Best way to teach soldering

As a person dedicated to the craft of teaching as well as
metalsmithing, I’m always trying to improve. I’ve been noticing the
problems that students have with soldering.

One them that is emerging are – students aren’t heating evenly –
they don’t quite believe me that the whole thing has to be heated,
that you can’t ignore a piece of it just because it’s far away from
the solder joint.

How to others teach soldering? And since I’m asking, I’ll go first.

I first explain the concept of soldering in general, discuss flux,
the types of solder, and types of joins. I tell them that types
other than sheet solder exist, but we only use sheet solder in
class. (I always admit when something I do is just a personal
preference, or just because that’s the way I was taught.)

Then I set up some soldering jobs for them and then we all move over
to the torches and I solder. I try to do three in a row, so they
have more chances to see it.

Then I sit with each person the first time they solder (if they
want, and most do) and coach them through it.

Thanks for your input.
Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

My ringmaking classes at high schools are my most recent experience,
so I’ll say what I do there. I do the pretty much same with all other
students. I do a practical session before much theory.

  1. Imagine the ring is set up ready to solder the joint. As we all
    know the joint is tight so little if any light can be seen when you
    hold it up to a window and peer closely.

  2. I get each student to lay their ring down on its side on a fairly
    clean and smooth soldering board, and ask each to take a little
    square of solder (that I’d cut up) and place it under the joint, so
    that both sides of the join are touching the solder.

(They usually get this right, as it’s not so hard to do. Those that
don’t will see their solder run up the hottest side of the joint).

  1. Then they each hold the torch and aim it at the joint. I flux it
    up (‘what’s that for?’) explaining that as the sterling silver heats
    up it discolours, so flux keeps it clean.

As the ring gets hot I ask them to check the heat is eavenly hot on
both sides of the join.

  1. When the solder melts, the ring can be seen to drop down
    slightly, and the molten solder runs up the join.

The ring dropping is a bonus, those that are real beginners get a
kick out of seeing this.

That’s it. Question time.

B r i a n A d a m

Elaine - I took my first class in jewelry making in 1967. My
professor was a former student of Kenneth Winebrenner’s (JEWELRY
MAKING AS AN ART EXPRESSION), so the method which I learned, and use
with my own students, is at least half a century old.

I teach soldering using copper! There are a number of pros and cons

to this method of teaching “silver soldering”; I find that doing
hard soldering on copper is good preparation for doing it with
silver, and the cost of mistakes is minimalized. My students get to
"play" with new skills, and learn how metals behave when heated.
Additionally, they all have an early appreciation for mixed metals
which carries through to later, more sophisticated projects.
Specifically, the metallurgy of copper is different enough from
silver that it is possible to achieve a good joint without raising
the temperature of the entire piece completely - even though I
demonstrate as though I were soldering silver. There are ample
opportunities for mistakes, and successfully soldered joints can
easily be replicated in silver. That’s how I teach it. Jim Small
Small Wonders

Hi Elaine; When I’ve taught soldering, one of the aspects I’ve always
included in my demonstrations is this factor:

Temperature is not only a matter of the intensity of the flame, it
is also a matter of the volume of heat. In other words, you can sit
there cooking your solder all day, but if the heat is conducting away
from the joint and radiating off of the article faster than you are
pumping it in, you may need to have a couple things. One is a bigger
torch tip or larger flame. Two, some refractory materials placed to
reflect heat back onto the piece being soldered. This is less a
factor with gold than with good conductors like silver. Students
tend to simply think of turning up the torch to get a more intense
flame. Obviously, washing over an article with a too small flame
won’t always be enough either. If you are moving over the entire
article and it’s still not working, the equation is tipped to the
side of dissipation of heat. Also, flux is a glass, and glass has
the ability to disolve metal oxides into solution. But there is a
limit to it’s effectiveness. Spend too much time and the flux will
have absorbed all the oxides it is going to hold, and you’ll need to
stop, clean off the article and re-flux. Grease and oils are also
big factors, since they create surface tension that can keep the flux
from contacting the surface of the metal to do its job. This is
really important with gold, since when working with gold one tends to
be working on small articles where a little bit of oil can become a
problem over a larger proportion of the project. That’s why jewelers
tend to favor the “self-pickling” fluxes. Just a couple points.
Keep up the good work, your approach sounds good.

David L. Huffman
David L. Huffman Studios, Inc.

Elaine The way I taught soldering was to use as many different sizes
and thickness pieces of scrap silver from oddments of jobs the more
varied the better they can be silver plate, tube, jump rings, old
shanks anything really, but generally smallish items, they will also
need a small piece of silver sheet.

Now ask your students to start soldering the silver pieces to the
silver sheet to begin with - but in a random manner. Once they have
a few pieces soldered to the sheet, ask them to solder different
sized silver pieces to the ones already soldered to the sheet and
continue building one on top of the other in a random manner making
sure different sized pieces are used at each solder attempt. By
asking your students to solder some items closer to others, having
first explained solder grades will demonstrate how these are used.

