Hello Orchid Digest Readers, I am just starting out and first of all
I want to say I’ve never seen a more helpful and friendly group of
people. Usually these type of digests become bonfires for flame
wars. Thanks for being just good folks. On to my first question
– I am having a terrible time soldering. I follow all the rules,
took a one-day class (all i could afford) and no matter what I do it
takes me tons of tries to get the solder to flow. So, how many
times can you bring a piece to “flow” temperature before it becomes
unworkable or brittle or weak? I’ve given up on some pieces I think
I’ve heated too many times for too long at too high a temperature in
the vain attempt to solder a joint, not because I have proof they
are garbage but because I can’t imagine anything withstanding that
kind of torture. Am I being overly cautious? I’d love to find out I
haven’t wasted the sterling. Next question – I’ve checked the
archives and gotten some good advice but if there is anyone who can
give me some basic troubleshooting advice on soldering I’d greatly
appreciate it. Another question: I’m in Sussex County, NJ. Anyone
know of affordable classes or workshops in the area, or anyone
willing to let me watch them at work in the vicinity? Thanks in
advance… Yours truly, Lois lois@thorNOSPAMlabs.com
Hello Orchid Digest Readers, I am just starting out and first of all
Lois, My advice would be to keep trying! If the metal and the solder
are clean, and both are fluxed, when you bring the piece up to the
proper temperature it WILL flow. First it will melt and depending
on how it is placed relative to the joint will draw up into a little
ball. As you raise the temperature a bit more, it will flow. Do not
be afraid of your silver. My guess is that you are not getting it
hot enough. As for heating it so often as to make it unsolderable,
it won’t happen. You do however have to clean it thoroughly before
trying again and that may entail working it over with sandpaper or a
piece of one of those green scouring pads. After that it won’t hurt
to drop it in the warm pickle. Be sure to rinse after pickling. Good
luck. Jerry in Kodiak
Hi Lois – You will probably get tons of replies to your post.
Since you don’t have a lot of about the piece(s) you are
soldering, it’s hard to be specific, but here are some points of
infomation that may give you some leads to solving your dilemma:
Solder won’t flow on silver until the entire piece is at the
temperature required for the solder to flow. If you have a big
heavy piece, this will require a lot of heat. If you are soldering a
small piece to a big piece, this will have implications for how you
solder it together – you’d need to heat the big piece for awhile and
then add the small piece, or you could end up burning up the small
piece before the big piece is at the required temperature. You may
also want to re-examine the solder you are using – the harder the
solder, the higher the temperature you will need for it to flow.
You need to have clean metal for the solder to flow. If you have
tried to solder and it hasn’t worked, you may have a good amount of
firescale that has accumulated and may want to pickle the piece
longer. Do you still have some old built-up flux on your piece?
Sometimes, if you have used a lot of flux, it gets pretty crusty and
you have to really work to get it off. A brass brush with dish soap
and some ammonia should do the trick in this case. This will also
take off grease from your hands which may be on your piece as well.
In addition, you may have some other contaminants on your bench or
pad which are interfering with your solder flowing – were you taught
to use yellow ochre to keep other solder joints from flowing? This
stuff gets everywhere and you have to be very careful to clean it up
after you use it.
Do you have enough flux? Flux helps to keep oxygen out and slows
down the production of oxides that keep your solder from flowing.
Finally – do your pieces fit together well? Solder does not
fill in spaces – it merely joins two well-fitting pieces by
allowing the solder to flow between the molecules of both of those
pieces at a specific temperature. If you have gaps or holes, you
won’t get a join.
Hope this gives you some things to look at and maybe gives you the
answer you need – it’s always hard in the beginning!!
Good luck –
Hello Lois, Welcome to Orchid. You will probably receive many
responses to your questions, but I’ll try to reassure you as much as
anything. You can heat a piece of sterling many times without
damaging it. Smiths who raise vessels heat to anneal frequently. I
think you just need to “play” a bit with some scraps and your torch.
Experiment and gain some confidence. Intentionally melt some
silver and watch the metal’s color and how the surface changes
before it slumps. Solder a couple scraps together, then heat and
pull them apart, then solder them together again. Repeat until you
can anticipate how the solder will flow. Solder a long joint and use
the flame to push the solder down the joint.
The best source of help would be to watch someone solder and listen
to their explanation of what you see. I hope you can find a class
to attend. If not, here are some things to consider:
First, be sure your torch is adjusted correctly so that your flame
is hot enough to melt the solder. It sounds like that could be the
problem. You don’t mention the kind of torch you use. If you bought
it from a welding supply house, they should be willing to coach you
on flame adjustment.
There are some good descriptions of how the flame should appear in
the Orchid archives. Briefly, the blue inner flame should have
distinct edges and be softer toward the end. This is called a
reducing flame. The hottest part of the flame is just beyond the
blue end, and that’s where it should play on the metal. If more air
is added, the blue flame will sharpen and shorten - not what you
want for sterling.
You also want to keep the flame moving over the entire silver piece
so that it heats evenly. Solder won’t flow until the entire piece
of silver is up to temp. If the solder melts and just balls up, yet
the metal is a dull red, than perhaps the joint is not clean enough,
the fit is bad, or there is not enough flux.
