First Heirloom Bracelet Soldered Chainmaille

Soldering Jump Rings in Chainmaille

For the last few months, I have been working on soldering jump rings for my chainmaille jewelry. I am bringing out a line of “heirloom” jewelry in which all the rings are soldered. In most cases, chainmaille doesn’t require soldered rings: the rings won’t open unless they receive a lot of stress. For example, I have been wearing my Full Persian bracelet nearly every day for almost 2 years, and I have only had to fix one ring near the clasp.

However, with some of the designs that use larger rings in a not-so-dense pattern, the rings may begin to open over time, particularly if they get rough usage. The viperscale bracelet shown below has a big aspect ratio (AR 5.9), so the rings are not strong enough to hold up to long-term tugging or yanking. I had given one of these bracelets to a colleague, who wore it regularly. She is fairly hard on jewelry, and after 8 months, one of the rings opened and fell out. I first started thinking about soldering rings while repairing her bracelet.

Challenges of soldering jump rings for chainmaille

Soldering set up and tools
Soldering set up and tools

Soldering chainmaille jump rings is challenging for several reasons.

First, the joints to be soldered are very small. For example, with 18 gauge wire, the two edges to be soldered are only 1.02 mm across, which is the wire diameter. This means I needed to use only a very little solder. Too much solder would cover too much of the ring and, in my opinion, detract from the beauty of the finished piece. On the other hand, too little solder would create a weak, incomplete joint. Solution: Use pre-cut chips of solder.

Second, the rings are close together. When I would solder a woven ring, I had to make sure I wouldn’t overheat any other rings. This would cause their solder to melt again and would fuse the rings together. Basically, when soldering one ring, I had to prevent other rings from overheating. Solution: Careful placement of rings in the clamps and very careful use of the torch.

Third, soldering the rings takes a lot of preparation work and perseverance. Each ring needs to be soldered when woven into place, so it’s weave, solder, weave, solder, etc. Solution: Play music, drink coffee, and don’t think about the time.

Equipment and supplies list

  • Butane Micro torch, plus a butane refill canister (I use more than a 1 full canister to complete the job)
  • Titanium pick (to pick up and move around the solder chips)
  • Sheet of 70% silver solder, cut into chips (chip size: 1.5 x 1.0 millimeter, more or less)
  • Third hand clamp to hold the chain
  • Fire brick
  • Flux
  • Small bowl of water to quench the pieces after soldering
  • Basic chainmaille tools (e.g., pliers, Tool Magic, magnifying lamp)

Soldering process

Soldering chainmaille is a long, long process:

  1. Weave one ring into place
  2. Set the chain in the clamp in such a way that it maximizes exposure to the target ring and still has a strong enough grip to keep the chain from slipping
  3. Coat the target ring with flux
  4. Heat the ring to nearly glowing red
  5. Pick up the solder on my titanium pick and hold it to the joint
  6. Finish heating the ring to cause the solder to melt and flow into the joint (“pushing” the melted solder into place if it spreads too far in one direction)
  7. Release the chain from the clamp and quench it in water to cool it
  8. Inspect the joint
  9. Get the next ring
Close up of soldered chain in progress
Close up of soldered chain in progress

Cleaning silver after soldering

The job isn’t over once the rings are all soldered, including the rings holding the clasp. Soldered silver is a mess! Burned flux and firescale damage make the rings super rough and black. Silver needs to be pickled to clean it, even before polishing.

I made my own silver pickle solution from vinegar and salt. Recipe: 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 teaspoon of salt.

I put the vinegar and salt in a ceramic cup and heated it in the microwave for a minute. (Chain doesn’t take up much space, so I don’t need a “pickle pot.” The cup worked fine.) Then I dropped the chain into the vinegar-salt solution and left it there for about 5 minutes, stirring each minute. Finally, I fished out the bracelet, rinsed it in cold water, and washed it with soap.

As I normally do, I tumble polished the chain for about an hour and a half to give it a good shine.

And the result

I’m very pleased with the finished result. The soldered joints are strong and barely noticeable.

Here is how the joints look prior to final polishing (which makes the joints more noticeable):

Soldered Chainmaille Close Up

Soldered Close Up, Soldered Joints Circled

Soldered Chain Close Up

Soldered Chain, Joints Circled

Overall, this first “official” soldered chain took around 15 hours to complete, compared with 6-7 hours or so for the non-soldered version.

Other heirloom pieces

As mentioned, most designs won’t benefit from soldering the rings: they simply don’t need it. In other cases, soldering would be nearly impossible because the weave is too dense to isolate a single ring for soldering. Here’s the list of designs available in both standard (non-soldered) and heirloom (soldered) versions:

Viperscale
See the product description

Viperbasket
See the product description

Full Persian (heavy)
See the product description

Half Persian
See the product description

Candy Cane Cord
See the product description

Turkish Round
See the product description

Personal Note

A special thanks to Jerry Burkhart of SellerGroup for his how-to advice on soldering rings.