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Argentium® Tips for New Users

In Tips & Tutorials on August 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Originally published by Marty Andersen of ArtFire’s CranberryKitty

Having worked with Argentium® since 2005, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and have learned a lot.  If you are new to Argentium® Sterling, here are some things that I have noted while working with Argentium® Sterling.  Your results may be different but I hope this helps a little.

1. Argentium® Sterling does not react in the same manor as regular Sterling Silver. It is much easier to not compare it to regular Sterling and just think of it as a completely different alloy.

2. Argentium® loves an oxygenated or neutral environment.  This is important to remember when considering your working surfaces and fluxes (if you choose to use flux).  Remember in the case of Argentium®, the flux is only used to help the solder flow, not to protect it from oxygen.  I like to use Rio Grande’s My-T-Flux®.  In some cases, I like to use Pro-Craft Biodegradable Jel-Flux also sold by Rio Grande.  Using a thick paste type flux just makes a mess and keeps the oxygen away from the Argentium®.  When it comes to the working surface, I have heard reports of possible problems when using charcoal blocks.  Charcoal blocks seem to starve the Argentium® of oxygen.

3. Argentium® seems to want to “slump” at high temperatures.  It may be necessary to support your work while heating it.

4. Argentium® is a very “white” metal.  The color seems to be quite rich and there is a definite difference in color between regular Sterling Silver and Argentium® Sterling Silver.

Comparing Argentium Sterling Silver and Regular Sterling Silver

Comparing Argentium Sterling Silver and Regular Sterling Silver

5. If your Argentium® is getting to the bright orange hot stage when heating, it’s probably too hot.

6. Care must be taken when the Argentium® is very hot.  If you try to move it when it’s even got a slight glow, you run the risk of breaking it.  When the Argentium® is very hot, like when you fuse it, it seems to go into a state that is somewhere between solid and liquid. The best way I can think to describe it, is similar to what slush is like in the snow.  If you try to move your piece (or press down on it) in this state, it will break apart.

7. I love to fuse with Argentium®.  Granules, wire, and sheet all seem to fuse with ease.  I think part of it has to do with the way Argentium® likes to “slump”.  I have also had good success fusing fine silver to Argentium®.  When fused, the joint seems to be very strong.  The great thing about fusing is you can make a piece quite rapidly.  Start with the largest pieces and work your way down to the smallest. When using My-T-Flux® for fusing, there seems to be no need to pickle in between steps.

8. One of the things I love most about Argentium® Sterling Silver is the ability to “super anneal” it.  If you quench the Argentium® a little early, it becomes super malleable.  Caution! If you quench too early, it will stress fracture. It takes a little practice, but if you do it, the Argentium® is almost like working with lead.

Argentium Sterling Silver quenched too early causing stress fractures.

Argentium Sterling Silver quenched too early causing stress fractures.

9. When hammering or working the Argentium® in another way, it seems to be able to go longer between annealings than does regular Sterling Silver. However, go too long and it will crumble and crack without warning.  Don’t be tempted to go too long between annealings.

10. Argentium® can become quite hard after heat hardening.  The great thing is, that this can be done at quite low temperatures; 500-550 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put it in a toaster oven at that temperature for about an hour, let it cool to room temperature, and you should see a considerable difference in the hardening of the alloy.  The thicker the metal, the easier it will be to tell a difference.  For very small items you may not notice a change.

11. When casting with Argentium®, if you let the flask cool to room temperature after casting and then remove the piece from the investment, you will find the alloy to be quite hard.  I find there is no need to heat harden a piece after it’s cast if I let it cool to room temperature before removing from the investment as long as no further heat is applied to the piece.

These are just a few of the things I’ve noted when working with Argentium® Sterling.  Your results may vary depending on your working conditions.  I’m sure I’ve missed some of the other unique characteristics of Argentium® Sterling Silver and since the alloy is still relatively new, I’m sure there is still a lot to learn in the future.  Remember to keep an open mind and have fun!

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