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[Beginner's Corner] Soldering exercises?


#1

hi- this is my first post to the list so, sorry if I commit any faux
pas!

I am a beginner, and have no end of trouble and frustration with
soldering! After trying to teach myself from Tim Mcreight’s books, I
enrolled in a class where I am getting slightly better- but with one
teacher and 9 students I don’t get much chance to actually solder!
So, at home, I have been trying to practice… and it’s very, very
hit and miss.

I was wondering if there are any… exercises? That I can work on at
home to improve? Right now I feel like I am practicing doing it
wrong! When it works, I am just as surprised as when my hard solder
sits there, unaltered, upon glowing cherry red metal! Tonight I
litrerally burned a hole in a piece of sterling silver. gah!

Also, I would like to practice on copper and brass, which I can
afford, and wondered if there is anything I need to know about
soldering those metals in particular (with silver solder).

Any insight would be so appreciated. I hope you all don’t mind
having a newbie in your midst.

Hope
NSW Australia
http://taueret.typepad.com


#2

Practicing using silver solder on brass or copper is an excellent
way to learn. I would suggest that you start with extra easy solder,
which has a low melting point, and when you have success with it,
move on up to medium, then hard solder. Start with small pieces of
copper or brass as they will heat up faster. Remember the basic rule.
Heat the metal, not the solder. Think of the solder as a piece of
butter in a frying pan. When the pan gets up to temperature, the
butter melts. Same with solder.

Also be sure you metal is clean, and that you have fluxed the metal
and the solder.

Hope these suggestions help. Alma


#3

There are many exercises for soldering, many to teach specific
points. You seems to be having problems with heat control.
Traditional exercise for that is chain soldering. Make a lot of links
and solder them in chains. Ones your skill improves go to smaller and
smaller links. An acceptable skill level is when you can comfortably
work with links made from 0.2 mm wire with ID of 1 mm. For starters,
try 1 mm wire with 10 mm ID.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#4

Soldering on Brass is the best way to pratice using silver solder at
least for me. Try solder in brass to pieces that look like upside
down Ts scrap both surfaces clean and use plenty of flux and boric
acid alcohol burn off the alcohol the brass will have a white powder
put more flux I use Handy and Harman white flux place solder very
close to both pieces of metal and apply heat gradualy. Master this
technique and you could solder anything. You can also use Brass plate
and brass wire and solder 4 or5 pieces in a line at least 5 to 10 mm
apart.

Hartley


#5

Hi Hope,

To solder successfully it helps to understand how it works. Soldering
refers to the process whereby pieces of metal are joined by melting
another metal (the solder) so that it wets the joint and holds it
securely when it freezes. That’s basically it, but there are a few
"gotcha’s".

The important word is wets. Its just like water. Put a nice clean
pipe in water and freeze it; its then difficult to get the pipe out,
but use an oily pipe and its much easier. The difference is that the
water wetted the clean pipe, but couldnt wet the oily one. If the
pipe wasnt oily but dirty, the effect would be the same. Solder works
in exactly the same way. So all you have to do is make sure the joint
is nice and clean and youll get a good joint, right? Well, no, its a
little more complicated than that, but not a lot.

To melt the solder you have to heat it up. The trouble is that the
very act of heating it also makes it dirty. The oxygen in the air is
only too eager to oxidise everything it touches, and, as far as
solder is concerned, metal oxide is dirt. Most metals oxidise rather
slowly at room temperature, but heat them up and the effect is very
rapid " so rapid as to make soldering impossible, unless you prevent
the oxygen from reaching the hot joint.

There are only three ways to do this: solder in a vacuum, solder in
an atmosphere devoid of oxygen, or coat the joint with an oxygen
barrier that can stand the heat. The first two options are rather
impractical, but the third is fine; the barrier is called a flux. The
job of the flux is to cover the joint with a barrier to stop the
oxygen from oxidising it. Resin is a good flux for soft solders (ie
lead solder) and borax for hard (ie. silver solder).

