Prerequisite #3: Soldering Basics
Hey everyone. So when it comes to creating metal jewelry, I know that soldering is one of the most important processes that you can do, but it's also one of the most intimidating. So what I wanna do in this video is actually take you into the theory behind soldering. Even if you've been soldering for a little while, you may have learned it in a kind of haphazard way where you don't quite understand what's happening. So in this video I wanna show you a little bit about the theory and the principles that make soldering easier, and then I'm gonna do a quick little demo so you can see how that works in action. So first off, let's talk about what is solder? So solder is simply a lower melting temperature alloy of metal, so alloy just means a mix of metals. So solder is a lower temperature alloy of metal that you can use to join two or more pieces together without melting those pieces of metal. So solder comes in a number of different forms. It comes in sheet, it comes in wire, and it also c...
omes in chip, which I have pre-chipped some of my sheet solder to show you guys and make it a little bit easier. So solder comes in a couple different forms, and it also comes in a couple different metals. So when I first learned how to solder, we did everything with silver solder. So silver solder is simply an alloy of silver plus a few other things to make it melt at a lower temperature. Silver solder is great for a lot of things, but if you're working with copper, brass, or bronze it's clearly not the same color. So now you can also get copper, and it's a little hard to see, but this is actually brass solder, so it's a little bit closer of a color match. So then again this is just an alloy of brass with something in it to make it melt at a slightly lower temperature. So I wanna actually show you guys this pretty detailed chart that looks at these melting temperatures. Now, it's not essential that you memorize these. I have been soldering for 15 years and quite frankly I had to look them all up to make this chart. So instead what I want you to see is how these melting temperatures compare to the melting temperatures of our metals so that we know that we're lower than that, because as we get into higher melting temperature solders we do have to be aware that we're not accidentally melting our metal in the process. And some of you guys who have ever tried to solder a bezel onto a flat sheet you know that when the temperature gets too close your thin bezel wire, your thin pieces of metal just sometimes melts into nothing. So if you look at our chart and you look at our different solder types, you can see that the advantage of silver solder is that it comes in more than one type. So we have hard, medium, and easy, and hard melts at the highest temperature, and then it goes medium below that, and easy below that. The reason that we have that is if you've got multiple solder joints in one project, you wanna start with hard, and then jump down to medium and easy so that you're not remelting your seams. Now, like I said, brass, bronze, and copper you also have solders now and you can use them as a better color match, but they only come in one melting temperature. So if you're doing a lot of seams in a project that you're making out of brass, you have to be really careful that you're not reflowing your old seams. And then just to compare our solder melting temperatures to our metal, you can see that we have sterling silver and that melts at 1761 if you're in Fahrenheit, and I'll let you guys read the Celsius for those of our friends who are on the metric system. So you can see here that, you know, silver melts at and we should be safe with all our solder temperatures which go up to 1490, but we wanna be careful with that hard solder, especially if you're working with argentium silver which has become really popular because it's a tarnish-free silver. Argentium melts a little bit lower than sterling, so we have to be really careful that we're not melting the surface of our metal. And again, it is not important that you know these, it's not important that you remember them, it's just to give you guys an idea of how they work so we know if we're starting to melt things that we've gotten way hotter than we need to, because our solder doesn't need to go that high. All right, so let's talk about the principles of soldering and what actually makes it work. So one other thing I wanna mention is that solder does not work, say, like welding. We're not melting the surface of our metal. What we're actually doing, is solder works by basically a process that's like capillary action. So if you think about it as two sheets of glass together, if they would suck water up between them, solder works the same way. So we have our two pieces of metal together, and our solder flows between them using capillary action. What that means is that our first principle of soldering is actually fit, and the reason that we have to worry about this is that solder cannot fill gaps. When I actually used to teach at a university I used to make my students get out their notebooks and I would make them repeat after me, solder cannot fill gaps. And then I would make them write it down. So the first thing that you need to check when you're going to solder something is that you've actually got a good fit between the two metals. So if we see here, I'm gonna actually walk you guys through a