Soldering Tips, Tricks & Advice - Originally posted in the Orchid Forum 07/31/2008
Originally posted in the Orchid Forum 07/31/2008
Elusive, illuminating and the foundation of what we jewelers do. I absolutely love soldering and create pieces that require multiple connections, often as many as fifteen on a single piece.
I also teach a three-day workshop to help others. When you are soldering, it is important to put away your artist hat and put on your technical hat. Soldering is a technical process. If you make a mistake, if something is not working correctly, STOP! JUST BACK AWAY! Take a deep breath and look at everything that is going on. If you force the work, it will look forced and messy and you will spend time on the back-end cleaning up your mistakes. PLAN your design and your soldering steps ahead of time. This will save you hours of cleanup and disaster. Fire can be daunting, soldering can be scary, but with a few simple steps in your prep and your planning, no soldering task is insurmountable.
Part III (below)
Put Your Process on Paper
When you design a piece, de-construct it on paper. Give yourself a good roadmap of what to solder first, second, etc. This will help you in two ways. It will help you remember, in the heat of the moment, which solder to pick up and where to put it. And it will provide you with a place to write down any problems you encounter. This will help you avoid repeating the same soldering mistakes. I can't stress this enough!!! I don't know how many times I've repeated dumb mistakes over and over because I didn't write them down.
Preparing Your Solder
If you have wire solder, roll it very flat with a rolling mill OR if you have sheet solder, cut a tiny chip. You can always add more; it is impossible to add less.
Ergonomics/Finding the Right Position
When I teach soldering to students, I ask them to do a dry run. Are your hands in the right position? Will you be able to transfer the solder from a pick or place a chip in a position which is comfortable for your body? Are your hands shaking? If so, rest, take a break. Your piece of jewelry is not going to suddenly evaporate into thin air. RELAX! I've rushed at times. One time in an attempt to get comfortable I found the flame pointing at my hand. Oops! Taking a few extra minutes to orient your hands in the soldering step will spare you the heartache of having to repeat all the prep you did to get you there in the first place.
Learn to use your flame in your good hand and to pick and place in your other. Why? Flame control is the essence of good soldering. Once the pieces are in place, you won't have to switch hands. Silver wants to be heated evenly. You can get it heated with your work very close to the blue cone, but not on it. Once your flux starts to melt, back off immediately to more of the tip of the flame. Keep heating with a little more time spent on your solder joint, until the solder flows. Your flame depends on the gas mixture. If you are using acetylene and air, a nice bushy flame works well. Newer students tend to hold the flame at an angle which actually deflects the heat away from the piece. Your flame should be directly on the piece.
I often find my students taking out a 00 Smith torch and trying to solder a large mass of metal. There is no way that anemic flame will raise the metal temperature enough to melt solder. Rule of thumb: If you can see your piece from a foot away, use a bigger torch tip. If you need to squint, a smaller one is best. Your flame doesn't have to do all the work. Build a little oven with heat bricks or take away heat by burying some of that chain or small piece in your pumice chips. Also, tweezers can act as huge heat sinks. Tip: heat the tweezers by the tip. You don't need to get it bright red hot. The steel in the tweezers takes a while to cool down and your soldering area stays nice and hot. Soldering is a balance of heat, hand, eye and focus.
Soldering One Kind of Metal to Another
When soldering one metal to another there are a couple of things to keep in mind: thermal conductance and specific heat, or how fast different metals heat to the same temperature. Copper and brass are poor conductors of heat. Silver heats up quickly and conducts heat well. If you do a straight sweat solder, or an appliqué, say from copper to silver, there is no problem. The solder will do its work nicely. IF you solder silver onto copper, silver heats up more quickly and the solder will flow to the hottest point. Therefore, you must heat the copper very evenly to make sure that the solder sticks to it. The second band ring I fabricated had a nice wiggly, sweat soldered, flattened piece of copper over silver. I tried soldering this sucker several times and couldn't get it to fit until I bound the thing to an inch of its life. The experience was like trying to cook a perfect Thanksgiving turkey when I just passed the exam on making toast.
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