and forceps make good clips for wire solder. Soldering clips for soldering
work may be made from cotter pins, coat hanger wire, piano wire, steel strapping
or old clock springs. These may be used to hold parts together.
Soldering weights are good tools to have. Several in different weights
are really useful to have around and very fast to use. They hold items
down during soldering and can have notched, drilled or grooved holding
ends. Traditionally they are made with rectangular blocks of solid steel
to which a hold down rod has been attached. These can however be hard
to find. Angle iron can be used. Even a sardine can filled with typemetal
or lead will work. One can make them from rectangular thick sheets of
steel with 1/8" or 3mm steel rods brazed (think hard soldered) onto the
block using a white paste flux, silver, silver solder, brass or copper
to fix it in place. The end which sits upon the work to hold it in place
may be shaped differently for different purposes. Old needle files serve
well for the rod. They are much faster in use than any third arm as one
has different sized soldering weights and they are rapidly swung onto
the work to hold it in place. They are often used in combination with
a nest. If one uses a sheet of steel rather than a solid rectangular block
one makes a relatively light soldering weight but it allows one to easily
stack bricks or other objects onto the flat surface of the weight to have
variable weights quickly.
There are many kinds of refractive surfaces one can use to solder on,
from pumice chunks to Kitty Litter® (watch out for the latter-it tends
to pop when first heated-use safety glasses and wear an apron and don't
wear sandals). ISome people like ceramic blocks of various kinds, graphite
will work, the time honored (and pleasant reducing atmosphere) of a charcoal
block is always good-if somewhat expensive. My preference is to use a
light (not dense and heavy) fire brick of the kind that ceramacists build
kilns with. It can be easily shaped, sawn apart or into with a wood saw,
have wires and pins pushed into it, be cleaned by scraping against another
fire brick-in general a useful surface for soldering on.
I have a spray bottle of water like a plant mister near the soldering
bench. It is used to put out the charcoal block immediately after using
it. This preserves the block far longer than just letting it burn after
using it. The spray is also used for quenching if I don't mind a little
overspray and want to keep water out of interior spaces in a construction
or a folded piece of metal while fold-forming.
In the past with a charcoal block I have taken a metal tin with walls
a little lower than and larger than the block and poured some casting
or soldering investment into it, then setting the block in place. This
prevents the block from splitting as they have a tendency to do and because
it is mounted in a metal tray keeps it cleaner and easier to handle than
simply a loose block. Some people wrap a block with wire around the sides
to hold it together though to my mind this still lets messy bits fall
off and does not take into account large cracks.
John Cogswell came up with a great way of making granules or little
balls using a charcoal block. He was using them for granulation but there
are lots of uses for little spheres. One makes a metal frame for the block
as shown in the diagram. The block is tilted on a prop or some kind and
a small pan of water is placed next to it. When one heats up small chips
of metal as soon as they become round they roll down the surface of the
block, maintaining their shape and then landing in the water. The frame
guides them off the block into the pan. I have drawn jump rings rather
than chips of metal because jump rings are the only way to easily and
accurately guarantee identical metal volumes when making small balls.
This is a quick method for small quantities of spheres. Larger quantities
are usually made by layering the metal pieces in charcoal powder and heating
in a kiln for a time, later washing away the ash.
A soldering nest is a loosely wound bundle of fairly thin iron binding
wire. One spreads ones fingers slightly to wind the wire (.016 or thinner)
so as not to trap them by binding them too tightly. Several sizes of nest
are useful but in general three fingers will produce a good sized nest
for most work. One winds at different angles to create a loosely interwoven
pad about 4mm (3/16") thick. This gets the work being heated off the firebrick
allowing heat reflected from the brick to work on it. Because iron is
a poor conductor of heat it holds heat after the flame is removed elsewhere
and acts like an electric burner under parts of the piece one is not heating
with the torch because it glows while one moves the flame elsewhere on
the piece. It is most useful with broader flame torch types; those professionals
working only with a mini-torch would not find it as useful. Such a nest
emulates the action of soldering on a charcoal block and provides more
all around heat, albeit without offering the reducing atmosphere conditions
of the charcoal block. Thin iron wire is however much cheaper than a charcoal
block and lasts for years. If you use too thick a wire for this the subsequent
heat sink effect of it in contact with the work may interfere with soldering.
iron binding wire soldering nest.
