Torch Work

Torch Work: How do you support your work for soldering? Protect from

The other day at work the new “apprentice” remarked about me using
tweezers only to place parts together while soldering. He uses a
third and even fourth hand. I explained that was faster for me and
came from years of practice. I also immerse sensitive stones in
water since this is quicker and less messy than “cook jool” or
similar stuff. Both methods amazed the new guy. This was pretty
much the way I learned it years ago. Works for me but might not work
for someone else.

So, how do you hold little things to be soldered to other things?
How do you prefer protecting sensitive stones from soldering heat?

Thomas, @Sp.T

Hi Thomas,

I hope this turns into an interesting thread. I have been
silversmithing for 15 years, most of what I know I’ve learned
through books and practice. I took the basics at a community
college in San Diego. I am teaching now through our local Allied
Arts Council and am really enjoying it. What I’m finding is that
the students want to solder their work immediately and do not
understand that if they take the time to prepare the piece before
soldering they will save time and aggravation later . I learned how
to manipulate the metal until it fits perfectly then I solder it
using only t-pins to keep it from moving and bits of firebrick to
support my pieces. I very rarely use binding wire or a third-hand
because of the heat sinking that occurs. I know there are faster
ways but for me it is worth the time to file and align that bezel
just right and solder it without using wire.

Most of the time I use a soldering pick (a scribe from the hardware
store has 2 ends, one straight and the other a 90* bend) or tweezers
to put small pieces in place after the heating has moved them or
place them after the flux is through bubbling. I guess I usually
work my pieces flat, hadn’t thought much about that.

I don’t do much repair work or work with stones already set. I
reshanked an emerald ring for a friend last summer and I think I did
use Kool Jewel? (a gel) It did work well. I’ve heard horror stories
about working with emeralds so I didn’t want to take any chances.

I’m very curious to see what other have to say. Mary Louise in WA

Hi Some times I hold them in my fingers [gold rings with heat
sensitive stones], that way I know when they get hot [the stones].
Mostly I use a third hand with a stainless self closing heat
shielded handles tweezers. and free hand crowns with heat shielded
handles tweezers. A solder pick to tip stones or free hand wire in
place with a heat shielded handles tweeter. What ever’s fast and
accurate. Rio’s “extra hands” comes in handy for plat. with stones
or if I have to shank a ring with stones in place. It’s amazing
stuff, I use non-latex plastic gloves to protect my skin [my skins
getting sensitive as I age].

Gold Smith / Diamond Setter
<>< john 3:16

I agree with you Thomas that over reliance on 3rd and 4th hands are
a bad habit. The 'prentice should learn to do it faster, easier,
without all those heat sinking tweezers. I recently explained to a
student about soldering on a small part to pendant, it’s to go on
standing up. She looked at me confused, saying, what’s going to
hold it there?

I told her she was going to file it so well that it would balance
and stand up by it self. Ahh. Comprehension dawned.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Studio 925; established 1992

Hi Thomas, I generally use tweezers for positioning, unless it’s a
really complex item that needs extensive setup and support. In that
case, I use a third hand or two, but still use my tweezers for any
parts I need to feel exceptionally precise about.

I should mention that I’ve also found a combination of cross lock
and straight tweezers that make life much easier for my way of
working. Not only do I use the “straight” tipped tweezers, but I
also have others that have a 45-degree bend and even some with a
90-degree bend at the ends. For my solder placement, I use a 90-d
straight tweezer with a sharp point – it makes positioning so much
more precise than any other method I’ve found, with much fewer
dropped snippets along the way.

You’re not alone :slight_smile:

Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs
Unique and Hand-Crafted Artisan Jewelry

I learned a trick that when repronging, solder your first wire with a
long enough piece of wire to bend and align the other end so you can
do the second reprong, cut it off at the right length, realign and do
your third, do your forth and then cut the first at the right length.
Beats free hand and third hands.

Richard in Denver, Finally enough rain to have hopes of finding
choice edible mushrooms in the mountains after work
today. Chantrelles and boletes (porcini)

How do you support your work for soldering? Protect from heat? 

If you try to protect your pieces from HEAT you will never get them
soldered! When working with sterling, you MUST HEAT THE PIECE TO THE
MELTING TEMPERATURE OF THE SOLDER. If that doesn’t happen, then
whatever you think you’ve soldered will fall apart.

I place my work on a non-asbestos soldering pad, I move things
around using a pick or tweezers, I prefer the pick (tweezers get
ruined if they stay in the flame too long!) I make picks from coat
hangers . . . cut them apart, sharpen one end.

