Follow Ella Sadler-Andrews on her journey to becoming a Silver Smith. Read about the new techniques she’s learning each week.

Apprentice Blog number four : I finished the ring before it finished me.


My pre-Christmas blog update. Better late than never! From the apprentice, Ella.


I finished the ring; the ring that nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. After my last blog it took me one more session of hard labour to get it to a decent standard.

I first had to solder it shut. We used easy solder as to avoid opening up the solder holding together the two strips. This process went relatively smoothly (in comparison to the first lot of soldering!). Janet and I weren’t initially sure that the join was strong enough as you could clearly still see the join. Fortunately it was, but it meant that I was going to have a tough time trying to make the solder line disappear. I was so happy just to have soldered it shut with minimal trouble that the mess I had made in the process didn’t bother me. I wasn’t fussed that the soldering was obvious. Now however, I couldn’t settle for that. It’s quite interesting to see how my standards have changed now that I am more skilled and have seen what I can do (this will all make sense in my next blog).



My ring post-solder, pre-polish. As you can see, the join is still clearly visible from the outside.


Next came the laborious job of filing and polishing. I worked for a while on the closing seal to see if I could erase the join. I managed to file away a very small amount but my soldering was poor quality and with any more filing, the join would’ve become weak and the silver very thin. In all honesty, by this time I wanted to finish this project ASAP. I’d just had enough of the grief it had given me! If you remember, I accidentally made a nick in the ring. Turns out I couldn’t completely get rid of this; from the outside and when you wear the ring, you can’t see it, but I wasn’t able to file it completely away. Just another part of the ring I wasn’t happy with.

The final step was to polish all the fire stain away. Fire stain is officially my worst nightmare. It’s an absolute faff to remove. Standing hunched over the Tripoli, burning my fingers with the brush, wiping hair from my face staining my face black with polish (which Janet and Delia had a giggle at). Fire stain is a brown/pink/orangish stain that appears after soldering/annealing sterling silver. It’s (in simple terms) the copper in silver combining with the oxygen when heated. Hence the coppery colour! I absolutely power-polished that day. Pretty sure I had burnt off my fingerprints by the end. BUT the end did come. Or I forced it to come! I finished finally and was so happy. Well maybe not happy, but relieved. Janet had asked if I wanted to polish the inside of the ring using the ring bob (a thin, rubbery cone at the opposite end of the brush on a polisher that is specifically used for the inside of rings). Due to my ring being thinned out substantially when removing the fire stain; I thought I would leave it this time but aim to use it on my next ring.

I wear the ring every day (apart from at work or for exercise). I feel attached to it; with it being my first ‘proper’ piece. However, I look at it now and think “what a shoddy piece of work”! Compared to pieces I have made since, it’s really not good at all. The amount of learning and work I put into it is worth much more than the ring itself. Janet was very complimentary of my ring and emphasised that the learning involved would be fundamental for my progression in jewellery making.






As a quick, fun project to do next, I used four little scraps of silver which I had cut off after measuring it to fit my finger. I decided to make these four rectangles into earrings for a friend I was visiting in London the day after. I literally had less than two hours to complete them. I filed the two sets of rectangles so that they would fit together and be able to be soldered. I filed down the edges of the sides I was going to solder together so that there was a ridge/definition in the middle; similar to that of my ring.

I soldered them together using a very small amount of hard solder. Turns out this soldering went very well =) very neat and succinct. I then soldered (using easy solder this time) a small amount of silver wire to the base of the rectangles to finish them off. I was pleased with how quickly and efficiently I did this. Such less hassle than previous tasks I had undertaken! To make the wire used as the ear posts strengthen, I learnt a new skill called burnishing. This involved rubbing a metal tool up and down the post in order to make it ‘work hard’ and therefore, stronger.  I think the fact that I had grown stale from the ring so having this fresh and easy piece to do was enjoyable. I was really tired after all the polishing the fire stain off the ring that I had absolutely no patience to polish these. Fortunately my mum who attends silver class with Janet and Delia was going that evening and she offered to polish them for me. Cheating I know but I was exhausted. I even think Janet helped get the final shine with the rouge polisher. They turned out really lovely, and Pam, my friend was very humbled to have received a handmade gift.




