Soldering Questions

Last updated: 12/3/16 by: Nancy LT Hamilton

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Here’s a good resource for charcoal blocks: The Charcoal Block,  written by Mark Nelson, at Rio Grande’s blog: Rio.

Questions and Answers

Balled up solder, solder flowing into the wrong places

Question

Why is my solder balled up and flooding the wrong areas?

Answer

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 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 smutz builds up.

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Question

Solder Not Flowing

“Why is my solder not flowing? What am I doing wrong!”

Answer

I have a couple of questions for you:

  1. Are you using the correct flux for your metal?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. What is the solder doing?  Does it melt, ball up, do nothing?
  5. Do you have a picture?
Let me know and maybe I can help more. But first, please check out my web pages on soldering – if you haven’t seen them already. Here are the links:  1. Soldering, 2. About SolderingOxidation, 3. Flux and Firescale Prevention, 4. The Four Steps for Successful Soldering.

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Making a prong setting, can you tumble pearls

Question

  1. “Would you teach me how to create a prong setting successfully?”
  2. “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.”

Answer

Sorry about the prong problems. Here’s what you need to do:  First off – it would be best if the pendant was not yet connected to the chain:  the greater the mass of silver, the greater the heat sink (the heat is drawn away from where you want it).

Solder all the prongs at the same time.  How?

  • (#1) Drill holes (in the flat base – basically, whatever you are soldering the prongs onto) the same diameter as the prong.  The hole needs to be a tight fit for the wire – a little hard twisting and pushing is a good thing.  If it is way too tight either go up a drill bit size, swirl the drill bit in the metal (in a circular motion) or use a round, mini needle file, to open it a bit.  CHECK THE FIT OFTEN – every couple of strokes – as it is really easy to over-file (and drill).  By using this method the prongs won’t fall out or slide down. This technique also makes the solder join much stronger because more surface area is being soldered.  I always use this method when soldering ear wires too.
  • (#2) When creating a prong setting that has prongs all the same height, mark even lengths on each prong – with a scribe or a sharpie. This is to ensure that your prong placement is correct.

With uneven material like your pearl, you will probably have some prongs longer than the others. You can skip the scribing step (#2) and do the following:  check the fit, make sure that your prongs are annealed, push the prongs into the holes, put the pearl into its location and gently bend the prongs over.  Make adjustments as needed – a little more height or a little less.  Don’t over work the metal or your wires will break from too much work hardening. If you’ve been futzing with the prongs for a while, go and annealing them – you can keep them in place in the main piece as they shouldn’t fall out.  DON’T FORGET TO REMOVE THE PEARL!!!!!!

  • (#3) Push the prongs into the holes – lining up your lines with the top of the hole (if required).  If they stick out the back – no problem.  After soldering you just clip them, file, sand and polish.
  • (#4) Apply flux and a tiny piece of medium or easy solder on the side of each prong.  Use a firescale preventative, if desired.  See my webpage on Firescale (and a bunch of other stuff)
  • (#5)  Heat up the metal – not the prongs.  Keep the torch away from the prongs.  You want the solder to flow from the top of the piece, down the wire (inside the metal). Focus the torch near the first prong, then the second, etc.  Remember:  solder flows because the entire piece reaches flow temperature AND solder follows heat.  Many people have success by heating from beneath.  See below.
  • (#6) Are you using a charcoal block as a soldering base?  Charcoal is best because it reflects the heat back onto the piece.  Sometimes, I place the silver across 2 blocks of charcoal – if the metal is thick (22 gauge and up) and sterling.  Do not overheat or do this with fine silver or Argentium.  All scenarios (overheating, fine silver, Argentium) will cause the metal to slump.  Another option is to use a tripod and heat from the underside.  The one drawback is that the tripod screen is a heat sink and will pull away your heat.  But, it does work and it keeps you from melting your prongs.  Never get the silver cherry red – it will reach failure temperature (when is slumps, crumbles and loses its form) and then melt.

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!

Please see the my illustrations below – they correspond with the numbered items above.  I do love a good visual!

