Wednesday 13 October 2010

Tutorial Tuesday - soldering tips 2

The plan had been to add a few photos to this and post it when I got back from college last night, but ended up making packed lunches for school instead - what an exciting life I lead! Anyway, it's here now!

A couple of weeks ago I posted some soldering tips with photos showing work being soldered and pickled. This time I thought I'd show you the basic tools needed to solder silver, and also talk about the different types of solder available  - and why you can get different types of solder!

This is my soldering area - a little messy, I know, but soldering isn't exactly the cleanest part of making jewellery. You don't actually need a lot of equipment to start soldering. Each tool is quite cheap, although the price can obviously add up, but if you look after the tools well they will last you for years.

Going through the labels we have:
  1. Old slate tiles - left over from a DIY project, these protect the table below from the heat. You can buy soldering sheets that do the same job, but tiles are cheaper!
  2. Soldering block - extra protection from the heat. These also absorb some of the heat from the flame and pass it back into the silver, so if you have several pieces on the block waiting to be soldered (for example if you are soldering lots of links for a chain), they will start to heat up before the flame even touches them. I have a couple of blocks, and if I am soldering a big piece I will prop a couple up behind the block I'm working on to radiate the heat back to the metal.
  3. Charcoal block - used to melt small balls of silver such as in this tutorial
  4. Reverse action tweezers - these take a bit of getting used to as they open when you push the handles, opposite to how most pliers work. This is useful, though, as I often use them to hold, for example, an earwire in place on the back of the earring during soldering and I don't have to remember to hold them tightly closed, they do the job for me. They are insulated.
  5. Solder probe - not essential put useful for pushing solder back to where you want it to be if it moves during the process.
  6. Third hand with tweezers - not essential but useful for holding small pieces during soldering.
  7. Torches - I've got two hand torches, and also a propane torch that feeds of a gas bottle under my desk, out of sight. It is the heat of the piece of work that melts the solder, not the heat of the flame, and so if I am soldering a big piece such as a bangle I need to use a bigger torch to heat the silver up enough. The smaller torch is ideal for chains, clasps, earwires etc. The small torch came from Cookson Gold, as did most of my soldering equipment, and the big one is a plumber's torch from B&Q!
  8. Quench pot - such a sophistcated expensive piece of kit! Never put hot metal in the pickle, always quench it to cool it down first.
  9. Goggles - you've only got one pair of eyes!
  10. Binding wire - useful for holding together larger pieces during soldering.
  11. Pennies! - useful for propping up small pieces while you solder them.
  12. Snips/shears - use these to cut solder strips into smaller pieces (pallions) ready to use for soldering.

 A few more bits and pieces for you:

  1. Pickle pot - another expensive piece of equipment! You can buy expensive pickling units, but I use an old slow cooker that cost £2 at a carboot sale. Remember that pickle cleans the silver quicker if it is warm. As you can see in this post, the pickle sits in a pyrex dish that sits in water inside the cooker. I can't put the pickle straight into the cooker as I haven't got a ceramic insert in mine, it's just steel. If you put steel or iron (eg reverse action tweezers, binding wire) into the pickle, all of the copper the pickle has collected off the silver as it's cleaned the oxidisation off will go back on the silver! Which leads me to....
  2. Brass tweezers - use these to take work out of the pickle instead of steel tweezers. You can also buy plastic tweezers.
This picture shows my soldering materials - flux and solder in various forms.

  1. Borax cone and dish - a cheap and easy to use form of solder. Put a very little amount of water in the bottom of the dish and grind the cone in it to form a milky paste which is then painted onto the silver. Remember solder will only flow, rather than ball up, if flux is present.
  2. Auflux - an artificial form of  flux, again relatively cheap but doesn't last as long as a cone. Again, just paint it on where it is needed.
  3. Solder strips - the traditional form of solder. Cut into smaller pieces (pallions) ready to use for soldering. I have a little pot for each solder - Hard, Medium and Easy - I'll explain those terms in a bit!
  4. Solder paste syringes - a modern form of solder - some people love it, some people hate it saying it's cheating! I say it's got it's place and can be useful, but it doesn't replace solder strips. Solder paste is basically ground up solid solder mixed with a flux so that it's ready to use. I only really use it for chain work as I find it more convenient - just work along the row of links waiting to be soldered, squeezing a little bit out at a time! It is much more expensive that solder strips though. Again, I've got Hard, Medium and Easy solder.
So why the different names for solders? Hard, Medium and Easy solders have different melting temperatures - hard has a higher melting temperature than medium (ie. it is harder to melt), medium has a higher melting temperature than easy. You can also sometimes buy extra-easy solder which has an even lower melting temperature.

Why do you need different melting temperatures? Because you often need to solder more than one join on a piece of work, and when you solder the second join, you don't want the first to remelt or it is likely to weakend. Take the chain in this post as an example - my Ebony necklace from this month's Beads and Beyond. The large links were soldered closed with medium solder and then hammered. If I hadn't soldered them closed first hammering would have mis-shapened them. They were then linked together with smaller round links that were closed with easy solder - the temperature needed to melt the easy solder wasn't high enough to remelt and weaken the medium solder. The small links were far enough apart that soldering one closed didn't affect the ones I'd already done. If I had needed to solder three times on the piece of work I would have started with hard, then medium and finally easy solder. On the other hand, if I only need to solder one join, for example on a bangle, then I just use easy solder as it's easier to melt.

I hope all of that makes sense - quite a technical Tutorial Tuesday this week! Do let me know in the comments if you have any questions and please do leave a comment if you have a tip of your own to share!


  1. Oh my! Thank you for sharing this very in-depth look in to your studio and the soldering process. I have not jumped in to this area yet, and as of now I'm doing just simple soldering methods using just solder and flux - which is really so much fun.
    You are always such a fountain of great information, Jo!

  2. Thanks Cindy!
    Soldering is actually much easier than it first appears. The trick is to take your time and keep the flame moving!

  3. Your blog is like a breath of fresh air, I have learnt alot about making jewellery from visiting it, I have been teaching myself to make jewellery through books, magazines and youtube videos and would like to incorporate soldering, but just trying to figure it out has taken me months of research, but seeing this post has done in minutes what has taken me months to learn. Thank you, you sound like a great teacher, I wish you prosperity and all the happiness in the world!

  4. Thank you so much for your kind comments Tene! I'm glad the tutorials have been useful, and I hope you have fun with the soldering!

  5. I have that big plumbers torch from b&q too! I daren't use it in the house- it lives in the garage and I use it for melting scrap

  6. My pleasure Donna! I'm so pleased that its useful to you. Good luck with your adventures in soldering!


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