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Pickling is something that metal smiths are doing all the time. We forget that there’s a lot we do in the jewelry-making process that most people know nothing about.
No, we aren’t pickling cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, etc. We use a warm solution of sodium bisulfate after we’ve soldered metal. The pickle removes oxidation. We can also use it before soldering to ensure that the metal is clean.
What is it?
A warm solution of sodium bisulfate. It’s a mild acid.
Why is it called pickle?
Before sodium bicarbonate was available, jeweler’s made their own pickle solution with alum. Alum is used to make pickles. I distinctly remember my grandma using alum for her pickles.
What’s it for?
When soldering metal, you can clean the metal before soldering it by letting it have a swim in the pickle pot. But it’s most common to use pickle after you solder. The pickle removes the oxidation from the metal.
Oxidation happens when heat is combined with a metal alloyed with copper and oxygen; like when soldering!
I keep my pickle solution in a wee slow cooker (that’s it in the image above). Often jewelers will pick up a Crock-pot at a thrift store and use it as their pickle pot. I may need to do this soon because I’m making larger pieces (chunky bangles for example) and my mini pickle pot isn’t big enough!
A lot goes into the process of making jewelry. There are many steps, lots of tools and techniques as well as chemistry. There's always more to learn!