Last updated: 4/18/22, July 31, 2018, 02/01/18
Nancy LT Hamilton
Questions and Answers
Solder not flowing and/or acting strangely
Part one: I have an extremely (I can’t emphasize how extremely) frustrating time trying to solder these pieces. I do not have the same problem with any other soldering task. I watched all your soldering videos at least 3 times (!) to make sure that I am cleaning properly… using solder appropriately… etc, and I still have a problem, which I can only put down to the nature of the metal somehow changing after being rolled.
Have you ever come across this problem with rolled pieces behaving differently? Occasionally after numerous attempts… it will work… but I have noticed often it won’t be a nice smooth solder… but a bit ‘gritty’ in appearance and not the outcome I really want.
Part one: No, I have never heard of this problem before! How are you cleaning? I would torch clean and pickle. You are pressing in plant material and other metals so, there might be a microscopic layer of schmutz preventing the solder from flowing.
How to solder steel wire
I was wondering if you could recommend a solder and flux to use with the annealed steel wire that I am using.
I am banging my head against the walls picking and choosing which solder and flux I need to get the job done. I like to make loops and try to solder the ends closed but I just can’t.
I want to use this steel and my soldering just doesn’t work. I don’t know if I am not using the proper solder and flux or what.
I am cleaning it, trying a torch, just a soldering gun, which I don’t think is really enough heat but, even the butane torch doesn’t work. I have propane but I haven’t tried that yet. I am not sure if it is the heat or the wrong kind of solder and/or flux.
I just tried it and was successful. I used binding wire (the same as you have, it seems) My-T-Flux, a butane torch, and silver solder (hard). Basic soldering principles apply clean metal, tightly fitting parts (no gaps), flux, and even heat. If you are trying to solder stainless steel, then you will have a problem. That needs special equipment and materials but, for basic steel wire, this works. The flux is at Rio Grande, as is the silver solder.
Moving a piece, that is incorrectly aligned, after soldering.
In your first question, I am assuming that you mean the upper edge of your bezel is bent or marred in some fashion? If so, it’s an easy fix.
Turn the ring so that the bezel faces down. Tape a piece of sandpaper (the roughness of the grit depending on how messed up the edge is) to your bench. Using either 220, 320, or 400 grit sandpaper, sand the edge flat by moving the bezel, over the sandpaper, in a figure-eight pattern. If is really damaged, you can start by filing away the worst scratches. It’s easiest to hold the item in a vise or ring clamp so that you can file evenly or you can drag the bezel along a wide file.
If the edges are deformed (no longer parallel, maybe rippled) and you can still insert the stone, don’t bother fixing it as the bezel wall will be adjusted during the setting process.
The Answer to the second question is regarding moving a previously soldered item: yes, you can move it.
There are two methods, that I can think of now. The first involves moving the bezel while the solder is liquid and the other involves removing the bezel and starting over.
In the first scenario, pickle and flux the entire piece. Use a fire scale/fire stain preventative if desired. Hold the piece, level, in cross lock tweezers, or by resting on an even soldering block. Heat the piece with occasional flicks towards the bezel – especially if it is a larger bezel. Smaller bezels may need no heat at all. Keep heating the metal, moving the torch closer to the seam but, trying to keep the flame off of the bezel. Always heat the largest, thickest pieces the most. In many situations, the setting/bezel/applique doesn’t need any heat at all as the heat from the larger area will heat it sufficiently. Watch for the solder to flow and then gently tap or push the bezel in place using a soldering pick or other soldering tools. Be very careful as the metal, in this heated state, can be very fragile and break or crumble. Try to not overheat the metal.
The second method involves removing the bezel and resoldering. Hold the piece in the air – with the part that you want to remove – facing downwards. Heat the back of the piece until the solder is liquid. VERY gently tap from behind until the bezel drops off. You can also hold it in a third hand or other contrivance and push it off with a solder pick. Sometimes, the bezel survives – sometimes NOT. Watch that your metal doesn’t get too overheated as the tapping my crack or warp your piece – especially with Argentium silver! Sterling tends to crumble when pressure is applied especially if it is very red.
Worst case scenario: pulling or sawing off the bezel and removing any excess metal stuck to the pendant/ring. You will lose the bezel in this instance and a new bezel can be resoldered.
Re-sand, reflux, replace, and re-solder.
Does flux do more than just aid in soldering? Should I use a fire scale protectant?
“Since you are the great and powerful guru of silversmithing, maybe you can help me.
Flux is used at the points you intend to solder to aid in its adhesion. When soldering, do I need to protect the piece from fire scale with a boric/alcohol bath first?
I just purchased Battern’s liquid flux and thought I was all set. Now I am receiving advice about the bath first. What are your thoughts? What brand flux do you use?”
