About Solder

Related Videos

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.
  • Soldering in a Nutshell – my list of basic necessities for soldering.
  • What Torch to Buy:  Trying to figure out what you need to make fire in your studio?  Check out this information before you buy!
  • Wire and Sheet Metal
  • Soldering Questions – 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 torch, butane torches, water torches, setting up a torch safely, buying torches.

Solder – The Glue That Holds It All Together

sheet-solder  Sheet Solder

Solder  (pronounced sodder – at least in the USA)  is used to join metal components together to produce a finished product. How exciting!

Solder is composed of  alloys that produce a material that melts at a lower temperature than the metal you are soldering together. If the solder didn’t melt at a lower temperature than the metal, you would end up melting the metal.  This is also a practice, but it’s not soldering.  It is called fusing.

pallions  Solder Pallions

A lot of  jewelry is made using a technique variously called silver solderinghard soldering or brazing.  It is an important skill to learn for the metalsmith, as much of your jewelry will require solder joins.  Learning to solder will also increase your design scope and offer you more design solutions.

The two goals you should be looking to attain, when soldering, is achieving the strongest bond possible and color matching – matching the solder to the metal.  On that note:  I’ve yet to find a good copper colored solder.  I use silver solder with copper. If I control the amount of solder used (not too much/not too little) and clean up any excess solder well, the seams are difficult to discern.  I often use Patinas, which help to disguise any solder lines that I find distracting.

I have used gold solder or gold-filled solder with brass, bronze and gold filled.  But, due to today’s RIDICULOUS  gold prices, I try to stay away from gold solders – unless I’m working with gold.

I’ve just ordered brass and copper solder so, I’ll be checking that out soon and reporting back.

  • Solder – Solders are alloys of metal. Vague?  Well, the composition of the solder depends on the core metal, the manufacturer’s recipe”  and the type of solder. Most silver solders are composed of a percentage of silver and zinc. Likewise, gold solders are mostly gold with other elements added depending on the color of the gold.  The amount of gold, present in the solder, varies by what karat the gold is.  See below for more information on gold solder. There are copper solders and brass solders as well as other types.  These solders have various issues and are not always perfect matches for your metal.
  • Use the highest temperature solder that you can.  Usually, you can do 2-3 joins per type.
  • Solder pits when the zinc is burned out by over-heating.  Keep temperatures as low as possible to avoid pitting, while still providing enough heat to flow the solder.

I’ll explain solder and it’s interaction with the metal it is being used with in my more detailed section: Soldering 101. (coming soon)

tarnish-nickel1Tarnish – in all its glory!

Before we get started here, I want to note something VERY IMPORTANT:  When soldering, your solder needs to be as clean as your metal.  Also, solder needs to be fluxed – unless it is in a paste form that includes flux.

Hard Soldering VS. Soft Soldering

  • Soft soldering employs much lower temperatures  (at or below 450°C/842°F) than Hard soldering does.  A soldering iron (electric) is employed.   In soft soldering, the solder flows over or around the metal.  This type of bond is somewhat strong but, not as strong as hard soldering.  Soft soldering tends to be messier as the solder needs to be present on the outside to hold the items in place.

softsolder

 

 

 

This box bezel was made with soft solder (and not well).  The solder was laid over the base metal (most likely copper tape used in stained glass windows).  This gives, the paper thin copper, strength and a silver color.  Note the unsightly globs of solder.  As to its strength: you could peel back this bezel with your fingernail.

  • Hard soldering involves very high temperatures (see the chart below).  It involves the use of a gas torch which is capable of reaching and surpassing the melt and flow points of the solder.  This type of bond is molecular and is much stronger.   Silver soldering also allows for neat, clean joins as the solder doesn’t act as a support but has, instead, become joined molecularly to the metal.

silversolderbox

 

 

This box bezel was made using silver/hard solder.  The solder doesn’t need to be draped over the metal to support the structure.  Instead, the solder flows into the surrounding metal, allowing any excess solder to be removed – leaving a clean, crisp surface.

Although not a perfect example, I think it will help you visualize the difference between the two types of soldering.  Think of soft soldering like using tape and hard soldering as using super glue.  

Silver Solder Details

“Solidus is the temperature at which a metal starts to melt; liquidus is the temperature at which it is fully melted.)” from Working with Argentium Silver – Tips and Procedures by Cynthia Eid**.

