Pulse Arc Welding for Jewelers: The Revolution is Now!

by Metalwerx on August 6, 2014

There’s a micro-revolution happening in studios. It takes place one pulse at a time but can add up to big savings of time and money. Developments in pulse arc welding technology are giving jewelers an alternative to soldering that can ultimately free them to indulge in more creative pursuits.

“We finally have something for the little guys,” says Sessin Durgham, technical support agent at Rio Grande Jewelry Supply. He has seen a boom in smaller, more affordable micro-Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) machines making their way into shops of various sizes. There is a learning curve to making the most of a welder, he says, but when the calls for technical help stop coming, he knows he’s done with the hand holding. “That’s always good news.”

Sessin Durgham, award winning jeweler and tech support rep at Rio Grande.

Sessin will introduce pulse arc welding to the Metalwerx community in an upcoming workshop, “Innovations in Metalworking: Pulse-Arc Welding” (Sept. 19-21). Participants will have access to an Orion brand welder (one for every two students). There will be pre-made projects on which to practice, such as welding small silver findings, and re-tipping a prong-set CZ in a silver band. Students will have the option to purchase one of three Orion models after class.

Trade journals have plenty of stories about jewelers who have used welding technology, either pulse arc or laser, to enable them to create pieces that would have been impossible without this option. The biggest concern about adding a welding machine to a studio is often the price, but even that is changing.

“We want one!” said Lindsay Minihan, Executive Director at Metalwerx. “We invest all revenue back into our organization to support our programs. It’s important to keep Metalwerx at the forefront of the industry, and prepare our students for a career in jewelry and metal arts.”

To ensure our classroom has the most current metalworking technologies, Metalwerx is embarking on a fundraising campaign to purchase this specialized equipment (see more below). “We’ll be better able to service the public,” Lindsay added. “We can take in jewelry for repairs, and educate our students on how to best take advantage of this incredible tool for their own work. And the folks who take the course can come in and use it.”

Pulse arc welders use a sharpened electrode tip that is placed on the seam. An electric energy pulse of argon gas produces a rapid-fire zap that joins the metal. On the other hand, costlier laser welders shoot a hot, high-speed beam of light energy through the air to reach the seam. Either method is a vast improvement over soldering. One can connect metals with no fear of firescale, or more importantly, causing damage to precious stones that already are in place.

Pulse arc welding in action. Note the running bead, and the seam preparation.

This means repairs can be done in record time. No removal of stones. No concerns about matching solders. Re-sizing rings, re-attaching fallen earring posts, re-tipping prongs, spot welding areas to keep complex sections in place—all can be done in just a few minutes, followed by normal clean-up. The design and time-saving implications are enormous.

“The technology has advanced. The machines are better, and there is more education [available] on the equipment,” Sessin said. “Some people have used them successfully for a long time, but just a tiny group. Now that’s growing.”Video: attaching an ear post. More demonstration videos available at the Orion website.

Embracing a new and relatively pricey technology for the studio is something experienced jewelers may have trouble with. We’re trained to use solder, to expect that glorious instant when it flashes and flows, and, inevitably, to clean up the blobs that go where you don’t want them to go.

Many won’t consider investing in a welder because torch soldering has always worked for them, Sessin said. “For a long time, it [welders] was expensive, and small shops couldn’t afford it,” he said. Laser welders now start around the $18,000 range. A pulse arc welder can be set up for anywhere from four to seven thousand dollars, and now smaller operations can compete with bigger shops, he said.

Orion 150i model with swing arm.

But even those prices can put off a small-scale, independent jeweler. Why should they consider taking the plunge?

Sessin reels off a number of cases that show the benefit to art jewelers of owning a pulse arc welder. He gave an example of a jeweler whose most popular design involved a pod-like feature. “It takes her twenty minutes to do what used to take three hours,” he said.

Larger operations also have gained from micro-pulse technology. A manufacturer that Sessin worked with makes a water heater thermostat that includes an apparatus needing twenty solder seams. Each join was fluxed, torched, and soldered by hand. But since converting to the welder, they’ve managed to cut by half the time previously spent on hand-soldering.

As for that learning curve, Sessin acknowledges it takes a while to master the equipment. But once you learn the skill, the shots are deeper, and as the user becomes more proficient, the faster the work goes along, he said. Throughout the workshop, Sessin will discuss the options, limitations, and compromises, of soldering versus welding. He also will share results of research conducted at Rio Grande on what these machines can offer the jewelry industry. The findings were presented at this year’s 2014 Santa Fe Symposium, billed as the premier educational worldwide forum for jewelry manufacturing technology.

The first step to using a welder is that a jeweler has to “learn to think like a welder,” Sessin said. Jewelers accustomed to soldering are familiar with the flow and the predictable clean up. “A weld [seam] isn’t like that. In most cases there will be controlled lumps or a running bead, and you do have to prepare your seam slightly differently.” Whereas solder penetrates and flows throughout the whole seam area, a weld only penetrates about a millimeter deep.

Sessin in the classroom.

Sessin will demonstrate additional applications for pulse-arc welding such as fabricating large jewelry objects and small hollow ware by using consistent, repeatable weld seams, and joining dissimilar metals, such as titanium to karat gold, karat gold to iron, and more. He encourages participants to bring in their own design parts to see if it could benefit from welding.

An example of large hollow ware seams. Welded sculpture by Sessin Durgham.