Total immersion or coverage would only be important if you were concerned with fire scale/fire stain because you were creating a mirror finish, at the end. According to the research, that I just completed, if you are working with sterling silver, bronze, brass, or gold (besides 24K) you should either: Use a fire scale preventative that contains boric acid. Check to be sure that the preventative can also be used as a flux. See my updated information on oxidation, fire scale, and fire stain.
Boric acid and borax are not the same. See my section on Fire scale/Fire stain.
If oxidation is present in the metal, and it has been through several soldering/annealing steps, and you want a mirror finish, the heat from the buffing process will probably bring the copper molecules up to the surface in a random pattern. It is explained more in the link above so, please check that out.
How do I know if my piece is fully soldered when sweat soldering?
“When I am soldering two pieces flat together and no solder is visible when it’s done; how do I know when the solder has melted. I have a tendency to overheat I’m sure, which works right now as I am using copper, brass, and nickel silver. But, as I go forward, how do you know at what point is enough?”
I like to see the solder on the edges. When sweat soldering, place the solder around the edges – if the piece is small. If it is large, place it around the edges AND in the center areas. You should be able to see solder all the way around the sweat-soldered piece’s edges. I do some sweat soldering in one of my recent videos: How to make a bezel and set a cabochon, that might help. There are two parts to this video – not sure which part it is on. Don’t forget to heat from the back. Use a tripod or an enameling trivet or other mechanism to hold the metal off the soldering area.
Silver turning gray in pickle.
“I left a silver piece in the pickle too long. When I remembered and removed it (I am talking days in a cold pickle) it has a gray coating on it. Looks like a thick glaze. Is there any way to remove the glaze without damage? Help”
From what I’ve found, and I’ve researched this a lot, the gray is actually an etched surface. That is the best explanation I’ve received – after contacting several manufacturers and suppliers. I think it was the Silver Institute who supplied the info (but, am not positive). You can try torching it (annealing temp.) a few times, and pickling it in between each heating. If that doesn’t work, abrasives might need to be employed. Try 3M’s bristle discs for areas with patterns or recesses and sandpaper for the rest. The etched layer isn’t too deep (I hope). Good luck and sorry this happened to you! It has happened to me many times – especially when I’ve had to pickle metal clay. Timers help. It’s so easy to get sidetracked in the studio!!!!!
Items sticking to soldering block
“I am having some of the pieces I work on stick to my soldering brick/block – do you have this occur and do you have any ideas why and how to prevent this from happening?”
You probably need to wash your soldering block. Is it charcoal? With charcoal, I turn it upside down in a bowl of water and let it soak a bit. Then I use a toothbrush or other brush to scrub off any flux and goop that is present. Let it dry out a bit before using and be cautious of steam!
If it is a Solderite board or a magnesia block, use a rough file or drywall sandpaper and sand down a layer – until it looks clean. Wear a mask!
With a ceramic board, (only do this with a cool board because hot ones will crack) immerse in water and do the brush thing. Usually, sticking is caused by flux residue.
Balled up solder, solder flowing into the wrong places
Why is my solder balled up and flooding the wrong areas?
The rules: metal must be very, very clean. The join is tight. The heat is appropriate for the metal. Flux.
Without seeing what is going on it is very hard to determine why your solder is not flowing where you want it to and why it is balling up. It sounds like you are doing everything right. The only things that I can think could be the problem are: you are not heating the smaller piece enough. When the solder flows around where you want it to go, it usually means the section where the solder is flooding is hotter than the other piece. Both pieces must come up to the same temperature at the same time. Don’t forget the most important thing: solder follows the heat.
Check the fit on your ring shanks again. The fit must be tight. Also, don’t aim the torch at the solder. You’re not trying to melt the solder with the torch but, you are trying to get the metal hot enough so that ITS temperature can melt the solder. The seam (preferably from beneath the area where the solder is) should be the last place to put the heat – if you need to hit it at all. If both sides of the ring shank are heated evenly, the solder should flow.
Are you holding the ring shank in a pair of cross-lock tweezers? They can act as heat sinks. Although they are great for soldering ring shanks, wire, jump rings, bezels, etc., I often start my torch work by heating up the tweezers to discourage heat from flowing towards them.
PS – you can stretch that ring with a leather mallet and a ring mandrel. Just hammer it a bunch on the upper edge, flip it over and hammer the other side. If it doesn’t fit, anneal it and repeat the process. There are also ring stretchers that can help. Amazon sells several. Saying that I own one and have used it 0 times. So…
Sometimes, you don’t get enough heat with those butane torches – especially if the metal being joined is very thick and/or very large. Another thing, when you burn off the alcohol, are you getting a lot of burned-looking areas? These areas could be inhibiting the solder flow. IF this is a consistent problem, you might consider a different flux.
