Using wire solder

I’ve read what I could find here about wire solder vs. sheet. I find the discussions quite interesting, primarily because the most common method of using wire solder is to cut it into snippets the same as sheet. When I first started making jewelry back in the seventies, I went with the prevailing wisdom and used sheet cut into snippets with Batterns’ Flux. I hated the way the snippets would dance around as the flux boiled, but as far as I knew, that was the only way it was done.

A year or two in, I was selling my work at an Indian show, when I had the good fortune to meet and become friends with the late, internationally renowned Navajo silversmith Orville Tsinnie, who showed me what I can only call, for me, the right way to make jewelry. From there on out, I held my torch in my left hand and the wire solder in my right. I use only easy flow solder, and I will solder multiple times on a single piece. For example, one of my buckle designs used 20 or thirty of my handmade leaves, along with perhaps twice that many balls, all attached singly or in multiples, along with several stones in bezels, meaning that I would have to heat the piece a number of times. Again, I did a lot of overlay, frequently of scenes from the Mojave Desert where I grew up; blades of sagebrush in particular were very fine cuts, which would have ruined the entire piece if they filled up with solder. I would usually complete overlay pieces, including buckles, in one soldering, not by first applying solder to the top piece and sweating them together, but by putting top and bottom together and applying solder to the edge and to some of the more open places in the design. As long as it was scrupulously clean and well-fluxed, it worked. The reason I could get away with using only easy flow, I suppose, was because of the slight increase in heat required to melt the solder upon subsequent heating. I really didn’t pay any attention to how many times I had to apply the torch.

I am therefore curious as to why I find no mention of conventional, i.e., non-Indian, jewelers using wire solder in the way I have described. As I start making jewelry once again, the one thing I would change is in diminishing fire scale, because, either as a result of the Prestolite torch I used or the way I soldered, fire scale was a major headache for me.


I’m not sure that I understand what the question is? I use wire solder all of the time, especially when I’m doing overlay or am in a situation that requires more than a little bit of solder.

One positive aspect of using wire solder is that you can quickly add as much solder as you need. The main negative is that it’s also easy to add too much solder and make a mess.

Chip soldering or the pallion method is an easier way for most people to stay in control. It’s also an easier method for most beginners to learn. That may be why it’s what you see in most soldering tutorials.

Then there is the method of balling up solder on a solder pick (the pick method). I often use that method when I have to accurately place just one piece of solder, like soldering an earring post. retipping a prong or a jump ring on the end of a chain.

I see that all three methods of applying solder have value and are used for specific purposes. I don’t see that one method is better than the others for all circumstances.

I suppose it’s best to also say, we’re talking about silver solder. Wire feeding gold solder, could get very expensive, very fast.

One trick to keep all of the little pieces of silver solder from jumping around too much is to dry the moisture flux first. I often have students dry the flux first with a heat gun before applying the torch. But yes, they do jump around. You can limit that movement with torch heat control. I’ll often use two torches, when I have lots of chips to control.

It’s just like most everything. You get used to what you’re used to. But again all three methods of applying solder have value.

Also, while I’m not a fan of Battern’s flux for general use with silver soldering. (I prefer paste flux) Lots of folks love it. And that’s great for them!



Many of us have talked about touch soldering. This appears to be what you are describing. Once you get it coordinated, you can make real progress. I get uncoordinated once in a while and make a mess. I use wire solder snippets on joints where having equal contact with both pieces is helpful. As an example, soldering two 4" long pieces of 8 gauge wire together lengthwise. I flux and dry it out with the flame first then apply the solder. This keeps the snippets from dancing. I find it very helpful to cover the entire piece with a solution of alcohol and boric acid that is burned off first, then I use paste solder on most larger joints. I do keep a squeeze bottle of liquid flux for soldering jump rings. Again, there is rarely only one way, just the way that works for you…Rob



regarding firescale (surface) fire stain (sub-surface) prevention, i highly recommend Prips flux as a barrier flux, in conjunction with your flow flux.

search the forum for the recipe
boric acid
boiling water

each of the 3 ingredients plays an important part in the fluxes effectiveness…ie: the borax adds a longer working time, etc

if i find the post explaining it, i will post

it is amazing…sterling silver remains pristinely clean…

you spray it onto a heated piece, and it frosts over white

i suggest flushing out the sprayer at the end of the day to a oid clogging it up

the best spray bottle i have found so far is an empty Bactine antiseptic spray bottle…



The most important things to realize when working with alloys and multiple joints is how thick is one part of your piece your constructing compared to the other pieces because after all we’re talking about material that coducts heat quickly and the thinner the metal the sooner it will reach critical temperatures that alloys begin to come to the surface and in case of sterling red fire burn is the result. Taking time to consider all the variables -mass - is important because it dictates how much heat is required, how big of a tip to use, where to play the flame the most amount of time, where to play it the least amount of time, how do you calculate the critical temp that happens in a micro second. I have always liked the Handy and Harmon type paste flux which turns to glass like around 900° F.
Letting you know your solder is about to flow. Using wire solder the hot metal will suck it right in
Usually to the hottest part. Some projects you don’t mind The solder going to parts you weren’t intending it to. Some you do care.
Powdered solder is another option. The more familiar you become with your tools and materials your working with and all the practice you put in makes for confidence building. Lots to consider when designing and executing said design. So keep at it and don’t forget some days Murphy’s Law comes into play and nothing goes right, my pop used to say "put your tools down and get away from what you’re doing and come back later":angry:

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Oh my. I somehow neglected to respond to anyone who posted above. First off, I am not at all suggesting that the way I made anything was THE right way. It worked for me is all. It worked on the designs I used and that was what I cared about. Like all other Indian silversmiths I have known, I made jewelry for one reason, and that was to make a living. Indeed some of our work rises to the level of art, but I don’t know of any of us who ever approached it that way or took it up as a hobby. I am not for a moment comparing my own conditions or origins in Los Angeles as being remotely comparable to the conditions of, say, a Hopi born on Third Mesa who, looking about, sees alcoholism and high mortality rates rampant and is desperate to find a way out. I think of another great Navajo silversmith, the late Gibson Nez, who often repeated how he had left off as a rodeo cowboy to make a better life for his family; his work is, in my opinion, some of the most artistic silver work ever, but that was what I can only call a secondary part of it. It is all about making a living.