little demo to explain these principles. So let's just say I wanna put this kind of T shape on here. If I look at this, and I know it's really hard to see, but I wanna make sure that this is flat and even. I can actually rock it on here a little bit right now, which means I don't have a great fit. So what I'm gonna do in this case, since I'm trying to put this on a flat sheet, is I'm gonna go ahead and just take a little bit of rough grit sandpaper, this is 150 so it's got a really good tooth to it, and I'm just gonna take this, hold it vertically, and sorry, that's an obnoxious noise, but we're gonna go with it. And I'm gonna do that, check again, and make sure that it's nice and flat without any gaps in there. It's not gonna be 100% perfect, but it's going to be really, really close and that's what we're looking for. Now, depending on what you're soldering, you may find that this is enough or you may need to actually get out your file and file something a little bit flush. What I find with beginners is that your file skills are usually a little wonky and sometimes you end up making things worse, so a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface is gonna help you get the straightest flat edge. So that's our first principle, which is fit. The next thing that we have to focus on is keeping our metal clean. So solder will not flow on dirty metal, so solder needs it to be clean to flow. So that means, first off, that our metal needs to be clean to start. Now fortunately this side that we just sanded, already clean, because we just took sandpaper to it. But any other pieces, we wanna make sure that they're nice and clean and that includes the oils on our skin. So I've just touched this all up, and what I wanna do now is just take a little piece of sandpaper and just give it a little scrub right where I wanna put that solder seam and now I'm gonna be careful, as long as I don't touch this with my hands again I know it's clean. The other thing that keeps our metal clean is actually our flux, and we're gonna talk about flux again in a second because that is its own principle of soldering, it's our third principle, it's so important. But just know that in terms of cleanliness, the other thing that you'll need to do is if you've got multiple solderings you'll need to pickle your metal in between each. So remember, pickle is our acid that cleans off the metal. So after I do a soldering, my metal is gonna be nice and dirty. I'm gonna throw that in my pickle, gonna let that hang out there, and then when I'm done I'll get it out and it'll be nice and clean. So this is a piece of metal that's been soldered, already been through the pickle, and you can see it's back to copper, so it's nice and clean again. So if you've got multiple solder seams make sure that you're going ahead and pickling between each one. You don't have to sit there and sand off all that dirtiness, pickle will do it for you. All right, so now let's talk about that third principle, which is flux. So flux, again it's our little white paste here, flux is actually what prevents oxidation. So as soon as we take our torch to it, metal wants to oxidize, which is a really fancy way of saying it wants to get dirty. So we need our flux because it's going to create a barrier that's going to keep our metal clean long enough for it to get to temperature and our solder to flow. Now, something that I know some people sort of mistakenly think, is also that flux is a magic glue that holds your solder in place. It's not. I mean, it sort of does that, but that's not its job, its job is to keep our metal clean. So when you have your flux you can see mine actually came with a little brush in here, but this brush is so hard to control, that I actually just like to use a smaller paintbrush and then I'll go ahead and just paint this on. So if we're gonna go ahead and do our set up here, I'm gonna go ahead and I've got my piece down here, and because I'm setting up, now I have to find the side I soldered. Because I'm setting up this little wall here, I'm gonna use a third hand and my cross-locking tweezers to hold this guy in place. But before I put this in, I wanna go ahead and put a little flux on this bottom piece. Now if your flux gets a little bit thick and chunky, you can just go ahead and run a little bit of water in there, I actually did that right before we jumped on camera here, just so that it flows a little bit easier. So I'm gonna go ahead, put my flux down, put my piece in place, and then we need to make sure there's flux on all of the sides so I'm going ahead and fluxing everywhere around my seam. Now for smaller parts, I actually find if I'm doing something like jump rings or even posts for earrings that I like to use a flux container that has a little bit of a bigger open mouth. And I'll take my tweezers, and I'll actually just dunk 'em right in my flux. Makes like a little bit easier. All right. Now, our fourth principal is solder placement. So what's important to know is that solder does not flow very far. So what happens is, when you heat up solder it actually balls up, so it'll suck up into a little ball first, and then it will flow. But it doesn't flow very far. So if we use big pieces of solder, it's gonna suck up into a ball, and then be like a glob. So what we wanna do is use the smallest pieces of solder possible, placed very evenly along our seam. So I went ahead and pre-cut some solder