Balled-up solder usually means dirt is present – somewhere. Try cleaning your metal by heating it up with the torch, pickling, keeping your CLEAN hands off the soldering area, brass brushing or sanding it, and trying again. The flame is the best cleanser I know of. Balled-up solder can also mean that you didn’t get the metal hot enough for it to flow.
Experiment with some scrap metal. Try combining different thicknesses and sizes together.
Soldering two different types of metal together can also be a problem. Copper, brass, and silver all contract and shrink at different rates (with heat) so, one piece might be moving one way and the other piece, another. Also, metals like copper, brass, and bronze create a lot of oxidation so you have to get in hot and fast before too much schmutz builds up.
Solder Not Flowing
“Why is my solder not flowing? What am I doing wrong!”
I have a couple of questions for you:
- Are you using the correct flux for your metal?
- How large is the piece you are soldering to? A jump ring is very small and really doesn’t need much heat. BUT, what you are soldering it to does. Maybe you aren’t heating the main piece up enough.
- What is a mini torch? Is it butane or is it a Smith Little Torch? Butane is not a hot gas. It can be very difficult to solder large or even medium-sized pieces with it. Your torch may not be hot enough.
- What is the solder doing? Does it melt, ball up, do nothing?
- Do you have a picture?
Making a prong setting, can you tumble pearls
- “Would you teach me how to create a prong setting successfully?”
- “Is it safe to put the freshwater pearl in a sterling silver setting inside the Tumbler for a few hours of tumbling? Without doing so, how do I harden the sterling silver prong legs to insure the pearl is firmly guarded? 3) I soldered one prong fine but then, when I tried to solder the other prongs, the 1st solder joins melted and the prongs fell over.”
Sorry about the prong problems.
I have a web page on Settings for irregularly-shaped stones that will help. If you are interested in how to make prong settings, I have a video on Craftsy. I can also recommend quite a few, excellent books that cover this topic.
Don’t put pearls in the tumbler. Tumble only the metal and then set the pearl. Pearls are too fragile, like opals and other soft stones, for the tumbler.
The process of setting the pearl – after tumbling – will work-harden the prongs. If they feel a bit too flexible, they can be gripped with a pair of pliers and twisted A LITTLE!
Solder paste and color matching solder with metal
“I have some old sterling silver bangles that I would like to make into rings. Can this be done and can I use solder paste for soldering? I would like to use the closest color match for this and don’t know if I should use medium or hard solder. Also, would I have to treat these bangles before I reuse them?”
The best match for all silvers is hard silver solder because it has the most silver in it. Please see my web page on solder for an explanation of solder types. Hard solder is usually used for the first several solder joins – although, if you’ve practiced, you can use it all the way through construction. Because it has more silver in it than say, medium solder, it is also stronger. Do you know, specifically, what metals that you are allergic to? I ask this because (depending on the manufacturer) solder contains zinc or other metals.
Your solder paste is fine for any soldering operations – although, I prefer wire. Use as little as possible – saves on cleanup. If you venture into my favorite new metal: Argentium, you will probably want to use Argentium solder. See my page on this: Wire and Sheet Metal for more on Argentium. (Scroll down the page to Argentium Silver – the first of the silvers that I discuss).
You can cut those bracelets down and make them into rings with no problems. I have several pages on soldering – please read them for more information: Soldering, About Solder, Oxidation, Flux, and Firescale Prevention The Four Steps for Successful Soldering. They should answer all of your questions.
On treating the bangles before working with them: You will probably need to anneal them before trying to re-bend them. This will take off any patina that has developed so, be prepared to re-patina them if this is the look you want.
Solder balls up and doesn’t “stick”
“The solder burns up and sometimes just balls up and doesn’t stick. I bought some copper color solder and finally got two jump rings to solder. I know the surface needs to be clean. I did sand my practice pieces should that be enough to clean the surface. My torch is a mini butane. I think I should buy a max butane?”
Your problem is a common one. My first question is why are you using copper color solder? Does the solder actually stay copper-colored? Silver solder works great and if you are stingy with the solder and clean the piece well, the seam will barely, I mean barely, show. Is the solder designed for plumbing? Hope not.
It sounds like your metal OR your solder is dirty or you forgot to flux both the metal and the solder or the solder isn’t getting quite hot enough to flow.
Sanding is a good first step but, it often gets touched (by your hands) and any grease or dirt will be transferred to the metal. Plus, the sanding leaves a layer of grit on the metal. I would either wash the metal with a good degreasing soap, like Dawn – with hot water and a jewelry-dedicated toothbrush or wipe the piece and the solder down with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol. My go-to technique is to warm the metal with a torch and then pickle it – keeping my fingers off of the edges – after the torch/pickle/neutralizing/
Another point is that copper is a very big oxidizer. The oxidation starts almost immediately after heat is applied. The oxidation is essentially another form of dirt and that is what we are trying to avoid. Usually, there needs to be sufficient flux and a hot torch that heats the metal up fast. The quicker you can get in and get out, the less oxidation you will have to deal with.
