Question: fusing gold to steel

diane b

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There is a jewelry artist that has been using a technique of fusing gold to steel to create design as opposed to using inlay. Her name is Bette Barnett and on her website she compares this to Keum-bo technique of fusing gold to fine silver. Her application is solely on jewelry. Any ideas if this can be used on a firearm or knife? Has anyone ever seen this or done this? Thank you for your time reading this. Diane B
 

colinskelly

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Hi Diane, I've not tried it to steel yet but Platinum is beautifully suited for this due to its high melting point. I'm a jeweler with little free time so I haven't been able to try it with steel yet, but I believe it could be done in a similar way you would use brazing rod on steel. The watch I made last year had a platinum plate that I deep relief engraved, then melted 24kt and 14 kt rose gold into the engraved area, sanded smooth, and then engraved the details. Not exactly what you're looking for, but I don't see why the same technique couldn't be applied to steel. It's certainly much faster that hammer inlay! DSC00014.JPG DSC00007.JPG DSC00012.JPG tigerwatch.JPG
 

Ron Spokovich

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I've not performed the technique you so described, but the first thing that came to mind is 'mass' and heat. I've soldered 'feet' onto watch dials, with no problem although you need to be careful. I'd done it with a small electric transformer, that I was shown at a long-ago seminar. For anything like a firearm, with lots of 'mass' and the heatsink effect, you might want to run some trials on big and smaller pieces of steel. That may save disappointment!
 

Christopher Malouf

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The late Chris Nelson is the gentleman who made fusing gold to steel in contemporary jewelry popular and coined it Urban Armor. I took a class with him a few years before he passed away to explore the same possibilities of using it on other things (besides jewelry) like knives or guns. The caveat is that it requires a lot of heat (along with a special flux) and a lot more heat than is required with Keum-bu. Keum-bu is a different animal because the surface of the silver is depleted prior to fusing to fascillitate the bond. That is not possible with steel. Most importantly guns and knives are not intended to be made cherry red after machining or heat treating and exposure to oxygen during the fusing badly oxidizes/pits the steel. As the process works best with mild steel like 1018, becoming more difficult with higher carbon steels and impossible for stainless steel, the practicality is very limited. The only other way to fuse gold to steel is to use a mercury amalgam with low heat as it was done on weapons and armor centuries ago right up until it was deemed to be highly toxic and banned. Actually I'm sure it's still being done but just nobody will publicly admit to it. ;)
 
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jerrywh

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I read an vertical once about the japanese fusing gold to steel by heating the steel to 500° F and then aplying the annealed and cleaned gold to it while hot. I never could justify trying it because I figured it was easier to just use the tooth method rather than putting up with the heat.
 

diane b

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Ron: I hadn't thought about the mass, but you're right. Bette Barnett is using thin metal (small mass) as she works in jewelry. Of course it would be much easier to heat small, thin pieces to temp than a firearm or a knife. Thank you for pointing this out.

Chris: Hi Chris, I haven't read anything from you in awhile - but that may just mean that I haven't been paying as much attention to the threads. Anyway thanks so much for taking the time to write. It's good to hear from you again. Bette Barnett studied under Chris Nelson. In her Bio on her website, she says that she has expanded beyond his explorations and she apparently has developed a technique to apply foil similar to the keum-bu technique. She is most definitely working in the mild steel - cold rolled steel- that you mentioned, so that may answer the question as to whether or not her techniques can be applied to firearms and guns, as well as the heat required. I'll do a copy/paste from her website at the end of this.

Jerry: According to Bette Barnett on her website, Chris Nelson experimented with the Japanese techniques, so I wonder if the article you read mentioned Mr. Nelson's work. Thank you for your time in answering my question. I appreciate it.

Dave: You are most welcome

Ok, the following is from Betty Barnett website:
"In 2013 I began studying the steel/gold processes and continued with advanced workshops with the late Chris Nelson, whose explorations of ancient Japanese techniques were instrumental in launching wide-spread interest in applying fine gold and silver to steel. I have built on those studies by perfecting additional techniques and processes, including Keum Boo and galvanic etching of steel. Currently I am developing techniques to fuse various metals and alloys to steel."
"I continually experiment with fusing various gold alloys on steel. I also apply gold foil to steel using the Keum Boo technique. I alloy gold to ensure the proper karat and color and use different techniques to add interest, including electro-etching, chisel texturing, gemstones and patination. I seek to create jewelry that is unexpected yet artful...surprising yet wearable."

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and comment.
 

mitch

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While probably not practical for anything more than tiny areas, has anybody tried experimenting with dissimilar metals with a laser welder? Can you fuse gold & steel? Is there a limit to how different the melting points, etc., can be?
 

