So you want to try your hand at soldering?

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Original Post

A lot of people seem to be interested in more advanced metal techniques like soldering, but they talk about these methods as if it involves a ninja-like discipline that is beyond the abilities of most mere mortals. Nothing could be further from the truth. All you really need to get your start in the exciting world of metalsmithing is to take a beginning jewelry workshop and buy a few tools and supplies that I will list out below. You can get everything you need for less than $200.

While it might take you years to master the basic metal working techniques and develop your own unique style, with the basics, you can be making simple fabricated jewelry right away. Once you learn the fundamentals, you can refine your skill by taking more classes or working on projects from any of the many jewelry how-to books found in most big bookstores.

I am part of a new street team here on Etsy called EtsyMetalArt. Its purpose is to promote metal as a material as well as to promote basic metal working techniques. A lot of us get asked questions about working with metal and decided to make this little guide available. If you have any questions about this list or anything else metal related, feel free to ask here and one of the EtsyMetalArt members will stop by to answer.



Here is a guide to beginning soldering—a list of all the most basic supplies that you will need to start experimenting with metalsmithing. I have made up a list from my handy Rio Grande catalog, complete with different choice options, stock numbers, and prices. You can get your own Rio catalog by calling them at 1(800)545-6566, or you can order similar items from any other jewelry supply company with a little bit of research on your own. A lot of this equipment is fairly standard and most companies will carry some version of the items below.


What do you will need to order:

1) Butane micro-torch (#500-224) $55.50

2) Soldering pad 6"X6" (#502-064) $7.45 choose one of these three

3) Soldering pad 6"X12" (#502-074) $10.95

4) Soldering pad 12"X12" (#502-075) $19.25

5) Copper tongs (for pickle pot) (#501-017) $7.25

6) Soldering pick (pkg 3) (#503-019) $9.50

7) Soldering flux (flouride free) (#504-089) $14.85

8) Pickle (#501-033/3) $8.95

9) Tweezers (#115-052) $4.75

10) Easy solder (10"X2" sheet) (#101-200) market price

11) Medium solder " " " (#101-701) market price

12) Hard solder " " " (#101-702) market price

grand total: about $111.75

In addition, you will need to buy a cheap small crock-pot to use as a pickle pot. Find one with an on/off switch built in. A lot of them are just plug in or unplug and you don't want that. You can get the crock-pot for about $15.00.

NOTES:

1) I use a small hand held butane torch for most of my soldering projects. The only things that it does not work well for, are larger pieces where you need a larger flame to keep the heat from diffusing too fast before you get your solder to flow.


2) You cannot buy the torch fuel from RIO-- they have to ship it hazardous, it takes forever and costs extra. But you can readily find the refill canisters at most gourmet kitchen supply stores or hardware stores. They come in cans about the size of your average aerosol can. Do not refuel your torch while it is hot-- let it cool first.

3) You only need one of the soldering pads above-- it all just depends on the size you have room for and the the scale of the work you are doing. I have the 12"X12" because I never work on only one thing at a time. Also, the bigger the pad, the less chance something is going to fall off the pad and make it to your carpet (if that's what is under your work bench).

4) You might want to get a small cheap rug for under your work bench to protect your floors. It's not often that something hot ends up on the floor, but you don't want melted linoleum or to ruin your carpet when it does. Also, although the flame from the butane torch is small, you should avoid setting up your soldering station in front of curtains or other potentially flammable surfaces.

5) The copper tongs are for the pickle pot. Never put steel in the pickle. The solution pulls copper from the silver you put in and it will turn bluish. When steel is introduced in the solution (even momentarily) it creates a charge, which will copper plate anything silver in the pot. It's a bitch to get it off too.