If the joint and the solder are nice and clean then these fluxes
work rather well, but thats all they do; they are known as inactive
fluxes. If the joint is a little dirty these simple fluxes do nothing
except act as a barrier, but there are others that can do a small
amount of cleaning too. Bakers Fluid is one such active flux for soft
solder and EasyFlo is one for hard solder. (I use a product called
Auflux, which is a sort-of luminous green liquid. It is used straight
from the bottle and doesn’t froth up as much as the powdered fluxes.)
The active fluxes are certainly better than the inactive ones, but
they are not magic, you shouldnt rely on them to do the cleaning for
you.

So, now you have a nice clean joint and a flux, so its plain
sailing, yes? Well almost. Most problems are caused by heating the
solder rather than the joint. All that happens is that the solder
melts, goes into a ball, and refuses to flow into the joint because
it freezes before it can wet it. The secret is to heat the joint, not
the solder. When the joint gets hot enough it will melt the solder
which will then flow nicely into the clean, fluxed joint. The final
thing that can go wrong is to burn the flux. If you heat the flux for
too long, longer than a minute or so, it will lose its properties and
allow the oxygen to pass. This is normally the result of insufficient
heat, so if it happens, remove the heat, clean the joint, and start
over, perhaps with a better source of heat, or better insulation to
prevent the heat from leaking away.

So, the four main points for a good soldered joint are:

  1. Make sure the joint and solder are both clean.
  2. Use a good appropriate flux.
  3. Heat the joint not the solder.
  4. Complete the joint quickly.

I hope this helps.

You can practise on copper or brass quite satisfactorily. Use small
pieces first 'cos that will teach you to remove the flame as soon as
the solder flows - you stand a good chance of melting the work piece
otherwise.

Progress onto larger and heavier pieces to get experience of heating
quickly so as not to burn the flux, then go back to small items
again.

Regards, Gary Wooding


#6

Hi Hope - from another beginner -

  • make sure your metal is clean.
  • try copper - it’s less expensive and harder to melt thru than
    silver. Silver solder will work just the same.
  • keep practicing - it does get better!!

Tonnie McBroom
Phx, AZ


#7
try copper - it's less expensive and harder to melt thru than
silver. Silver solder will work just the same. 

It will be a mistake to practice on anything but sterling silver. I
realize that there are some schools using metals like copper, brass,
and etc., but this is done to cut the cost and not for any
educational value.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#8

Hi,

Just a thought, i cant remember you saying what torch you are using.
Silver can be a pain as its much more conductive than gold and to an
extentthe whole piece needs to be heated before the solder will
flow. It sounds as though your torch is struggling to get enough
heat into the piece before the good stuff (nickel??) is burnt out of
the solder.

I would reccomend practicing on jump rings, makin chains or even a
sheet of chain maille to gain some experience in torch control. I
wouldnt go too small in gauge because depending on your torch you
may not be able to get a fine enough flame and end up soldering all
the links together.

For practicing, till you get the hang of things, you could try using
a lower temp solder or a paste that has the flux included. You can
go back to the hard solder once you get the hang of the process.

All the best and have fun.
Jon Horton


#9

Hello Hope,

For a start I would stick with copper and not brass - the zinc in
brass could give you problems until you fully understand the
process. Second, make sure that the metal is very clean - scour the
area with an abrasive pad such as you would use for cleaning pans
after cooking until the copper is uniformly pink and shiny. Any dirt,
grease or oxide film will stop the solder flowing. Now, coat the
areas you want the solder to flow on with a flux - I like to use
’Easy Flow’ flux made by Johnson Matthey which has a slight acid
content but you could use any of the commercial silver soldering
fluxes. You will probably find plain Borax a bit awkward to use on
its own until you get used to soldering. Also clean the solder and,
if you are using a stick or rod (wire) of solder, warm it up with a
blue flame ( not yellow) on the torch and dip the end in the flux
also. Now you are ready… Set the two copper pieces up as you want
them to be in relation to each other and warm the whole lot up with
the torch ( again blue roaring flame…). Copper is a good conductor
of heat and requires more heat to solder than does silver or gold.
When the unfluxed parts of the copper start to blacken, concentrate
the heat on the joint area and, as the copper approaches red heat,
touch the solder to the joint. When the right temperature is reached,
the solder should melt and ‘flash’ into the joint - you will know
when that happens. Allow it to cool a bit before attempting to move
or quench it.