I hope this helps, but a class would be best. Good luck, Judy in
Kansas, where the tornado warning sirens got us out of bed at 4:30
am. Nothing touched down, and we got a good rain - worth the lost
Lois, Soldering is easy - start with that attitude. And it is. Make
sure that your piece is chemically clean. Make sure that the joints
connect really well. Flux - handy flux or magical dip are very good,
there are tons of others, but don’t use that yellow stuff (Batterns).
Put your piece on a soldering block - magnesium is fine and cheap,
charcoal reduces oxygen. Don’t create a major heat sink. Put little
pallions of solder on your joint - it doesn’t take much and pallions
are easiest for beginners. Light your torch and heat the whole piece.
Don’t go to the solder immediately. When the piece is hot, it’s time
to concentrate on the solder. It takes 10 seconds or less. Go fast.
Maybe you try to solder pieces that are too big. Best, Will
Hints on soldering: “Heat the metal not the solder” Use enough heat to
do the job. Use a lot of flux on silver and base metals. Read this
article at the Ganoksin site:
but don't use that yellow stuff (Batterns).
Will, Don’t understand you aversion to Batterns flux?! I have used
it for many many years with great success. Other fluxes are fine too
but see nothing wrong with Batterns. It easily flows through the
joins and creates a clean surface. Please provide your views.
When the piece is hot, it's time to concentrate on the solder,
I do not recommend you direct your flame onto the solder. The alloy
of solder can quickly become oxidized and, if not completely
protected with flux, become contaminated. If you mean to
"concentrate your flame on the opposite side of the join from the
solder"… then you will get a good ‘pull through’. On occasion it
is necessary to put your flame directly on the solder but the solder
should be completely covered with flux to protect it when you do so.
Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1
Will, Don't understand you aversion to Batterns flux?! I have used it for many many years with great success. Other fluxes are fine too but see nothing wrong with Batterns. It easily flows through the joins and creates a clean surface. Please provide your views.
I agree, Batterns Flux is easy to use. It bubbles up as the metal
heats, and then the bubbles go down and it turns glassy . . . that’s
the time to apply the solder. And one does have to focus heat onto the
metal, not the solder.
Dear Orchidians, Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I am so happy
with all the responses I’ve gotten. Everyone that commented on my
message picked up on a mistake I was making or would have eventually
made. Since all of your instruction, I’ve had much more success
with soldering. In general, I was anchoring the piece badly,
burning up the flux, burning out the solder, not using enough heat,
and all the while, telling myself it was impossible. Now, after a
few successes, i feel like aside from the basic rules, attitude is
crucial-- when i’m confident that it will work, it works. (Provided
all the other, more concrete obstacles are overcome.) Has anyone
ever thought of writing “The Zen of Soldering”? I think I’m
beginning to fall into a trance or meditative state when I’m
soldering now. Is that normal?? Thanks again for all of your
invaluable help! --Lois
beginning to fall into a trance or meditative state when I'm soldering now. Is that normal?? Thanks again for all of your invaluable help! --Lois
This is called the solder trip. It’s better than drugs and
completely lawful. Will, who’s having a whiskey (not a whisky) just
before going to the casting nirvana.
Okay, well, maybe this is personal. I used Batterns when I was
learning to solder and I remember - much to my horror - that the
pallions of solder where flying everywhere as I heated up the metal
(silver - I never used it on gold). I just found it impossible to
have my solder where I wanted it to have it. I really think it is the
Batterns which caused it. Some day, I bought myself a bottle of Handy
Flux and the problem disappeared. I like Magical Dip too, but it’s
expensive. Maybe it was a combination of my poor technique and
Batterns, but my poor technique and Handy Flux seems to do the job.
Given that Lois, who is a beginner, had problems with soldering, I
thought that it would be useful to him to discourage the use of the
yellow stuff. I am glad it worked for you. Perhaps you could explain
the steps you take before soldering - it might be schoolish, but I am
eager to learn. Best, Will
Okay, well, maybe this is personal. I used Batterns when I was learning to solder
Hi Will, I admit I shared the same reaction as Don when I read your
original post, “I wonder what he has against Battern’s flux… I use
it extensively.” It looks like our learning experiences are
reversed. I “grew up” on Handy Flux, and still use it when I need
extended fluxing times. It holds up well. I also had the same problem
with Handy Flux that you describe with Battern’s… solder snippets
moving, flying off, etc. It’s a matter of the flux boiling and any
wet flux has this problem. Slowly warming the piece 'til the flux
dries is the answer. Being somewhat impatient, I still have to use my
poker to put solder back into place sometimes.
I did solder two bezels down to back plates and several other solder
operations on Tuesday, using Battern’s flux (actually a generic
equivalent of yellow/green liquid flux) and initially warmed slowly
enough that not one snippet moved.
The problem with Handy Flux is that it has fluorides in the flux,
and the fumes can be quite harmful, especially over an extended
period, if inhaled. I also found it to be a lot messier than the
straight liquid flux.
But I do agree with you… it is all a matter of personal
All the best,
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)
I also had the same problem with Handy Flux that you describe with Battern's... solder snippets moving, flying off, etc"
This is why I use almost exclusively boric acid in alcohol. Pretty
blue flames, no boiling, solder stays put. I keep reading that
people coat with this, then add another flux, but really, I’ve never
had a complaint about just the boric acid as my flux, regardless of
which metal(s) I’m using.