chips here. So basically what you're gonna do is I like to think of it as I've got my sheet solder here, I'm going to cut it like a little fringe. So literally as if I was just making, oh, I got a little excited there. I'm just basically making a fringe here. So I'm making a fringe, and then I'll go ahead and cut across my fringe like this to get my solder pieces. Now, some people like to pre-ball their solder. But there's a lot of different ways to do this. I remember my professor in graduate school would always say she could tell which grad students taught the intro students based on their soldering style. So there are a few different ways to do this, I am not a solder pre-baller. I like to just place my solder in here. So, when you're placing your solder you have two choices. You can use tweezers, or you can use a solder pick. And again this is kinda personal preference, and it might depend on what you're doing. So in a situation like this, I like to use tweezers, but if I'm doing something like jump rings I will often use my solder pick to pick it up, in which case I will dip my solder pick in my flux, put it in here, pick up a piece of solder. You can see how frustrating this gets, this is why I'm not a solder pick girl. So instead I'm gonna grab my tweezers, and what I'm gonna do here is simply start to place my flux. Now, just a note about what's happening here. I'm going to end up holding my torch in my right hand, which means I want my solder to be on the opposite side. We'll talk about why in a second. But, just so that it makes it a little easier to see, I'm gonna take my annealing pan and I'm gonna spin it over here. And I'm gonna go ahead and just place my solder on here. And I'm digging for the smallest pieces I can find. Here's the thing. You may think, oh, I'm just gonna jam a lot of solder in there and it's gonna be great, and it's gonna work amazingly. But the reality is that when you do that, you're just gonna end up with a lot of excess solder that you have to file off later. So you wanna, again, use those smallest pieces. I'm spacing this out on this kind of seam about 1/4 of an inch apart. So any time you have a long seam, that's usually what I go for is about 1/4 of an inch between solder pieces, and I'm sorry, because I cannot remember what that is in millimeters in this moment. But it's pretty small. So I'm gonna go ahead and place these on here. If I was doing something like a jump ring I'd probably only need one piece of this solder, but for this longer seam I'm gonna have a little bit more. Now solder always flow towards our heat, so I'm gonna make sure I can position this so that it flows through. So there's no need to put solder on both sides, because we're using that capillary action to suck our solder through this wall, which I'm gonna show you guys in just a second. But first, let's talk about that fifth principle, which is heat. So solder always flows towards the heat. Now, heat means two things. It means our torch itself, but as we're soldering we're also heating up our metal and anything else that's happening on our work surface. So when you're joining things together, any piece of metal that's smaller is going to get hot faster. So in this case, my little T shaped piece is going to want to get hot faster than the piece below it, so I have to be aware of that as I'm soldering. The same thing happens with different sides of the metal, so as I'm heating this side of the material this side is going to be cooler than the side where the torch is. So we wanna pay attention so that we're heating everything evenly, and then bringing our solder through. The other thing that we wanna pay attention to are heat sinks. So any time we have any other metal in our solder set up, that is a heat sink. So actually my cross-locking tweezers right here, those are a heat sink. Now, fortunately they're actually gonna help me out a little, because this is my smaller piece of metal, and so any time you can you should put your smaller piece of metal in your cross-locking tweezers, because the heat sink is gonna actually help balance things out. But if you're having problems soldering, you may find it's because you have a big heat sink. So I don't actually have one here because I hate using them, but I wanna show you guys this image of something that you may have seen people use, which is called a solder tripod, and it's a metal tripod with a metal screen across the top. People like it because they think, ah, I can take my torch and I can heat underneath. But what that actually is, is a big, giant heat sink. So if you've been trying to solder on one of those, you may wanna ditch that and get yourself either a soldering board, or a solder brick, or even a charcoal block and you're gonna find that things go a lot easier because now you're just heating your metal instead of having to heat up this entire other thing that's drawing the heat away. So then the final thing with heat is that we wanna bring the entire piece up to temperature from general to specific. So the other thing that differs with solder is that we're not just doing localized heat. So if you were welding something, or even if you were using a soldering iron, you can get your material to flow just by heating at the joint. But solder does not work like that. We need to bring our entire piece up to temperature in order for that to work. So we're gonna start by doing a nice general flame, and