Blobs of solder on the surface indicate that either the metal was
not hot enough - perhaps an undersized torch for the size of the
pieces of metal - or that the metal was not clean and fluxed. One
thing to remember is that molten solder will always flow towards the
hottest metal so just the joint area needs to be red hot.

Let us know how you get on…
Best wishes,

Ian
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK


#10

Hope -

One thing I used to do all the time was use too little heat,
especially on hard solder. Eventually the piece would get up to
temperature, but by then the flux was destroyed and the piece had a
serious case of firescale.

(Regarding silver,) I neglected to get the entire piece up to
temperature as well, so all those ‘cooler’ parts sucked away the
heat. By the time heat loss to the cooler parts was balanced by input
the join, and I would melt something.

I use a Smith acetylene torch with a #1 tip (I think that’s it…I’m
at home and the torch is at work, so if I’m wrong I’ll re-post). The
opening is just smaller than the tip of my little finger. I used to
use a #0, and never got anything soldered except jump rings and
bezels. Now I use a ‘big’ tip - it means things happen a lot faster,
and I have to know the visual signs just before the solder flows.

The flux changes consistency, becomes glassy & may change color,
just before easy and medium solder melt. I find sometimes my flux
prevents me from seeing the moment when my hard solder
flows…probably need a more heat-tolerant flux.

People used to tell me to “just watch it and you’ll know when the
solder will flow”; they never told me WHAT to watch for. It is kind
of hard to explain. The change of flux is one, and there is a subtle
glow to the metal – you need dim light.

Get to know what it looks like when solder flows on a single piece
of metal. Don’t try to join two things at first. Remember that melt
temperature is cooler than flow temperature, so don’t pull away the
torch when you see the solder loose its form. Try to pull it in a
direction using heat, that’s a good excercise. When you do join two
items (start with a wire on sheet, then make a T), remember there’s a
lot more mass to heat up. And start with a lower-melt solder, as
suggested in another post.

When you’ve got two largish things to join, it’s better to heat from
the bottom. I find I have more success that way, even though I can’t
see my flame as well as from above. Make sure to support the piece! I
had one item wind up looking like a watch from a Dali painting.

Good luck to you!
Kelley Dragon


#11

Hello Hope, in beginner’s corner, There are a few tips about
soldering that are important.

  1. All surfaces to be soldered must be really clean, either
    annealled and pickled or cleaned with a decent abrasive paper. I
    regularly use a glass fibre brush pen for cleaning surfaces to be
    soldered. Also remember that your solder will need cleaning before
    you cut it into suitable sizes to add to the solder joint.

  2. The flux needs to be fresh and clean, I use an old fashioned
    method of a borax cone in a borax tray mixed with water, this just
    needs washing out with warm water regularly, when mixed the borax
    flux should be a nice milky colour.

  3. When preparing your solder pieces, one little tip is to use a
    rolling mill and mill your solder to a thickness that is less than
    the item you are soldering, most gold solders are sold in thin sheet
    form which is ideal, but some silver solders are sold as thicker
    wires, these wire solders need to be milled thinner.

  4. After the item to be soldered is cleaned and fluxed, load the
    solder pieces onto the required area, then gently heat the whole
    piece with a soft flame until the flux dries and holds the solder in
    the correct area, if the solder pieces move away from the solder line
    then this is the time to re position them.

  5. To solder apply heat to the whole piece, not directly onto the
    solders, remember that the solder will run when the metal that you
    are soldering reaches the solder’s melting temperature, melting
    temperatures of solders are below that of the metals they are meant
    for soldering, so if you are patient and heat the whole area gently
    bringing the metal temperatures up, you should not have problems.
    When the item’s temperature reaches the melting point of the solder
    you can direct the heat to the solder joint and point the flame at
    where you want the solder to flow as the solder will run towards the
    heat. If you heated the item and the silver melted before the
    solder, then I would say that either the silver or solder was not
    clean, or not fluxed correctly, or the solder was too thick.

I hope this all makes sense and good luck.