I’ve included the liquidus points of Argentium, Sterling Silver and Fine Silver as a comparison with the temperatures needed for solder flow.

  • Sterling liquidus point: 1640˚F (893˚C) – 1650° F (899°C)* (varies because it is alloyed)
  • Fine silver liquidus point: 1761˚ F (961˚C) (Pure metals have a single liquidus point)
  • Argentium 935 liquidus point:  1610°F (877°C)** – 1657°F (903°C)* 1657°F/903°C***
  • Argentium 960 liquidus point: 1700°F (927°C)****
Solder Flow Points Use for
Extra-hard or IT 1490°F/810°C Joins if to be enameled
Hard 1450°F/788°C First soldering and additional joins
Medium 1360°F/738°C General soldering;
intermediate operations
Easy 1325°F/719°C soldering areas of less stress, repairs;
final operations
Extra-easy 1207°F/653°C Repairs

I borrowed the chart, above,  from Riogrande.com and altered it.  Note:  solder flow points vary depending on the maker.  Check with your supplier to find out what temperature your solder flows at.

Argentium is best soldered with Argentium Solder.  If you don’t have, use medium silver solder. Argentium solder comes in paste, wire and sheet form.

Please see my webpage on Wire and Sheet Metal.  In it,  I discuss the properties of various metals, including Argentium, Sterling Silver and Fine silver.  Metals are listed first by type (alphabetically) and then alphabetically in their groups.  So, Argentium is at the top of the Silver Section.

For a great explanation of liquidus and solidus and the reason why alloys have a range of points for liquidus and solidus, please see this page from the Argentium Guild Blog:  Definitions – Solidus and Liquidus by Charles Allenden.

*From AGS Metals

** Cynthia Eid – Working with Argentium Silver – Tips and Procedures

***Rio Grande – Technical Sheet on Argentium 935 Casting Grain

****GS Gold – Argentium and Silver casting grains. Casting Grains and Casting Alloys. Cast temperatures, liquidus temperatures for many metals.

Argentium solder flow points

I don’t know why extra hard has a lower flow point than medium hard – doesn’t make sense to me.  Information from Riogrande.com. So, flow points are for their solder.

Argentium wire solder:

  • Medium Hard: 1420°F/771°C
  • Extra Hard: 1411°F (766°C)
  • Easy: 1331°F (722°C)

Argentium paste solder (includes a flux/binder):

  • Hard:  1420°F (771°C)
  • Medium: 1340°F (727°C)
  • Easy: 1295°F (702°C)
  • Super Easy: 1185°F (640°C)

Sheet solder has the same gradation and flow points as wire solder.

Forms of solder

Silver solder comes in:

  • Paste: generally comes mixed with flux

paste-solder

  •  Sheet: cut pallions from this sheet.   I use French Shop Shears to cut little strips along one edge – like fringe.  Then, cut across the fringe, at whatever length you need, for your pallions.  You can cut only a few or the whole row at once.  Keep storage containers, like these little plastic thingies, to keep different types of solder separate.  Label the containers, IT, H, M, E, EE or whatever you’d like.

sheet-pallionsThe “Fringe”pallion-holders The “Thingies”

  •  Wire:  Use as is or flatten it using a rolling mill or a hammer. Then clip the rolled edge to size.  For even finer pieces, clip lengthwise and then across.  You can make some minuscule pieces this way.  Don’t forget to clean solder before AND after running through the rolling mill or hammering it.  Never put damp or wet solder into your rolling mill. You will have rust for days…

wire-solder

  •  Pallions or Chip Solder:  I don’t like these as the sizes are pre-determined.  If you need a teeny, tiny bit, you have to try and cut a little weeny square of metal in half. If you need big pieces, you need to load a bunch of tiny chunks. Crazy making.  Buy sheet and cut your own. Save money too!  Yipeedoodles!

pallions

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 

  • Differentiate the types of solder by either A) Bends, B) Hammered ends C) Color Coding D) Stamping E) Engraving.  This way, you don’t get it  confused with silver wire.  I put the identifying bends into both my roll of solder and the pieces that I cut off.  If you have pallions, keep them in separate, labeled containers. Sheet can be stamped on engraved.

 Tips for Solder Storage

Solder, both wire and sheet, can be stored in gallon zip-lock bags, labeled with the  type, re-order number, price, and supplier.  Better yet, use Pro-Tectant Anti-Tarnish Bags, so your solder doesn’t get tarnished.

