Go with the Flow: Basic Tips to Make Soldering Easier

BENCH TIP FROM ALAN REVERE

While soldering is essential to jewelry work, it can also be one of the most challenging operations at the jeweler’s bench. Controlling the torch requires understanding and experience. The following are a few basic tips to make soldering easier.

Note: This information applies to silver and gold, but not to platinum, which behaves differently during soldering.

•Before soldering, it is important to make sure the surface is clean and fluxed. Dirt, polishing compound, and fingerprints can impeded the flow of solder. Clean all surfaces well with sandpaper, a scraper, or a plastic abrasive pad prior to soldering, and the apply flux. When heated, flux becomes a “river of glass,” sealing the surface from contaminants as the solder flows below it and joins the parts.

•Solder flows toward heat. Whenever possible, put your solder on the far side of a seam and heat the near side. When the solder flows, the heat pulls it through the seam.

•When soldering two items together, it is important to heat them so they reach the flow point of the solder at the same time. Otherwise, the solder will flow onto the piece that reaches that temperature first. When soldering items similar in size, keep the flame moving gently and heat the parts equally.
On the other hand, when soldering items dissimilar in size, apply the heat unevenly; soaking the larger item while avoiding the smaller item. When the larger item reaches soldering temperature, minimal heating of the smaller item is needed. (Again, both items should reach the flow point of the solder at the same time.)

•Try using a pair of tweezers to hold the smaller item in place; the tweezers serve as a “heat sink,” drawing some of the heat away so the smaller item will not heat up as quickly as the larger item. You can also block the flame from hitting the smaller piece by placing tweezers or a solder pick in the way.