Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tutorial Tuesday! Pipe Bezels by Karen McGovern

As a jewelry designer, I try to set my standards quite high---I want my clients and collectors to be assured that when they purchase from me, they are getting the best quality.  That's why I only buy my copper plumbing pipe from reputable hardware stores.  Wait...what?

Yes, today we will be working with one of my favorite things...copper pipe from the hardware store! This quick and easy tutorial is a great way to begin working with solder and a great way to experiment making bezels in differing depths. There are so many things you can do with copper pipe bezels!!!

What you'll need:

Copper pipe from Home Depot, Lowes, etc.  The pipe comes in different diameters, so pick up a variety. You can usually find short lengths, or ask if they will cut lengths to your specifications.

Pipe Cutter. You can buy this in the same section  you find the pipe.

Copper Sheet - Etsy, Rio Grande, Cool Tools

Easy Solder Paste - Cool Tools

Micro Torch - Amazon, WalMart, Etsy

Metal Shears - Rio Grande

Sandpaper/Sanding Sponges - Hardware Stores

Flat and Needle Files - Etsy, Hardware Stores, Rio Grande

Fine Line Sharpie

Liver of Sulfur or Patina of your choice - Cool Tools

What You'll Do:

First, begin writing a tutorial about making bezels using copper pipe and HAVE YOUR COMPUTER EAT ALL THE IMAGES YOU TOOK FOR IT THE DAY YOU WANT TO POST IT.  Oh, wait...that's not for you to do, THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED TO ME. CRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAP. 

So, this tutorial may or may not have pictures that make sense.  I will do my best to describe the process.  SORRY, FOLKS!

First, decide how deep you want your bezel to be and mark a cut line on your pipe using a fine line Sharpie.  

Place the pipe in the cutter, lining the cutting disc up with your mark and tighten the cutter enough to hold the pipe in place but still allow you to rotate the cutter around the pipe. Tighten the cutter after each rotation until the pipe is cut through.  Viola! You have your bezel wall.

Clean the cut pipe by sanding edges smooth, file away any excess metal, etc.  At this point you can texture the sides by hammering on a ring mandrel if you wish. You can also texture the lip of the bezel as I did using a hammer.


Place the pipe bezel on a sheet of copper and trace around the bezel leaving a bit of extra room for ease in soldering.  At this point you can get creative, depending on what you plan to make here.  You can cut a free form shape for a pendant, or just create a simple bezel cup for a ring.  Go NUTS!

Dab 2mm dots of Easy Solder paste on the bottom of the bezel then set on the copper sheet.  Place on a solder block and heat with a micro torch, moving the flame around the bezel and bezel plate until the metal begins to glow red and the solder flows.  


Note:  Cool Tools has great videos and tutorials on their site that show how to use their solder pastes.  I love solder paste--it has flux in it so you save a step and it holds pieces together sort of like glue for quick soldering.  If you have not tried it go for it!  I also show more about this in and earlier tutorial for LMAJ here.

Quench and pickle.  

*****NOTE ABOUT PICKLE*****I ran out of commercial pickle powder (which I get from Cool Tools) when I was making this tutorial.  (Do you get the idea this tutorial was doomed from the start?  Computer ate all the photos, ran out of pickle...If your computer starts to smoke while you read this, RUN!) Anyway, I made vinegar/salt pickle for the first time and it worked LIKE A CHARM (take THAT stupid tutorial).  One cup white distilled vinegar, one heavy teaspoon coarse salt, heated in a clean crock pot.  Smelled a bit, but firescale will literally float off whatever you pickle in a remarkably short time!  Keep your pickle clean and separate.  By that I mean use one pot for copper, one for brass and one for sterling.  If you don't have a line of labeled pickle pots, be sure to make a clean, fresh batch for each metal you pickle.  If you combine metals in the same pickle you will plate your metals with copper.  Brass and silver will turn pink and require a lot of cleaning and sanding to get the copper deposit off.  SCIENCE!!!