Kerr® Quickset #2 soldering investment stone is a great assist for holding
pieces together while soldering. Doug Zaruba uses half a squash ball as
a small mixing bowl for it, makes a clay-like mixture, places it around
the parts to be held together, washes his hands and then it is ready to
solder with. For a very strong mixture sprinkle in broken sawblade pieces
which one has saved or fibrous material like Fiberfax® or fiberglass (agh-itchy
and unpleasant). It can be ordered from your local supplier who will have
a Kerr® catalog. It is however not listed with the investments but instead
is under 'specialty products' and is at the back of the catalog. More
permanent soldering jigs can be made with a mixture of one third investment,
1 third Portland cement and a third fiberglass. Such a jig may last 50
solderings or so.
Heat sinks are usually a problem in soldering but can be used creatively
to stop previously soldered joints from opening up during later soldering
operations. Examples include chunks of steel, washers, nuts and old copper
coins-with the latter one must be careful that they are not made with
a low melting aluminum core, as with many new pennies. The mark of an
accomplished goldsmith is the use of heat sinks instead of solder flow
retardants. Heat control is soldering control.
Thin (30 gauge) iron binding wire is very good for binding pieces together.
It is important to use cable as it is less likely to burn out during soldering
and can expand and contract slightly so that there is no indenting of
the bound object-which can occur very easily if too thick a wire is used
to bind during soldering. The basic rule is to never use a wire as thick
as or thicker than the sheet metal being bound. Two strand cable is usually
The twisted wire cable is then looped every 1-2 cm and looped and twisted
to make rows of tension loops. It is important to always twist them in
the same direction so you don't inadvertently loosen them later at the
wrong moment. They may be tightened and allow stress to be spread through
the binding system so the wire doesn't give way suddenly just as one gets
it tight enough. They also permit more complex wiring situations.
It is important never to wire across open spaces as the metal softens
and will bend inwards and collapse. Instead one uses hooks and the presence
of tension loops to be able to re-direct pressure against the strongest
structures of the object being soldered. Because when hot everything becomes
soft and pliable we use structural strength to replace material strength
at the temperatures required for soldered construction.
Very difficult shapes to accurately hold together can be wired, for
example a sphere. Note how the presence of tension loops allows hooks
and wires to be strung through them making almost any object able to be
Some goldsmiths prefer stainless steel binding wire because it can be
put into the pickle without causing a plating reaction. I don't like the
lack of stretch it has while tightening it but like anything one would
get used to it and adjust.
When bridging a seam with binding wire take thicker wire (16 gauge and
up) and make a bridge to lift the binding wire up off the seam. This prevents
it from being soldered down to the seam. Notice how the bridge wire loops
up and away from the seam to avoid contact with it and also how the ends
of the thick wire bridge are also bent up away from the metal surface
being joined so that like the skids on a sled they do not scratch the
surface they are on.
It is better to take an hour to wire a complex job up and then spend
less than five minutes for a trouble free soldering than it is to have
to go back and repair or fix problems. With experience one needs to wire
less often but a proper wiring or soldering set up usually saves considerable
time in the long run. That old Aristotle quote: "Well begun is half done"
while irritating is accurate.
When one has to solder a ring shank without endangering the stone it
is normally packed in some cooling material such as Kerr® #2 investment
stone (Quickset #2), Kool Jool®, wet matted paper towel and so on to protect
it. In my experience wet paper towel is the best of these because one
has better control of its degree of wetness and hence the safety of the
stone. My preference however is to have the ring head under water in a
crucible and have the ring held down with a soldering weight. One can
also make a thin slice of kiln brick which is tucked inside the ring over
the water level to additionally reflect heat upwards and slow the evaporation
of the water. This approach is particularly good with silver rings as
silver conducts heat better than any of the metals and so requires intense
hot heat to carry out such a soldering. In all cases one must keep tabs
on the water level so as not to inadvertently have it go too low and so
endanger the stone. Another material used is paper clay, a product found
in many craft shops and originating in Japan.