Mary, My students all strickly follow my Eight Basic Rules of
Soldering, which I follow myself. At the end of the 7 or 8 week
course, they usually have it down pat and soldering is no longer a
mystery. The one thing that seems to take longer than all the
preparation and set up, is torch/flame control. Some get it right
away…others need longer. In my view, all the prep and set up is
mechanical…a simple following of the rules. Torch/flame control
is the real art part of soldering.

Mostly I try to do my soldering out in front of me, holding the
piece with tweezers where I can see all areas of the piece and watch
the solder. I call it “air soldering”. That is where I solder all
my bezels, rings as well as bezel/back plates. When I have to ‘set
up’ the pieces, I normally stabilize the large piece and solder the
smaller piece - such as a jump ring or prong, using the off-hand (or
free hand)method…that is holding the part in tweezers bringing the
large piece up to temp and then touching the two. This requires
’pre-soldering’ of course. When I have to support a large piece, say
a 30x40 bezel, I use a wire mesh mat laid across two charcoal blocks
to form a bridge. That gives me excellent access to the back of the
piece and allows better flame control. Small pieces can be supported
usually by poking them into magnesia blocks or using plaster of paris
to hold many in place at once.

Another thing is placement of the solder and how much to use. For
example, on bezel/backplate jobs, I use the north, south, east and
west method, placing only a small to medium size snippet at the join
inside the bezel at those locations. This works very well on bezels
in the 22x30 range. Beyond that, I might add one or two more
snippets. I prefer to ‘starve’ the join of solder and have to add a
little than to use too much and then have to remove extra solder from
ugly joins with large fillets or blobs.

Back to flame control for a moment…many students try to do either
too much with a small tip…never getting the sink up to temperature
and then wondering why the solder turned into a ball but won’t flow,
or using a large tip to try to do a small job and wondering why the
piece suddenly melted before their eyes. Be sure to use the right tip
for the job at hand and, if you must hold part of the job with a
third hand, be sure it is attached in a way so as not to interfer
with the flame or draw heat away from the area of the join.

One more thing, my students never ‘practice’ soldering. By that I
mean, they don’t use pieces of copper or brass wire and solder just
for soldering sake. Rather, I choose specific projects that ease them
into it but that require them to do both large heavy joins and small
crowded and delicate joins on actual pieces of jewelry that, when
finished, they can look at and say…“I did that!”

Lots of different views out there, lets hear them. Cheers from Don
at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple elegance IS fine
jewelry! @coralnut2

Continuing on the “torch work” thread, here are the basics of what I
use on a day to day basis. I am a professional working in an high
grade retail business.

Since asbestos is out, I use the standard medium hard flat white pad
as a base. Other support is charcoal blocks. The charcoal is used
as a soldering surface for flat bezels, etc., and doubles as a
support for insulated handled tweezers. These tweezers are
generally used freehand for items to be soldered to other objects.
As for a solder pic, a stainless steel rod does fine for gold and
silver work and is easily reshaped and cleaned on a small grinding
wheel. For platinum, tungsten tip tweezers(like sold by Rio) are
used. I have a tungsten pic but have not used it for that purpose.
Rather, I use the other end as a platinum burnisher(also from Rio).

Preferred solders are from Cobb, since I do like the flow
characteristics and excellent working nature. Platinum solders are
the plumb platinum solders from Precious Metals West, a superb
product! All the other platinum solders are gathering dust,

Flux is the standard liquid flux, or green flux as some call it.
For jobs requiring more solder flow, such a bead around a bezel,
longer heating or on extra humid days with pits show in the joints,
then I use Handy Flux or similar with good ventilation.

Gas is natural gas with oxygen. Propane is used as a substitute and
for some casting jobs. Very low gas pressure is used with a Meco
Midget torch.

I imagine we all have our ways of doing things. What works for you
works for you, as long as the basics of good soldering technique are
in place.

God Bless.

Don, Will you give us your ‘rules’ for soldering? It may be that I
could use a few tips or refresher ideas.


How do you support your work for soldering? Protect from heat? 

Thomas, I believe that you have to be flexible when it comes to "how"
you perform certain functions, especially if you are doing work that
is out of the ordinary. I usually use tweezers, like yourself. But
sometimes I use third hands, stainless steel wire, handmade steel
clips, old pliers, you name it.

The first jewelry store owner I worked for really micromanaged me
and didn’t allow me the use of anything he didn’t like. For
example, he thought ring files obscured your view while you worked
and only bought and allowed needle files to be used (personally I
thought he was just being miserly). In the next store I worked with
I had the pleasure of being seated next to a fantastic Italian
master jeweler. I was glad that I had learned the basics really
well, but a whole world was opened up to me by watching how creative
this fellow was. So, my recommendation to new jewelers is to learn
the basics without learning dogma.