You can see the fire stain on these earrings really clearly in this photo. Thanks Mother and Janet for removing it for me =)


Merry Christmas Pam.



Apprentice Blog number three : Learning to be patient.


Ella here.

For the past few weeks (since my last update) I have been working solidly on my first ring. I didn’t choose the simplest piece to start my ring making off with. The design itself is simple; the creating, not so. It involves two strips of 1mm sheet silver cut to 7.5mm wide, soldered next to each other so that ultimately, the ring is 1cm wide in total. Why not use one piece of 1cm thick silver I hear you ask? Many times I asked myself that question when battling with the soldering issues I had…however the idea behind this design was so that there is a clear definition (a sort of ‘valley’ shape) between the two pieces.

So I started off with a 1cm wide, 7cm long piece of silver. My first task was to saw exactly down the middle of this to create my two 5mm wide pieces. I managed this relatively well…with only a few wonky patches! Now came the tricky bit. In order to solder the two bits back together (plus the ‘valley’ design feature), they have to fit together perfectly with no gaps or the solder won’t bind the two bits together. I decided to fit together the two sides that hadn’t just cut down the middle of (which would technically have fit together perfectly, but hey I like to test myself…). One of these sides I was using had been machine cut, and the other cut by Janet. The machine side, sorry to say Janet, was far straighter making my life very difficult. Trying to file away at one side so it fits perfectly to the other side is easier said than done. You spend ten minutes labouring away at one section only to find you’ve filed too much away and that you have to focus on a different spot. All the while you can see the specks of silver filing away… I kid you not, I spent a fair hour or so, going mad, doing this. Eventually we called it a day, accepting that it was as good as it was going to get. It wasn’t perfect but I was on the verge of tearing my hair out.

Before we could get on to soldering it together, I had to create the design feature by filing one edge of each strip diagonally. I had to do this without filing the edges as that would’ve messed up the jigsaw puzzle I had been perfecting over the past few hours! With this done and a clear definition of my ‘valley’, it was time to solder…

To hold the two strips of silver together we used steel wire. Not only does the wire bind the silver, it also takes heat away from the silver, making it harder to heat the piece. Covering the silver and solder in borax came next, being 100% sure that the borax reached in the gap between the two strips to assure that the solder runs in the gap. I placed the solder on what was to be the inside of the ring as it doesn’t matter if it splodges everywhere (which was bound to happen seen as it was my first proper soldering attempt).  It was then time to start soldering! It took a while for me to heat the whole piece evenly so that the solder ran; and when it did run, it was difficult to direct it where it was needed. I must’ve repeated the cutting solder, boraxing and heating process 5 or 6 times until there was enough bond to start to make the strips actually into a ring shape! What I found was that the solder wasn’t always running down the boraxed crack. It would splodge all over the strips, with only some going where it was meant to =( As I mentioned earlier, I spent ages trying to get the two strips to sit perfectly together, filing and emerying away. Because they wouldn’t sit perfectly, there were a few gaps, potentially too big to fill with solder, hence the solder not running into them.  It was a seriously laborious and tedious process. I think Janet and Delia found my frustration quite amusing as every so often I’d have to have a ‘cool down’, to avoid my silver getting thrown across the room. I really struggled with this process. It was so frustrating when the solder would go everywhere but where it was needed. Eventually I put the blow torch down; I just wanted to move into the next stage! There were still little cracks in the join, but those could be filled (hopefully) when I soldered the ring closed.

To get a ring into a circle, you have to use a ring triblet (a circular spike, horizontal in a clamp that you batter, quite literally, the silver around) and a raw-hide hammer. If the silver is ‘work hard’, then one must anneal. This is heating the silver to when it turns dull red, taking the heat off and quenching it. This makes the silver softer and supple to work with, making life much easier. One problem we thought we might have was the potential for the strips to come apart due to the (slightly) holey soldering. Fortunately, luck was on my side and the strips stayed together and I successfully made the strips into a ring-esque shape…

I measured the ring around my finger as I was forming it. The excess silver which was overlapping now had to be sawn off. This is when I made another booboo…I cracked on sawing the over lapping silver off in the way I thought was correct. Turned out the way I chose to do this was incorrect and resulted in my silver ring having a somewhat messy and impromptu design feature in the  shape of a noticeable ‘v’ directly opposite the silver I was sawing off. It’s really difficult to explain what I did but basically, I was gutted for making such a stupid mistake. I was actually on the verge of crying! Janet, bless her, said we could make it a design feature. BUT I DIDN’T WANT IT TO BE A DESIGN FEATURE, I DIDN’T WANT IT THERE AT ALL! However, we had to move on…we would tackle that later.

