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Afraid to solder


#1

I know this is not the first post by a frustrated solderer in this
forum, but…

This soldering problem(s) is making me think seriously about going
back to doing just lapidary. Making intarsia seems like a cakewalk
compared to this, and making intarsias aint easy. Or, maybe I should
stick to cold connections. It just seems that no matter how carefull
i am, its a crap shoot as to whether the solder will work or not.
About 50% of the time it works beautifully, no problmes. Maybe 25% of
the time I can try again and get it the second time. But there’s that
last 25%. I have read many jewelry books, scoured the forums, etc and
I think I am setting it up right, but I have problems with solder not
flowing completely, or flowing where its not supposed to flow, or
pieces moving around when I’m sweat soldering.

I just ruined a piece that I have got around 20 hours of work in. It
is a cast SS orca about 1 x 1 1/2 inches, and around 3/16th thick,
with the back hollowed out so the piece is fairly thin. There is a
depression in the center where I wanted to solder a bezel for a small
stone. I made the bezel (18k gold) and soldered it to a SS base to
make a cup. Then I tried to solder the bezel cup into the depression
in the orca pendant. I premelted a small amount of easy solder in the
depression and set the cup on top and heated it up. I used a piece of
binding wire and a third hand to put a small amount of force straight
down on it so it WOULDN’T move around. I have seen things 'float’
around when sweat soldering. Well, it moved anyway, and made quite a
mess. I spent another 3 hours grinding it out, cleaning it up, and
basically tried it again. This time the solder wouldnt go into/under
the bezel. Eventually the bezel melted in one place and I have given
up.

The point is, I scrupulously cleaned the pieces to be soldered,
fluxed copiously, and used heat control to bring up the entire piece
to temperature at the same time. What the &% am I doing wrong! I am
using ‘magic flux’ from Rio Grande and solder from them as well.
This is supposed to be an anti fire-scale and flux. It is water
based. Come to think of it, it seems a bit thin, not a paste per se.
Has anyone used this? I also have some ‘Ready Flux’ as well, but it
doesn’t seem to work any better on average.

What else can I do? Any further advice would be appreciated. I want
to make another orca and try again, but not until I know I can solder
it right.

Frustrated in Ventura


#2

Hello Todd,

I used a piece of binding wire and a third hand to put a small
amount of force straight down on it so it WOULDN'T move around. I
have seen things 'float' around when sweat soldering. Well, it
moved anyway, and made quite a mess." 

I’m going to take a stab in the dark and suggest that you have too
much steel absorbing your heat. Try not using the third hand,
especially when you have the binding wire already absorbing your
heat.
The third hand will absorb enough heat to both not allow the solder
to melt (or just melt into a ball) and to direct the solder toward
the
hottest part ( the third arm) rather than the base of your bezel. The
only time I have been successful with the third hand is to go in with
a hot flame, paste flux, and do the job as quickly as possible… and
always, it is just on the edge of melting (and that is sans the
binding wire). Btw, I hate the way paste flux bubbles, but it stays
long enough to melt that solder. Its kind of a tricky dance of
bringing in the flame tenderly at first (to control the intensity of
bubbling) until it turns white, and then eagerly toward the end.
Also I use silver so I imagine gold would be even more temperamental
juxtaposed to steel.

Good luck
Jenn


#3

Hello Todd,

My recent experiences with soldering might cheer you up.

Like you my success rate was abysmal.

I thought I was doing everything right but things just didn’t seem
to work out.

So I contacted a local Orchid member and asked him if I could watch
him solder a few pieces.

It was immediately obvious that I was approaching the soldering
properly.

My next attempts were much better almost immediately, and I
continued to improve rapidly.

I can only assume that knowing for sure (rather than just assuming)
that I was doing everything right made me relax a little, and, of
course, I was now much more confident.

Whatever, the explanation I have not looked back.

Hang in there and perhaps do what I did.