6) The pickle-- I never follow the directions for mixing the pickle. But here are some guidelines: add acid to water (always), I never use as much water as it calls for. Instead I put in enough water for my needs-- to cover my work entirely; usually just a couple of inches. Then add in some of the dry pickle, and mix in. You do not need to turn on the crock pot for the pickle to work. It only works better with heat. If you have a lot of stuff and you are in a hurry, use the heat. Otherwise you risk forgetting to turn the pot off and you will evaporate out all the water (no big deal, just add more). Distilled mineral water is best. I would also get some kind of non-metal pan or tray for under your crock pot in case of spills. Then, lastly, find a spot where Maya is not going to get into it. It's not like a deadly acid that will burn your skin the second it touches it, but if you leave it on it will start to burn. I have heard that you can also use citric acid (there is a forum post on this) but have never done this. I think I am going to look into it when my current batch of pickle runs out.

7) The solder-- easy melts at the lowest temp., then medium, and finally hard at the highest. You only need all three if you plan on doing complex projects with a lot of solder joints. Then you don't want to be using the same solder for the whole piece because as you are working on the last joints, the first ones are also heating to flow point. You plan out in advance your soldering, then start with hard and work back to easy. That way the hard joints aren't flowing when you are working on the easy joints. Color your solder sheets different colors with permanent marker. I use red for easy, purple for medium, and black for hard (color both sides). You don't want to mix these up if you can help it, for the reasons above (i.e., soldering an easy joint with hard solder will make all previous joints flow before the one you are working on). Then cut off very thin strips with scissors and then cut little square snips from those with your wire cutters. I have three marked containers for my solders so I don't mix them.

8) Flux-- I flux everything before I start soldering. The solder is wet and if you start right away, everything will bubble and your solder, if you pre-place it, will bubble out of place. If you let your piece sit, the flux will dry out and then not bubble when you heat it.

9) Soldering-- here is the trick.... I take the piece of solder onto my pick, by wetting the pick first (either in water, or in the flux) then heat it until it balls up. Then I place that ball where I want it. This gives you a lot more control of the solder flow. When you start with the flat chip, it just sort of melts like a pat of butter with the heat. When it's in ball form, it follows the seams of the piece better (e.g., if you are soldering two pieces of sheet together at a 90 degree angle). Also, have a small container of water handy to dip the hot pieces into before dropping them into the pickle pot.

10) You should also rig up some sort of ventilation system to remove any fumes from your workspace. This can be as simple as a fan at your back and an open window if front of you, or a kitchen range hood mounted above your soldering area.

I am assuming you already have a lot of the other standard metalworking tools already (rawhide mallet, hammer, pliers, files, mandrels, etc.). What is listed above is just the bare minimum supplies needed to get you started soldering.

Working with metal is a lot of fun and is action-packed. You can tell that from my avatar. The EtsyMetalArt group wants to share the fun and encourage others to take up what is actually a very accessible craft. dtw

Posted at 6:46pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

Responses

I always wanted to try soldering so that I can circuitbend kids toys.

Posted at 6:47pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

TheIvyLeaf says

Thanks Chuck! I want to learn how!

Posted at 6:51pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

Thanks for all the info! I've bookmarked it for future reference (I live in the dinkiest of dinky apartments, so ventilation isn't possible at the moment, but I plan to move!)

Posted at 6:52pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

What a fantastic post. Thanks for all the info, very comprehensive :)

Posted at 6:54pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

Cube-- that's a different type of soldering, but thanks for bringing that up. Electronics circuitry soldering involves a soldering iron and soft solder. The solders used in metal work/jewelry require a lot more heat to get the solders to flow, and thus a torch is needed-- but even a small torch will suffice!

Posted at 6:55pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

kateblack says

You forgot Bactine & band-aids.

Posted at 6:57pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

lpdesigns says

That's cool DTW. Is EMA gonna have a blog? That might be easier to keep together than a forum post. So do we ask other q's here?

Posted at 6:57pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

Real jewelers don't need band-aids! Pass that cut under the torch to cauterize it and you're ready to go back to work!

Posted at 7:00pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT

We are really new. I have no idea if we have a blog right now. But we will have one sometime soon if not last week.

But yes, feel free to ask any questions you might have about metal here. It might take a while for someone to get you an answer, but people will be stopping by for that reason. We really want to help those with an interest in metal to get started. We would love to see a bigger metal community here on Etsy, and are doing what we can to encourage it.

Posted at 7:04pm Oct 19, 2006 EDT