Trouble Soldering

Why Solder Will Not Flow.

There are only five reasons why solder does not flow where you want it to.

1.Not enough heat: I tell my students that if it does not solder within 60
seconds, they need to turn up the torch!

2.Not enough flux: I teach that with silver solder you can never have too
much flux! Of course, you can as far as just soaking your charcoal block or
soldering pad, but not as far as a good solder joint.

3.Not getting the silver hot enough, quick enough: The solder becomes
oxidized (dirty) and does not want to flow.

4.It is not solder! Now and then a student cuts a small piece of bezel or
sheet off and then mistakes it for solder.

5.The piece (or the solder) that I am soldering is dirty: I usually just
throw it into the pickle for a while and start over.

I believe that not getting the piece hot enough is the reason for
difficulties about 95% of the time. Sterling silver solders differently
than any other metal that I know of. Because it conducts heat better than
any art metal that I use, it has to be heated differently than copper,
brass, nickel, or gold. It conducts heat so well that the whole piece must
be thoroughly heated before concentrating the heat on your solder joint. I
teach that after putting on the solder, you need to start heating the piece
at the farthest point away from the solder as possible.

By the way, I teach all my students to solder every solder joint with
“hard” solder. It melts at about 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. This means they
have to get good with the torch. All the jewelry on this web site was done
by my students with only hard solder. Most were done by beginners that
never knew what solder was five weeks before they finish the piece or pieces
on their page. We do not “wire” things together either!

All “soft” solders will not stay polished like sterling silver. I teach
that you should use nothing but hard solder, because of just that,
polishing. I like to solder a piece, and polish it so that you can never
see the solder joints when I am finished. This makes it looks as if it were
cast. Think of it is way: to make “easy (1325)”, “medium (1360)”, and hard
(1450), they have to add more and more “junk” metals to bring down the flow
temperatures. I like hard because it polishes almost as if it was sterling
and stays that way for years and years. My wife has pieces that I polished
over 20 years ago, haven’t touched since, and you cannot see any black
oxidized solder lines.

Here is a really quick step-by-step of how I teach soldering.

1.Set the piece up on a solder surface of your choice. I like charcoal
blocks for a lot of different reasons.

2.Cut some hard solder. I use only sheet solder. I cut this into large
pieces compared to most silversmiths. Pieces 1/8 x1/4 inch is my average
size. Sometimes I use pieces twice that size. I refuse to put several
“snippets” on when I can put one large piece on. Remember, I use only hard
solder. If I was using easy, I would have to use very small pieces, because
of the ugly solder joints it makes.

3.Light the torch of your choice. All the jewelry on this web site was made
by the students with a $10.00 torch from Ace Hardware! This is the world’s
worst torch to use for silversmithing, but I am extremely proud of their
work, especially their first pieces. By the way, I am not the type of
teacher that does the work for my students, it is all their own work.

4.Spray on Dixon’s self pickling flux. That’s right, I spray it on. I was
taught by an 80 year old silversmith almost 30 years ago. He had gotten
quite shaky, and could not “paint” on flux without completely moving
everything. Because of this, one night I tried putting flux in a spray
bottle and spraying it on. It worked great, and I have used this method
ever since. Of course, I have found that I did not invent the wheel. I have
talked to many people who have used spray bottles for years before I did!
Everything that I teach was taught to me by someone! I just have tried to
use the best method for me.

5.Heat the piece only enough to dry the flux past the “crusty” stage.

6.Spray on more, and heat the piece again if it did not get completely
covered with flux. I flux the whole piece every time!

7.Using bent tweezers that are spring-loaded to shut, place the solder on
the joints. Use lots if you are using hard solder, almost none if you are
using easy.

8.Begin heating the piece as far away from the joint as possible. I teach
my students to keep the torch moving so that their reaction time is
increased. They can move the torch off the piece more quickly if they are
already in motion.

9.Watch for the silver to start to change color as the torch moves over it.
It will start to “shimmer.” This is not quite the same as the shimmer when
it melts, but a color change for sure.

10.Watch for the Dixon’s flux to puddle, and then melt into a “syrupy”
brown thick puddle. I watch the flux more than anything else to know what
temperature my silver is at. I believe it must melt and flow into this
syrup stage at about 1350 to 1400 degrees.

11.When the flux does its syrupy thing, I move the torch to the joint, and
at the same time, I move it up slightly away from the piece. This is how I
adjust the temperature of the piece. It heats up a larger area, which I
believe you need in order to solder silver. (Gold is just the opposite, I

12.The split second the solder flows, get off it, and I mean off of it!! I
would like to shout this. I have found that you can rarely fix anything by
simply adding more heat after the solder has flowed.

13.There is no 13 (unlucky you know!). If it did not solder, ask yourself
which of the five reasons was responsible, pickle your piece for about 10
minutes, take a break, eat something, or at least I do, and then come back
and start with step 1.

Don Norris
PO Box 2433 Estes Park, CO 80517

 Donald Norris gave us five excellent reasons, why solder
won't flow. Let me elaborate on the fifth reason. 

“5.The piece (or the solder) that I am soldering is dirty: I
usually just throw it into the pickle for a while and start

There is a kind of micro porosity sometimes called “spider web”
that will stop you from soldering and as far as I know you can’t
get rid of it or do anything to it to make it solderable. I have
gotten this type of porosity from the “Deox” silicon based alloys
occasionally. The only thing to do is to start over. Sometimes
you can cover it up with burnishing/tumbling like Stuller does,
but it will still be there and it will give you a fit trying to
solder it. Because the solder doesn’t want to flow to it.