A method of protecting gemstones from heat comes from the shop of Robert
and Barbara Kaylor in Boise, Idaho. They use a crucible with lead shot
in it to hold the ring steady for soldering. This way one can monitor
the water level to ensure it does not go too low, as if it does one has
a nasty lead mess on the ring, not to mention the potential stone damage
(to remove lead one uses muriatic acid; a mixture of hydrochloric and
water in varying proportions). Stainless steel shot would be an alternative.
Another soldering trick from Kaylor is to use the hefty round or ring-like
magnet from a stereo speaker as a holding tool for the back end of one
or more steel self-locking tweezers; the same inexpensive kind used for
earring post soldering clamps. They are easily maneuverable, quick to
place and remove and hold objects the thickness of the magnet (about 1
cm or just under half an inch) off the soldering surface. The magnets
can also be mounted a number of ways on their sides and so on to allow
other holding positions for the self locking tweezers.
Just a note that the Benchmate® system comes with the best third arms
I've ever seen and has various soldering platforms, clamps and ring soldering
heat sinks that are standard equipment with it.
Solder flow retardants are best used when heat sinks will not work.
It is usually more efficient and quicker to work with heat control and
heat sinks. One may have a false sense of security with solder flow retardants
and attempt heating methods which may threaten the piece with damage.
Sometimes however one needs a solder flow retardant to prevent a piece
freezing when soldering it, such as with certain chain solderings and
soldering a trigger for a catch in place in the catch (I still would use
a heat sink and speed with this method).
Some people use yellow ochre with water. I find that it has a tendency
to "bleed" into the flux and make the soldering problematic. It is somewhat
better mixed with a little oil instead of water but I find it difficult
to remove from the piece and do not use it.
Some people use a little rouge powder from the polishing machine dust
mixed with a small amount of oil which works well.
One can take a small piece of rubber (vulcanized mold chunk, slice off
a piece of old torch hose etc.) and, holding it in tweezers, rub it on
the metal part to be protected while it is hot. The rubber melts on with
a truly nasty smell (use ventilation) and leaves a brown slimy coat on
the metal. This too works well.
My favorite is Papermate© correction fluid. There are solvent based
and solvent-free water based versions. In my experience the water based
version does not come off the metal after soldering as easily as the solvent
based one which I therefore prefer. I had heard that it contained toxic
chemicals which were released upon heating and wrote to the Papermate
company listing all the metals, chemicals and temperatures that their
product would come in contact with in standard use by metalsmiths. In
their return letter no mention of chemical interactions with the white
pigment was made and they felt the main danger lay in the solvent used:
1.1.1. trichloroethylene which is as I understand it a mutagen and carcinogen.
This leads me to think that the white material is something inert like
tin oxide or calcium carbonate (chalk). 1.1.1. trichloroethylene breaks
down on heating to form chlorine gas, hydrogen chloride and phosgene gas,
all of which are highly toxic. Their lab ran evaporation rate tests and
found that because it skins over the solvent does not evaporate as quickly
as they had thought. It seems that about twenty minutes after application
the solvent will for all intents and purposes have evaporated. There is
however a safety problem here and it is recommended that alternates to
the solvent based material be used. While we are not discussing large
amounts of solvent exposure someone will at some point use a lot of it
at once or all day and chance personal injury. Potters 'kiln wash' might
be good too.
I have a suspicion that Papermate® and similar products are mostly calcium
carbonate, what print makers call 'whiting' and what the rest of us call
'chalk'. The cheapest source by volume for chalk in solution is probably
Maalox® though I have not yet tried it as a solder flow retardant.
Kaylor uses China White, a standard graphic artists material made mostly
of chalk as an effective solder flow retardant. It comes as a liquid in
a tube or in a dry cake which one uses like a water color cake with a
brush and a little water.
Kelly Clemmer in Calgary uses Papermate® as a resist for reticulation
on brass. He paints it on in a pattern, gives it more than adequate time
to air out and then reticulates the surface. Where the resist is stays
more or less smooth providing smooth figurative (in his case) areas amongst
Some goldsmiths use a disposable type disposable lighter to light their
torch with. On the one hand this is great because teams of engineers spent
years figuring out the absolute best and easiest way to strike a spark
by hand and came up with this shape but if they contain gas they can explode
if hit with a spark or accidentally brushed with a torch flame. Rumor
has it a lighter has the same explosive power as a grenade and can take
a leg off. I suggest then using an empty one and carefully sawing the
very bottom off so that there is no chance of any fuel being left around
it. If the bottom has a hole in it then one can as I do hammer a nail
in next to the soldering area and the lighter sits neatly on it.
