Tonight, a little more than a month after my previous post, I finished what all of us in the soldering class had initially thought was the impossible: the Byzantine chain bracelet with handmade toggle clasp.
After a few weeks of frustration and agony I'd gotten the hang of controling the flame, the manual dexterity of handling those terrible little tweezers to place minute chips of solder on seams of metal. It all came together and, for better and for worse, completely opposed to my feeling in my previous post, soldering became the most relaxing task in my life.
The thing I love most about FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), where I took the Intro to Soldering class, is the lofty goals their classes present. On the first day of class, our instructor showed us the projects we would be required to complete. The ring, which looked like a forest of intricate confusion, and the Byzantine chain, which I believe is called Byzantine because of its mystifyingly complicated pattern (it's also known as "The Idiot's Delight"). How are we going to solder a tiny spot onto a delicate silver jump ring just over a quarter inch in diameter? Chie, our teacher, made it look easy, but he also had over 20 years of experience.
We started out trying to solder little sticks of silver onto a plate of brass. This must be like arts and crafts time in hell, I thought. Little did we know this would be harder than soldering silver to silver. So when the time came to "graduate" to one of the more complex projects, it was still difficult and it still took time, a lot of time, but we were prepared for it.
This one started out as 6 feet of 18 gauge sterling silver wire. I cut it into manageable 18"-ish lengths and used a skinny metal rod with a turn crank called a jump-ringer to coil the wire around so they ended up long, stiff coils of silver. Then I annealed the wire coils by heating them with a torch until they turned the color of salmon in the flame. Next, after dunking the coils into water to cool them off, I used a tiny sawblade to cut each individual ring from the coil. That's how the rings were made.
Then I took pliers to pull the ends of the rings away from each other and linked them together in the Byzantine pattern, which took a while to get a hang of. After that, I soldered each one closed individually.
The clasp I made out of another, larger gauge of silver rod using pliers and a forging hammer.
And now, to my total disbelief, it's done! In place of the anxiety I felt before there's a sense of accomplishment.