If you’ve done all of the above and let the piece get hot enough, and it still doesn’t work then, there is also a very good chance that your torch may not be hot enough. Butane is not a very hot gas. If you want an inexpensive torch, that will get hot enough to solder (using even hard solder) try this one by Fireworks or a similar one from Zorch. If you intend to keep at this, you might want to look into an acetylene/air, Smith Silversmith version or propane/O2 setup, or a Smith Little Torch. You also have to purchase the acetylene tank or propane (I used to use) a B acetylene tank) and O2 Tank, if applicable. Unless you buy a kit like this. You also have to take them to a gas supplier to fill them as they come empty.
This more permanent solution is a much pricier one, I know, but you have a bigger tank and don’t have to keep buying $7 – $12 bottles of gas. The little disposable O2 tanks empty out in a hurry! There’s also the environmental aspect, which is, that there isn’t any recycling plan (as of now) for the disposal of the tanks. When you run out of propane or acetylene, they just give you a new, full tank and your old one is refilled and given to someone else. Very recyclable.
I recently purchased an oxygen concentrator. I’ve made a video on my new system, perhaps this can help you. It is live on April 25, 2022.
Also, see my Acetylene page for more information on this gas and tank setup.
Several common soldering problems: balling up, not flowing, join not tight, etc.
“I have watched a few of your videos on you tube but I am still having trouble soldering first I am using a micro torch, second I can’t seem to make the ends flush which I believe is the first problem and thirdly is there a certain flux you should use I mean should it be jewelry flux and are there metals that you simply can’t solder and lastly my flux melts away before the solder melts causing the solder to become a ball. What am I doing right LOL I am getting very frustrated and am ready to give up can you help?”
Is the micro torch butane? Butane is not a very hot gas. Are you trying to solder large, multilayered pieces? That butane torch probably won’t heat up the metal enough.
The metal must be pristinely clean and so should the solder! Read my “4 Steps to Successful Soldering“. Also, the solder flows better if there is a little “tooth” to the metal. Ultra shiny metal can cause you some grief. The solution: sand the areas to be soldered with some 800 or 600 grit sandpaper. If you are soldering a plated piece, you need to remove the plating from the area that is to be soldered. Don’t forget to wipe off the sanding residue with rubbing alcohol.
Flush edges are a huge deal and I spend a bit of time getting that part right. See my video on doing just that. The (long winded name here)Miter-cutting vise and jig might make you a very happy woman. I love this tool and it is one of my mainstays. They have more affordable versions now (unlike when I first purchased mine). Can’t vouch for these cheaper models but, I love my expensive one. I’m sure they’re great too. The reviews look like they like the 69.00 version best.
Color matching solder and how much solder to use
“ How (do I) get rid of all the solder i.e. if you (are) soldering gold and using silver (solder) you will see the silver any tips?”
My big tip on this one is: USE LESS SOLDER. (I wasn’t yelling, just emphasizing!) I use the least amount of solder possible. To do that, I roll out my solder wire, with my rolling mill, until it is very thin. Then I cut it lengthwise, down the middle and THEN clip off little pallions. If you don’t have a rolling mill, you can use the sheet solder or the paste but, with the sheet, cut teeny tiny pieces. With the paste, a minute dab.
So, here’s where the less is more with regards to solder comes in: since you’ve used only a small bit of solder, there’s less mess to clean up and less finishing required. IF you’ve got a few blobs of unmelted solder, there are tons of different tools, and attachments for tools, that will help you to clean it up – even in the hard to reach places. Check out my page on finishing for more info on that subject. (There’s a link to my video on finishing on that page).
Soldering sterling silver bangles to make into rings
“I have some old sterling silver bangles that I would like to make into rings. Can this be done and can I use solder paste for soldering? I would like to use the closest color match for this and don’t know if I should use medium or hard solder. (I have a metal allergy, I can only wear silver and gold). Also, would I have to treat these bangles before I reuse them?”
The best match for all silvers is hard solders because they have the most silver in them. Hard solder is usually used for the first several solder joins – although, if you’ve practiced, you can use it all the way through construction. Because it has more silver in it than say, medium solder, it is also stronger. Do you know, specifically, what metals that you are allergic to? I ask this because (depending on the manufacturer) solder contains zinc or other metals.
Your solder paste is fine for any soldering operations – although, I prefer wire. Use as little as possible – saves on cleanup. If you venture into my favorite new metal: Argentium, you will probably want to use Argentium solder. See my page on this: Wire and Sheet Metal for more on Argentium. (Scroll down the page to Argentium Silver – the first of the silvers that I discuss).
