With a growing popularity for their Southwestern-styled jewelry using designs made from scrolled copper wire, Nic and Eileen East of Jim Thorpe needed a method of producing small high-quality welds.
Nic, an industrial designer who has welded most of his adult life, realized that a special piece of equipment was necessary, one that would produce small welds in an exact location, and would weld highly conductive materials such as gold, silver and copper without producing a discoloring oxide film.
His research led to a jeweler's welder that had come on the market only two years ago, the Orion Master Jeweler Plus. The jewelry welder operates in three modes, one of which is pulsed-tungsten-inert-gas, a welding technique where a controlled amount of electricity is pulsed across a gap between a high melting resistant tungsten electrode surrounded by inert argon gas and the grounded work piece.
Precision welding is accomplished by making the weld while it is viewed under a stereo microscope. The microscope has two settings, 5x and 10x magnification. and has an optical shutter that prevents light from reaching the eyes when the weld arc is formed.
"What excited us was that we could weld copper," Nic said. "Welding copper takes an inert gas because oxides of copper are black and sooty and contaminate the weld. You can't do it with just a torch or stick welding."
"It works only to 150 joules or amp seconds which is good for materials from the thickness of foil to material one-sixteenth of an inch thick-perfect for jewelry," Nic continued. "It has a microscope attached to it with a remote control shutter that shuts off the light coming through the microscope when the arc operates-so you don't get blinded by the spark."
Since buying the welding system, Nic has been experimenting. He wanted to weld copper, so he thought, "Why not weld a couple of pennies together?"
As soon as he began welding the pennies, he began coughing as an acrid smoke formed from the vaporized metal. In all his years welding, Nic had never seen copper behave that way. He decided to check how much copper is in a penny, and was surprised to learn that pennies minted since 1982 are made of zinc plated with copper.
Zinc can be toxic when inhaled or ingested, so if Nic plans to continue welding pennies, he will need to work under a fume hood. Pennies, Nic has discovered are a poor choice as a welded art material. Besides the toxicity, the zinc in a penny is difficult to weld ,and the copper from the coating leaves a black color in the resulting joint.
This research led Nic to discover that quarters are minted of copper with a coating of nickel. He found that quarters were perfect for his experimental welds.
Returning to the pennies, Nic wanted to fashion a business card holder from welded pennies. Although the pennies were problematic to weld, he persevered and completed the base and the cover of the prototype unit. He designed a stained glass liner for the penny business card holder, and at the time of this writing is continuing to debug the design.
"I'm optimistic about the welder," Nic said. "I'm a lifelong welder-almost fifty years. I got the job of learning how to use this machine so I can teach my wife and she can make her entrée into welding."
"She sees my struggle and sees how hard it will be, but she's courageous and will do it," he continued. "This was her idea, so she has to defend her idea. I think it was a good investment. It's going to lead to a lot of quality time between us."