Regards

Rob Jupp
Australia


#4

What does your flame look like on your torch? It should be a soft
flame not raging. The tip of the inner cone is the hottest spot on
the flame, should’nt stick the inner cone of the flame on your piece.
What gasses are you using? Also what are you soldering the orca on?
charcoal block? ceramic block? wire mesh with a soldering stand? I
would probably hold it with a GRS soldering hand or on a soldering
block like the GRS pad. Did you heat the piece from underneath? on
top? all over? It should be brought up to temp evenly and quickly.

Regards
J Morley
Goldsmith and Laser welding


#5

Hi Todd!

First off I’d like to compliment you on your willingness to
persevere. That’s pretty much a pre-requisite to being a jewelry
maker!

I have a few questions- and some of my answers- for you.

(1) Do you sand and clean your peices before soldering? Solder flows
much better over a 320 or 400 grit sanded surface than it will over
a polished one. The flux won’t bead up as much either.

(2) Are you using pallions and wire solder snippets, and are you
using the right size pieces of solder for the components you’re
soldering? That, and spacing, is important as is using roughly
similar sized pieces of solder for the job you’re doing.

(3) What kind of torch are you using? I notice you said you melted
the bezel. Were you heating the piece from the bottom or the top? I
prefer to sweat solder the top piece (see below) and then heat the
entire entire assembly from the bottom, heating the cup only enough
to ensure it’s up to temp. I also switch to the oxypropane when I’m
heating such an assembly- I find it isn’t necessary to bring the
whole piece up to the flow point of the solder when I use that much
heat in a localized area.

(4) As to pieces moving, if you’re talking about stacking sheet
silver I always drill a tiny hole through the bottom sheet to allow
the heated air to escape. Also, when I’m doing 'sweat soldering" I
always use pallions aound the perimeter of the upper piece and
several more pallions towards the center. I space my pallions-
usually small ones- close enough together so that the solder flows
all around the perimeter of the top piece. Then, and I’ve found this
critical, I sand the solder down to where only about a quarter of
the original thickness of the solder is remaining. Then I clean,
pickle and flux both pieces and set it up for the next soldering.

Well, that’s my two cents worth! Hope it helps!

Kenton in Los Alamos!


#6

When you sweating the cup to the main piece, what direction are you
using the torch from? You will melt the bezel down if you heating
from the front. When sweating, I always use a broad feathery flame
from the back. Hopefully, this will help.

Peace,
Richard


#7
What else can I do? Any further advice would be appreciated. I
want to make another orca and try again, but not until I know I can
solder it right. 

Ah, welcome to being a jeweler. What can you do? Practice, practice,
practice, practice.

Can you find someone experienced to watch you solder? Students can
tell me, but I did everything right, but then I sit with them as
they solder and watch them and I can help them fix what they’re doing
wrong. Usually it’s uneven heating.

Elaine.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


#8

are you heating from beneath the piece or just around the top and on
top? V.


#9

Todd,

Sounds like you managed the more difficult soldering job: attaching
the 18k bezel to the ss base. Attaching that assembly to the orca
should have been the easier part. I’m assuming that the 'depression’
you’re setting the bezel assembly into is flat and mates with the
base of the bezel neatly. If the two pieces don’t mate up with a nice
tight fit, soldering is going to be much more difficult!

I’m going to jump on the paste bandwagon here, since this is an
ideal application for paste. Instead of premelting solder in the
depression and then trying to sweat solder the bezel assembly in
place, you would be better off putting a single deposit of silver
solder paste in the depression, putting the bezel assembly in place,
and soldering it together in one step. The trick here will be to use
a minimal amount of solder. If you use too much (whether it is paste
or hard form), you will have a difficult time keeping the bezel
assembly in place.

Because paste already has the proper amount of flux mixed in, you
won’t need to add extra flux under the bezel assembly, which will
minimize movement during soldering. Of course, you should still
firecoat the rest of the piece where the solder won’t flow, or you’ll
spend the afternoon polishing! Rio (since you’re already dealing with
them) carries silver paste solder. Their 560 easy solder (order
number 103-093/1…page 43 in the Gems & Findings catalog) would
probably be your best bet.