The advantages of this method is that nothing will be damage and
they will learn how to distribute the torch flame between different
thickness sections in close proximity to gain a soldered joint.

It can be fun as well, they can use the exercise to turn the process
into a design of sorts and if necessary it can easily be undone and
restarted over again.

Alan Lewis

Elaine, You might want to try explaining that different metals react
differently when heated, and explain why it’s important (with silver)
to heat the entire piece … that silver tends to dissipate heat
evenly throughout the piece, so you HAVE to bring the whole piece up
to soldering temp to get any of it soldered. With gold, you can
concentrate more on the area to be soldered, since it doesn’t
dissipate the heat the same way. Other metals (copper, brass,
bronze, platinum, etc.) react differently, so it’s important to know
the properties of the metal you’re working with.

This may also help you explain things like annealing (which you
could explain in the same context), in a way that makes sense, and
which explains why “once you’ve soldered it, you’ve also annealed

Just an idea … I’m assuming you’re teaching adults, too … kids
seem less “disbelieving” in general when a teacher tells them
something – adults always have to argue and find “workarounds” for
it. (Spent 20 years in the adult education field and got tired of
always having to explain why NOT to take shortcuts until you
understand the basic process you’re working with…sigh.)

Karen Goeller

I teach students to anneal a 6 - 8 gage copper grounding wire before
I teach them to solder. I have never had anyone melt the wire with
the torch setup at the art center but it gives them confidence with
the torch. After annealing, I teach them to hammer the wire square.
Besides learning to hold a hammer, they learn quickly whether they
heated the metal evenly and enough. I teach them to sweat solder a
small piece of brass to a small piece of copper as the first
soldering lesson and tell them that if they can do that, they should
have no problem soldering silver. I also stand with them for their
first tries. I try to convince them to make a circle just outside of
the whole metal piece with a soft flame to bring the whole thing up
to soldering temperature.

Marilyn Smith

When I first learned to solder, I was given a small square of silver
sheet (20 ga). Had to cut it into three strips, one with a wavy
edge, and two straight strips. had to drill 4 different size holes
in the wavy edged piece. Then had to butt solder the wavy edged and
one straight edged piece together. When that was done, had to solder
the third straight piece vertically to the two that were butt
soldered and it had to be soldered adjacent to the previous butt
soldered joint. Then had to solder two pieces of wire together and
solder the wire to the base (vertically). Made a small bezel which
was hung from a curved wire by two jump rings I had to make and this
assembly was also soldered to the base. When all that was done, then
I had to make a couple of “raindrops” with melted silver and solder
them in place for decoration anywhere on the base. This was a fun
project and covered almost every type of soldering you could do. For
a beginner it was nervewracking but you learned very well. When you
soldered the first piece of wire to the base, the instructor would
twist the wire with a pair of pliers to see if it was a good solder
join. Also on the first butt solder join, he tried to bend the piece
at the join to be sure it was solid. Good learning experience. Kay

Elaine I do many of the same things you do in terms of explanations,
handouts with illustrations and demonstrations. I have a list of
things students need to bring to the solder area so that they dont
forget anything and have to stop in the middle of the procedure and
so they have a way to organize before they solder. The one thing I
do that is a bit different is to require that students do solder
practicals. I have them use scrap metal pieces to complete four
experimental solder joints; butt, sweat, right angle metal to metal
seam and touch with 14g wire. They have to properly prepare each
piece for soldering but since there is no other prep and they dont
have to clean up the pieces after, these initial practice pieces
tend to build confidence and help those so afflicted get over the
torch fear. The students have to do these by appointment and I sit
with them during the four operations that are all done at once. This
has worked so well with some students that they dont even ask me to
sit with them when they solder their first important piece. Having
them do the four together gives them quite a bit of practice with
preparing the metal, lighting the torch and heating to soldering
temperature. Part of the soldering practical is opening and shutting
down the system (key locked natural gas and oxy ) so they are
responsible for learning all facets of torch safety including
reading the regulators, bleeding the torches and maintaining the
soldering area. Since I work with high school aged kids, they get
graded on this and arent permitted to solo solder until they pass
the practical for all procedures. Rarely have I had a student who
needs to repeat the practical or more than one operation.

Linda Moughemer

Hi All, Another fun soldering practice that will build your torch
control is: take snips of easy solder and start soldering one ball
on top of the last making as long of a piece as possible without
melting it.

Marta in Sacto, can’t wait for Tucson!