Pre-cut solder pallions will tarnish.  To protect them from tarnish, use an anti-tarnish bag to store them in.  Better yet, buy sheet solder (cheaper) and cut your own.  Cut only what you need, at the time.

In Vol.9 No.4, August – September 2013, Wire Jewelry Magazine: Trade Secrets:  Teachers share some of their best tips, by Ronna Sarvas Weltman, Artist Kate Richbourg has a great idea for wire and, I think, solder storage.  She uses three ring binders with page protectors to hold each different gauge and type of wire.  She stiffens the protectors with cardboard.  On the spine, she writes the metal type.  Great idea Kate!

I found these heavy duty protectors by Avery.  You could also, 3-hole punch the Pro-Tectant bags and store them in a binder.  Maybe, separate and store them in these pockets by AveryAvery Big Tab Two-Pocket Insertable Plastic Dividers, 8-Tab Set, 1 Set (11907)

Types of Solder

The reason that different grades of solder are used is because they flow at different temperatures.  This is important because there is a danger, when soldering your second, third or fourth element on, of unsoldering your prior joins.  What I have found, and I’d be interested to see if others have experienced this, is that after two or three joins, the original join becomes less affected by the heat.

My guess on this is that, in the process of adding my subsequent joins,  I’m melting out the zinc (from join one or two) and as a result, my solder is now mostly silver – which melts at a higher temperature.  Have you ever tried to unsolder something – especially a piece soldered originally with hard solder?  I have spent hours trying to remove pieces and I usually end up having the silver crumble before it will separate from its component parts.  Makes me nuts! But, it does add to that big, ever-growing, refining pile!  Yippee!

  • IT (Intense Temperature) or Extra-Hard Solder is 80% silver and 20% Zinc (at Rio Grande). Sterling silver is 92.5% silver so, you can see how close they are in composition  This type of solder is generally used – in jewelry making – for soldering pieces that are to be enameled.  Its high flow temperature range is very close to that of silver – which is the main reason that it is not generally used for regular soldering operations.  The solder flows at 1490˚ F (810˚ C) while sterling silver flows at 1655˚F (902˚C)  – a very close call when soldering.  You need to be on your toes so that you don’t melt your sterling.  The gap is wider with fine silver as, it’s flow point is 1761˚F (893˚C), allowing a little more wiggle room. Most people use fine silver for enameling and this is one of the reasons why.
  • Hard Solder (not to be confused with the term “Hard Soldering” – as opposed to “Soft Soldering” – that done with a soldering iron) is almost always used for the first join and for any areas that are liable to be under a lot of stress.  You can solder an entire piece with hard solder – if you are careful with flame/heat placement.  Hard solder typically is 75% silver.
  • Medium Solder – usually the second or third solder to be used.  Don’t get confused, like some students have, that you can only solder 3-4 joins – one for each type of solder.  That would severely limit the amount of solder joins that you can do. As mentioned earlier, I use hard for several joins and medium for most of the rest.  I can accomplish 10 joins or more with 2 types of solder.
  • Medium solder has less silver and more zinc in it that IT or Hard but more than easy.  Generally, medium solder is 70% silver.  I usually use medium as my third or fourth join.  It all depends on how many joins you are making and the stress that those joins will have.  Say, I’m making a ring with three solder joins: one being the band, then a doodad on top and plunked on top of that, a small 3mm prong setting.  What I’d do is: first, solder the ring join with hard.  Second, use the medium for the doodad. Third, I’d use easy for the prong.  The prong isn’t going to get tons of stress on it – except during the setting process – and it’s very thin and small compared to the rest of the elements.  I don’t want to melt the prongs so, I’d use easy because it melts at a much lower temperature.   If I put it on with hard solder, I’d have to be very, very  careful with my heat.
  • Easy solder – Easy solder is composed of about 65% silver and the rest is generally zinc.  I don’t use Easy solder very often as I find that I can usually solder an entire, multi-joined piece with hard and medium.  Occasionally, I’ll add a small setting on with Easy.
  • Extra-easy solder – this solder is 56% silver (Rio’s formula).  It contains considerably less silver than IT, Hard or Medium.  Therefore, it contains more zinc.  Because there is less silver and more zinc, the solder has a yellowish color to it.  Also, extra-easy is not as strong as IT, Hard or Medium.  I hardly ever use Extra-Easy solder.  Generally, I’d say it’s good for repairs – especially when there is a stone in place and you are worried about the heat ruining it.  Other than that, I’d stay away from it. 

