Metal to Metal: The Cold Connections

Design Idea C16W Necklace and Earrings

by Barbara van Look, Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

The image of the blacksmith is powerful: using fire to form, alter and connect metal shapes. However, fire is not required to create connections between multiple pieces of metal.

When you want to connect a variety of metal components together without using heat, you can using what is called a "cold connection." (Soldering, welding and firing silver clays make warm connections.)

Cold connections come in two different categories: pierced and adhered. Pierced cold connections include riveting and wireworking. Adhered cold connections are created using glues, clays and bonding materials such as Apoxie® Sculpt.

Pierced Cold Connections: Riveting and Wireworking

Rivets are a great way to combine layers of material together. Riveting is much easier and less intimidating than it sounds. It can be done with any of three easy-to-obtain materials: wire, grommets or crimp tubes.

When riveting, it is critical to choose the material according to the size of the opening or drill hole in the metal. If the hole is too small, the rivet will not fit. If the hole is too large, the rivet will slide, slump, bend or distort. Tidy rivets hold better, preventing components from working apart as well as adding a professional appearance to designs.
  • Open Rivets
    A rivet made of a grommet, tube or crimp tube connects multiple layers together while allowing for the insertion of a jumpring, wire or other additional connections, embellishments or materials. Open rivets are easily made with grommets, tubes and crimp tubes.

    A grommet is simply a tube with one flared end already prepared. They are ideal for larger drill holes, as grommets measure 2mm to 8mm in diameter and are available in sterling silver and brass finished with copper, silver, gold or gunmetal.

    The flared ends hold the layers together and the tube forms a hole that passes through all the layers. Having a tube that is the proper length for the layers being joined is key to the success of this process. If necessary, trim the tube with a jeweler's saw.
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For step-by-step instructions see the Riveting with a Tube or Crimp Tube how-to video and illustrated instructions by jewelry-making guru Tammy Honaman.
  • Solid Rivets
    Riveting with wire and other solid materials can be more challenging, as you have a wider spectrum of materials to choose from. However, more material choices also leads to greater flexibility in your designs.

    A wire rivet is formed into a nail-like head on each end, with the layers to be joined sandwiched in between then held in place. A ball-peen hammer, vise and flush-cutter pliers are essential for this technique.

    For step-by-step instructions on this process, view Tammy's how-to video: Riveting with a Wire Rivet.

Wireworking includes a number of techniques for binding two pieces of metal together: wrapping, "stitching" and linking. Jewelry makers can expand their wire-based cold connections to include wrapping, weaving and stitching with wire.
  • Wire-Wrapping
    The same techniques used to wrap multiple pieces of metal wire together to create jewelry can be expanded to include other kinds of components as well. Wire-wrapping can be adapted to attach layers of wire, metal sheet and gemstone components.

  • Wire-Weaving
    This method draws on the same techniques used with yarn and other fibers, such as loomweaving, knitting, crochet and more. Designs that utilize wire-weaving can contain wire and metal sheet, as well as embedded beads, drops, mountings, settings and other jewelry-making components.

  • Wire-Stitching
    Another technique adapted from fiber-based arts, wire-stitching uses some of the same methods that tailors and seamstresses use to fashion clothing. Try wire-stitching to create hinged and appliqué-style designs.

Adhered Cold Connections: Glue, Clay and Apoxie® Sculpt

Glues are usually the first method jewelry makers use to connect metal surfaces together. The best metal-to-metal connections are created by adhesives with certain qualities: minimal shrinkage, industrial-strength adhesion and gap-filling properties.

When gluing metals together, it is critical to prepare their surfaces. Even the best adhesives need something to grip, so designers need to sand the surface to create roughness or drill holes into the metal to facilitate adhesion. This is especially important for metals with highly polished, glossy surfaces.

Our in-house jewelry designers recommend the following glues for creating metal-to-metal connections:
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  • E-6000®
    This multi-purpose glue will bond to just about everything. Components can be adhered and adjusted repeatedly until the glue dries. This is a very thick adhesive, with tremendous gap-filling qualities and superior adhesion. Once dried, E-6000 remains flexible and is ideal for pieces that may undergo pressure or torque. E-6000 needs to be clamped as it dries to prevent component separation.

  • Devcon Jeweler's 2-Ton 2-Part Epoxy
    This two-part epoxy creates a very strong, tight bond. It is available with a 2-minute or a 30-minute curing time, with the 30-minute version creating the tighter bond. To create the strongest connection, lightly coat each surface as you would with a contact cement, wait briefly until the sides are slightly tacky then place the two pieces together. They will instantly adhere. The metal pieces will be fixed in place and will not be adjustable.
  • GORILLA™ Glue
    GORILLA Glue is ideal for projects that require a firm connection, with plenty of time to set and cure. This glue requires moisture to cure, so metal pieces should be able to be dampened before gluing. GORILLA glue dries over the course of 3-4 hours and needs to be clamped as it dries to prevent the glue from pushing components apart while foaming up.

Clays and Resins
Kato Polyclay™ and Vitrium® resin clay can be used to connect multiple pieces of metal together, especially openwork or filigree styles. These clays add a variety of color possibilities to the connections between metal components, which most clear-drying glues cannot do.
  • Kato Polyclay
    This is not entirely a cold connection, as all polymer clays need to be baked to cure. However, the bright colors possible with polymer clays are too important to overlook. Embed filigree components in polymer clay to create double-sided components and jewelry that has the flash and strength of metal with the controllable, blendable colors created by artists using Kato Polyclay.

  • Vitrium Clay
    This is a completely cold connection as Vitrium is an air-dry resin available in both opaque and translucent versions. Colors can be added to both types using paints, inks, markers, highlighters and other color sources. Use opaque Vitrium as a backing for metal components or create stained-glass style pieces with openwork metal components and translucent Vitrium.

Other Bonding Materials
Apoxie® Sculpt allows the jewelry designer to connect metal components together with the ease of glues while retaining the color benefits of resins and clays. It is a two-part epoxy clay that gives the adhesion power of epoxy and the moldable flexibility of polymer clays. It is a self-hardening dimensional adhesive that hardens at room temperature within 24 hours.
  • Apoxie® Sculpt
    Apoxie Sculpt has tremendous gap-filling properties and extremely strong adhesion. It can be used to fill bezels and openwork components, allowing for other metal components to be embedded, attached or connected--all without torches, metalsmithing tools, kilns, dedicated baking ovens or other expensive equipment.

    Apoxie works on vastly different metals, adhering to almost any clean surface. It has a smooth consistency and does not shrink or expand during drying and curing. Designers can create custom colors to match or contrast with other design elements.

    Apoxie can be mixed by hand into a smooth, putty-like clay. It is at its most adhesive in the first 30 minutes of mixing and can be worked for up to 3 hours, after which time it sets. It is non-toxic, non-hazardous and non-flammable. It is also waterproof once cured, yet it can be painted, dyed and tinted any color. Within 24 hours, Apoxie Sculpt is fully cured and waterproof, with a flat to semi-gloss finish.
Connect mixed metals using this variety of techniques, all without torches or metalsmithing tools. Use different kinds of "cold connections" to create layered and pieced designs from multiple metal materials.

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Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article "Metal to Metal: The Cold Connections," as featured in an email newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"The adhering part of the article taught me a new trick - yay! Thanks,"
- Gail

"Good, concise and useful article. Thank you."
- Joan

"This is very helpful, I am no longer able to use a torch as I did years ago. Information, workable and succinct. Thank you."
- Gloria