Introduction

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This is a Good Example of a Channel Setting not in 14 Gauge

Sterling Silver sheet is one of the important parts to the fabrication of jewelry pieces that have not been casted.  It is what is used to make the foundation for the pendant and in reality is the piece.  Silver sheet is usually bought in a square format and the cost depends on the gauge.  The higher number of the gauge the thinner the metal is.  The thicker the metal is the more expensive it is.

Now for different gauges there are different purposes.  Each gauge has its strengths and weaknesses.  This blog post will focus on what I primarily use different gauges of sterling silver for.  Anything below 14 gauge is going to be very thick and hard to work with.  Some of it will almost be like working with bricks.  Above 24 gauge the sheet will be similar to tin foil and extremely difficult to work with unless you are an experienced silver smith.

14 Gauge Sterling Silver

I have not worked much with 14 gauge.  Primarily because the high price of 14 gauge makes it hard to justify buying some in order to experiment with it.  I can tell you 14 gauge sterling silver is ideally used for channel settings.  A channel setting is when you take a U-shape of silver dig out channels on both sides of the U, slide a faceted stone in and then press the groves together then the metal above is hammer to secure the stone.

This sounds easy in theory but is very difficult to do in practice.  Anything thinner then 14 gauge would not have the mass to hold the stone in place and stay together over time.  Some jewelry even go far enough to say that channel settings should only be done in gold and platinum because silver is not sturdy enough.

18 Gauge Sterling Silver

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Example of Complicated Cut-Outs in 18 Gauge

18 gauge sterling silver is my favorite for pendants and brooches.  It is very sturdy, tough and easy to saw.  Many of the complicated cut-outs I do on my pieces are only possible because I am using 18 gauge.  In a thinner gauge I do much less complicated designs.

For any pendant or brooch that is not supported by a large stone I would use 18 gauge.  Even without being work hardened 18 gauge is really tough.  After being in a tumbler for 12 hours it would be difficult to bend the piece.

Now if I were making a pendant with more expensive stone, even large ones, I would also use 18 gauge sterling silver sheet.  The logic being that if you spent $40 or more on a stone don’t cheap out on the silver.  Spend a little extra on the sheet just to make the piece nicer.  With the thicker silver it makes it possible for me to do a complex cut out that would not be possible in 20 gauge.

Another use for 18 gauge is in hollow forms.  For a hollow form pendant or ring the top and bottom should be made of 18 gauge while the rim should be made with 20 gauge.  This will make the piece more sturdy and tough,

20 Gauge Sterling Silver

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A Less Complicated Cut-Out with 20 Gauge

The main perk of 20 gauge sterling silver is that it is cheaper then 18 gauge sterling silver.  It is not quite as versatile as 18 gauge but is still sturdy and strong.   It is good for beginner silver smiths that might not be ready to make the finical commitment to 18 gauge.

I still use 20 gauge a lot when I want to make a piece slightly cheaper.  But because it is weaker I will primarily use it on pieces that have additional support.  An example is when I am making a piece that has a large stone that has a flush or close to flush setting.  The stone will help give the piece more support so the additional strength provided by 18 gauge is not needed.

As stated before I only do this for stones that are cheaper or bigger.  An example is lets say I have a large rose quartz cabochon that I want to put on a bracelet.  I would use 20 gauge here because quartz is a very tough stone and will provide additional support.  In addition rose quartz is a cheap stone so I would not be able to make up the cost of using 18 gauge.  This way I can make a cheaper piece that will sell.

22 Gauge Sterling Silver

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A Nice Pendant in 22 Gauge

I would say 22 gauge is my least used gauge of sterling silver sheet.  One it is difficult to buy because many shops don’t carry it.  I have heard shop owners and studio operators say “why use 22 gauge when doesn’t really do the job of 24 gauge or 20 gauge.”

I would say 22 gauge is good for beginners.  First it is cheap.  22 gauge allows for a beginner to play and experiment without a major financial burden hanging over their head.

Second you can use it on earrings and pendants.  I have used 20 gauge for earrings and it is a bit heavy.  At the same time 24 gauge can be pretty difficult to work with for someone who is not used to silver.  Therefore for a beginner that wants to play with making earrings and pendants it is a good gauge to start with.

Third it is tough enough that you can still saw it with relative ease.  Even for someone like me that has been sawing for years I still make most of my mistakes with 24 gauge.   With this in mind 22 gauge is a good starting point for beginner silver smiths.  Now if you have to make 22 gauge yourself from 20 gauge using a rolling mill, just use the 20 gauge.

24 Gauge Sterling Silver

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24 Gauge Cut-Outs

I like to call 24 gauge the earring gauge.  This super thin gauge is ideal for solid silver earrings or earrings with stones.  All of my quarter dome earrings use 24 gauge and after being hardened in the tumbler 12 hours they are very sturdy.  People pick them up and are surprised at how light weight they are.

Now after hearing all of this remember 24 gauge sterling silver sheet is not good for pendants.  It will get beat up and bent fast if it were worn around the neck or dropped.  Also it is difficult to saw because it is so thin.  In addition when your filing the piece it is easy to file too much if you get distracted.

Lastly soldering 24 gauge can be hard.  If you apply even a little too much heat there is very little warning before parts or the whole thing melts away.  I have melted little bits on several occasions and luckily I have been able to use the file to fix it.  A few times I have completely melted, or I like to call it “nuked,” a earring by adding just a little too much heat.

That being said if you get good at using 24 gauge it is possible to make great lightweight earrings.  It is worth the time and hassle to learn how to work with 24 gauge in order to achieve this kind of work.

Conclusion

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An Excellent Example of a Hollow Form Ring

Different kinds of gauges are like different spices.  Some spices are used in some dishes while other spices are used in different dishes.  Sometimes these spices are mixed together, like with hollow forms, other times they are not.  Some spices should be used by beginners while other spices are for the more experienced.  Remember there is a point when a silver smith will have to branch out of their comfort zone and use different gauges for different purposes.

Most silversmiths like me have bag full of many different gauges of silver sheet.  This is necessary because you don’t know what a certain piece will require.  It always a good idea to keep track of what gauges you use and for what pieces.  This will help you decide what to buy next time.

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