Gold Solder

If you are soldering gold, the gold solder you use contains actual gold.

  • Gold solder comes in carat form – ie: 8 K, 10K, 14 K,  18K and 22K. 
  • Gold solder comes in yellow wire, yellow sheet and yellow pasteThere is also  white gold solder in wire, sheet and paste (all links to Rio Grande). You can also find rose gold solder but, check the ingredients.  You don’t want cadmium in it!  Dangerous!  Read this article from Rio Grande’s Blog:  The Studio.

Here’s a book excerpt:  Gold: Science and Applications edited by Christopher Corti, Richard Holliday. Information starts on the bottom of page 201.  Available at Amazon.

Well, that’s it for now.  If I think of anything else, I will add on to this page.  Hope you learned something new.  For more information on soldering and setting up a soldering area in your studio, please see my videos on Soldering 101 and the, above mentioned, webpages. Thanks.  Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “About Solder

  1. Nancy, I like to work with vintage silver southwest jewelry, knowing that they are expensive, taking the turq stones, and making new jewelry, what tools would I need to get started, in repairing and making new pieces of jewelry?

    I reviewed your jewelry but did not see a price listed on the pieces will you in time price your jewelry?

    Thanks,
    Connie Sue Woods

  2. I have a nice pair of 7 1/2mm salt water pearl earrings. My problem is the gold posts have been cut off. How should they be repaired? I read in your comments that you suggested pearl glue for pearls. Can pearl glue be used with a post cup or should a new hole be drilled next to the old flush post and a post peg cup be guled to the pearls? Also, should the cup size be a 6mm or an 8mm? Plus, because of cost of gold, would you recommend Sterling Silver for the post? You are doing a great service to all of your viewers with your videos. Thanks so much, they are the best I’ve come across.

  3. Hi Sabina, You’ve got a fun problem. I think what is happening is that the copper is throwing off so much oxidation, that the solder will no longer flow. When you are soldering two objects of different sizes – you want to heat the larger piece the most. If you were soldering on a tiny setting to a sheet of silver, you’d heat the sheet a lot and the setting maybe a teeny bit or not at all. So, solutions: There are a few things that you can do. One is this scenario: run a thin line of solder down the wire, quench, pickle. Coat copper and wire with flux, clamp the wire or what ever you are doing to keep it flat. Using either cross-lock tweezers or a tripod and screen, heat the copper from behind/beneath with a hot, largish flame. The screen will act as a bit of a heat sink so having a hotter flame will counter that. Turn up the torch! The next thing to try is spraying a layer of Pripps Flux (link: http://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/archive/199812/msg00150.htm) on both pieces and following the above procedures. Here’s another related article from Ganoksin (Link: http://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/archive/199905/msg00079.htm) and also a link to the mouth atomizer (http://www.naturalpigments.com/detail.asp?Product_ID=631-LCATM) from Natural Pigments. I wish you luck. Please let me know how it goes. If this doesn’t work, send me some photos of what’s happening. Take care. Nancy

  4. Hi Nancy,
    I have just started working with brass and copper (as silver is more and more expensive) and am running into issues with solder flowing. I tried soldering a fine silver squigly to copper bracelet blank and had a rough time (it would not solder). I scored the blank and washed and scrubbed it again and yet again would not solder. I melted the squigly by the end of that experiment. What am I doing wrong. First I used copper solder, then I went to medium silver solder….HELP!I use a propane tank torch
    and I also have a butane torch…thanks
    PS you are so much fun to watch!

  5. I stumbled across your YouTube video on Soldering and was thankful for it. I had no idead there was as much to soldering as there was. Thank you for sharing your info and experience with everyone.

  6. Hi Pauline, I would suggest a two part epoxy like 3M™ Scotch-Weld™ Two-Part Epoxy Adhesive. As you are not sure what type of metal you are working with, and you don’t know its melting point, you need to watch out for anything that generates heat. If you use a soldering iron (see my website for info on that: http://www.nancylthamilton.com/techniques/soldering/), the “gems” – which are probably glass or plastic – may crack or melt. So, just to be safe try the epoxy. Good Luck and thanks for writing! N

  7. Hello Nancy, I like to wear what I call hair jewelry, the bobby pins with some type of decoration on the tip. i collect a lot of old jewelry and would like to create my own. My question is what type of soldering and equipment would I use. Most of the pieces have a metal backing but I’m sure they are not precious medal. I sure can use your advice I’ve been wanting to this for a while now. I love your creations they are very inspiring. Thank you for your time.