“There’s no way not to fall in love” with these machines, says Jason Davis at Orion Welders in Payson, Utah. The company occasionally provides machines for instructional workshops. At Metalwerx, students will have access to three jewelry models, from the compact Orion 100c, the Orion 150s, and the top-of-the-line Orion 150i. All three include the microscope, the hoses, cables—everything you need to weld except the tank of argon gas and a regulator. The machines cost, respectively, $3,700, $4,800, and $7,500 (all US).

“The nicest, the Orion 150i, has a nine-inch touch screen and microscope on a swivel arm, a small power supply, and has the most control over power on the bottom end,” Jason said, allowing you to weld even delicate pieces such as filigree, hollow ware, costume jewelry, or any items that are very thin.

Pulse arc welding to restore  an anvil. Using tool steel rods,  the welder can be used to repair anvils, dies, hammers and more.

This workshop is for professional and serious metal artists who have intermediate and above soldering skills. Additionally, it includes a thorough introduction to the principles and maintenance of micro-TIG welders. By the end of the weekend, participants will have begun to learn how to think like a welder, and apply this skill set to their jewelry and metal smithing practices. Sessin brings firsthand knowledge to how such a product can increase productivity. He is an award-winning studio jeweler in the industry for twenty-five years.

Metalwerx is particularly fortunate to host this information-packed workshop as the school begins its fundraising drive to purchase its own pulse arc welder.  It’s a move Sessin heartily applauds. “For a school to have one, it gives students every advantage to expose them to all the technology possible,” he said.

Metalwerx, a 501(c)3 nonprofit school and community studio, asks your support on our fundraising campaign to purchase a pulse arc welder for our classroom.  Our goal is to raise $6000. 

Make a Donation ButtonCome learn about what this micro-revolution can do for your business. There are still seats available (class total is 12 students). To learn more click here or call Metalwerx at 781-891-3854.

                                                                                                                       —by Yleana Martinez

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Metalwerx March 29, 2018 at 5:35 pm

Glad you found our tips helpful!

Metalwerx March 29, 2018 at 5:34 pm

Thank you for reading, we are glad you found it helpful!

aman December 15, 2017 at 3:23 pm

thanks for posting
The tack welder discharges electrical energy through the circuit when you depress the foot pedal. As the energy flows through the circuit, the tack weld takes place at the point of greatest resistance (where two pieces meeting have the smallest amount of surface contact). In this example a second head is being tacked to yellow gold earrings.

myhelmetsguide November 3, 2017 at 10:53 am

THANKS FOR POSTING THIS INFORMATIVE ARTICLE REGARDING WELD

Franklin Wannemacher October 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Great Site Thank You

nwild March 9, 2017 at 5:38 am

Thanks for jewelry welding stuffs and discussion, was helpful a lot to me…

everlastgenerators February 17, 2017 at 8:20 am

I learned a lot, stressed everything you need for yourself

Haumiller July 9, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Looks like a great piece of machinery. The best features of machinery is that it saves so much time and in this age we can use more time. It seems like this machine creatures some beautiful things like that awesome fish picture.

David Mallin August 26, 2014 at 12:37 am

Sessin, That fish /hollow ware copper piece is AMAZING!
Are you in Albuquerque these days?
Please connect via email when you get the chance. Thanks
lovelightstudioz@gmail.com

Terry R, Reichert August 22, 2014 at 6:06 pm

This post is very accurate and is probably understated because we too also have the Orion and have not used a torch for 5 years. We started with the original Orion and have evolved with the stages of equipment as it became available. We are probably the best in the World with this technology right now and continue to advance and develop more techniques as we go. A lot of people and jewelers do not understand the level we are at but we are willing to showcase this by inviting anyone who wants to see this first hand to our store.
Seeing is believing. If you need more info pleas contact me.

Metalwerx August 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Thanks for writing Andy! This is a great point and we never intended to mislead anyone. We don’t think it will replace a torch, but completely agree it’s another tool that can really improve studio processes. I also asked Sessin about this, since I’m not an expert at using it yet 🙂
Here is what he wrote me today. I think he brings up some valuable points:

“I would never imply that we give up our torch and do not propose anyone does. A weld is a compromise just as a solder joint is a compromise. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Weld vs solder joint is something we will constantly discuss at class. In some cases a weld IS better or easier and in some cases a solder joint IS stronger and easier and what are we giving up in each case. Having both soldering and welding skill is a huge advantage as Andy stated. Also the longer you work with a welder the better you get the more applications you will find. The learning curve is long and can be creative or at least create wider lanes for creating.

The Bonny Doon Press in your classroom is all welded and can take 20 tons PSI. The press was designed to be welded and the welds are re-enforced seams and are a series of bumps that are not ground or finished but painted…this is accepted as a welded product. As jewelers we don’t accept that lumpy seam as finished so a weld may take more finishing on the back end but give us some great advantage on the front end; Such as 1) now I can enamel on the item as there is no solder. 2) I have a perfect color match. 3) my item is not annealed so it’s stronger. 4) I have no fire-scale to clean up. 5) I was able to weld next to plastic. 6) I don’t have to flux and pickle. But I do have some clean up that will take some time. As jewelers we will have to think like welders and all of these considerations will start to line up.”

Andy Cooperman August 16, 2014 at 1:40 am

I feel that I should comment on this post. I own an Orion and I use it everyday. It is a truly amazing tool. It has in fact shortened some of my processes and more importantly has opened doors into new territory.
But….
I feel that this sway may be a bit misleading in that , in my opinion, at this point tig welders do not replace a torch. They are another tool and as such certainly belong in the studio. But torch soldered/ braised –and even torch welded- seams are different and in some cases stronger…..

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