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