How does it work and is it used a lot in jewelry making. I've
never heard of it before.
Solder wick (also called solder mop) has been around forever.
Jewelers used to make their own–some still do-- from very fine
copper wires braided, woven or twisted together.
The principles behind the use of solder wick (solder braid,
de-soldering braid, solder mop) rely on and exploit the basic
tendencies of molten solder (soft, lead or tin based circuit board
type solders or the brazing compounds that jewelers and metalsmiths
call " solders"):
-solder follows the heat
-solder flows capillarily
-finer, more delicate structures heat up more quickly than larger
Should you get an overabundance of solder–a flood- the solder wick
can really help.
Most if not all solder wicks are made of very fine copper wires.
Solder likes to flow on clean copper and copper heats up nicely. I
use Chemtronix brand. (I have bought and tried Radio Shack’s brand
but, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t perform well for me.)
“Soder Wick” (note the absence of the “l”) comes in a variety of
widths, some prefluxed some not. Not all are available.
I use : Size #4 60-4-5 which is a pre-fluxed flat braid.
I also use another brand: “Techspray” #4 1823-5F For all I know,
Chemtronics and Techspray may simply repackage their product for
Radio Shack but, as I said, it doesn’t work the same for me.
The first thing I do is clip off about an inch of braid and hold it
in a small pair of cross-locks and then gently burn off the “factory
flux”, which is a soft solder flux. Try not to scorch the copper
braid. (Not all solder wick comes prefluxed. Sometime you can find it
without any flux at all.)
Remember: the idea here is to make the solder wick as appetizing to
the molten solder as possible.
Solder enjoys clean, hot metal with lots of nooks and crannies to
wick up through. To this end, once the factory flux is burned off, I
heavily flux the braid with a good paste flux, melting and refluxing
several times until I can look through the glassy molten flux at
clean flux covered copper.
Using solder wick is not as easy as it sounds. Like so many things
in metalsmithing it is like a dance. If you are comfortable with pick
or free-hand soldering it is much easier because I hold the
tweezer/braid in one hand and the torch in the other as I would a
pick. I am a righty and manipulate the solder wick with my dominant,
right hand–torch in my left.
I bring the piece with the solder flood up to temp with the torch –
having the solder wick at the ready, right next to the solder I wish
to remove and pre-heated. Once the solder melts and begins to flow I
touch the fluxed wick to the solder pool (or spill) and heat the two
together. The solder wick, composed of fine copper, heats a bit more
than the object that has the solder flood on it and once the solder
flows onto the braid it finds the little “highways” between the wires
and wicks up–as long as the heat of the torch directs it. Depending
on the situation, I sometimes move the wick around in the molten
pool, mopping up the solder. When the braid is saturated, stop for a
minute and clip off the saturated end, reflux and start anew.
The final thing to remember is to remove the wick from the piece
while solder is still molten. Otherwise it will be soldered to your
piece and will have to be removed.
I have used solder wick to reveal surfaces and textures that have
been obscured by too much solder and to de-clog and crisp up corners
and filagree areas in which solder has accumulated. The unfortunate
thing is that, in my experience, you still have to deal with a
"solder stain" where a thin film of solder has alloyed into the
parent metal… But the bulk of the flood is gone.
Hope that helps,
Take care, Andy