Now we had to get the ring sitting together so we could solder it closed. This required the triblet and raw-hide hammer again. Compared to the problems we had getting the strips to sit together, this was easy! Both ends met and sat together with ease with no filing. Despite the nice mess I had made with the ‘nik’, my sawing was alright otherwise…

If you look directly opposite the join you can see the ‘v’ nik I made =( Sooooooooooooo annoying.

I think I spent around 5 hours that day slaving over the ring. I left feeling somewhat miffed with all the mistakes/misfortune I had…However, as Janet quite wisely said, if I had done it perfectly first time, where would the learning be? I’ve made the mistakes, and know now (I hope) how to avoid them in the future. I also left the Jewellery Maker completely exhausted –both physically and mentally.

Next week would be time to solder shut my ring, fill in the gaps and eradicate my ring of the not-so-lovely mistake.

Keep watching this space to see if I make it through another week without tearing my hair out!

Apprentice Blog : Weeks 3 and 4

Written by Ella Sadler-Andrews

Since my last update I’ve moved pretty far with my learning.  In my third session, we focused on soldering.  Soldering is the skill of using various solders as an aid in ‘sticking’ one piece of metal to another.  There are varying percentages of silver in solder.  Hard solder has the highest amount of silver in it, making its melting point very close to that of sterling silver. Whereas easy solder has the least amount of silver in it, making it melt well before silver.  The purpose of these different solders is say, for example, if you were soldering a ring together and then you needed to solder something onto that ring, and would therefore avoid the initial solder from melting and thus the ring becoming undone, you would use a hard solder. You would then use an easier solder to solder what you needed onto the ring, which would require less heat, and therefore not melting the hard solder holding the ring together.  If you only require one thing to be soldered, you use, as a general rule, hard solder.

(My soldered ‘e’ and pre soldered curls onto copper.)

My first design piece that I described last blog requires of me to solder the silver curls onto a copper background.  To practice for this, I soldered a silver ‘e’ onto the copper heart I sawed out last time. Choosing the right size piece of solder and then attempting to cut it out of the solder strip is a skill in itself.  If you use a bigger piece than necessary, then the excess solder splodges everywhere it isn’t needed and makes a right mess!

Once I managed to cut a small enough piece, I had to borax (that funny flux substance again) the copper, silver wire ‘e’ and the solder itself. Next comes the painstaking job of heating the metal enough so that the two surfaces, and the solder hit the right temperature at the right time, leaving the solder to melt and ‘stick’ the two together. For the solder to do its job, it must be touching the silver wire and the base; they must both be the same temperature so that it follows the path of the wire. I first moved the blow torch around the edge of the copper heart, making sure not to heat it too fast or to place too much heat on the silver wire. As the wire is much thinner, it would heat quicker and therefore potentially melt. When the copper (finally) started to turn the deep shade of red I was looking for, I then put some heat over the whole piece, including the wire.  Both surfaces were now heating up to the right temperature, it was now a game of waiting for the solder to turn to liquid…Fortunately my patience wasn’t tested for too long and the solder ran rather quickly and efficiently. To make sure the solder runs fluently and doesn’t clump, you have to keep the heat over it after the initial melt. After it had been in the acid and water, I inspected my first soldering attempt…and to be fair, I was pretty damn pleased. There was only one obvious patch of excess solder.  Plus, all the ‘e’ was stuck down!  Believe it or not, that took up a fair chunk of my session that day. All I had time left for was cutting the silver wire strips for the curls of my pendant and in turn, curling it using pliers.

