Thursday, February 2, 2012

Drilling and Soldering with Sea Glass

For this months "Aspiring Metalsmiths" blog roll we've decided to do tutorials to share information and learn from each other.  My tutorial is about drilling sea glass and soldering it onto a closed sterling silver ring that can be hung from a necklace or made into earrings.  There may be a better way of doing it...but after lots of trial and error, this is the method that works for me.  I should add that this tutorial is geared for people with some basic knowledge of soldering.  While I go into great detail about working with the glass, I don't go into great detail about the actual soldering.

First, you'll need to find yourself some sea glass. 

The best beaches for finding sea glass are beaches near old city dumps or beaches where the sand is pebbly.  If it's not too cold, wade out a little to where the waves crash...that's where the best sea glass can be found.  Also...get there early before other beach combers take all the beautiful cobalt blue!

Drilling the sea glass:
*I use a 1mm diamond tipped ball bur for a dremel that I purchased at my local hardware store.

* I fill a glass pyrex baking pan with about 1" of water and attach my dremel bur to my Flex shaft.  You can use a dremel or a drill press...I just happen to have a flex shaft, so that's what I use.
*First, mark the spot that you want to drill with a sharpee.  Turn it over and mark the other side as well.  It helps to hold the glass up to the light so you can see the first sharpee mark through the glass...this will help you to be able to place the second mark directly opposite it.  You want the sharpee marks to line up as perfectly as possible since you will be drilling halfway through on one side, and halfway through on the want the holes to line up.

*Place the sea glass glass in the water...I just hold it with my hands.  Being careful to only get the tip of the bur wet and NOT the flex shaft, drill halfway through one side of the glass...flip it over and drill the rest of the way through the other side.  Don't apply pressure...just let your drill bit do the work.  You'll know it's working when you see clouds of powdered glass swirling around your bur.

*Because you will be putting the glass onto a ring that will be soldered closed, you don't want the hole to be too tight on the metal.  If the fit is too snug, the glass will conduct too much heat and the glass will break.  Even though 16g round sterling silver wire fits perfectly through the hole made by the 1mm ball bur, I still like to widen the hole a little just to be safe.  For this, I attach a diamond tipped bead reamer to my flex shaft.  Again, place the glass in the water and drill with the graduated reamer to enlarge the hole.

Soldering a Sterling Silver ring closed with the sea glass on it:
* Make a ring whatever size you like with your 16g wire (other gauges of wire can be used...I'm using 16g for this project).  

At this point I set the glass aside and solder the ring closed without the glass on it.  This way I can hammer it perfectly round on my round mandrel.  Once I have a perfectly round ring, I cut it open at the seam, file the ends and put the sea glass on.  Close it the same way you would close a jump ring.

*Now to solder...Hold the ring of silver with your third hand tool and at the same time clamp the sea glass with a pair of cross locking tweezers.  The tweezers act as a heat sink and help to prevent the sea glass glass from breaking.  I use medium Silver solder for this step because it requires less heat than hard solder, yet is still strong enough for everyday wear.  I have had success with hard solder, but the chances of breaking the sea glass are higher.  Solder your ring closed by pick soldering.  Basically, heat the ring and place your solder on the join.  Circle the ring again with your flame and heat the solder to help it flow.  Try not to directly hit the glass with your flame if you can.  Do this step as quickly as you can to avoid excess heat flowing to the glass.  Get in and get out!

DO NOT QUENCH!!  after your solder flows....walk away!  Sorry to scream, but this is important. :-)  Go heat up your coffee, check your e-mail.  Basically...let the glass cool on it's own.

Pickling and Finishing:

* I use eco-pickle, which is basically just distilled white vinegar and table salt...OR sometimes red wine vinegar and pink Himalayan salt for a gourmet pickle, if that's all I have left in the cupboards.  I take a coffee cup, fill it with just enough vinegar to cover my piece...and microwave it about 60 seconds until its hot.  I then put it on the warmer on my stove top and add the salt.  (sometimes I put it on an electric coffee cup warmer in the garage because nobody in my house likes the strong smell of warm vinegar).   IN THE MEAN TIME...I put my sea glass charm into a cup and ran it under luke warm water...gradually turning the water warmer and warmer until it is sitting in a cup of hot water.  Only then do I put the charm into the hot pickle.  Basically, when working with glass, you want to avoid ANY abrupt temperature changes that will result in your glass breaking.
*Rinse in warm water...then file, sand, finish as you would finish any silver jewelry.  Finally, I tumble it for about 15 minutes to clean the glass and give an even finish to the doesn't break the least not yet. :-)

Click on the links below to view the tutorials written by my fellow Aspiring Metalsmiths:


  1. Thanks for the helpful tutorial!

  2. Awesome! I love sea glass and I'd be terrified of soldering a ring closed with it. Maybe I'll experiment with a huge ring! I could make hoop earrings. Thank you!


  3. Wonderful! I think I will try this some time :)

  4. That is very cool, Lilian! I wouldn't have been brave enough to try that myself but now that I have an example...thanks! I love the look of that necklace. Nice job!

  5. What a great tutorial!! So detailed and full of great information. Can't wait to trying drilling a piece some time. Thanks!

  6. Thanks so much, very helpful and I don't mind that you scream if it's important ;]

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I have it bookmarked as I'm getting into beach glass jewelry. I would like to solder my rings as well for a more finished look. I don't care for jump rings left open.