You can cut those bracelets down and make them into rings with no problems. I have several pages on soldering – please read them for more information: Soldering, About Solder, Oxidation, Flux and Firescale Prevention and The Four Steps for Successful Soldering. They should answer all of your questions.
BTW, color match is not that big of a deal – if finished properly, (see my videos/website for info on that facet of metalsmithing) you shouldn’t be able to see the seams – even on copper, brass or bronze.
How to remove “White Out” after using it to block solder from flowing
“I finally soldered this very tricky tiny little join for a pair of earrings and used “White Out” to block the solder from flowing where I don’t want it- it worked- yay! But now, I can’t get the darn stuff to come off. It’s inside a tube, in a tiny join, etc. The net says to soak in rubbing alcohol but that is a big zero(doesn’t work, doesn’t do squat!).”
You could get one of those tiny brushes like this set from (of course) Amazon. I can’t believe it is so hard to get off – must be because of the heat. Maybe use the yellow ochre next time, when soldering very small items. It’s good to know about the white-out problem. Thanks.
So, I’m assuming the tube is tiny. Can you roll a teeny piece of sandpaper and slide it in and out? Is the tubing big enough to slide a toothpick, with sandpaper rolled over it, into the hole? What about a micro-file? Oh, maybe this product will work: Abrasive Polishing cord. You can string it into your jeweler’s saw and use it like a blade to remove the gunk. Don’t know how well this will work with the very tiny cord, though. Mitchell makes the cord in many different sizes and they also make a flat one. Use this for filing the inside edges of pierced pieces. What about these from Poliluster? You can also string sandpaper strips into your saw frame. Fabric-backed sandpaper works for this. I haven’t tried paper sandpaper yet or the 3m polishing papers – getting there.
Problems With My Soldering Iron
“I just discovered your YouTube videos and I hope you can give me some much-needed advice. I am new to soldering and have ruined more than a couple of soldering iron tips but I don’t know why. I recently bought a Weller 800-watt iron and immediately ruined the tip. I am including a picture of the tip, and the solder I am using.
I am also including a picture of the type of thing I like to make in hopes you can give me some MUCH needed advice.”
I don’t solder much with a soldering iron anymore. I did when I was doing stained glass though and I do recall some things.
- Are you using a wet sponge to cool down the tip and clean it?
- Do you have temperature control for the iron? It might be getting too hot.
- Are you “tinning” the tip”? See the link below.
- Are you wiping it clean when you are done? Sometimes the flux can be corrosive.
Here’s a link to a soldering iron holder that has a sponge in it.
Can I Make Jewelry from Solder?
“I attached a photo of something I’d like to try to make. I was wondering if judging by the large quantity of solder, you think he/she used wire? also iron or torch? I was going to try to experiment, but I thought I’d see if you had any idea where to begin. Believe it or not, they use rubber stamps to make those designs, so what do you think would accommodate the silver color and not be scorching hot? I should probably mention…it is over top of the iron. that is an iron pendant you’re looking at, with the stamped solder on top.”
Rubber-stamped molten solder jewelry. I’ve never heard of creating jewelry using molten solder (until you asked your questions!). It appears that to pull this off you need to heat the lead-free solder (Lead is not used for jewelry – not good for the skin or the lungs!) until it melts. You can use any kind of torch. In the article (below), the author, Gail, uses a crème brûlée torch. I would imagine that a soldering iron would be a little more difficult to use
While the solder is liquid, impress your pattern. Gail at Can’t Stop Making Things uses rubber stamps. You could press almost anything into the molten solder. Of course, don’t use anything that will melt – unless you want that object embedded in the solder or destroyed. Could be interesting… Watch your fingers – obviously, the solder will be pretty danged hot!
At Can’t Stop Making Things Gail, a contributor wrote an article entitled: “More Rubber Stamped Jewelry” that discusses her technique for stamping molten solder. Ashley, at Lilblueboo.com, has a tutorial on this subject too.
Gail doesn’t mention using flux but, Ashley does. I’d vote for using flux.
Looks like a pretty simple technique. Good luck and enjoy your experiments!
Vicky Patterson has a Pinterest board titled: Jewelry: Molten Solder Stamping to see work created with this technique.
Soldering Sticking to Charcoal Block
How do I prevent my smaller pieces from sticking to my charcoal block? This seems to happen regularly, especially when annealing, and reticulating.
It is probably flux that is causing the metal to stick. I would wash my charcoal block, cut down on the amount of flux I use and apply the flux off of the block. To wash the block, submerge in water, flip over and scrub, with an old toothbrush (to allow metal particles to drop out), let dry – at least overnight – and voilà: no more sticking.
Is A Join Made With a Soldering Iron Strong?