I also use sand and water to keep things cool.


Hi! When I solder, I usually use a third hand to hold the main part
of the piece in place, and usually I use a pair of hemostats to hold
the smaller piece of stock or wire where I want to solder it. The
ability to lock the hemos gives tremendous control–if I use only
tweezers, it seems to slip around. I, too, submerge the most
sensitive of stones under water while soldering, and use Kool Jool
in extreme circumstances.(it is way too messy for me!) One other
technique I have learned is to wet a watch tissue paper, then wrap
it around the stone, and clamp that part in your third hand to heat
sink it even further. Hope this helps! Katie Harmon Nashville,


I realize all members of Ganoksin are not professionals, all do not
have the equipment a professional must have to eat supper and feed
the pets. Many gifted creative folks are working with inadequate
torch setups. This includes the gas/air torches, known in years past
as Prestolite. These are the acetelyne cylinder only torches. The
upfront cost of adding a fuel gas/oxygen torch might seem high but
is well repaid in work well done and work done in a much more
efficient manner. There is not a need to fear the jewelers fuel
gas/oxygen torch set up. Years ago, using the “prestolite”, I was
actuallly a touch afraid of the better set up. This was simply
because I did not know how to set it up and use it. There is not a
need to fear it, go for it and open an entirely new world of torch
efficiency and control!

About any welding supply can supply small oxygen cylinders and
regulators. You might want to choose propane and use the “backyard
grill” or 20 lb. propane tank. You might choose a disposable or
other tank. A Meco midget torch is a good choice with the “little
torch” a good second choice. Don’t go for the older style jewelry
torches. (My opinion! NO debate on torch choices, please!) Once you
use fuel gas/oxygen torch system, you will be amazed at the control
you have over the gas/air prestolite style acetelyne cylinder
torches. The advantages to the metal worker are enormous. The
transition is easy, done in a afternoon, then learning how to use
the flame and heat control you never had before. This is just a
thought to encourage some of you out there.

God Bless.

Certainly Lorri, See following:

The Eight Basic Rules of Soldering By: Donald Dietz

  1. Pieces to be soldered should fit as tightly together as possible
    to get the strongest join. Contrary to what you may have heard,
    solder WILL fill small gaps, as long as the metal touches at one or
    more points along the join. While this is not the preferred way to
    do a job, sometimes it is unavoidable. Nonetheless, strive for
    perfect fitting joins.

  2. Clean around the areas to be soldered. Use a file, sandpaper,
    steel wool, a pencil eraser; anything that will remove the surface
    oxides. It is not necessary to abrade into the surfaces, just insure
    they are clean of oxides.

  3. Wash all parts in denatured alcohol to remove finger grease from
    handling the piece.

  4. Warm both (all) pieces with the torch one at a time and flux all
    surfaces with Prip’s anti-firescale flux*, set up the solder job and
    cover the join with a borax based self-pickling flux such as
    Battern’s, Aqua-flux, etc. Immediately warm the self-pickling flux
    with the torch until it bubbles up and then relaxes.

  5. Apply CLEAN snippets of the appropriate solder (hard, medium or
    soft) as close to the join as possible. A soldering pick is an
    efficient tool to do this though there are other methods such as
    pre-soldering one side of the join, or using paste or wire solder.
    NOTE: Snippets become dirty if left in their container too long. To
    clean, place them in a small copper/stainless strainer or piece of
    cloth and dip them into hot pickle. Rinse and lay out on a paper
    towel to dry.

  6. Use ONLY the amount of solder necessary! Experience tells you how
    much is necessary but it is better to use too little and have to add
    some than using too much and have to remove unsightly globs later. An
    average bezel/back plate job will require just 4 small snippets
    placed north, south, east and west - the tighter the fit of the join,
    the less solder required.

  7. If possible, solder in a semi-darkened area!! Start with the
    piece at the far end of the torch flame and apply heat to the larger
    of the parts being joined until it begins to show a blush of dull red
    (about 900 degrees F). Slowly move the the flame closer until the
    piece becomes a brighter red and concentrate the flame at the
    opposite side of the join from the solder. At this point the solder
    should melt. Keep the torch moving slowly to prevent overheating any
    part of the work lest it sag or bubble. As the area continues to
    heat, the solder will flash and flow through the join toward the
    heat. Immediately either remove the torch or, if soldering a long
    join, move it forward to the next segment.