James Miller FIPG
https://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/jmdesign.htm


#12

I would suggest that you make sure that your surfaces to be soldered
are emeried with fine emery and free from any oilsand that they fit
well, with no gaps. Soldering is not for filling holes.

FLUX WELL. Heat the flux till it settles back dry on the work pieces
and cut numerous pieces of solder, placing them carefully to touch
both surfaces, heat gently and with a titanium (or steel) sharp
pusher re-position the solder. if pieces of solder (pallions) move,
push them back. Slowly heat both parts to be soldered but heating the
larger / heavier part most, try to bring both parts to the same
colour / heat. Turn the work so you can see both sides.

Always have a few extra pieces of solder cut, available. Best of
luck.

jewellerydavidcruickshank.com.au


#13

Hope, all of us were newbies once. It took me six months to teach
myself to solder, but it was worth it! Let me ask (and answer) some
questions and make some comments.

What is your heat source? a hand-held propane torch? Why, in a class
with only 9 students, did you not “have much chance to actually
solder”? Didn’t you each have your own torch? I assume you are using
an appropriate flux on your pieces to be soldered and on the solder.

I assume that the metal & solder have been cleaned beforehand. I
assume that the metal in the join area meets so well that there is
no light (well, almost no light…) coming through the join (before
soldering).

On top of what kind of surface are you soldering? It might be more
instructive to start out using easy silver solder, rather than hard.

What kinds of things are you trying to solder together? What are the
gauges of metal which you are using? If you melted a hole in your
piece of silver, you may not have been keeping the flame moving.

There is no reason not to practice on brass, copper, or
nickel-silver. They are joined very well with silver solder.

In the Orchid Archives, there are many discussions on soldering. In
most of them, the problem was with insufficient heat to melt the
solder (that was one of my early problems), especially if you’re
using thicker sheet metal.

With answers to some of the above questions, maybe we could better
analyze your difficulties.

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman


#14

Check out some of the soldering videos on youtube

Jim


#15

I am also a beginner, and have been trying to learn soldering. I
have found the video tutorials on Beaducation.com to be the most
helpful in explaining the process. They use butane torches, so I
don’t know what your torch set up is and how other types would affect
the process. It demonstrates silver soldering because I believe it is
the easiest to learn with silver paste solder. After trying this on
copper I did some investigating and learned that copper soldering is
very tricky, but I have had some success with siver paste on copper
(doesn’t act the same as on silver). The copper piece must be more
evenly heated before the solder will flow. The silver oxidizes after
about 30 seconds if the heat is not high enough. If you don’t have
success in 30 seconds, start again with your piece cleaned and new
flux and solder. Turn up the heat. I also found that fluxing the
copper before using the paste improves my chances. Technically, you
shouldn’t have to do this since the paste includes flux, but in my
limited experience it does. I have used a paste flux as well, but
think dipping the piece in liquid flux, then placing your solder
would do better since liquid would likely get down between the joined
pieces where the paste does not. The downside of using this on copper
is that the silver solder sticks out like a sore thumb. Some suggest
copper plating this in blue pickle solution (with a piece of iron
placed in it) is the best remedy since copper colored solders are not
usually a good match and very difficult to find. However, I find that
if I use a patina on the piece, the silver can blend in to the copper
background when I avoid polishing the patina over that particular
spot.

I investigated brazing a bit and one writer on this blog (sorry, I
can’t recall who) suggests using pre 1981 copper pennies, flattened
and cut to small pieces be used to braze copper pieces together. I
tried this but I think one would need a hotter torch than I have. I
also think that one would need to use some binding wire to keep all
the pieces tightly located during the brazing process.

From what I have been reading, soldering is not an easy technique and
requires practice and patience to learn and to accomplish well. I
know how disappointing it can be 'cause I still have more failures
than successes, but I am making progress.

Good luck!


#16

I did not finish my suggestions to [Beginner] Another problem you
may be having is that you have part of the silver is on a solid flat
surface which may well be cold, try buying a firebrick from HOJ or
other supplier or some other porous board. You can pre heat the
surface then shift the silver to the hot area before soldering. See
what you use at your college.

