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How did they solder in the old days?

Hello. Everyone,

Last week I visited an exhibition of Maroccan Art in Amsterdam. This
was a very nice exhibition with a lot of jewelry some of theme
counting back to 3000 BC. A Typical orchidquestion :slight_smile: crosses my
mind. I was wondering how did they solder without gas? Or were they
"only" fusing, casting and granulating in kilns? Were they usings

Just wondering how my collegues worked ages ago…

Marlein Bong


Soldering of precious metals was preformed with an open fire and a
tube placed in the mouth.

This is not as simple as it may sound but once learned is pretty
basic. You place a tube in your mouth such as brass or possible some
type of reed in the ancient world and you draw air through the nose
and blow out through the tube in a continuous flow. You place a
flame in front of the tube that you blow through with the piece of
metal to be soldered or melted on the other side of the flame.

You can do an exercise to try this with a small alcohol lamp and a
piece of hollow tube.

Have fun
Greg DeMark
Longmont, Colorado
Custom Jewelry - Handmade Jewelry - Antique Jewelry

I was wondering how did they solder without gas? 

Hi Marlein;

There are a number of methods to solder without gas. Different
techniques were used in different places and times. You can position
pieces with solder chips in place, set it in a small charcoal fire
and use a small bellows. If you can see the film, “The Silversmith of
Williamsburg” you see them assemble silver articles this way. It’s
also possible to solder using a blow pipe and an alcohol lamp,
although I believe the oil lamp was preferred in olden days. You
can achieve significant heat this way if you place the articles on a
charcoal block as the charcoal creates a reservoir of heat and
mirrors it back onto the article. In some parts of Asia, they still
use a type of torch that uses white gasoline, the kind camp stoves
run on. It is pressurized by a hand pump. If you’ve ever seen the
old “blow torch”, it was like a canister with a pump to pressurize,
and they used white gasoline. The flame was a lot like a modern
propane torch, larger but not quite as intense.

David L. Huffman

If you want a fairly detailed description of how work was soldered
in ancient times read The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on
Goldsmithing and Sculpture. He lived between 1500-1571 and produced
many famous works. He also had one of the most well developed egos

Anyway he describes the method of soldering used at that time. It is
closer to granulation than what we would consider as soldering today
but from what he describes at that time there were no solders. The
work was joined by introducing a copper salt in and around the joint
and heating in a open fire till the work “flashed” when the copper
salt was reduced to copper by the fire and locally dropped the
melting point of the gold surface.

I am curious if anyone on the list knows when separate solder alloys
were developed?

Jim Binnion

James Binnion Metal Arts
Phone (360) 756-6550
Toll Free (877) 408 7287
Fax (360) 756-2160

Member of the Better Business Bureau

Hi Marlein,

Hard soldering goes back thousands of years and it is only in the
last hundred years or so that gas has been available. Some of the
soldering on antique pieces was done in kilns by plating one surface
with copper or some other metal or by sprinkling filings of a low
melting point alloy on a plate surface onto which the workman desired
to solder little balls or wires, and then heating the whole thing
until the ‘solder’ fused. The more common technique was using an oil
lamp or other open flame and a blowpipe to direct the flame and add
air to it. This is a very effective technique and I have personally
used it many times with great success. I believe it goes back at
least as far as the ancient Egyptians, Aztecs and Incas who all made
superb jewellery.

Ian W Wright
Sheffield UK


According to a book in my library, “Birka V Filligree and Granulation
Work of the Viking Period” by Wladyslaw Duczko jewelry from the
Black Earth area, Birka, Sweden’s settlement (800-975 AD) site shows
evidence of solder alloys, however, he indicates that it dates back
much earlier.

He refers to metallic (solder alloys) and non-metallic (chemical)
means of soldering. He states that metallic solders were introduced
into Mesopotamia during the 3rd millenium BC. (he cites Wolters,
J., 1983 "Die Granulation. Geschichte und Technik einer alten
Goldschmiedeknust. Munchen.)

Not sure if anyone has access to the cited publication (and can read
German) but I’d be curious to read a translation.

Birka V–Filigree & Granulation Work of the Viking Period: An
Analysis of Materials from Bjorko (Birka)

By W. Duczko

Price: $40.00

Media: Hardcover
Manufacturer : Coronet Books Inc
Release data : 01 June, 1985

Chris Hanson
Ketchikan, AK

    I am curious if anyone on the list knows when separate solder
alloys were developed? 

Hi Jim,

There is a silver brooch in the St. Ninian’s Isle Treasure (Pictish
culture, early medieval, Shetland Islands) that is described as being
"repaired with solder" in the National Museum of Scotland. This group
of objects most likely dates from around 800 AD. It was not common to
use solder in the fabrication of this kind of thing in those days, so
when I came across mention of solder in the catalog, it tweeked my
curiosity. The brooches were very worn, old and somewhat damaged
before they were hidden. It would seem to me most likely that the
solder repair was done by a craftsman more like a “tinker” and that
the type of craftsman who originally made the brooch would be more
likely to have recast a damaged piece. The catalog does not say if
the repair was done with a lead/tin sort of solder or if it is a
silver solder.

Stephen Walker

Much earlier than that. Theophilus described making silver solder
in the 12th century treatise On Divers Arts. Cellini, with his
ego, prided himself on “elegant” solutions, and thus preferred a
fusion technique for goldwork. There are also descriptions of alloy
solders in De Re Metallica and The Pirotechnia, and The
Secretes of Alexis of Piemont
, all of which either predate Cellini
or are contemporary with him.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR

They used a oil lamp or candle and a blow pipe for small jobs and
small hearth for larger ones.

Bill Bedford

He [Birka] states that metallic solders were introduced into
Mesopotamia during the 3rd millenium BC.  (he cites  Wolters, J.,
1983 "Die Granulation. Geschichte und Technik einer alten
Goldschmiedeknust. Munchen.) Not sure if anyone has access to the
cited publication (and can read German) but I'd be curious to read
a translation. 

In English, the very best book to buy/get from an academic
library/get on Interlibrary Loan is P.R. S. Moorey’s Ancient
Mesopotamian Materials and Industries–The Archaeological Evidence
(published in 1994 by Clarendon Press, Oxford, and re-issued by
Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN.) On pp. 229-231 and p. 274, Moorey
discusses ancient soldering, and references to several articles on
ancient joining (many in English) are given.

Moorey’s book is a classic and will not soon be superceded. Besides
precious and base metals, he also discusses ancient working with
stone, bone, ceramic, glass, and wood.

There is (to my knowledge) no Mesopotamian art work depicting
metalworking processes. If you like pictures, see the booklet,
Egyptian Metalworking and Tools, by Bernd Scheel (1989; Shire
Egyptology – I think I bought it at the British Museum in London).
Scheel mentions that the Egyptians used hard-soldering, but that
they were preceded in this by the Sumerians.

As has been mentioned before, Jack Ogden’s books on ancient jewelry
(jewellery) are also informative.

Happy reading! – Judy Bjorkman