Oh…a quick tip to help you gauge your heating of the assembly: on
this piece you can also put a small deposit of paste (very small,
just a dot) on the TOP of the ss base of the bezel assembly. If you
heat the assembly evenly–making sure that the orca and the bezel
assembly come to temperature at the same time, you can watch the
small dot of paste on the top of the bezel to help determine when the
paste has melted and flowed. Since you’ll be setting a stone, the
small solder stain on the top of the bezel won’t affect the visible
finish of your piece.

If you want to stick with hard form solder, I have a few
suggestions. First of all, when you premelt the solder into the
depression, be careful not to overheat the orca. Heat it just enough
to get the solder to melt. Silver solders can be very corrosive on
sterling silver, and if you over heat them a lot, or keep them at
temperature where the solder is molten for an extended period of
time, the solder will begin to dissolve into the sterling silver. Not
only does this affect the sterling, but it can drastically increase
the reflow temperature of the solder. Keep it nice and quick and you
should have no problems of this nature.

When it comes time to attach the bezel assembly, add flux to the
depression. Firecoat the pieces as you normally would. Before adding
the bezel assembly, heat the part gently until all the liquid is
driven off of the flux and you are left with a white crystalline
powder in the depression. Flip over the bezel assembly, apply flux
and gently heat it until it is covered in flux powder. By driving
away the liquid in the fluxes, you’ll minimize the dancing bezel
syndrome while heating. The bezel assembly may still try to shift
slightly when the solder reflows, but not nearly as much as it will
want to dance with all that liquid boiling off. When you heat the
pieces to solder them together, make sure that the bezel assembly
comes to soldering temperature before the orca does. You want to heat
the bezel assembly to soldering temperature, and let the assembly
conduct heat to the solder on the orca, melting the solder and
pulling it on to the bezel assembly. If the orca reaches soldering
temperature first, the solder will just try to spread along the
surface of the orca, instead of adhering to the bezel assembly.
Again, you can put a small chip of solder on the top of the bezel
plate to gauge the temperature (make sure you flux it, or it will
just sit there like a lump!)

Hope that helps!
Michael


#10

Todd, You have a challenging situation, joining light and heavy
objects.

Flux…too thin and it can burn off, especially with silver. Too
thick and it can deflect heat away from where you want it. Try a
smaller amount of moderately thick flux, or reflux with thinner flux
as you heat.

Relative mass…silver soaks up heat much more than gold. keep the
heat on the larger mass til the flux gets that particular look,
circle in with the torch.

Soldering pad…some people like those heavy metal screen things, to
me it just acts like a heat sink. I’ve had good results with a hard
charcoal block. you may also try suspending your piece with a third
hand, you can apply heat from underneath then move up top.

Flame…silver likes a neutral flame but it might be too large for
your small gold bezel, hence melting. try adjusting to smaller,
slightly oxidizing flame after the piece is heated enough, circle the
flame around the bezel without actually touching it, let the heat
seep in.

Sweating…your solder is in the middle of two different masses,
hidden from the source of heat. You might try paste solder, without
sweating, its smaller mass is more reactive to heat, I think. You
should see a bright line appear along the join when it flows. Check
that the location of the solder is indeed making contact with the
other piece. A little goes a long way. Too much solder and you can
get that floating effect, and the dreaded squishing out.

You say the bezel fits in a recessed area. This shields the bezel
from heat. As an alternate, make what amounts to a peg setting and
solder from the back, just make the peg large enough to hold up under
the pressure of setting.

Since you feel the piece is ruined anyway, experiment on it.

Any one or combination of these suggestions might work for you. I
hope so.


#11

My preferred fluxes are: A fire scale prevention dip in denatured
alcohol and boric acid powder

Use of Battern’s Flux right around the joint. I would try different
fluxing. That so often seems to be the problem.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA


#12

Todd,

It sounds like you were doing most everything correctly. However,
too much flux is not always a good thing. It can interfer with flow
if it coats the surface. Also, I have not used their magic flux…is
it a protective (i.e., anti-firescale) or a cleaning flux. One
protects the overall piece from firescale, the other cleans and wets
the join. Also, it sounds like you either did not get the join areas
clean enough or they did not meet well the second time otherwise the
solder would have flowed.

