any extra solder off your piece again by using the bench polisher,
Step 4: The Bail
1. Use a drill press (or a Flex Shaft) to make a hole at the top center of the pendant. It must be large enough for the side of the bail to slip through.
2. If your bail is soldered, use a saw to split the ends open.
3. Use sandpaper to clean the ends of the bail where they will join back together.
4. Attach the bail to the pendant, making sure the ends touch through the hole.
5. Use a third hand to hold the pendant at an angle so the bail hangs through to be soldered (it’s important to pull the bail ends as far away from the sheet as possible so when the solder flows it won’t solder the bail onto the sheet).
6. Flux the bail where the two ends meet.
7. Add a tiny piece of easy solder to the bail ends.
8. Try to aim the flame only on the bail, heating up the entire bail until the solder flows (we only want to close the bail ends here).
9. You should have a freely moving, closed bail on the pendant. If the bail is attached to the surface of the pendant, carefully knock it loose with the rawhide hammer or gently file or sand it loose.
10. Pickle and quench.
11. Finish the metal now portion of the pendant now, before the cabochon is set. You can add texture, liver of sulphur patina or tumble it to achieve different effects.
Step 5: Setting the Cabochon
1. Place the cabochon into the bezel wire by pushing down on it gently.
2. When it’s seated, use the bezel roller to carefully roll around the edges of the bezel wire.
3. Use the bezel burnisher to smooth out the edges and lock-in the cabochon.
4. Attach the pendant to a necklace chain and it’s finished!