“My first attempt on a single jump ring, not attached to anything, was successful! I bought silver-filled solder wire, stay-clean flux, and a soldering iron. Will it hold? Will it break? I just tested it and it seems really strong.”
Will Pickle Damage My Beads?
My question about the pickling is: will it damage my beads in any way? I’m still a bit uncertain about the pickling. I’m using a soldering iron and my metals are varied.”
How do I solder two ends together to be perfectly flat and aligned?
“All soldering books, videos, articles etc. say you have to get the two ends you are soldering together to be perfectly flat and aligned so no light shines through – hah! No matter how long I file I can’t get the ends to line up right and eventually the thing is too small and I have to start over”
This is one of the hardest things to do. It drives me crazy still. That’s why I love the miter cutting vise. Life has been much sweeter since I purchased mine. But, it does have size drawbacks and I’ve been begging and asking manufacturers to make a larger one for a long time. Recently, I heard from a guy who might be able to make me a wider Miter Cutting Vise. I hope he can pull it off, it would be a great tool to have and to share with others.
Just checking: you’ve seen my video on straight edges?
Next time, when cutting out your blanks, add an extra .5 – 1 mm of metal for adjustments and whoops moments.
With Bezel/ring shank edges:
If you overlap your bezel strip, mark with a sharpie and saw through both pieces of strip/metal; both sides should meet perfectly. You can tape or clamp the overlapping wire/sheet so that it doesn’t move. Don’t file the ends or sand them – except to remove burrs. File at an angle and don’t file the surface to be soldered.
Another idea is to make bezels with thicker metal. Much of the strip sold is 26-28 gauge and it is flimsy and easily deformed. Thinner stock is also more difficult to keep level and straight.
Besides using the Miter Cutting Vise/Jig and the other techniques discussed in my video, I also use the following trick, performed with a pair of flat, wide-ish pliers. Ta-da – drum roll, please! In this scenario, the pliers are used like the miter cutting vise.
- Push the metal tightly against the interior edge of the pliers to square it up (it helps to have pliers that are pretty square at the interior join).
- Hold the pliers tightly closed with your non-dominant hand.
- With a tiny amount of metal sticking out (you might want to mark it – see below)***, and while leaning it on the bench pin, file the end flush – across the top of the pliers.
- If you can find long, wide pliers, it would increase the size of the metal that you can even out – I couldn’t find any bigger, than the ones I already have. You need one perfectly square edge, on your metal, for this to work – like with the Miter Cutting Vise. See the images attached. I haven’t tried these but, they might work: Wubbers wide, flat nose pliers. I used smooth jawed pliers and the width of the interior surface, of one jaw, is 1/4″ wide and 1 1/8″ long to square the edges on my sample.
Another option is to level the metal in a vise.
- You can try to use the square to help level it when in the vise. Although, I do it by eye – trying to ascertain, visually, that it is seated squarely. Line up your Sharpie line with the top edge of the vise.
- It helps, if your vise is as wide as or wider than your metal.
- Holding one hand on the file handle and the other, almost cupped around the far end of the file, slide the file across the metal keeping the file square and even. Don’t “roll” the file or angle it. See Nicholson’s file info. (pg. 7) for the correct way to hold the file for this technique. It’s a great resource.
- Avoid filing too near the edges of your metal because, we humans have a tendency to push harder on the file, near the ends, and usually discover that we have rounded the corners.
Many times, it is not the “square-ness” of the metal that is the problem but, the angles at which the seams come together. Somehow, what started out as a nice flat piece of metal, becomes a wavy mess – especially with thin stock. I always have to twist, flatten, finesse the metal into alignment. It is one of the most time-consuming things I do when making rings or bezels. What helps, is to create a springiness in the metal by pushing each side, over and under, under and over each other until it is springy enough to snap (and stay) together. I also swing the bezel/shank from left to right – over and under and under and over – side to side. Be aware though, that that springiness will suddenly release when you solder and your seam can pop open – especially with thinner stock.
Using your hands, line up the edges, and then use your pliers to further flatten the seam down. We don’t care if the ring or bezel is round until after it is soldered. The attached images show two views of my squared and adjusted sample. The flat edge was achieved by using the plier method, described above.
Another method is when both edges are very close together – held together by springiness – saw down, through the seam, with a jeweler’s saw. Take care to saw straight down the seam (the as-of-yet unsoldered seam – that is!) This is sometimes done when making tubing and the seam of the tubing isn’t neat. The sawing, theoretically cleans up the seam, creating trued edges.