I hate to say this, but…I suspect you attempted to bite off more
than you could chew!!! Soldering is kind of like golf…you only
have to remember 21 things…the problem is you have to do them all
at the same time!

Before you try to solder something in which you are mixing metals
and soldering big things to little things…not to mention sweat
soldering, you probably need to practice doing a whole lot of
micro-soldering – putting little things onto little things, then
practice some macro-soldering – putting big things to big things.
When you can do that kind of job without batting an eye, then move
onto the project you describe. In my experience, it takes the average
person about 10 to 15 of each before they get the process down pat.
Remember, its not just knowing a technique thats important, its
knowing how to do it well! How many stones did you have to cut before
you could cut a perfect oval by eye with out using a template?

Don’t loose heart…just practice first.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry!


#13

I don’t know if this is the problem or not because didn’t say
anything about the bezel wire guage. I have found that for the type
of project you discribed that I get the best results if I apply my
heat from below the piece. A tripod stand with a stainless steel
screen will allow the tourch to be under thw piece and slowly bring
your heat up, keep it moving, til the solder just flows. Pickle and
polish and set.

Now on soldering Gold to Sterling I have not done but I think the
technique should still work using the appropriate flux and solder.

Jack
John (Jack) Sexton


#14

Hi Todd,

I sympathise with your fustration of losing a piece after so much
work. Some of these tips may help:

  1. Each time you melt the solder the melting point of the solder
    rises, more so if prolonged heating occurs at or near the melting
    point. As a rule of thumb, hard solder can be melted twice, medium
    solder 3 times, and easy solder 4 or 5 times before serious problems
    arise. When sweating, the first melt should be done with the minimum
    heat, just enough to quickly spread the solder. This will give more
    leeway in the subsequent melting.

  2. Apply solder to the small piece, then sweat by heating the bigger
    piece.

  3. Too much solder causes floating, although the right amount of
    solder will also give some floating, the piece will float lower and
    stick more readily.

  4. Too little solder causes “sticking”, by sticking I mean that
    there is no indication that the solder has melted, over-heating takes
    place, and any attempt to move the piece is met with stubborn
    resistance. The best remedy for a part stuck in the wrong place is to
    immediately recognise that it is stuck, lift or peel it off there and
    then, and start again.

  5. Holding the piece to be sweated is made difficult because the
    solder takes up space which disappears when the solder melts, and
    movement is inevitable. Stitches (small slivers cut with a graver
    that stand up and keep the piece in place) are good as long as the
    piece does not float higher than the stitches.

  6. Sometimes it is better to solder without sweating. Use very small
    pallions, make sure they are all tucked in against the seam before
    they melt. The piece can be held in place with the soldering probe
    with little chance of moving (it is only floating on the flux, vastly
    different to floating on liquid metal). Cleaning up the footprints
    left by the pallions is often quicker than going through the sweating
    process.

The more expensive or painful the lesson, the better it is
remembered, and it becomes known as experience.

Keep trying, and all the best.
Alastair


#15

Todd, I have no idea what this post started out as or what your
concerns are (so I probably shouldn’t jump in here) -… but I was
petrified to solder and polish and just about everything else having
to do with the possibility of destroying silver I had purchased. I
don’t know if that might be contributing to your concerns. But melt a
few pieces, destroy a few pieces, make big holes in a few pieces to
figure out what the heat is going to do to your precious silver
(absolutely NO sarcasm is intended here). I was so afraid to wreck
the piece I was working on, it gave me the jitters. After the first
failure, I did much better. But still needed some practice time.

Just a few - I hope helpful - thoughts.

