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Small-scale Silver Sheet and Wire Production

Welcome to the second edition of our behind-the-scenes look into the main processes used in creating our unique jewellery at Charleys Forest Silver.

In the last blog, we looked at melting silver into molds via the induction furnace. This week we are looking at how we turn those ingots into useable sheet, wire and balls for creating pieces.

Making jewellery using recycled silver would not be possible for us without the rolling mills.

It seems like only yesterday a friend was visiting who was moving to Tasmania. "Would you like a rolling mill?" he asked. We shook our heads. "It's German, electric, you might need it?" "Nope" we said. At that point we had no idea we would both be doing our own kind of metal work, and that mill would have been invaluable. Oh well, hand rolling it is.

Silver Sheets

I have two mills in the studio now, a heavier one for rolling out sheet, and a smaller one that is usually set up with the wire making rollers.

Charleys Forest Silver rolling silver in rolling mill from melted silver
Rolling out annealled and pickled sterling silver sheets in the rolling mill

The sheet ingots go straight into the roller, and are annealled every few passes. I usually have a few in different stages floating between the mill and the soldering station so that I always have a range of thicknesses on hand, and it provides something to do if I'm stuck on something else. It's also convenient if someone wants to come in and start talking while I'm working - they are asked to roll out some more silver!

Charleys Forest Silver small-scale silver sheet and wire production
Sheet and cylindrical ingots waiting to be processed into sheet and wire

I find the cylindrical ingots are great for making ring shanks. I like to flatten them out slightly on the anvil with the heavy hammer before annealing, pickling and rolling.

Silver Wire

We use the cylindrical ingots as our base for making wire, using wire rollers on the mill as well as drawing the wire through draw plates.

Rolling mill with wire rollers, being used to create silver wire
Rolling out silver wire using wire rollers on the rolling mill

We have the basic wire shapes such as round, half round, triangular and square with both systems.

Wire draw plate for making silver wire
Drawing out round silver wire using a draw plate and pliers

It requires some strength to draw the wire through and a good technique, but the wire finished via the draw plate method is better quality all round. It is well secured in a heavy vise.

A cylindrical ingot is inspected for ensure there is no major pitting or faults in the pour. It is then filed to remove any dags. To make our round wire, the cylindrical ingot is rolled through the square wire roller on the rolling mill, down to at least the size of the draw plate wire diameter that is slightly larger than your required diameter.

The draw plate hole is stuffed with a ball of beeswax at the back, and the end of the wire is sharpened to be able to pull it through. The wire is pushed through the ball of wax and through the hole. Beeswax is preferable over other lubricants as it catches any small bits of dirt before it goes through the plate.

Jakub prefers to draw square wire through a round draw plate, "as the contact points are smaller, and you can draw wire for longer with less resistance." He draws the wire through using large fencing pliers.

The wire is annealed every three pulls, and an annealling oven is better than torch annealling for an even softness.

The finished wire is then ready to use. It does need to be thoroughly inspected by bending and squeezing it, occasionally there will be weak spots or fractures but overall I have been really happy with the wire we produce, despite how physically hard it is (thanks Jakub!).

Shot Plate Impression Die

I melt scrap into balls of various sizes regularly. Silver balls are very helpful, I like to use them in my designs, or for punching out shot plate embellishments.

Melting scrap silver into balls at Charleys Forest Silver
Melting scrap silver directly into silver balls for jewellery designs or impression dies.

I have a range of small shot plates that are designed to use with a punch and hammer, such as these shot plates from Buffalo Rutland Company.

Shot plate impression dies
Shot plate impression dies and silver balls.

It is a good idea to keep the plates well oiled and ensure that the balls are pickled before using them in the die, using a ball slightly bigger than the impression. A very heavy hammer works well with a simple punch.

Charleys Forest Silver handmade jewellery using hand milled silver
A range of pieces made from hand rolled sheet, hand drawn wire and shot plate impressions.

It takes time to roll out sheet or draw wire by hand, no doubt adding days to some of my larger pieces. Ultimately our pieces are made with 100% recycled silver, and the small-scale silver sheet and wire production methods we use have a negligible effect on the environment and on our health. It's also satisfying having differences in the way the silver is produced which often informs the designs - odd shaped ingot sheets can inspire a whole new idea which I wouldn't have done without these very hands-on processes.

I'm slowly learning more about this incredible metal that never ceases to amaze me with how it reacts to my silversmithing, it is the ultimate teacher.

Thanks for reading and if there is anything you would like to know about our work processes, please ask!


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