Have you ever worked with your fine gauges of wire until they were so stiff that you didn’t know what to do with them? Generally mine end up in my scrap pile. Even when there is still some good workable length. Or have you ever opened your wire to find that it was so stiff that it was a nightmare to work with? That happened to me just recently. Even though I had ordered “Dead soft” wire, it is anything but dead soft. Springy wire can be dealt with in a number of ways. Today’s Tool Time Tuesday will introduce a way for you to anneal your really fine gauges of sterling wire without melting it into a big blob. The same concept can be used for other metals as well.
Annealing, when it comes to metal, is the process of heating your metal to relax the crystalline structure to allow the material to become malleable. You can think of hard wire vs. dead soft wire in terms of spaghetti. Hard wire is similar to the uncooked pasta, while half hard is at that cooked stage where the noodles are getting soft, but still crunchy. Dead soft wire would be similar to cooked noodles. Okay, not exactly, but it gets you a little closer to the idea. Hard wire is great for some applications, but if you are wire weaving, it isn’t desirable at all.
I learned this great trick from one of my instructors, Sofia Calderwood. She told me that to anneal wires that are fine gauge, such as 24, 26, 28, & 30, etc. that you can take a small tin can like those that the little mints come in and place the metal inside, heat it up until it glows read and then your wire should be annealed. The concept sounded simple enough and I thought I would try it out.
This tutorial shows my very first attempt at this method. I will show you some of the things I learned you should not do, as well as those you should do.
Here is my sweet little can of York Mints. I never buy these things, but I really wanted to try this, so I actually bought it just so I could have the little tin. An Altoids type of can would also work well.
These are some of the pieces I found in my scrap pile. They aren’t super long, but I could still work with them if they weren’t so brittle and springy. These wires are 26 and 28 gauge. If I tried to anneal them with the torch, I run a huge risk of just melting them.
I have wound them up and tucked them in the can, which wasn’t easy. They kept springing back open. *Notice there aren’t any holes in the bottom of this lid.
I had placed the lid on the tin and had actually started to heat the can up when I thought about the fact that you really should have some ventilation holes. Without them the can would explode open from the gases and expanding air as you heat it up. I quickly stopped, quenched the tin and promptly opened it up and drilled some holes in the bottom with my flexshaft.
I have a couple of these great annealing pans with pumice. This is my large one. It is 12″ and has 2 or 3 pounds of pumice. The pumice helps to hold and reflect the heat. This annealing pan also rotates which is fabulous. The torch I am using is an Acetylene/air torch. I am using my largest tip, which is a #6. I use this one for annealing my ingots and larger pieces. I don’t know that I would have had much luck with this process with my smaller tips. Perhaps I would, but even with this tip, I was torching for a good 2 minutes or more.
This is another great time to bring up ventilation. As the decals and coating on this tin burned off it gave off a horrible fume and dark smoke. Good ventilation is a MUST! It probably wouldn’t hurt to be wearing a fume mask at the same time. My studio smelled like torched electrical lines for a couple of days.
You can see the tin starting to get good and red. Playing with torches is so much FUN!
Now, here is where I made another mistake. My tin is sitting right on the pumice. I am not able to get to the bottom of the tin with my heat. There is a lot of heat transferring from the top, sides and even the pumice. But when I pulled the wire out of the tin after quenching, it was still pretty stiff. Actually, it had gone from that uncooked spaghetti phase to the sort-of-cooked spaghetti phase.
This problem is easily solved by raising the can up a little. Here I have used some 6 gauge copper wire that has been bent to hold my can up at a slight angle.
Heating one more time. This time I am able to direct my flame under the tin. Again, I must get the entire tin glowing red.
Make sure you don’t touch the tin with your fingers. Hot metal and bare skin is never a good thing! I have lifted the tin with my insulated cross locking tweezers and dunked into my quench bowl of water. Here you can see I am holding it down into the water. I had to do this because it wanted to float at the top. Silly tin!
After heating it up, the texture of the tin changed. I could not get the can to open, no matter how hard I tried. So finally I grabbed a little watch case opening knife and was able to pry the tin open.
Now doesn’t that look lovely? The wire is now dirty with sooty, burnt film from the tin and it has oxidized from the heating process.
Here is a little better shot of the oxidized wire. Oxidation is the reaction of the copper within the silver. As you heat it up it gets really dark and yucky. To remove this black layer on my newly softened wire I will put it into the pickle.
Because it is such a royal pain in the pa-tooty to pick up really think wire off the bottom of a pickle bot, I put it in this little baby food container. I have taken a very hot soldering pick and pierced a few holes into the bottom. The pickle won’t harm the container and it makes it easy to fish small things out of the pickle. This is a lifesaver when it comes to picking up flat discs that like to fall over on the bottom.
After pickling there may be a little bit of film left on the metal that can just be brushed away with a soft toothbrush and some water.
There you have it. I now have annealed and clean wire ready for my next wire wrapping or weaving project.
I have been told that you can also anneal your wire nicely in a kiln. I don’t have a kiln and could not answer any questions on that. But if you have any other questions, I would be happy to answer them. Thank you to all that have been leaving comments on my blog. I appreciate them and it helps to know that people are actually reading.
Thanks goes out to my good friend Valerie Heck for taking the pictures of this process
. I couldn’t have done it without you, well, at least not as quickly.
Like what you read here? Why not subscribe to the blogand you won’t miss a post. Just enter your email address in the box thatsays subscribe in the upper left corner.You will be notified at thatemail address every time a new blog entry is made.