An old-fashioned blow pipe which can still be bought from most tool
suppliers costs about two dollars, uses an alcohol or oil lamp flame and
allows one to get a hot spot in varying sizes that is about 1700oF. A
small one is like having a 500 dollar mini torch for under five dollars.
Different size holes in different tips give different sized hot spots.
One blows gently into the pipe and through a flame onto the work. The
air pressure required is not very much. The only trick is learning to
keep the air in one cheek like a trumpet player which continues to go
through the pipe while you breathe in through your nose in order to keep
the air pressure steady. The reason jewellers alcohol lamps have flat
sides on them is so they can be tipped slightly and allow a blowpipe flame
to more easily go through them for this kind of soldering. One could use
a variable silent fish tank pump as an air source. I've seen this once
or twice with gas/air torches as an air source. Most of the world still
uses this tool.
Some goldsmiths use pipe cleaners as flux brushes. I like a needleless
syringe for injecting watery flux solutions inside tubes and other hard
to get at places.
Self-locking tweezers may be bought and then reshaped if necessary.
A good shape is a half inch right angle bend at the end. This can be filed
into so that single wires or prongs can be held during soldering. John
Cogswell uses versions of these as extremely useful soldering jigs and
heat sinks for constructing prong settings from wire. An example is shown
where the tips of the tweezers accommodate two jump ring cross struts
and a vertical prong, clamping them together for soldering with a pinpoint
hot mini torch right in the tweezers. The setting is assembled one vertical
prong at a time.
Pair of the cheaper, chrome plated steel self-locking tweezers with
a triangular notch filed in place at each of the ends automatically grips
and snaps earring posts to a right angle for quick earring post soldering.
To use them one simply throws the earring posts onto the table and they
are easily and quickly held at 90o no matter what angle they are gripped
from. Note that the ends have been filed so that when using them they
smoothly grasp and guide the earring post into its groove. Again, other
grooves, slots and holes can be installed to hold various kinds of assemblies
together while soldering. If made of titanium or if titanium ends are
attached to the self locking tweezers they cannot solder together or to
the metals being assembled and so become a superb soldering jig.
Self-locking tweezers may be made from heavy iron wire. Basically they
are a kind of tongs with springiness and clamp built in. European tool
catalogs offer examples which one can quickly make oneself from looking
at the pictures.
A cotter pin and heavy nut can also be used for such clamping purposes.
It is bent up after the nut has been slid onto it and when turned the
nut bites into the cotter pin somewhat so that it locks as the nut threads
itself onto the bent legs of the cotter pin. Similar clamping tools can
be designed easily with some thought.
Self locking tweezers and clamps can be made a number of different ways.
One can for example put a ring or oval loop around a pair of ordinary
tweezers and slide it up the tweezers to tighten them in place. There
are literally dozens of home made tweezer based clamping jigs for soldering.
Define the soldering problem; define 'what must be' to set up the soldering
and there will be some kind of soldering jig solution available.
Some versions may be made to hold ring bands together while soldering
or to hold a head. Self-locking tweezers may also be reshaped to various
useful forms such as clamps for holding heads in place in a shank during
a soldered construction. One can buy some specialty tweezers from tool
Tweezers for holding a head onto a ring during
Soldering picks are an essential: they may be made from coat hanger
wire. One end is coiled to prevent picking up by the hot end, the other
side ground to a point. The last 2 cm or 3/4 " are bent to a right angle.
This enables one to pick up items with the pick and also to see what the
pick shown is doing when in use which one can't do easily with a straight
one. The reason for the shape at the back of the pick is to have somewhere
to hang it from and so as to have a handle to control it with. The best
material is titanium to which the solder will not stick. One can even
ball up solder right on the pick and then have it slide off onto the piece
from the pick. I may divide a molten ball of solder with the pick to halve
it. A source for 16g titanium wire is Reactive Metals (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Another source for titanium wire for making soldering picks with is your
local high tech bike shop-they often use titanium spokes and may have
bent ones for free.