as we see the temperature start to rise then we can zero in a little bit more on our solder seam. And one of the ways we can see what's happening is that we'll actually see our flux change color. So I wanna go ahead and solder our sample now so that you guys can see this, but first, safety first, I'm gonna move anything flammable out of my work area, so anything that's paper, I'm gonna get that out of here. I'm gonna get out this plastic container too, but I'm gonna keep it sort of handy in case I need a little bit more of my solder. Now, one thing that you do wanna keep in mind, there is a slight flaw to this set up which is that my cross-locking tweezers actually have a little bit of wood on them. So I wanna be really careful when I'm aiming my torch at these that I'm not lighting this on fire. The same actually goes if you're using one of these smoke absorbing ventilators, the filter in that, also flammable, so don't bring it super close and then hold the torch to it because you'll light it on fire. All right, so I've gone ahead and set this up, and because this is a slightly bigger set up I'm using a fairly large torch tip. This is a number two, so it's a little bit bigger. If you're doing smaller things you won't need something this big, but I wanted to kind of do something that was a little bit bigger so you guys could see it in this demo. So I'm gonna go ahead, I've already got my torch turned on, I've got my regulator turned up so I've got some pressure here. And now I'm gonna go ahead and light my torch. And I wanna talk a little bit about this flame. So what you can see here is, I don't wanna go too high. See how loud that is? We don't want that. That's actually called an oxidizing flame, and what that oxidizing flame does is it causes our metal to get dirty faster. So we don't wanna turn our flame up so that it's so loud and angry like that, we wanna keep our flame a little bit softer, so that's even a little bit too loud. So we're gonna start here, and if I have to crank it up a little as I'm soldering, I will. Now the other thing to keep in mind is that we wanna work in the area where the flame is actually the hottest, and while it may look like this pretty blue cone is the hottest part of our flame, it's not. The hottest part of our flame is actually a little bit further out, so an inch or two out, so, or about, you know, 1/2 a centimeter out from there, or, yeah, something like that. So maybe at two inches, so about a centimeter. So this is actually the hottest part of our flame, so this is where we want our flame to touch our metal. Now, I'm gonna go ahead and start heating my piece, and I'm actually gonna take it a smidge slow for one reason to start, which is that our flux has water in it, and so as the flux starts to heat up if you go too fast at the beginning, it's going to bubble because suddenly you're boiling the water in the flux, and it's gonna send your solder pieces flying everywhere, which drives me crazy. If I was doing a set up where it was really critical that my solder didn't move I would actually let my flux air dry for a while and then do it, but in this case we're just gonna keep an eye on it, come back in here with our solder pick, and go ahead and just make sure that they stay in position. So all I'm doing here, very quickly, is I'm not trying to bring it to temperature yet I'm just trying to dry my flux, and I will know my flux is dry when it's turned white, like a nice opaque white. So now I feel like we're kinda gettin' there, so I'm gonna turn my torch up just a little bit more and now I'm gonna start to heat my metal. Because I know that this vertical piece is going to get hot faster, I'm gonna focus my heat right here on the bottom piece, and I'm gonna, again, general to specific, so I'm kind of keeping my torch moving, moving around, making sure that heat comes, and as I see my flux start to go clear now I'm gonna go ahead, focus in on my seam, get that nice and hot, and then start to draw my solder through, and I'm gonna keep just moving around a little bit here, there we go, it flowed. I'm gonna throw this over here, and what I'm looking for, you see that silver line start to appear through there? That's what we're looking for. So I got this probably a smidge hotter than I needed to because it's a little bit hard to talk and solder at the same time, but you guys can see we have this nice little silver line that we pulled out and that means that our solder pulled through, and we did the job. Now, one last thing to remember is that your cross-locking tweezers here are now hot, so do not touch them when you're trying to get your piece out there, use your regular tweezers so that you're not touching them, and then now we can go ahead and pickle this. Don't put it in the pickle hot, instead have a little bowl of water that you can quench into, throw it in there first, and then you can go ahead and put it in your pickle. So that's it, those are our five principles of soldering. So as you guys work through now any soldering project, make sure that your metal fits together, that it's clean, that you've got your flux, you've put your solder in the right place, and you're using your heat from general to specific to flow your solder. So if you guys wanna see soldering in action and see how to set up specific projects and turn them into jewelry that you love, make sure you tune in to my hands-on classes here on CreativeLive.