  8. I suppose my biggest issue here is I am trying to decide how I should connect particular metals so that they will last at heirloom quality. I don’t have much money to work with as far as tools, but I have some skill with a soldering iron already. I need to join oxidized sterling silver to oxidized silver-plated brass. I know that I cannot use glue for this project and I am uncertain if I would be ok with an epoxy, but this is why I considered soldering. I’ve tried soldering oxidized silver-plated brass before, but the solder wouldn’t adhere! Perhaps this is because I was using flux-core solder wire without liquid solder? I am so lost!

  9. Hi Natasha, Sorry about the looooong delay. This website is new to me and I don’t have all of its bells and whistles down. I didn’t even know I had a comment page! So, if you’re still interested, I’ll try and answer some of your questions. Soldering and cold joining are the best and longest lasting methods for joining two pieces of metal together. On soldering: I recommend going with the hard soldering technique. Soldering with a soldering iron is great for stained glass windows but not jewelry – or at least jewelry that will survive. One of the big differences is that in hard soldering, the solder runs in between the silver molecules. In soft soldering, the solder lays on the surface of the metal. The molecular join is much stronger. It is also, at times, an invisible join whereas soft solder is always a big silver blob. Other choices are riveting, tabs, screws or some other form of cold join to connect various elements together. These can be used in a zillion different ways and can be made visible or invisible – depending on the technique used.
    I discuss torches and setting up a soldering studio on my website. We are also going to do a riveting video soon and I’m trying to get a cold join page up on my site too. Someday!

    Glues and Epoxies: Well, I do use them. I use them for gluing pearls to posts. I use a glue that is designed for gluing pearls. I get it at Rio Grande. I also use a glue stick to glue patterns to metal before I saw it out. I use super glues to glue sheets of metal together to saw out duplicate pieces and that’s about it. I don’t recommend using glue. Super glues don’t tolerate lateral movement – it gets hard and snaps. Epoxy can be eroded by sunlight, certain chemicals and will not hold up to constant wear. Rings and bracelets experience the greatest wear and tear and if a piece is going to break – it’ll be a ring or a bracelet.

    I think that you need to make a decision about what type of jewelry you are interested in making. If you are selling it, you owe it to your customer to make a piece that will last – unless your prices are disposable too. A 10 dollar ring is not expected to last – a 250.00 one is. Are you wanting to create designs that glue and soft solder aren’t allowing you to do? Do you want cleaner joins, stronger pieces, better prices? Are you ready to commit to the time and money necessary to learn stone setting, soldering, riveting, sawing, etc.? If you are, then start out small. Take a class, start a small soldering area and practice on copper. I taught myself to solder, initially, I couldn’t wait for my jewelry class to get there. But, as I was in the jewelry program at our local college, I eventually learned many techniques that I hadn’t learned on my own. There are a gazillion books out there on jewelry making and they are a great way to learn. I use books all the time to learn new techniques.

    Gotta run to the gym. I hope that this has been somewhat helpful. Happy Creating! I hope you have many happy years of jewelry creation in your future. If you have any other questions, I’d be very happy to help. Hopefully, I won’t take so long to reply. Nancy

  10. Hello Nancy, Susan Street referred me to you, she says you would be able to set me straight on some of my questions. Here’s what I asked:
    I’ve been wondering about this for a while, because I really want to start pulling away from adhesives in my work, but I am not sure where I should start, what tools I need, etc. I’ve tried using a soldering iron on oxidized, silver-plated brass before but it just didn’t stick. It was solder wire with a flux core, so maybe that’s where I went wrong? Should I be using a tiny butane torch instead? I really need something for precision work, and I’ve done soldering on computer chips before and was really good at that, I am just not sure what I am doing wrong. Perhaps I should be using the liquid flux instead? Also, any two-part epoxies that you recommend? Do you think I could use a dab of two-part resin as an adherent? I’m just starting to worry about the durability of my pieces and want to start maybe things that will last as long as possible. (I also need a way of adhering things so that they cannot, what so ever, peel off). Hope I’m making some sense.