The last idea for the day – I’ve got to stop!!: Purchase a precision shear like this one at Harbor Freight (here’s a video on the tool). It is a pretty big tool but, it does three tricks! This is the shear I have, made by Pepe Tools. I don’t know if they are making them anymore though. You align the perfect, usually machined flat edge against the guide and (after marking with the square and a Sharpie or dividers) push the marked edge under the blade. Pull down the handle and Violá! Square edges. My new, favorite tool for squaring metal. If the metal starts out with a perfectly cut edge, there’s no need for further adjustment! There is also less chance of making wavy metal. The miter cutting vise is still great for squaring up wire and thin strips, among other jobs. I don’t want it to feel abandoned! Back to Table of Contents
How Do I Differentiate Silver From Solder Wire?
“Got my wires all mixed up and it’s been a while and I don’t know how to differentiate my silver from the solder wires?”
This is not going to be fun or fast. I’ll bet that you’ll never do this again after going through this process. I did the same thing and haven’t repeated THIS particular mistake again! Hah! Learning can be such a joy (sarcasm here). Early on in my career, I ripped off those annoying tags, from my Rio Grande solder coils (that stated solder type!). When I went to solder I had a fit – which was which? Silly me. I’ve also found that the tags fall off easily. See below for a way to avoid this exciting adventure.
The best way is with a torch. Have a notebook and pen handy and some masking tape. You might also want a timer or a watch that does seconds.
- Put a tag on the roll or coil of wire, using the masking tape.
- Sequentially number each coil with a Sharpie or other pen, on the masking tape tag.
- Then, on a smooth soldering block or charcoal block (not a honey comb as you will be melting metal), add small pieces (1/2 – 1 inch or so) of the wire in the order of your numbering system.
- Try to separate them as much as possible so that the heat from the torch doesn’t heat up the other wires. Maybe even do one at a time.
- Heat number one with the torch – try to keep the torch in the same place each time.
- Start counting evenly, 1, 2, 3..etc. or use a second hand on a watch or timer (better). It’d be easier with another person – what are friends and family for, after all?
- Mark down when #1 melted.
- Wait a second for number 2 to cool down a bit (if affected by heat) now, repeat – and on and on for each wire. The one that melted first is either extra easy or easy solder (don’t know what types you have), the second would be medium, then hard and then silver.
- IF there are close ties, put them side by side and see who goes down first!
The difference in melting times will be very subtle so, be as accurate as possible and, if you are unsure, do it again. The difference between hard solder and silver will be pretty close and if you have IT solder, there will be a hair’s breadth of difference between it and silver.
The liquidus temps of the three silvers are Argentium 935, Argentium 960 1700 F, Sterling Silver 1640 F, Fine Silver 1761 F. Although if you’ve mixed fine, Argentium, and sterling silver, just hit them with a torch, and the one that doesn’t get oxidation is fine silver or Argentium. To tell the difference between Argentium and Fine is going to be tough as the 30-degree flow difference is crazy-making. Maybe, the best way would be to test the two metals right before melting. The Argentium is much more fragile when very hot than the fine silver.
Solder is softer. So, you can also try denting the wire and seeing which dents are easiest. But, I think that is very subjective and won’t help too much when it comes to differentiating between hard solder and sterling.
Next time: Masking tape with the type of wire! Or, do what I do and bend the bitter end of the wire into a solder marking shape. You can also devise a bend for your fine, Argentium, and sterling wires. Maybe a circle on a pair of round nose pliers for one, a “Z” shape for the other – that kind of thing. No tags to fall off!
See this excerpt from my: About Solder page:
Paste and sheet solder can be marked, on their surfaces, as to the type of solder it is but, wire solder is difficult to write on so, so a bending system has been devised to mark the wire. Generally, there are only three commonly used bends hard, medium and easy. I’ve added my own markings for extra easy and IT. See below.
Below are the markings for wire solder:
IT HARD MED
EASY EXTRA EASY
What part of a torch flame is best for soldering sterling silver?
My rule is to use whatever flame type works best for you. I have never followed the flame sizes and shapes recommendations – I rely on experience. If my Acetylene/O2 is hissing, I change the mix of O2 to gas. With the acetylene, I just choose the size of the flame depending on how much heat I want. If annealing, I’ll use the bushier, cooler part of the flame. If soldering, I pull the flame in closer to take advantage of the “sweet (read: hot) spot”.
Generally, though, the hot spot is at the end of the interior blue cone.
Solder Won’t Flow When Trying To Solder A Bezel For A Cabochon To The Surface
“I am making a cuff bracelet in 18 gauge silver and I am trying to solder a bezel for a cabochon to the surface. The solder just won’t flow and I suspect it is because it takes the heavy silver so long to reach the proper temperature. Any suggestions?”
You need a hot and/or a large flame – are you using a hot gas like acetylene or gas with oxygen? You don’t have to heat the bezel (probably) at all. Please check out my page on Soldering for more information. At the top of the page are links to additional pages.
Update On Question
I use acetylene and air, but I was using a small tip. I have a larger one, so I will try that today.