Christopher Malouf

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Hi Diane, thank-you very much. I haven't been on here but happened to wander in and see your question. I also couldn't pass up the opportunity to mention Chris Nelson. His shop was in Colorado and was one of the best learning experiences. It was pure heaven to wake up when the wood stove got cold around 6am and get to work in the mountain air.

The jewelry pieces on the Studio Migoto website look to be exactly what Chris Nelson was teaching. There may certainly be some refinements to the process as we milled out much thicker gold pieces in Chris' class (thicker than Keum Boo foil). I've also believed that the success in bonding with steel is linked to the oxidation layer formed during heating. This would explain why 1018, being so close to iron, works really well and increasingly higher carbon steels do not. The following Ganoskin article mentions 650F which is about where we get the peacock blue color during thin-film interference....or I guess just enough oxidation for gold to bond.

https://www.ganoksin.com/article/keum-boo-technique/

Sometime after my class, Chris sent a few pieces of 303 stainless sheet that I left with him which he had some success in bonding 20K. I don't know how he did it and at the time he mentioned the need for refinements in the technique before he would share it. The heat didn't cause a lot of warping in the piece but was enough to decide that it was not a practical direction for what I was looking to do at the time. Still there's something incredibly fascinating and alluring, in an alchemistic way, about iron gilding.
 

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While probably not practical for anything more than tiny areas, has anybody tried experimenting with dissimilar metals with a laser welder? Can you fuse gold & steel? Is there a limit to how different the melting points, etc., can be?
Yes I have laser welded some different metals together.

Silver and Titanium is very difficult. Silver requires high energy and the Ti oxidizes easily.
I could not get a strong bond.

Steel and Gold is doable. If you use argon to shield then an even better weld can be made.
Steel reacts very well to laser welders. Gold also but needs slightly more energy.

Maybe remove the part from the steel and fill them with gold wire using a laser welder. Or weld a sheet in place. But then you can only weld the edges.
 

colinskelly

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While probably not practical for anything more than tiny areas, has anybody tried experimenting with dissimilar metals with a laser welder? Can you fuse gold & steel? Is there a limit to how different the melting points, etc., can be?
I've done quite a bit of laser repair on gold, platinum, silver, titanium, and stainless steel. you can get get them to weld. I had the best results in working with the laser settings set to the lower melting metal and fusing it onto the higher melting point. Usually the welds in my experience weren't as strong as welds with 2 similar metals. I've had better or stronger results using a hard silver solder to get a cleaner stronger connection.
 

WMS

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With the proper flux, and the right working conditions gold bonds well to steel. I would suggest starting with solder flashed sheet, a relatively aggressive flux and just heat everything up untill the solder flows. However this would seriously adversely affect previous heat treatments. Considering that dissimilar metals are being used, and that there would be no quality stamps so the gold and silver stamping act would not nessasary apply it would be possible to use some of the lower melting point silver solders.
 

diane b

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WMS: Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. The technique that Bette uses doesn't involve solder. She fuses the gold directly to the steel. I'm wondering if she does some type of surface treatment to the steel before fusing the gold with a keum-bu type technique. I wrote Bette and she said that she only uses mild steel, but knows a blade smith that is using it on his knives. Thanks again for your comment.
 

diane b

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Chris: I just saw your second reply. Don't know how I missed it. Thanks for the photo. For some reason I can't open the link, but if this is the Charles Lewton-Bain article, I read that. The way I read the article (and I probably got it wrong) was that the gold foil acted like a filter allowing the oxygen to move through the filter thereby creating a reducing atmosphere between the foil and silver. I know when I make a billet for Mokume gane, charcoal is placed inside the packet with the sheets to create a reducing atmosphere. When using Keum-Bu on sterling, you have to raise a fine silver layer on the surface to which the gold will fuse. Is there any way to do that with higher carbon steel so that a surface more akin to mild steel would be present? I know nothing about steel. Thanks Chris for the link, the picture and your memories. Up here in Montana, we have the wood stove going right now at -16 F. It is wonderfully cozy.
 

diane b

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Chris: I just saw your second reply. Don't know how I missed it. Thanks for the photo. For some reason I can't open the link, but if this is the Charles Lewton-Bain article, I read that. The way I read the article (and I probably got it wrong) was that the gold foil acted like a filter allowing the oxygen to move through the filter thereby creating a reducing atmosphere between the foil and silver. I know when I make a billet for Mokume gane, charcoal is placed inside the packet with the sheets to create a reducing atmosphere. When using Keum-Bu on sterling, you have to raise a fine silver layer on the surface to which the gold will fuse. Is there any way to do that with higher carbon steel so that a surface more akin to mild steel would be present? I know nothing about steel. Thanks Chris for the link, the picture and your memories. Up here in Montana, we have the wood stove going right now at -16 F. It is wonderfully cozy.
 

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