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Newbie question on soldering

I’m a beginner who has experience working with metal in terms of
welding and machining. (I work on british antique bikes as a hobby
and teach high school during the day) So please go gentle on me when I
ask this question… When I try to solder sterling by
picking up molten hard solder with my titanium pick and then place it
on the sterling it becomes distorted or “eaten away” where the
pick/solder touches it. I have complete success soldering sterling
when I use the method of just placing solder on sterling and then
heating it up so i don’t think it’s a heat issue.

What would be cause my sterling to distort or get “eaten” away when
i try to place molten solder on my sterling with the pick?

Thanks for listening to an embarrassed newbie.

Richard- You are getting the solder and metal too hot. Switch to a
higher temp solder or lower your soldering temp. Also, what kind of
solder are you using?

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Hi Richard,

The first suggestion is to make sure you are using the least amount
of solder possible. If your joints are tight, you won’t need very
much solder, plus you can always add more. When you lay a sliver of
solder on the metal there is potentially much more contact between
the solder and the target metal than with a sphere of solder. As the
target metal approaches the melting and flow point of the solder,
heat is transferred to the solder and allows it to flow, holding
down the potential for overheating the solder. There is minimal
potential for this heat transfer with a sphere of solder and you will
need to heat the target metal more to get the same heat transfer
effect. It may not seem that you’re heating it more, but I’ll bet you
are. Overheating is the most common reason this occurs. Use the torch
to draw the solder to the joint and avoid putting heat directly on
the solder.

Good luck.

What would be cause my sterling to distort or get "eaten" away
when i try to place molten solder on my sterling with the pick? 

I use a Ti pick to solder often. I have never seen a problem like
yours. I would suspect that you are getting something too damn
bloody hot. Solder and pick come to mind at the top of the list.
Everything at the flow point of your solder at the same temp and it
is easy, otherwise much grief. Easier said than done, this is where
practice comes in.

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

It is very easy to overheat the little ball of solder on the tip of
a pick, typically the solder is overheated if it flashes bright
orange. Once overheated the solder will need a higher temperature to
remelt and flow. At the higher temperature the solder will alloy
with some of the metal that it’s sitting on, and when the solder
flows it takes the dissolved metal with it leaving a small

I avoid melting the pallions of solder when picking them up with a
pick. Have the pick lightly fluxed, heat the pick before touching it
to a pallion and with a little help of the flame the pallion will
stick without melting.

Regards, Alastair

I’m not sure that it is the pick per se, as I find that I am able to
burn holes in my sheet, with the darn solder itself (so, obviously,
newbie here trying to get solder to melt, and I am focusing too much
in one spot).

For example, for the second time in two days, I have been trying to
flow yellow silver solder, around an argentium silver bezel and under
gold filled heavy wire. Twice now, I’ve burnt a hole in the argentium
bezel where the yellow silver solder pallion was resting. Just a


to 'newbie richard -

... with my titanium pick... the sterling... becomes distorted or
"eaten away" where the pick/solder touches it. 

ummm, my technical advice: don’t use the titanium pick…


Ask yourself just ‘what’ is different between the two circumstances.
Could it be the pick? Well yes of course its the pick. If you are
holding the solder in place with the pick when applying the heat, it
will be a heatsink, causing you to overheat, burning the solder into
the surface. Use the pick to drop the solder where you want it just
before you reach operating temp. Do not try to use the pick like a
fountain pen.

People swear by titanium picks, but a good worn out stainless steel
dental pick works effectively. The older it gets and the grodier it
gets, the better. Besides, a heavy tool is a steady tool.

You are spending too much time and heat on the subject, thus the flux
"dies" and it won’t allow the sold to flow and the solder eats a hole
in the base…Only so much time can be spent before the flux isn’t
any good anymore. If part of your item solders, rinse in water - not
pickle - reflux and heat again.

