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Problems Soldering Chain Links


#1

Hello, can anybody help me?

I have recently started to teach myself chain making.

I’m practising with brass wire and silver solder.

I have three questions about the soldering operation.

One. How do I manipulate the tiny balls of solder with a soldering
pick? They are reluctant to adhere to the pick and the flame often
blows them away. I’m guessing there is some way of managing this
situation but I haven’t figured it out.

Two. How do I ensure that the solder flows into the joint and not
only to one side? When I do succeed a beautiful (to my untrained eye)
joint is formed. But more often than not the solder ‘misses’ the
joint completely.

Three. Should I aim for a joint that is just filled with solder or
is a bit too much solder, i.e. an amount that covers the link a
little beyond the joint moe desireable?

Some additional - I’m using a propane-air torch; I heat
the joint to what I would describe as a mid-red colour (when viewed
in a darkened room); the flux I’m using is a mixture of borax, sodium
carbonated and sodium chloride; and my joints are fairly tight, some
even bordering on light tight.

Any advice would be very much appreciated.

Regards,
Rob Jupp
Australia


#2

Hi Rob,

Try to get the tip of the solder pick hot before you try to pick up
the balls of solder.

If they roll away from you try heating a little more from above.
Silver can be a little stubborn…practice will make it easier.

As for the direction of the solder flow…Solder always flows to the
heat. If it flows to one side of the joint then you didn’t heat the
joint evenly. Also, heat the joint not the solder…The joint will
"take" the solder when hot enough.

Lastly, you want to try and solder with just enough solder that once
polished you cannot tell where the solder is. (Not exactly a
possibility with the brass and silver combo)

Mark


#3
    How do I manipulate the tiny balls of solder with a soldering
pick? 

Good question. It’s a tricky business and does take practice. A
couple of suggestions based on what I do:

  • don’t pre-ball the solder.

  • (lightly) flux the solder snippet and the pick.

  • with the solder snippet on your charcoal block (better) or fire
    brick (it’ll do) bring the pick in so it’s almost touching.

  • bring in the torch heating snippet and pick simultaneously.

  • as soon as the solder starts to ball touch it with the pick and
    then pull the heat away.

  • there should be enough liquid flux to “glue” the balled solder to
    the tip of the pick.

  • heat the area you want to solder. once it’s up to or near soldering
    temp bring in the pick with the solder ball on the end of it.

  • a little heat directed toward the pick should reliquify the flux
    and allow you to place the ball where you want it.

  • if everything is up to the proper temperatures then your solder
    should melt right where you put it.

        How do I ensure that the solder flows into the joint and
not only to one side? 

Solder goes where the heat is so the trick here is to heat both sides
of the joint evenly. This will reduce but not entirely eliminate
solder wandering off where you don’t want it. For more accurate
results you need two things: (1) practice and (2) a torch flame
suited to the job at hand. (big splashy flame means you end up
putting heat where you don’t want or need it. a small tight flame
means you can put it exactly where you want and thereby control your
results better).

    Should I aim for a joint that is just filled with solder or is
a bit too much solder... 

Too much solder is a pain. It makes your work look sloppy and in time
it will (often) discolor which makes your work look sloppy. The trick
is to have light tight joints and use only as much solder as is
necessary so the result is hairline solder joints that are tough to
spot under any circumstance.

One word of advice: practice. Better tools will improve your work a
little. Better technique and skills will improve your work
enormously.

PS. I too learned using brass and I think it’s a great way to go.
Once I developed good skills with brass --it’s a “dirtier” metal and
therefor more demanding-- it was very easy to make the transition to
silver and gold. Of course others have their own perspective on this
but it worked well for me … and I still enjoy working with brass
which is a bonus if you’re into mixed metal stuff. You might want to
consider nickel silver too. For all intents and purposes it’s a
"white" brass. Not good for stuff that’ll be in contact with skin,
and neither is brass for that matter, but perfectly well suited to
things like buckles, fittings, etc.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com


#4

Hello Rob Jupp,

There are several possible reasons for your problems. Any special
reason you are using brass rather than silver? I’ve not soldered
brass with silver solder - Judy Bjorkman, can you comment?

In general, this applies to any soldering (actually
brazing) operation:

The joint must be clean - freshly filed is good - and closely
fitted. It sounds like your fit is tight enough for solder to flow.

Picking up the solder balls on the pick is a matter of practice. If
the solder balls move from the force of the flame, turn the flame
down. You’ll want to heat the pick a bit - I put the pick near the
solder as it melts. Touch the point of the pick to the solder ball a
second or so after you melt it - the ball should barely adhere. If
the solder ball is too hot, it’ll sort of bounce off the cooler pick.
If you heat the pick too much, the solder flows onto it! Practice,
practice, practice.

I have a friend who uses wire solder and touches it to the hot joint
rather like electronic soldering is done. She is very adept and you
might try that technique. Again, practice is key.

