Monday, July 25, 2011

The Art of Making: Soldering 101

By: Erica Delp

As a metal working apprentice, one of the first techniques you need to master is soldering, the technique of adjoining pieces of metal together. Soldering is a primary technique that is used in a wide variety of jewelry making practices such as creating settings for a gem, joining settings to components and affixing decorative embellishments to jewelry. Although it can be intimidating to pick up a torch and try your hand at the process the first few times, it’s essential to master good soldering technique if you hope to be successful in jewelry making endeavors. Taking a few minutes to gather some knowledge about the process will help beginner jewelers to gain confidence and also an awareness of what physical reactions are happening to create their finished product. In efforts to help new jewelers, like myself, I have outlined a few basic principles to keep in mind as you begin to learn soldering. Remembering these few guidelines will help apprentices to move along on their journey from newbie to expert with skill and clarity! Although soldering is a process used for many types metals, the materials used and temperature information is specific to each metal. Since Layne Designs uses silver through chip and pick soldering, I will speak specifically about silver and these techniques in this article.

Silver solder is an alloy metal that consists of a combination of silver and tin, silver and copper, or sometimes all three metals. It’s alloy form allows solder to melt at a lower temperature than the silver itself, which is the key to the whole process. Silver melts at 1763 degrees Fahrenheit. Hard silver solder melts at 1330 degrees Fahrenheit and flows at 1475 degrees Fahrenheit, medium solder melts at 1265 degrees Fahrenheit and flows at 1390 degrees Fahrenheit, easy solder melts at 1235 degrees Fahrenheit and flows at 1325 degrees Fahrenheit. It works by liquefying, flowing into tiny open spaces in the silver, and then hardening once again to produce a chemically bonded, seamless and unified piece. The key point to remember here in the soldering process is always move from hard solder to easy solder when one has multiple soldering steps to accomplish. This will ensure that previous solders will not come undone through excessive heat. When heating silver, never let the metal become bright orange-red, as this is an indicator that you are over heating the metal and it is close to melting.

Using a flux is also a crucial part of the process. Flux protects metal by blocking oxygen from reacting with the metal. Without flux, the flame creates a sooty layer that makes a strong solder bond unlikely. Flux also absorbs impurities and encourages flow of the solder as it melts. Be sure to coat your pieces well with flux in any areas where the flame will be used. Fluxes are also available in a spray form like Prips Flux.

Remember that solder is most attracted to the hottest part of the metal. The principle to keep in mind is to heat what you want your solder to stick to. If it’s possible, a piece can be arranged with solder chips in place on your fire brick, ready for the process to begin. Often, it’s necessary to use a pick to place solder chips. In this case, heat the pick while picking up the chips, then make sure to heat your piece where you would like to place the solder. The chip will stick to the warmest metal. Use the white cone of the flame for best success in heating, as it is the hottest portion of the flame. Move in a circle around the solder or in an arc rather than focusing on the chip itself, keeping the heating principles in mind. This will ensure that your solder will flow evenly into the entire seam. Make sure to use enough solder to flow into all the seams.

At the end, remove your pieces from the firing brick while they are still warm, so that the remaining flux does not cause them to stick to the brick. Dip them in a container of water and check for gaps or weakness in the seams. If all is well, your piece is ready to be pickled. If there are flaws, it’s back to the bench for some touch ups.

Mastering soldering is very rewarding and is the key to opening the doors of creativity. I hope this has been a helpful guide for beginners like me. Happy creating!

A Photo of Layne's Work Bench

From Jim Lawson Photography

1 comment:

  1. great post! i've been very interested in how to create my own jewelry from scratch. this is very helpful.