This great little tutorial by the Art of Metalsmithing YouTube Channel is on making a silver bezel setting for a cabochon is just the visual that many people need to get started out. It also introduces a technique that not every beginning smith is familiar with called pick soldering which will serve you well for more advanced projects in the future.
It’s definitely worth the watch for those looking for a simple way to set the bezel. Even better for those smiths who are limited to smaller torches, it’s done with a small, butane-powered micro torch. Most soldering videos are shot with a much more powerful oxy-acetylene torch which changes the dynamics a little bit and can throw off a newbie. Read more about torches here.
How To Make a Silver Bezel for Cabochon Step-By-Step
What You’ll Need to Follow Along
The following items are used in the video:
- 22-24g Sterling Silver Sheet- For the backplate of the bezel setting.
- 26-30g Fine Silver Bezel Strip- Fine silver is ideal for bezels due to it’s softness. If you’re using sterling I have some tips below to help get around it’s springiness.
- Butane Microtorch- While not ideal for silver work, these can do the trick. If you have a more powerful torch, that will work as well.
- Safe Soldering Area- The video uses a charcoal block on a tile. I prefer soft refractory bricks on a ceramic tile in my own workspace.
- Soldering Pick- The ideal metal for these is titanium. When I first learned about the technique I was able to pull it off with stainless steel dental picks, but they’re much trickier to work with.
- Solder Chips- You can use chips, wire, or any other form that you might have on hand. You’ll want hard and medium solder for this. If you only have hard it can still be done, it just requires more care.
- Stone- Your stone to be set. The bezel wire should at least come up to the curve of the cab, taller bezels can be shortened if required.
- Crosslocking Tweezers- Crosslocks are an essential tool in your workshop. I strongly recommend having multiple pairs of the ones with a bent nose and at least one copy of a set like this around.
- Flux Paste- The author of the video uses a borax cone, but any commercial flux for silver soldering will be fine. I generally use Stay-Silv or just add a bit of water to the powdered borax I keep on hand.
- Sharpie- For making any marks on the metal you need during the process.
- Jeweler Pliers-Notably, you’ll want round and flat nose pliers.
Two things not seen in this video that you’ll need are a bezel pusher (Use a square-tipped instead of the rounded “rockers” you often see) and some type of burnisher (with very few exceptions I always use agate).
If you’ve got all of the above then you’re good to go.
A Quick Overview of the Steps
I really recommend taking a look at the video to get a better idea of what’s going on, but some of us learn better by reading. In short, the steps taken are as follows:
- Bezel wire is sized by wrapping around the cabochon carefully, marking the overlap, and cutting just a bit further on it so that you have some extra metal.
- The bezel strip is carefully cut until the ends meet flush when wrapped around the cab. The shape doesn’t matter here as long as the size is correct, since the piece will be annealed and formed around the stone again before putting it on the backplate.
- Pick soldering is undertaken. You first apply flux to the joint, then take a small chip of solder, dip it in flux, and melt it while touching it with your soldering pick. This picks up the resulting ball. The bezel is then heated evenly and when close to the soldering temperature the pick is applied to the joint under the torch, moving the solder to the bezel.
- The backplate material is sanded and then cleaned thoroughly with soap to remove grease and other contaminants that can affect the solder’s flow. The backplate and bezel are then coated in flux.
- The bezel is placed on the backplate and fluxed solder chips are added around the edges of the interior of the bezel. The video uses four of them, which is a good guideline for all but the largest bezels.
- Check the bezel for gaps between the backplate and the strip. If there are any you’ll need to clean everything, pickle it, and solder it again.
- Place string or dental floss underneath your cab, extending over the sides, then put it in the bezel to make sure it fits snugly.
Some Extra Tips and Troubleshooting
I’ve written about soldering before, and this is one of the most common reasons that solder is used in a silversmith’s shop.
The video does a great job of explaining how to do it. Some tips to consider before you start on your own bezel:
- I use a jeweler’s saw to create a flush line between the sides of my bezel. The fine blade means that even if the angle is slightly off the ends will still fit together cleanly. 8/0 blades are the best for very thin bezel strips (ie: less than 28g in size.) 4/0 will do it in most other gauges without difficulty.
- If you have sanding discs for your rotary tool they can be used to clean the metal before soldering. I generally go over backplates with 400 grit radial wheels to clean off oxidation.
- You can use paste solder for closing the bezel strip if you have it, just make sure that it’s a hard solder. I generally close smaller joints like these with just a small amount of paste solder instead of pick soldering but the latter technique is quite valuable to learn.
- You can cut out a portion of the backplate for decoration or even just to save some silver for the scrap pile. This also makes it easier to remove the cabochon when you fit-test it at the end.
- If your bezel is too tall, you’ll want to sand or file it down so that it comes up just above the curve of the cab for the best end result.
- Firescale is cleaned off with pickle, a step described but not shown. A good homemade pickle consists of a few tablespoons of salt in white vinegar, preferably warmed in a small crockpot to keep it acting quickly.
- Sterling silver works well for bezels but you’ll want to anneal it quite a few times while you’re getting the sizing right. Remember to remove any oxidation from the process with a pickle wash before soldering.
- If you don’t have a hollow in your brick, like in the video, then you’ll want to heat around the backplate first until it begins to glow and carefully move onto the backplate itself. Heat rises, so the bezel itself will heat as long as you get the rest of the silver warm.
Once you have the bezel set, the steps to finish it off are relatively easy:
- Cut the excess backplate off using a jeweler’s saw.
- Solder on any necessary attachments (ie: bail, decorative elements)
- Set the stone by placing it in the bezel. You’ll want to start with a North-South-East-West rotation, and then gently move between the cardinal directions while keeping the bezel balanced. (ie: North to East first, South to West second, and so on)
- Once set over the stone, use your burnisher to smooth out the surface of the metal and remove any tool marks left behind.
Just remember that stone setting is generally the last step in creating your piece. At the very least it needs to come after all steps that require fire.
Additional Pro Tips
If you’re having trouble despite the video, then your problem likely falls into one of the following categories:
- Solder balling instead of flowing- Either the surface of the backplate or the solder itself has a layer of oxidation. Apply some sandpaper to remove the dull outer layer of the metal, wash the pieces, and try again.
- Bezel won’t stay down- Either you have oxidation preventing the soldering or your bezel isn’t sitting flat. Use your cross-lock tweezers to hold the pieces together during soldering or re-shape and sand the bezel until one side is flat.
- Solder won’t flow- Generally this is a problem of not having enough heat, but it can also be caused by a lack of flux (solder only goes where the flux is), skin oils on the metal, or oxidation under the solder. Check your piece over and see if it needs some more cleaning.
- Bezel keeps melting- In this case, you may need a tripod and to give it heat from below. Forming a hollow underneath to evenly heat the backplate also works. Remember that the backplate should be hotter than the bezel, despite being a larger piece of silver, for most of the soldering operation.
Enjoy Some More Tutorials
Art of Metalsmithing is a YouTube tutorial channel run by a woman named Basia. As a self-taught smith, she has a pretty good handle on what newbies need to know and her videos tend to be quite succinct.
Go ahead and give her channel a follow to see more great tutorials.