Hi there, another fun project: take a 4mm thick 2cm disk of sterling
silver and solder .05mm wire rings (about 10mm diameter) on top of
that heavy disk so that half of that ring hangs over the edge. Solder
about 8 to 9 pieces to create a flower like pattern. Use hard solder
and make sure the solder flows everywhere where the wire touches the
heavy disk. Have fun! Klaus

This may be a little on the side…but perhaps it may spark further
inspirations on top of all the great advice on how to teach
soldering (which i’ve been jotting down fastidiously!)…it’s a
simple parable, really…in the writing of an essay in university, I
had had quite a time coming up with a good stand-alone essay (worth
90% of the mark). after several unsuccessful drafts, my professor
finally told me to explain my topic and thesis as if i were talking
to my mother…

I must say this forum is a godsend for me…i haven’t met anybody
in person, but you’re like family to me! just recently, i had the
pleasure to successfully teach some basic metalworking techniques to
a number of groups of 7 - 11 year olds (the 3 hour workshop was
called “Make a Wire Tree”). How to compress safety, tool use, posture
and workshop setup, properties of metal, into 3 hours? i learned it
all from Orchid.

Thank you Erhard.

Not all but some suggestions to cover…

  1. Discuss flux… Purpose Demo flux bubbling, shrinking back,

  2. Discuss Flame Color, oxidation, Non-Oxidation The difference it
    can make Flame coverage, how to control

  3. Soldering temps and melting points

  4. Discuss Soldering relative to Oxidation of solder Can heat
    forever, and never solder item, Melt object being soldered,

  5. Color of item being soldered,

  6. Methods of soldering Demos… using pick, placing solder on item
    service, between to items,etc.

Jim C

    1)  Discuss flux.. Purpose Demo flux bubbling, shrinking back, 

What’s that, the ‘shrinking back’? I don’t think I get this.

    3) Soldering temps and melting points 

And mention the different temps for different brands for same grade
of solder.


On Hard soldering…

Here’s a site that might be worth poking around…

This is a site for silversmithing on-line courses run by Don Norris’
Colorado Acadamy of Silversmithing and Art metal. Summary of class
approaches, format, etc.

The usual disclaimers…

Gary W. Bourbonais

I do like the suggestions on teaching soldering. One item that seems
a question mark in the minds of jewelers might be added. I will
describe this as a “sometimes thing”, when the bench worker says
something like, “this is not a good day to solder.” There is truth
to that. Good days, bad days do happen. In many cases, I believe,
this is weather dependant. “WEATHER DEPENDANT” in not an excuse but
is a reality in torch work done as most of us do it, no cover gases,
no enclosed chamber.simple open air torch work. Besides the effects
of over or under heating solder and knowing the differences in melt
and flow temps., weather does play a part.

When humidity is high, the moisture in the air is simply water to an
excess. This water is nothing more than oxygen and hydrogen. Casters
know that excess humidity can affect castings as the moisture is
broken up and hydrogen is absorbed into the melt, to be released at
solidification causing porosity. Excess oxygen causes oxidation
unless the torch is set to a very reducing flame, causing only
harmless (to the metal melt) carbon monoxide to be produced.

I am convinced that humid days give jewelers more fits that dry days
in attempting to do good soldering work. The moisture works against
good casting in an uncontrolled atmosphere and would seem to do the
same with soldering, a technique also involving molten metal alloys.

The scientific evidence is solid of effects in casting. Is this a
cause of days of good solder joints and days of pitted joins? You
tell me. It is a consideration often overlooked and one with little
prevention when using an open air torch soldering technique. Most of
us must solder in open air, regardless of the ambient air conditions.
Perhaps you solder better than you think and the air is the culprit
in some cases.

Just an off the wall thought. We cannot control the humidity but can
recognize it as a deterrent to good solder work.

Thank for listening to a tiny tip of the iceburg when other issues
are certainly more relevant.

Peace and Blessings. Thomas. @Sp.T So,
there is a post. Thanks. Sorry, cannot make it to Tucson. Would be

I am not sure if “shrinking back” as I see it is the same the poster
means. But it is valid point. Flux can make solders or parts rise
and then settle as all reaches liquidus then settles down.

I use this effect sometime to be sure a part like a bezel or crown
on a flat surface will be where I want it to be when the solder
flows. The flux is applied, the part is applied, some heat applied.
Perhaps some more flux if a liquid type is applied again. With heat,
the flux will often raise the item up a bit then settle back into
place or “out of place”. This lets me adjust things or move the
solder or part a tad when just enough heat is applied to again
liquefy the flux. Not only is the flux a culprit in moving things
around, it is a helping hand in holding stuff in place just before
soldering temps are reached. The “settle down” gives you an idea of
what does not fit and wants to move from where you want it to be.
Then again, I am old school enough to just use hands and solder pics
for placement. That is a learned skill. ( A nice tack weld would
help but I don’t have the machine!) Blessing and Peace.

Thomas. @Sp.T For our struggle is not against flesh
and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against
the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of
evil in the heavenly realms.