P.S. practice on scrap first!  If using copper as a practice piece, realize that the copper will behave differently than the silver.  If you mix metals, (i.e.:  copper base with silver prongs) you will have other results too as they put off different amounts of oxides AND they melt at very different temperatures..  Practice, practice, practice.

For further research check out my Wire and Sheet Metal page (metals are arranged alphabetically), The 4 Steps for Successful Soldering and About Solder

soldering-prongs

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Solder paste and color matching solder with metal

Question

“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.”

Answer

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 practice, you can use it all the way through construction.  Because it has more silver in it then 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 – 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:  SolderingAbout SolderOxidation, 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 and visit my web page on finishing.) you shouldn’t be able to see the seams – even on copper, brass or bronze.

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.

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Solder balls up and doesn’t “stick”

Question

“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?”

Answer

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/rinse stages.  Clean hands help too and don’t touch your face after washing your hands – the face has tons of oil glands.

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/airSmith Silversmith version or propane/O2 setup or a Smith Little Torch. You also have to purchase the acetylene tank or propane (I 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,  there isn’t any recycling plan (as of now) for 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.

If you go with the less expensive, disposal setup,  you will also need to purchase a canister or two of Mapp Gas.  Mapp gas is hotter than propane and cleaner. These canisters can be found at most hardware stores.

Please see my page Acetylene for more information on this gas and tank setup.

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Several common soldering problems:  balling up, not flowing, join not tight, etc.

Question

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?

 Answer

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.

It matters a lot what type of flux you use.  You should use a flux designed for silver soldering – not a plumber’s solder. Here’s the flux I use:  My-T-Flux.  You can also use a paste like Handi-flux. Please see my question and answers page for links to all soldering related information that I have available.  Scroll down the page, the topics are in alphabetical order and you are looking for soldering information.
The flux usually is burned off before it reaches soldering temp.  The flux is there to protect the metal as long as it can.  Metals that have copper in them:  copper, brass and bronze, are going to be much dirtier.  So, the trick is to get in and out, with the torch, as fast as possible.  See my discussion on firescale, flux and oxidation.
You can solder the following metals with silver solder:  Silver, Argentium (Argentium solders are recommended), Sterling Silver, Gold (although you should use gold solders), Brass, Bronze, Copper, Nickel, Steel, etc.  Aluminum, Niobium, Platinum, stainless steel and other metals have very specific soldering requirements and can’t be soldered in the same fashion and with the same type of equipment as for silver soldering (also called “Hard Soldering”).  Article on soldering Aluminum. I have never done this so can’t vouch for the process.
Here’s an article from Jewelry Making Daily that might also help – on soldering copper and mixed metals.
After you check out this information and you are still having problems, let me know.

Color matching solder and how much solder to use

Question

 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?”

Answer

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.

On using silver solder with gold:  it is generally recommended to use gold solder with gold.  You can use gold solder with brass too, for a better match.  But you can’t always match your solder to your metal. I use silver solder with copper, brass and bronze, even though they aren’t color matches. The secret (to almost invisible solder lines) lies in the finishing.  The actual solder line is very thin.  Yes, it will show – if you are looking for it or looking closely – but, it’s barely visible and if the piece is finished well shouldn’t detract from its appeal.

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).

Preview YouTube video Crystal Chandelier Earrings

Soldering sterling silver bangles to make into rings

Question

“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 colour 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.”

Answer

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 practice, you can use it all the way through construction. Because it has more silver in it then 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 – 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

Question

“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!).”

Answer

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 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 insides 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

Question

soldering-iron-tip  “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.

solder

I am also including a picture the type of thing I like to make in hopes you can give me some MUCH needed advice.”

Answer

I don’t solder much with a soldering iron any more. I did when I was doing stained glass though and I do recall some things.

  1. Are you using a wet sponge to cool down the tip and clean it?
  2. Do you have a temperature control for the iron?  It might be getting too hot.  
  3. Are you “tinning” the tip”?  See link below.
  4. 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.

Here’s a link about damaged soldering iron tips, that may be of interest. Also, an article from Instructables on how to tin the tip.

Can I Make Jewelry from Solder?