Veronica


#16

Todd,

To keep the bezel cup in place, you could rivet it before soldering.
I have done that, using an earpost with a head on it for rivet
material. For some items. soldering is not even necessary! But for
your orca, you probably would want the tidy and strong look of
soldering.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA


#17

Hi Todd,

If the Ventura you mention is in California, and you ever get up
north - stop by, and I’ll spend a couple hours with you. Just give me
call ahead.

There may be someone closer to you that would be willing to let you
come by for a quick lesson?

Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA
www.jewelryartschool.com


#18

There has been much good advice on soldering bezels to a larger
substrate. I find success by observing two things:

  1. Clean surfaces that fit well

  2. Sweat solder on the BEZEL first, then place the bezel on the
    substrate and heat from the side or below (depending on size)

The substrate reaches the solder’s melting point, the solder flows,
the heat draws the solder toward the bottom (orca, in your case) and
the flame is away from the bezel.

Hope this helps,
Judy in Kansas


#19

Todd,

Keep in mind that everyone started out with the frustrations going
along with learning to solder. I know it does not help telling you
that everyone at one time or another has melted metal, especially
bezels which are usually very thin metal. When you started lapidary,
you had various and sundry problems. No one is perfect the first
time. Same with soldering. >From my point of view, since you had
already done the bezel to the backing, you were way ahead. I would
suggest that you use a soldering screen on a tri pod and heat the
metal from below. The recommendation that I have is to not try to
sweat solder, but rather to use a paste solder. Paste solder has flux
already in the paste. You can place the paste exactly where you want
to flow the solder. By using a lower temperature silver paste solder
you have to bring the objects to be joined to not as hot a
temperature such as, for example, a hard solder. When doing sweat
soldering, you have to bring the metal and solder to an even higher
temperature than the original flowing of the solder in order to make
the solder flow again. That may have been some of the problems you
encounter. Paste solder is placed directly where you want to join. In
your case, in the bezel indentation, add the bezel on top of the
paste. Then you place the object on the screen and heat from below.
Keep your torch going back and forth from below. What you are trying
to do is heat the entire piece of metal. You will see the solder
begin to activate, keep your torch moving. Do not back off, keep the
heat steady but do not keep the flame in one place, keep it moving.
When the entire piece is heated, and reaches the proper temperature
for that formula of solder, the solder will begin to flow. At that
time, you can bring your flame to the top of the piece and gently
direct the heat at the lower sides of the bezel to bring the solder
to flow around the bezel, keep the flame moving. As the heat is
directed towards the bottom, the solder will fill in the gaps between
the back part of the bezel and the Orca. Soldering is a learned
talent. You might want to start with a simple project or two until
you get the real hang of soldering. Soldering jump rings together
give you great insight into how paste solder works. Practice is the
key. Go for it!

Beth Katz - Unique Solutions, Inc.
http://www.myuniquesolutions.com
Paste Solder and Powder Solder for Metalsmiths and Jewelers


#20

Thank you all for the words of encouragement and advice! A couple of
people have asked specific questions about how I attempted the
solders. Here’s a couple of clarifications:

I used propane and oxy, and now that I think on it probably too
small of a tip for this job. It took around a minute to get up to
flow temp. Actually, now that I think back, I ran out of oxy during
the second solder and had to run to the store to get more. So, two
heatings…

I used medium solder wire, flattened in my roller (for more surface
contact), rubbed with fine sandpaper, and cut into around.7 mm
snippets.

I heated from the bottom mostly. The flame was a bit bushy on the
end, about 2 mm of yellow flame at the tip of the blue flame.

I was soldering on a charcoal block. THe first time, I put the orca
on the edge of the block, with the heavier part hanging over the
edge, and heated from below (mostly). Due to almost melting some thin
parts on the top of the orca during the first attemp, I used some
soldering investment molded around the thin parts of the top of the
orca the second time. Again I heated fromt the bottom. Im guessing
the solder investment was a heat sink. Actually, I haven’t had much
luck using this stuff before.

Bezel edge was sanded flat on my flat lap and should have been flat
to the orca. I probably should have checked more carefully…

Thanks again.