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 want to do in this video is actually take you into the theory behind soldering. Even if you're been soldering for a little while, you may have learned it in a kind of haphazard way or you don't quite understand what's happening, so in this video I want to 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 allow 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 again, this is just an alloy of brass with something in it to make at a slightly, melt at a slightly lower temperature. So I'm gonna 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 instead 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 melt 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 want to 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 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 re-flowing 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 silver melts at and we should be safe with all our solder temperatures which go up to 1490 but we want to 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 your solder doesn't need to go that high. Alright, so let's talk about the principles of soldering and what actually makes it work. So one other thing I want to 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 of 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 principal of soldering is actually fit and the reason that we have to worry about this is that solder can not 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 can not 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 want to put this kind of T shape on here. If I look at this, and I know it's really hard to see, but I want to 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 going to 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 150 so it's got a really good tooth to it, and I'm just gonna take this, hold it vertically. (metal scrapes) And sorry, that's an obnoxious noise, but we're gonna go with it. (metal scrapes) 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 gonna 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 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. 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 want to 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 want to do now is just take a little piece of sandpaper and just give it a little scrub right where I want to 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, that'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 gotten 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 going to be nice and dirty. I'm going to throw that in my pickle, I'm 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. Alright, 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 gonna create a barrier that's gonna 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 setup here, I'm gonna go ahead and I've got my piece down here and because I'm setting up, and 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 want to go ahead and put a little flux on this bottom piece. Now if your flux gets a little bit thick and chunky, you could 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 jumprings 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 them right in my flux. Makes life a little bit easier. Alright, now our fourth principle 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 want to do is use the smallest pieces of solder possible, placed very evenly along our seam. So I went ahead and precut some solder chips here. So basically what you're gonna do is, I like to think of it as if 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 cut that one, 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 kind of 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 jumprings, 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 am 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 am going to end up hold my torch in my right hand, which means I want my solder to be on the opposite side and we'll talk about why in a second. But, just so 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 want to, again, use those smallest pieces. I am spacing this out on this kind of seam about a quarter of an inch apart. So any time you have a long seam, that's what I usually go for is about a quarter of an inch between solder pieces and I'm sorry because I can not 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 would probably only need one piece of this solder, but for this longer seam, I'm gonna have a little bit more. Now solder always flows toward 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 want to pay attention so that we're heating everything evenly and then bringing our solder through. The other thing that we want to pay attention to are heat sinks. So any time we have any other metal in our solder setup, 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 want to 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 have been trying to solder on one of those, you may want to 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 want to 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 then 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 want to 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, let me get that out of here. We're 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 want to keep in mind. There is a slight flaw to this setup, which is that my cross-locking tweezers actually have a little bit of wood on them so I want to 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 have your ventil-- 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. Alright, so I've gone ahead and set this up and because this is a slightly bigger setup, 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. (lighter clicks) (fire crackles) And I want to talk a little bit about this flame, so what you can see here is I don't want to go too high. (fire crackles) 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 want to turn our flame up so it's so loud and angry like that. We want to 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 want to 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 or about, you know, a half a centimeter out from there or, yeah, something like that. So maybe 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 setup where it was really critical that my solder didn't move, I would actually let my flux airdry 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 getting 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 going to 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 want to 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.