Dee Fontans found that using a steel soldering pick on which some solder
had been deliberately melted was useful as a delivery method for controlled
small amounts of solder onto delicate wire soldered connections such as
one encounters with filigree. One can 'wick' away surplus molten solder
into a thin wire twisted cable that is fluxed and frayed out at the end.
Some people use a pencil as a soldering pick. The wood gradually burns
away with use leaving a graphite rod in a somewhat charred wooden handle.
Such a tool can be used to stir molten metal with too.
Artists graphite sticks can sometimes be obtained long enough to work
as stirring rods for melts. Quartz rods are also used to stir melts but
watch out for heat transmitted up and out the end of the rod - one can
Soldering tongs for holding wire solder for soldering large objects
are very useful to avoid burning one's hand from radiant heat. They are
made from welding rod and are about 14-18 inches in length. They look
like miniature blacksmiths tongs with very long handles, one of which
is bent so that it locks onto the other one. This provides tension on
the front. Several are loaded with wire or strip solder ready to use.
Long hemostats will work as well.
Wire soldering is extremely useful for production (an automatic pencil
can be used as a handle and feeding device). In Germany one uses a 'Lötblitz',
a kind of automatic feeding wire solder pen, it has a thumb ratchet to
drive the solder forwards as you use it and you stand with a coil of it
over your arm feeding and soldering very rapdily. Wire soldering tends
to be messy but an experienced wire soldering person can solder as cleanly
as with carefully placed chips.
I have recently taken to using color coded hemostats (used for clamping
blood vessels in operations-you can find them at flea markets and Radio
Shack type electronics stores) as clamps for different wire solders, hard
solder is one color, medium another. The handles are spray painted and
they hang, loaded ready for use in the soldering area. I have three of
each color/solder type ready when beginning a job.
T pins such as are used by fabric artists and seamstresses can be bent
over and pushed into the fire brick to hold things in place in a similar
way to how blacksmiths clamp things onto an anvil with a 'hold down tool'
tapped into a hole in the top of the anvil.
I'd like to say a couple of words about annealing. Because some books
said that metal is red hot when annealed many people do this. In fact
it seriously damages the crystal structure of the metal if there is any
further extended deformation; drawing, rolling, chasing, raising, forging
etc. going to happen to it. Overheating causes grain enlargement which
may eventually lead to cracking in the metal. This will not really matter
if the work is only being used for construction or is at the end of its
plastic working. The descriptions of glowing red come from the days when
there was no electric light and the soldering area was in the darkest
part of the shop and consisted of a forge. The actual color is the red
you see in Concord grapes, barely red at all. If you see any visible red
light coming off a piece of metal under normal room conditions today it
is already overheated. Therefore we need other indicators for when the
metal is annealed.
Temple sticks and crayons are waxy materials used by welders. If the
Temple stick melts you have hit a certain temperature. Messy to clean
Borax flux goes glassy but then you have to clean it off.
Blue carpenters chalk turns white.
Ivory soap turns black.
A bamboo skewer or piece of wood leaves a trace like drawn charcoal
A permanent marker will disappear.
My favorite method is to watch the flame color. It will turn distinctly
yellowish-orange the moment that the metal surface hits about 800 degrees
F. This is the temperature that carbon particles glow incandescent and
it means that unburned carbon particles in the flame are hitting a surface
with that temperature regardless of what material that surface is made
of. This is however below the 900 degrees F that is called 'black body
heat' which is the temperature that materials begin to give off visible
light. In practice by the time you have recognized the yellow flame and
reacted to it the temperature will have risen somewhat and you will be
at about the right temperature for all the metals that we are concerned
with. (Yes I know they all have different annealing temperatures but given
the need for average accuracy and speed of working this is a good approach). Kaylor has a nice trick for annealing a coil of wire which depending
upon one's heat source can sometimes run the risk of being overheated
or even melted. He coils it up in a tin can and then heats the can. It
functions like a little temporary kiln and keeps any direct flame off
the wire thus preventing it from being melted. I've heard of annealing
on a hot plate for the same reason.