Soldering Check List

This page will remind you of what you need to do to solder successfully.  Hopefully, it will be brief and something you can print out!  We’ll see – I get wordy.

Posted:  9/25/17.  Nancy LT Hamilton

  1. Cleanliness: Only solder with clean metal!
  2. Cleanliness:  Use only clean solder.  If you have solder pallions and they are dirty, put them in a tea strainer and then into an ultrasonic cleaner.  Don’t cut up chips ahead of time because they are a pain to clean!  They develop oxidation too. Clean solder by heating (enough to remove oil) and pickling or, make a paste from Bon Ami Cleanser and rub into solder sheet, rinse.  You can also use a scrubbie. With wire solder, I drag it through a wet scrubbie.
  3. Don’t dip your flux brush into the flux bottle.  You will contaminate your flux.  Use either a small dispenser or a small bowl. If using the bowl, only put a little in each time – usually enough for a few hours work.
  4. Tight Fit.  The seam should have almost no light showing through. Solder will fill minute gaps – otherwise it wouldn’t flow down your seams!  But, solder doesn’t like to leap over gaps.  Capillary action (aka “wicking”) is the process that’s at work here.  This makes it possible for solder (in a liquid state) to flow into small, tight areas without assistance from gravity or other forces. Surface tension and adhesion make it work but, the gap needs to be sufficiently small for capillary action to work.
  5. Flux metal and solder. I like to flux everything, heat the metal and dip my brush in liquid flux. With that damp brush, I pick up my solder pallion.
  6. Heat your flux before placing your pallions.  By heating the flux before solder placement, the solder will stick to the flux and it doesn’t boil off, like it would if placed on wet solder.
  7. If working with sterling silver (especially), treat the metal to prevent firestain/firescale.  Use a atomizer-type spray bottle to apply.  Argentium silver doesn’t get firescale nor does fine silver.  The spray coats the metal without flooding it. I like Firescoff because it is a flux and an oxidation preventive in one.  But, it’s pricey!
  8. Use hard and then medium solder, as much as possible.  These solders are stronger than easy or extra-easy due to the higher concentration of silver.
  9. Support your work and keep it as flat as possible when soldering.
  10. Keep heat sinks, like cross-locks, tweezers, etc., as far from the seam being joined, as possible.  
  11. Ensure that your solder is touching both sides that are being joined.  If the solder is only on one wall, the chances are excellent, that it will flow on the wall it is leaning on.
  12. When soldering jump rings, place the solder, under the seam and heat it from the top (at a 90° angle).  This draws the solder through the seam – ensuring a good join.
  13. When soldering things like ring shanks, always try to draw the solder up through through the seam. Put the solder on one side and heat from the opposite side.
  14. Heat objects, that are flat on your soldering surface, by holding the flame parallel with the soldering block.  
  15. When soldering bezels to their backs, solder from underneath.  This usually means elevating the piece. The torch will be at a upsidedown, 90° angle (pointing up, towards the metal) and the heat directed at the area where you want the solder to flow.
  16. Use the least amount of solder possible. The less solder, the less cleanup and the less to clean means you work less hard!  Whole lotta “less” in that sentence!
  17. Don’t hold hollow pieces with cross-lock tweezers when soldering.  Chances are you will crush the hollow object – especially if it gets very hot.  I’ve seen silver crumble into tiny pieces doing this.
  18. Don’t wiggle the torch flame all over the place.  The heat needs to be focused on the seam.
  19. Don’t allow Argentium silver sheet to be suspended when soldering. Support it.  Argentium likes to sag!   See item #6.
  20. Go in hot and fast with your torch.  This is especially important with alloys containing copper. Copper gets very dirty, very quickly.  Solder likes clean surfaces and oxidation is very dirty! See item #1!
  21. Get the flame off of your metal as soon as possible. This helps to avoid boiling off the zinc in the solder and subsequently creating pits, as well as avoiding a meltdown – figuratively and actually!
  22. Flick the torch to the side to remove the heat faster.
  23. IF you don’t have perfect vision, wear magnification when soldering.  This will actually allow you to see the solder when it flows – helping you to get out of there fast!
  24. Use the end of the flame tip for soldering.  This is the hottest part. Don’t use mid flame or bury the flame in the metal.
  25. If you have two pieces of metal with a significant size difference – i.e:  a jump ring and a pendant – don’t heat the jump ring.  Just heat the larger piece metal.  The heat from the pendant (or whatever it is) will heat up the smaller element sufficiently. This helps to avoid melting small items like stone settings and wire details. Hold the torch parallel to the soldering surface.
  26. Direct the heat to your seam.
  27. Don’t melt the solder.  Let the metal take care of that.
  28. Don’t aim the torch at the solder – see above.
  29. Adjust your torch tip size to the size of your work.  If you have a Smith Silver Smith Torch, use a 00-0 for ear wires, jump rings, wire work and posts. Use a 0-1 tip for rings and bezels. 1 tip for cuffs and bigger pieces. 2 for alloying, soldering and annealing larger pieces. That said, I use a #4 Goss tip all the time.  I’m used to it.  Adjusting your tips for each type of operation will reduce your chances of melting your work.
  30. When sweat soldering, sand a bit of the solder off after melting.  Once the solder flows, it melts at about 50° hotter the next time. By removing this “skin”, the solder flows at a lower temperature and the site is flatter – making it easier to have the elements sit properly before soldering.
  31. If sweat soldering areas with patterns or many details, use a ball bur to make tiny divots to hold the solder in.  This will keep you from flooding the area with solder as the solder stays fairly contained.
  32. If sweat soldering and you have a pattern or differently colored metals and you want to protect them, use either yellow ochre, white-out or powdered rouge, mixed into a paste, and paint it over the areas you want to protect.
  33. Don’t be afraid to heat up your metal! I see a lot of new jewelers very hesitant to heat up their metal sufficiently for the solder to flow.  So, it takes several tries and pickle baths before they get aggressive enough.  If you see the metal – especially with silver – taking on a liquid, shimmering appearance, it’s time to flick that torch out of there!  If the solder hasn’t flowed, something else is wrong!
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