Last week was a lesson of patience (or lack of in my case).  It also saw the more creative side of me shine through.  I’m no Picasso, but I like to think I have inherited some of my mother’s artistic spirit. As mentioned before, my first piece was going to be a pendant.  However, that has now changed. Can’t really think what inspired my change of design, but I definitely think it is improvement.  It will now become a decorative centrepiece for a ribbon bracelet.  There was initially one slit for the ribbon necklace, now there are two (also masterfully sawed out by yours truly!).  The curls have also changed position and now sit horizontal across the piece.

After that slight alteration, involving lots of painful emerying and that thing patience again, it was time to solder my three curls onto the copper.  Four miniscule pieces of hard solder were cut off, everything was boraxed and blow torch lit.  I started as usual, heating around the outside of the copper rectangle.  Gradually after the borax boiled, the copper  started to turn deep red...and then three out of four pieces of solder melted!  However, one stubborn crettin decided not to melt!  I waited some serious minutes with that blow torch hovering.  I gave up after a while, and re-cut some solder and went about re-boraxing.  I think that the fourth piece wasn’t actually touching the silver wire and wasn’t getting enough heat, therefore not melting.  With everything heated up again, the final solder piece went and successfully stuck the wire down.  Unfortunately the wire itself had a slight curve, meaning it pointed up slightly and couldn’t all be attached to the copper.  However, it will suffice!  Janet suggested I leave it in the acid for ten minutes, but with my patience levels, that succumbed for about three.  I was so desperate to get it finished and show it off!

Next I was shown how to use the polishers (with obvious safety precautions such as goggles, aprons etc). Tripoli is the black, harsher polish used first.  Even after ten minutes of shining up my masterpiece, I was satisfied with the shine.  Janet however, was not and told me off for being so rash!  She said I had a long, long way to go and that it wasn’t shiny at all (I then moved onto the rouge, softer polish in the hope that it would miraculously ‘fix’ my bracelet.  No look was to be had and it was still below Janet’s standards.  That is as far as I got last week…So guess what I’m going to be doing next week?!  Yea…can’t wait!

After I finish the above, I will be creating the work of art I am currently designing!  It’s a ring…and made of silver and is going to be blumming hard to create!  That is all I will disclose at this time =)

Ciao for now.


Apprentice blog : The first two weeks.

By Ella Sadler-Andrews

I’ve finally started the practical side to my jewellery apprenticeship. Considering we initially came up with this plan in May (rough guess, can’t actually remember exactly…) it’s been a looong time coming. But hell, it’s been worth the wait!

We’ve had two sessions so far, starting with some pretty basic stuff. My coach/teacher/boss has been Janet. I chose not to go to University for many reasons, one being I was fed up of conventional education and teaching. Janet knows this so I can tell she’s making a super effort not to bore me or have a ‘regular’ teaching style.

I’m pretty impatient, especially when it comes to watching demonstrations. I’d rather just get on with it and freestyle…Janet keeps the instructions to a minimal, and practical to the max. (I would say) I’m a quick learner, I pick things up easily. I understand however, that some things within working with metals that I can’t just ad lib. For instance, soldering and fusing. That blumming blow torch is lethal. If Janet hadn’t have given me instruction with that weapon then I can safely say, I’d have no eyebrows left.

So as Julie Andrews would say… ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’. I’ve started working with copper to begin with. Firstly, I got to mark out a rectangle of copper which I then went on to saw out. I was never one for woodwork at school, but with this more delicate sawing, I only managed to break one blade! I eventually got to the stage of sawing out a (very) small star and a (very) small heart.

Copper’s edges are sharp. So sharp, I even cut my finger lightly on my own piece.  To avoid this and to also make an article look finished, you file. This is probably the most tedious job of them all. Getting the angle correct so you actually smooth the edges and not just sharpen them even more, plus not sanding too much that you gradually wear down the copper is a skill I’m really struggling with.

To save myself going mad, we moved onto the next task – fusing. Using layman’s terms fusing is ultimately joining two pieces of metal together (this time we used silver). The precision needed to get this right is fine. Fusing involves getting the metals to melting point at the same time so that when you take the heat away, they form a solid so they become one piece. You’ve also got to use a flux to aid the ‘joining’ called borax. I used a thin silver wire to fuse onto a silver plate. Getting both sections hot at the same time without melting the silver wire (as it heated much quicker) was hard to do. Naturally, I melted a fair bit of silver wire; however, it generally worked!