Copper and brass are even more difficult to solder as oxides quickly
contaminate the joints if they are not well fluxed.

jewellerydavidcruickshank.com.au


#17
There are many exercises for soldering, many to teach specific
points. You seems to be having problems with heat control.
Traditional exercise for that is chain soldering. Make a lot of
links and solder them in chains. Ones your skill improves go to
smaller and smaller links. An acceptable skill level is when you
can comfortably work with links made from 0.2 mm wire with ID of 1
mm. For starters, try 1 mm wire with 10 mm ID. 

thank you! May I ask… how does one not re-mobilise the solder in
previously soldered links? Heat control yes… but how? Thanks in
advance! (I have tried a chain with large links, some success but
lots of remelting).

Hope
NSW AU
taueret.typepad.com


#18
Practicing using silver solder on brass or copper is an excellent
way to learn. 

thanks- I was not sure if the brass was a good or a bad idea. Also,
I now think part of my problem is having only hard solder! I have
ordered some easy and medium, that may help. thanks again-

Hope
NSW AU
http://taueret.typepad.com


#19

Most students are afraid of melting things, therefore, they don’t
heat their pieces to the point where solder will flow.


#20

hi- answers interspersed…

What is your heat source? a hand-held propane torch? Why, in a
class with only 9 students, did you not "have much chance to
actually solder"? Didnt you each have your own torch? I assume you
are using an appropriate flux on your pieces to be soldered and on
the solder. 

at home I have a disposable propane torch from the hardware store
(Bernzo-matic Fatboy). It has a hissing, pointy, blue flame- no
bushy flame is possible withthis torch. I will be investing in a
better setup as soon as I can.

In class, nope. one torch, one soldering station. Quite frustrating,
but it is what it is! It has taken me 6 weeks of class to complete a
bezel set stone pendant- purely because of the way the class is
structured. Nice lady, who might be on this list- not saying anymore
about that! Also, its not so much a class as a workshop- you come in
and work on a project, the teacher telling you what to do every
step. So there are no exercises or demonstrations (except that I
shouldersurf everyone to try and learn as much as I can!), its a bit
frustrating but again, its what I have available to me.

I assume that the metal & solder have been cleaned beforehand. I
assume that the metal in the join area meets so well that there is
no light (well, almost no light....) coming through the join
(before soldering). 

yep, but thanks for checking.

On top of what kind of surface are you soldering? It might be more
instructive to start out using easy silver solder, rather than
hard. 

at home, I have a piece of scrap iron placed across a cookie sheet
atop some concrete pavers. Not ideal. In class we have heat bricks of
some kind. I am going to try a tray of kaolinite kitty litter at
home, it seems to be like heat bricks in its properties. I have soft
and medium solder coming any day now- I hope youre right that it
helps!

What kinds of things are you trying to solder together? What are
the gauges of metal which you are using? If you melted a hole in
your piece of silver, you may not have been keeping the flame
moving. 

I was trying to solder a bezel-set stone onto a commercial cufflink
finding. Super awkward, trying to make a fathers day present (Aus
celebrates it last weekend) for my husband. Since bezel setting a
stone is something I should have learned in class, I have been
trying to repeat my success in class at home (with mixed results).
Most of the things I want to make are simple in terms of their
soldering requirements- which is why my failure to take wing is
getting me down a bit.

There is no reason not to practice on brass, copper, or
nickel-silver. They are joined very well with silver solder. 

ok, good. Cant afford to use silver as a practice metal- though
someone did say NOT to use base metals as practice ad I wondered
why.

In the Orchid Archives, there are many discussions on soldering.
In most of them, the problem was with insufficient heat to melt the
solder (that was one of my early problems), especially if youre
using thicker sheet metal. 

thanks, I have been reading the archives as well as an article in
the library (Ganoksin) as well as all my books… Ill get there!
Seems like I could recite in theory all the reasons soldering may not
work, but in practice, I am a hamfisted melter of cufflinks!

Several of the suggestions from this list involved using the solder
as a stick and touching it to the heated metal, however my teacher
has us laying tiny bits of solder on our (fluxed, heated) work. Im
not sure I know how to do it the other way! Should I learn?