How to keep solder out of patterned metal
When I etch a design, it comes out beautifully. By the time I have soldered the ring shank and soldered the bezel, the etching is very faint. I have tried Heat Shield it didn’t help. Do you have any ideas?
It sounds like the solder is running into your pattern. Mix up some yellow ochre or white-out or make a paste of rouge powder and water, and paint this all over the area where you don’t want the solder to flow. These elements, “dirty up” the metal, and the solder won’t flow there – unless you way overheat it and burn off the product. Don’t flux that area.
- How to Set Up a Torch – have a torch, need to set it up? Here’s how.
- Soldering 101, part one, and Soldering 101, part two
- All About Solder – You need to understand what you are working with!
- Flat Square Edges on Metal – Important techniques for creating square edges like on ring shanks, tubing, settings, etc. – pretty much any two pieces that you want to solder together!
- Getting Ready to Solder – Important steps before you solder.
- Identify Wire Solder – Mark your solder before confusion reigns!
- Jewelry Studio Safety – Extremely important information that every jeweler should know! Don’t risk your life or your health! Know the dangers of metal dust? If not, don’t sand anything – yet!
- Creating Consistently Sized Spheres – how do you make perfectly round spheres? You might need to know!
- How to Anneal Silver Sheet – an important skill to have otherwise, you can damage your metal and work twice as hard!
- Annealing Wire – Want broken wire? How about melted wire? Need your wire soft and bendable? These tips will help you to avoid these problems and work with ease!
- DIY Fume Extractor for the Studio or Shop – One of the BIG ONES for studio safety. Learn to make your own!
- How to Make a Bezel and Set a Cabochon Part One – Want to solder thin material to thick? Want to set a stone or two? Learn how to create and solder bezels.
- How to Make a Bezel and Set a Cabochon Part Two – Ditto from above.
Soldering Jewelry: How to solder settings, bails, and wire. – We solder dissimilar shapes and sizes of metal together, all the time. Want to stop melting your settings or bails? Can you solder wire without melting it?
- Soldering Jewelry – Sweat, Flush, or Applique Soldering – How to solder two pieces of metal on top of each other. Learn tricks for successful joining of dissimilar sizes and how to apply solder.
My YouTube Soldering Playlist – A list of all my soldering videos on YouTube.
Related Web Pages
- About Solder – Learn all about the material you use.
- Acetylene, Torch, Tanks, Safety – A huge page with so much more than info on Acetylene! Learn all about torches, soldering, and how to protect yourself!
- Charts – Soldering related charts. Includes things like: annealing temps, compressed gas valve sizes, what temperature does your gas burn at, what are the melting points of your metal. Also, there are wire gauge charts, millimeter to fractions and inches charts, drill bits to wire gauge charts. Lots of information!
- Cleaning Metal – nice to know if you plan on soldering anything!
- On Pickle, Acid, Crock Pots, and Baking Soda – How to remove the schmutz left from soldering, how to make your own pickle, how to use pickle, and how to neutralize pickle. Tons of info!
- Oxidation, Flux, and Fire scale – Why does oxidation occur? Why do you keep getting fire scale, how do you get rid of it? Learn the whys of what is happening when you solder and the solutions.
- The 4 Steps for Successful Soldering – The 4 steps will help you to achieve soldering success!
- Identifying Wire Solder – How to mark your solder so that you always know what type it is.
- Jewelry Tools – Harbor Freight – Cheap tools for the studio!
- Miter Cutting Vise and Jig: Having a hard time squaring up the ends of your ring shanks? Check out this tool!
- Q&A: Firescale/Firestain – See what others have had problems with and find the solutions!
- Q&A: Annealing – How long to hold your annealing temps. Kiln annealing.
- Q&A: Wire Questions. Balling up wire, tapering wire, work hardening wire, straightening wire, and more!
- Recipes: They aren’t just for cookin’ anymore!
- Pickle Recipe – make your own pickle
- Prip’s Flux Recipe – make your own flux
- Removing Broken Drill Bits From Your Metal -snapped your drill bit and can’t get it out? Here’s how to remove broken drill bits.
- Removing Copper Flashing i.e.: How to remove the copper coating you might get from pickling. Also, how to remove copper from brass or bronze that comes to the metal’s surface after soldering.
- Wire and Sheet Metal
- What Torch to Buy: Trying to figure out what you need to make fire in your studio? Check out this information before you buy!
- Soldering in a Nutshell – my list of basic necessities for soldering.
- Soldering Questions – You’re looking at it! One of the most asked after subject matter. Many of my web pages have been inspired by soldering issues and questions.
- Torch/Gas Questions – Portable vs. regular torches, problems with a torch, butane torches, water torches, setting up a torch safely, buying torches.