Craftsman of the Month
Cover of Rock&Gem V1N1 March-April 1971

Warren F. Helwig - October 1999 - Good Sam and Samantha Bola Ties

The Craftsman of the Month for October is Warren F. Helwig of Tonawanda, New York, for the "his-and-hers" rockhound bola ties pictured here, which he made in a way similar to the Native American (Hopi Nation) silversmiths' overlay process. Here is his story.

"I used Good Sam (and Samantha) logos as my design motif. A copy machine enlarged the design to a 2-5/8-inch diameter. The paper logos were fastened with masking tape to 24-gauge sterling silver, in the hope that thin-gauge silver would reduce the weight of the finished pieces.

"An X-acto(TM) knife was used to incise the drawings so that the lines of the logo could be scribed onto the silver. I drilled a small hole, into which I inserted a fine-toothed jewelers saw in order to cut the outline. A flat jeweler's file was used to deburr the edges of each. I cut the backing plates about 3/32-inch larger than the logos. This provided a ledge that held the easy-flow solder snippets in position during the soldering operation. Thus, the back and front were joined. The excess around the edges was trimmed away after the soldering had been completed.

"A flat firebrick 1-1/2 by 3-3/4 by 5-3/8 inches, and perforated in many places, was used to hold all the individual components together. To keep everything from shifting, I made L-shaped, steel, binding-wire hold-downs. Some of the longer hold-downs were fashioned from bobby-pin steel. The vertical leg went into a convenient perforation in the brick and the top leg was pressed down on the silver part that it had been designed to hold in place.

"The hold-downs were oxidized with firescale by torching first to prevent them from being soldered to the silver. I applied Griffith liquid flux in all the surface grooves and around the edge with a hollow-needle applicator on a plastic squeeze-bottle. This did not foam up and move the silver solder snippets during the torching like borax flux would have done.

"I used wire solder rather than sheet solder cut in squares. Dykes were used to cut the sizes I needed. Small solder snippets were picked up with a moistened pencil-point brush and placed in all the grooves and around the edges approximately 1/8-inch apart.

"This assembly was carefully placed on a Transite(TM) asbestos-based turntable (sealed in a bond for safety purposes). A heavy mesh screen on a tripod might just as easily have been used, though. I worked with a plumber's type propane tank and torch with a large-orifice tip for the soldering. I dimmed the overhead lights and donned my OptiVisor(TM). The torch was handled with a circular motion to heat the piece uniformly to the temperature that would flow the solder snippets. Unlike gold, because silver conducts heat so fast, it was necessary to heat the entire item to a red glow. The flame was then concentrated on individual areas that appeared to need a little more heat to make the flow complete. I removed the heat as soon as the last snippet puddled, because the next thing that would have happened would have been a meltdown if the work had overheated. After cooling, the wire clamp hold-downs were removed and the piece was placed in a warm pickle bath to remove flux oxidation and firescale.

"After rinsing and drying the piece, I used a flat, double-cut mill file. Quarter-turning and cross-stroking helped to remove some of the excess solder stain that had migrated to the surface.

"Our names, the Good Sam chapter, the date and a 'sterling silver' stamp were added to the back with 1/16-inch stencils. A lead block and domed metalsmith's hammer were used to round the project from the back.

"File marks and hammer traces were removed from the front surface with a 600-grit belt on my Beacon Star wet lapidary machine. Using a coolant water drip helped keep the belt from glazing and also kept the dust down. However, I needed some dish-washing detergent to clean the silver oxide from my hands.

"A leather rubber-backed flat disk charged with Zam(TM) was used for buffing. Silver oxidant didn't seem to blacken the grooves so I sprayed each piece with black lacquer, wiped off the excess and rebuffed for the final finish. Then my bola tie slides and cord tips were epoxied in place. I suspect that Good Sam and Samantha could also be pinned on the front of a cap or used as belt buckles instead.

"My wife and I hope to use these bola ties on our Good Sam chapter campouts and maybe at state jamborees and national caravans."

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