If the solder flows to one side of the joint, it sounds like the heat
is unequal on both sides, or that side is dirty or not fluxed. Most
likely it’s uneven heat. A good exercise is to solder a small ring of
metal to a flat plate. You understand the importance of even heat,
and that solder flows toward the hotter area. Your torch becomes a
paintbrush for drawing solder around the ring.

You really don’t want the solder to overfill the joint. That’s why a
close fit is best. Besides, it takes more time to file off the excess
solder. Just like salting food, you can always add a bit more, but
it’s difficult when you have to remove too much. Ideally, the
soldered joint is invisible.

Hope this helps some,
Judy in Kansas


#5

Hi Rob,

For soldering the links in chain, small balls of solder can be
transported to the joint on the tip of a pick, but that’s the
tedious way to do it. A much quicker & less tedious way is to use
paste solder. Paste solder is available in sterling & most kts of
gold. It’s available in several melting temps, hard (high), medium,
easy (low) & extra easy. Paste solder is made up of fine solder,
flux & a vehicle to act as a carrier. It’s usually sold in syringes
with a squared off hypodermic needle. To use it, a small ball (about
the diameter of the wire or less) of the solder is extruded from the
syringe so it touches both sides (left & right) of the joint on the
inside of the ring.

When soldering a lot of links, the top of a soldering surface can
be cover with rows of links 1 inch (25 mm) apart. The links can be
close to each other but not touching. After the surface has been
covered or all the links that need soldering are in place, the
solder is applied to the joints. It helps if the joints are
positioned at 12 o’clock when the links are placed on the soldering
surface.

After all the links have had solder applied, turn the soldering
surface around so the joints are at 6 o’clock. Light the torch and
begin to solder the links. Apply the heat to the outside of the link
so both sides of the joint come up to soldering temp together. I
like to start in the upper left hand corner & solder each link in
turn until the 1st row is done, then proceed to the remaining rows,
one row at a time.

After the links are all soldered, collet the links on a soldering
pick & transfer them to a copper or silver wire. When all the links
have been transfer to the wire, twist the ends together & place them
in the pickle. Remove from the pickle & neutralize in water to
which has been added some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Rinse &
dry prior to using.

In the US, paste solder is available from most jeweler’s suppliers,
I don’t know where to suggest you try in OZ. However, suppliers of
precious metals may be able to help.

Dave


#6

Greetings,

A couple comments on the link soldering.

It is the flux that makes the ball of solder stick to the pic. You
do not want but a little flux on the pic or it is difficult to get
the ball to come off and attach to the work being soldered. Also do
not heat the pic more than enough to melt the flux, do not let the
pic get red hot, or the solder with tend to flow up it. A real
learning experience for my students! They love it when I have to stop
and clean off my pic too!

I have found that if the ball of solder is no more than half the
diameter of the wire you are soldering, the join is almost invisible
if it was properly aligned and fitted in the beginning. This is still
just a butt joint! Very little surface area involved. My students
routinely produce chains with joints that need no sanding or filing
at all. I stress detail and quality when soldering, saves clean up
time. The trick is to learn how big to cut the piece of wire or sheet
chip to get a solder ball half diameter of the wire being soldered.
Practice, practice, and more practice.

I love it when they produce 20 gauge jumps rings and you can’t find
the joint. I think they do it out of spite.

The pic can also be used to tease the solder across the joint if it
does not flow instantly. Both sides of the joint must be the same
temperature, clean, and No GAPS. The main problem is usually uneven
heating or a poor fit.

Bill Churlik
@Bill_Churlik
www.earthspeakarts.com


#7

Hello Bill,

Many thanks for taking the trouble to offer advice. I will heed it,
esp. the practice, practice etc…

If your students can learn to do it I don’t see why I can’t also.

Regards,

Rob Jupp
Australia


#8

Hi,

The very easiest way to solder links in a chain is to use paste
solder. You must still have great matching ends, there is no way
around that. Paste is used at exactly the point where the two ends
meet. It will flow into the “space” that you want to solder. Since
you can apply very little to the exact point, in a point and shoot
application, you should have a very smooth join. It is a technique
that you have to practice in order to get the feel of the product.
You will know in very short order how much you have to use. Once
trick in using paste solder is to apply it at the join, but start
the heating process on exactly the opposite side of the join. By
starting the heat application at the opposite side of the join and
running it around the ring, you have used the heat expansion to
make the joint even tighter. You do not need to heat the solder
directly to make it flow. With a little practice you will be able to
know just how much of the paste needs to be applied for the gauge
of wire that you are using.

Paste may be a slight bit more expensive at the outset, but you have
to look at the time factor in computing your true cost. It saves a
wealth of time and also allows you to have a better, smoother
join… so it is really more pricey? It is a learning curve like
anything else. Practice etc… If you have any more questions,
please ask.

Beth Katz
http://www.myuniquesolutions.com
Paste and Powder Solder for Jewelers and Metalsmiths


#9

Hello Beth,

Thanks for taking the trouble to respond to my questions.
The paste sounds like a great idea; I’m going to give it a try.

Regards,
Rob Jupp
Australia