There is a heat temperature difference with the Argentium silver
bezel and the gold filled heavy wire…you must take that into
consideration also, there might be a problem, but the flux is your

You should practice on a lot of scrap to get the idea before going
right to your “perfect” piece of jewelry, only to have the solder
fail. I have students who think their original should be the “best”,
but don’t take into account that they haven’t practiced enough to see
what goes on with different aspects of the solder flow.

I even have a problem when I decide (after 40 years of soldering!!!)
to give an extra little flame to the join after the solder has flowed
and yes, I too get a dimple (so far no hole).

Rose Marie Christison

Hoi Richard, your problem is too much heat or soldering too long.
Solders have a small % of Zinc or Cadmium in them to reduce the
melting temp of the solder.

When you overheat, Zinc forms a alloy with the outer layer of your
silver. This alloy has a lower melting temp, and it gets sucked in
to the solder joint by the heat, that’s how you get the “eaten” spot.

To prevent overheating, solder in semi darkness, this way you can
see how hot the metal is on hand of its color (practice, make a chain
helped me).

Sometimes you wanna solder multiple joints with one solder in one
go, putting up balls of solder one by one is not a option for a
beginner (that takes time so your piece gets heated for too long).

So prepare your soldering operation before you apply the heat. You
can mill your solder (plate) down to 0.25 mm -0.20 mm and then just
force the cut pallets in to the joints, flux allover and heat (your
solder is wedged in, it cant float away anymore).

All the best. Kif


I’m not sure that it is the pick per se, as I find that I am able to
burn holes in my sheet, with the darn solder itself (so, obviously,
newbie here trying to get solder to melt, and I am focusing too much
in one spot).

You might want to try paste solder as the flux is already in the
formula. You can place the paste exactly where you want it or you can
also use for sweat soldering, or pick soldering It is the heat of the
metal that heats the solder, gets it ready to melt and flow and not
just the flame.

In the case of a bezel, solder the bezel with the highest possible
temperature for formula of solder (hard #75 or medium hard #70).
Since it is Argentium, you may have to go down a grade of solder from
what you might normally use since Argentium melts differently than
sterling or fine silver. Then, making sure the bezel is totally flat
and exactly the same contour where it meets the back sheet, place
some of the paste solder on the inside of the already soldered and
fit bezel on the bottom inside, making sure that the solder is all
around the inside of the bezel. If it is a small bezel then very
little solder spread all around the inside of the bezel, etc. Place
bezel on the back plate where you want to have it attached (soldered
on). Put heat first on the back plate, not directly on the bezel. The
paste solder will start to activate and smoke or in some cases a
small flame will emerge. Continue heating the back plate, moving your
flame all around to heat the entire piece evenly. Do not stop in one
place with the flame as that will cause the holes you are describing.
Keep going round and round on the back sheet and/or back and forth.
Continue heating until you see the shine of the solder, at that point
you bring your flame closer to the bezel and draw out the solder to
the outside bottom side of the bezel and attached to the back plate.
Do not move the bezel, let the heat do the work of bringing the
solder into the correct place. Let cool. All soldering take
practice. You need to know how much product you need to use… little
line, medium sized line etc. to accomplish the project at hand; or
how much of a ball you need to create with a pallion and paste flux
before you will be proficient. So, the old adage always comes to
mind. Practice, Practice, Practice.

You can use brass sheet and work with that as it acts much like
silver and will not have the great expense of silver itself. Just a
small amount of solder goes a long, long way.

Happy soldering.

I'm not sure that it is the pick per se, as I find that I am able
to burn holes in my sheet, with the darn solder itself (so,
obviously, newbie here trying to get solder to melt, and I am
focusing too much in one spot). 

My guess is that you are heating the solder rather than the joint.
When you do that, the solder melts into a little ball of liquid
solder, which can be very much hotter than the thing you are trying
to solder. It then burns itself into the work, either leaving a ding
or a hole. It won’t flow into the joint because the flux has long
since lost it’s effectiveness by overheating it.

The correct technique is to heat the joint until it melts the solder
itself; the solder will then run into the joint all by itself. Try
to avoid directly hitting the solder with the flame; play it around
the joint until the solder suddenly flows.

Regards, Gary Wooding