Annealing metal is extremely important and is one of the most basic tasks that a metal worker must do. Annealing metal is primarily used for three functions. The first function is to soften metal that has been work harden. The second function is to give the metal a different texture and color, which is primarily done with copper. There is a third function is when someone is working with reticulated silver.
How To Anneal Metal
There is only one way to anneal metal but there are countless ways to tell when it has been done. The way you anneal metal is to take a torch, light it and then start to evenly apply the heat to the metal in circles. Make sure the torch is more gas and less oxygen, that means the flame is a little more yellow then blue and no hissing sound. When the annealing is completed you stop applying the heat and quench the metal in the water and you have nice and soft metal.
Now how to tell when your work is finished? I was taught originally that the metal was annealed fully when working with silver and it turned a dark eggplant color, and when working with copper and it turned a dark maroon. The problem with this instruction is when is the color eggplant appropriately eggplant? This decision is even harder to make if you have just started doing metal work.
Another way to tell, which I learned on YouTube, is to take a sharpie and mark one side of the metal. Start to apply the heat regularly over the sharpie marked surface. Once the markings disappear then the metal has been annealed. This seems to work really well. Another way is to use flux as an indicator or look for the torch to kick off an orange flame.
What Annealing can Do?
The primary function of annealing is to soften the metal after it has been work hardened. This makes the metal easier to work with and can prevent the metal from tearing, which can happen when creating sheet. Another reason to anneal, mainly with copper, is to get cool coloring on the metal.
This coloring also can be done with chemical or natural patinas, but they are not the same. Remember coming up with annealing designs is a skill and takes time to learn. Also, after creating the design if you want it to be permanent you should apply a sealant.
Reticulating silver involves annealing the sheet silver several times and between each annealing putting the silver sheet into the pickle to remove the oxidized copper. This creates a layer of fine silver on the top that will start to wrinkle and form a skin. This creates a cool wave or wrinkled look on the silver and is used on all forms of jewelry. The process can be done quicker if you use silver that is meant to be reticulated, meaning it has a higher content of silver to copper ratio.
Annealing is a basic and crucial skill. Just like sawing and soldering metal workers get better at it over time. Just keep practicing and developing an eye for determining when the metal has been perfectly annealed and becomes natural looking.
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