Question

jewelry-made-of-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, do 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 iron.  that is an iron pendant you’re looking at, with the stamped solder on top.”

Answer

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 image 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!

There is a paste solder that melts at 278F. Here is a non-lead, silver solder that would work (Amazon).

 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

Question

How do I prevent my smaller pieces from sticking to my charcoal block. This seems to happen regularly, especially when annealing, and reticulating.

Answer

It is probably flux that is causing the metal to stick.  I would wash my charcoal block, cut down on the amount of flux you 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?

Question

“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.”

Answer

The jump ring join, that is soldered with the soldering iron, will be stronger than if you hadn’t soldered it at all.  Soldering in this fashion is like using metal glue or tape:  the solder flows around the metal – making the jump ring stronger.  Silver soldering (with a torch and high heat) involves the solder flowing into the molecules of the metal creating an even stronger join.  Stainless steel is a strong material and not as prone to pulling out of shape as silver or copper-based metals are.  The larger the gauge, the stronger the jump ring will be.   When I make bracelets from silver, because of the stresses placed on bracelets, I use 16g or 14g metal – if they are not being soldered.  You, on the other hand, can get away with a thinner gauge because of the type of metal that you are using – stainless steel.
On your questions on jump rings: “Will it break? Will it hold?”  I’ve had soldered, 14g jump rings cut in half by a customer.  I don’t know how they did it and I’ve never seen it happen again but, this customer managed to destroy a piece of very thick metal, that was soldered closed,  that I had to repair for free.  I think some people don’t treat their jewelry very well.  I always joke that they run it over with their car and then tell us that it was poorly made and that we need to fix it –  for free.  I take every step, that I know of, to ensure that my work will last forever but, who knows what new ways the customer will come up with to torture our work?  So, will the join last?  Depends on if it’s run over by a car…hah!

Will Pickle Damage My Beads?

Question

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.”

Answer
My question is, why do you even need to pickle your work?  You aren’t getting firescale because you are not heating your metal that much, you aren’t getting a glassy, baked on flux from the combination of flux and high heat.  Perhaps, all you need, is a tooth brush with some dawn detergent and a little hot water.
I wouldn’t put your metal pieces in pickle as there are so many metals –  between the tin, copper, silver, steel and others.  You don’t want to get accidental copper flashing all over the metallic items.  The glass and plastic items are okay in pickle but, not the pearls. Keep organics away from acid.  The biggest problems with the pickle will be etching of the metal and possible removal of the plating and the potential for copper flashing/electroplating.  But, as I said, I don’t think you even need to use pickle.

How do I solder two ends together to be perfectly flat and aligned?

Question

“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”

Answer

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.

General squaring:

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 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.  

  • Start by ensuring that the metal is level in the vise:  ***Using a square,  draw a square, straight line on the metal with a Sharpie or with dividers (these are my favorites), Draw the line very close to the end you want to square (see image).
  • 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 totwist, 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.

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. Indian Jeweler’s Supply has some (I think).  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 strip, among other jobs.  I don’t want it to feel abandoned! Back to Table of Contents

How Do I Differentiate Silver From Solder Wire?

Question

“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?”

Answer

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, afterall?  
  • 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), 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 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 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, a bending system has been devised to mark the wire.  Generally, there are only three commonly used bends for 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?

Question

Answer

flame-parts-drawing  My rule is:  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”.

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Solder Won’t Flow When Trying To Solder A Bezel For A Cabochon To The Surface

Question

“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?”

Answer

You need a hot and/or a large flame – are you using a hot gas like acetylene or a gas with oxygen?  You don’t have to heat the bezel (probably) at all.  Please check out this page 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

Question 

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?

Answer

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.

The next thing to do is to make sure that you don’t apply too much flux – especially liquid flux.  You don’t want the flux anywhere near your patterned metal.  I apply a small amount of flux, only in the area I’m soldering, heat it up until the white stuff (of the flux) settles down and “glasses up”, then I let it cool.  When cool, I paint on the yellow ochre and let that dry.  Apply your solder (the minimum amount necessary) and go ahead and solder.  This should help a lot!

 

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