Back to the tutorial that is trying to kill me....

At this point, simply clean and finish your bezel.  If making a ring, invert on a solder block and solder on a ring blank (which you can make from pipe, by the way!!!).  If making a pendant, drill or punch holes for split rings or solder on a bail.  The possibilities are endless! You can make an open back bezel using copper washers (Home Depot). There are just so many options with this easy design. Patina if you wish, and then fill the bezel with WHATEVER YOU WANT.  These bezels are great for resin work, mixed media, riveting, you name it.  Another note: Yes, there will be a line of silver at the base of your bezel where it meets the copper back plate.  If you patina with liver of sulfur that should blend away nicely.  If you are really bothered by the silver line, patina, then color with a deep brown sharpie marker.  Seriously.  This will blend with the copper and works quite well.  I cover the silver, blend with my finger and let dry. Then I seal with clear coat, wax, whatever.  Sharpies are magic.....

Trimmed and sanded bezel.  I haven't used any patina yet....

TIP:  You don't have to leave the bezel round.  I cut larger diameter pipe, then bend and shape the bezel free-form depending on what I want to make.  For the ring below I shaped the cut pipe to an oval-ish shape, soldered on a back plate, cut and trimmed, and then used more pipe for the ring shank.  The pearl is in a commercial silver bezel I soldered to the side.  I resin set abalone veneer inside the bezel.  As you can see, I'm into abalone these days....THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO USE PIPE BEZELS!!  

The image below is the direction I am going with the bezel I made for this tutorial.  It fits a sea urchin shell perfectly, and I plan to rivet or micro-screw the pearl in the middle, through the bezel back and abalone shell which will hold the bezel on the abalone shell. The urchin will be resin set inside the bezel....it will hopefully be a pretty  cool pendant by the time I am done.  

So, what will YOU make with your pipe bezels???  Show us!!! Now, go make something AMAZING!


mairedodd said...

pipe bezels are the best - and your post was fabulous. seriously, how incredible are you that you can have it fall apart under your feet and still put one up that dances circles around one of mine that has all parts intact!
your work is wonderful and so is this post -
the only thing i would mention is that for rings people need to work in the order of highest to lowest temp solder.

Lucid Moon Studio said...

I tried to make these a few years ago, but I could not get the pipe cutter to cut the pipe. I used the same looking pipe cutter as you have pictured and I bought the copper pipe and cutter from Ace Hardware. I thought I wasn't strong enough or something, so I had my husband try too and he couldn't cut it either. Any ideas why this would happen? I assumed I needed to anneal the pipe first, but I never tried it again. Thanks for the great tutorial - I would really like to try it again!

Carol Dekle said...

Wow! You made THAT ring from copper tubing?? It turned out beautiful. Great post Karen!

Anonymous said...

Gosh this is such a great tutorial (in spite of all your problems) Now I want to head for the hardware store and it's almost midnight. Thanks. These are beautiful!

Karen McGovern said...

I'm sorry you had trouble cutting the pipe! I'm not sure why unless your pipe cutter was bad. I've never had that problem. It takes a bit of patience, rotating the cutter around the pipe, tightening after each rotation. I do not anneal first. Try again with a new cutter! Hope you have better results...

crquack said...

Agreed that a good quality cutter is a must. Ridgid is the industry standard (I have three!)

A couple of points:
1) To clean up the freshly cut pipe get yourself a deburring tool - much quicker and cleaner than sanding and filing.

2) I use copper solder from Rio Grande (if you want to try it without buying a whole lot I have some in my shop

If you do not overheat it the color match is pretty good and it takes liver of sulphur nicely.

3) All my copper tubing comes from a scrap yard.

Brandi Bradley said...

Thanks for sharing this tutorial! It is easy to follow, and has a lot of areas where one can insert their own touch. I really like that one in the second-to-the-last pic. It must’ve taken quite an effort to make it look so amazing. Cheers!

Brandi Bradley @ Rotax Metals

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