  8. Drop the piece into water to cool it, then into hot pickle.
    Remove in about 2 to 5 minutes, rinse and dry.


When joining bezels and backs, it is often hard to get the flame
under the piece and pointed to the outside of the join being
soldered. Some people use a ‘sweat solder’ stand with wire mat on it.
Unfortunately, the wire mat acts as a heat sink and draws heat away
from the job being soldered. This, in turn, requires a hotter flame
to overcome the lost heat and often results in overheated or
misshapen metal. Try soldering such pieces by holding them in front
of you with a pair of tweezers and heating under the join but
pointing the flame away from the tweezers. With practice, you can
solder a medium bezel to a solid back this way in about 30 seconds.

  • To make Pripps Flux - desolve in hot water, 80 gms of tri-sodium
    phosphate (TSP) available in most paint/hardware stores, 120 grns of
    boric acid available at a drug store and 80 gms of borax available in
    the laundry department - also called Boroteem soap powder. Lightly
    heat the objects to be soldered, dip in the flux, reheat and dip
    until each piece is entirely covered with a thin white coating
    (spritzers or atomizers may be used as well). Set the pieces up,
    flux the join with ‘self-pickling’ flux (Batterns, etc) and solder.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2

I use 1/16" diameter titanium wire for solder pick’s. It is a poor
thermal conductor so you can hold the wire in your hand while
soldering. No solder will stick to it so it can be used to poke
around in the molten solder. It is easily shaped with files or
grinding wheels and lasts a long time. It will stand temperatures
for any gold or silver work but should not be used fro platinum as
it will melt and contaminate the platinum work.


No solder will stick to it [titanium] so it can be used to poke
around in the molten solder. 

I prefer the solder to stick to the pick, however, so I can pick
up a piece of balled solder with the point of the heated pick and
then place it where I want it. So I use steel (broken off bur
shafts, tapered to a point and firmly secured in a tweezers). When
the gold is hot enough, the solder flows easily from the steel (which
is cooler) to the gold. And I can still poke the solder around
because unless I have (mistakenly) focused the heat directly on the
pick, the solder won’t flow onto the cooler steel. Different strokes


8.  Drop the piece into water to cool it, then into hot pickle.
Remove in about 2 to 5 minutes, rinse and dry. 

Why?? If the piece goes directly into hot pickle, it will clean up
light years faster than if you cool it off with water first.

If the concern is that students will splash acid all over
themselves, then you can teach them how to prevent this. If you hold
the hot item in tweezers (copper or stainless steel) and plunge it
quickly and deeply into the pickle, there will be no splash. If you
drop the hot item into the pickle, there will definitely be splash.
If you can teach students all the other rules on your list, you can
certainly teach them this as well.


I’ve been using a titanium bicycle spoke as a soldering pick or to
stir silver while casting for about 4+ years. I sharpened off the
tread end to a point, and did little else to it since (except use
it). Plus, the ‘hook’ end of the spoke makes it roll proof, you
could fashion any other handle if you want more than just a wire to
grasp, but I find the plain spoke light and easy to manover
unencombered by any handle to upset the natural balance. i bought the
single spoke at a bike shop for about $1.00USD, if I recall


    8.  Drop the piece into water to cool it, then into hot
pickle. Remove in about 2 to 5 minutes, rinse and dry. 

Why?? If the piece goes directly into hot pickle, it will clean up
light years faster than if you cool it off with water first.

Quenching in pickle releases a burst of fumes.

The cumulative effects of continuing exposure to a variety of toxic
substances is a concern even for careful jewelers and this is one of
the situations where we can at least reduce that exposure with the
trade off being only a couple of minutes wait.

Since we can’t predict when we will reach our personal threshold,
IMHO it’s better to stave it off as long as we can. I’m not
advocating paranoia but informed and careful handling of the chemical
tools we use in our jobs. When you order something, ask the vendor
to include the pertinent MSDS (material safety data sheets) and
request copies for the things you already have.

Read the MSDS’s as you put them into a binder. Keep the binder
handy for quick reference when needed - before using something you’re
not familiar with or if you should have an accidental exposure such
as a spill. This is the URL for a regularly updated
site featuring over 85 free resources for material safety data

Our own Ganoksin site offers much safety as well as
resources for additional

I’ll get off the soapbox now :slight_smile:

Pam Chott

Beth is 100% correct about the difference between dipping a soldered
piece in water first or directly into the pickle…and I have used
the directly into the pickle method for years. However, ‘all
students are students, but not all students are the same’ rule
applies. Some can light off a torch and not blink an eye…others
take several weeks to learn how and be comfortable with it.
Therefore, the rules (such as we are discussing) are made for those
who cannot seem to get their rules straight!

Besides, our pickle is always kept medium warm (thats warm with a
capital 'W") and after cooling in the water, a minute or two in the
pickle does the job. My goal is not to create the fastest smiths in
the world…just good ones, so another minute or two won’t matter at
this stage. Remember…these are the basic rules after all.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2