So the way I made jewelry worked for what I made. Wire solder worked so I could get on with what I needed to make, sheet solder didn’t. There is a world of metalwork that I never learned because I was too busy making what I knew I could sell. Sometimes I would open a Christmas present to find a something I had made that I was particularly proud of. Of course I would never willingly part with it after that, though I recall only two or three pieces I specifically made for myself which were never for sale, and even then, I only made them to help me sell my work. Certainly the use of wire solder is not the only way or the best way, it is simply my way.

There is much I did not and do not know about making jewelry, though I have to say that I am learning a great deal from all of you. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in your company, and even though I am new here I have already learned much. For example, my seemingly endless toil over fire scale or stain seems to have been solved. I respect the vast knowledge you guys bring, and I admire your willingness to share it. I had the intention of starting to use more gold and an occasional diamond
in my work, and although I never got around to it then, I have a growing conviction that I will get around to it now.

Thank you so much Julie for the formula for Prip’s Flux. It’s ingredients are on my list. I love to learn new techniques and have no doubt that I am in the right place. I always used Handy and Harmon paste flux and learned to use its changes as soldering cues, but if Prip’s is as good as everyone says it is, then that’s what I’ll use now.

It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. I am a 73 year old retired lawyer now and have not so much as held a torch for around 30 years, but I am looking forward to learning all over again what I once knew as well as a great deal more. And again, I am more fortunate than I deserve to be among you.


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Hi Michael,

the prips/ pripps flux is a barrier flux that you spray on after a bit of heating…you still need the flow flux at the soldering joint (ie: the handy and harmon)


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Thanks Julie. I hadn’t realized that yet. Sometimes I feel like a beginner around here.


I have learned over time that there are three ways to do the same thing. The right way, everyone else’s way, and my way. And not a single one is the best way all the time.

I am lately using wire solder for many jobs. And it is not always the best choice all the time but I find I use it because it is handy. I use Easy and Medium. To keep the short lengths of solder wire from being confused on the bench Easy gets a tight loop turned in one end and Medium gets a triangle.

Not surprisingly I use boric acid and alcohol as a barrier flux as well. But I also use borax and water as a dip. ( heat the work until it is a straw color, lightly golden, dip the metal in the barrier and set aside to dry) then I usually will solder with boric acid and alcohol. But I may use Battern’s as well.

I think soldering is a “what works best for you” thing. If it comes out well, consistently, you can officially call it technique.



Don…I use little bends at the end of the solder wire stock. The more bends, the harder the solder. I also roll the solder out to make it thinner and less likely to go all over the place once it melts. I like to use short snippets of round solder wire when the joint is recessed. The round shape allows it to make equal contact on both sides of the joint. Again, borax and alcohol dip, burn it off, flux the joint with your choice of flux. I use a paste flux…Rob


My mistake, it should say boric acid not borax and denatured alcohol for the firescale dip…Rob


I’m not trying to derail my own thread, but I am curious whether you have used this formula that Julie posted on another thread:

Pripp’s or Frip’s flux (depending on whom you ask. ed.)
50 grams dry Cascade (the green box)
120 grams boric acid
80 grams Borax (“20 mule team” laundry soap)
(Be sure to keep this ratio


I have used it too. It works well but it is a bit of a chore to apply. Boric acid and alcohol works for me…Rob

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Michael –
Have a look at this thread: Prips flux and you will find the formula posted by Peter Rowe back in 2000.
Looking at the MSDS on Cascade powder it seems to have phosphates but also plenty of other stuff??? I’d be leary of using it.
Real TSP is basically non-existent for the consumer. What’s available is phosphate free. I’ve made Prips with the fake stuff and it mostly works but I’ve not compared it to Prips made with the “real” stuff.

Why not just buy some Smart Flux from Pepe Tools?
I’ve used it. It works great.

– alonzo

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Thank Alonzo! That’s what I was going to say too. I’m a fan of the Pepe Smart Flux. I agree. It works great!


I reckon we all do things differently. Sometimes its something someone taught you to do. Personally, I hate chip solder. You can stick a round piece of solder in a join and mostly will stay if you wick off the excess flux. Used chips for years … see no advantage. Holding the torch in one hand and feeding solder the other … ummm no. I solder copper pipes that way. I use chips of argentium sometimes on a join when fusing. You are are embarrasing yourself name dropping. You have any idea who lurks here …lol.

There are very few things that we do for which there is only one right way. If you find your way, then keep doing it until you find a better way. I like not having to rely on a commercial product to do what I do if I can avoid it. I can find handy flux in lots of places and boric acid and alcohol is just a trip to the drugstore…Rob


TSP is readily available on Amazon in the U.S.:

And in the U.K.:

Neil A


Neil…I bought a couple big boxes of the real thing several years ago. Since I don’t use a lot of it, I am good to go for a while…Rob


here is the recipe i use

boric acid- 60 grams
tsp- 40 grams
borax- 40 grams