Five Steps to Start Silver Soldering

Soldering sterling silver is one of the fundamental skills that every jeweler should have. However, starting up at home can be a little intimidating so we have put together this step by step tutorial and list of jewelry soldering supplies & tools to get you going.

These days a lot of budding metalsmiths are firing up torches for the first time in order to tackle more advanced jewelry making techniques. Soldering sterling silver is one of the fundamental skills that every jeweler should have. However, starting up at home can be a little intimidating so we have put together this step by step tutorial and list of jewelry soldering supplies & tools to get you going.

Step 1

Prepare your work area

Safety first! Soldering involves an open flame and molten metal so you need to prepare a safe work place. Make sure you are using a sturdy table. Cover the surface with a piece of aluminum or a thick block of wood so you don’t accidentally scorch your table. Secure the aluminum or wood so it doesn’t shift while you are working. Clear an area about 3 feet square of things you could bump into or damage with your torch.

 

Step 2

Gather supplies
X299 - Soldering Starter Kit
X299 – Soldering Starter Kit

We offer a silver soldering starter kit that includes most of what you will need or you can purchase materials and assemble household items separately. You will need the following:

  • Safety glasses and apron – Protect yourself with safety glasses so you don’t damage your eyes or prescription glasses. A denim or canvas apron over your clothing is also a good idea in case you drop a piece of hot metal. Avoid loose, bulky clothing when you are learning soldering and wear closed toed shoes just to be on the safe side.
  • Butane torch and butane– A hand held max flame torch is a great starter torch for soldering silver. You will also need a butane canister from the hardware store. Practice lighting your torch, it can be tricky. Your altitude will affect where the gas valve setting should be when you ignite. Always point the torch away from you and hold it in your non-dominant hand.
  • Soldering pick or tweezers – You will need these to move your solder and your jewelry piece while it is hot. Always keep one of these in your dominant hand while soldering so you won’t accidently touch hot metal with your fingers.
  • Soldering surface – This is a small work area that will take the direct heat from your torch flame. Everyone has their own preference but common options include a mesh screen and tripod, magnesia block, a charcoal block, a honeycombed piece of ceramic or solderite board.
  • Pickle – Pickle dissolved in warm water is used to remove firescale from your silver after you have soldered it. Firescale is a surface effect on the metal that stains the silver red, orange or black. You can use Sparex or another brand.
  • Pickle pot – A small crock pot with a little bit of tap water combined with a scoop of pickle will warm up in five minutes and be ready to go. You can keep your pickle solution for weeks or longer before you need to swap it out for efficacy.
  • Copper tongs – Do not put your tweezers in pickle! Steel will ruin your pickle solution. Get in the habit of using copper tongs whenever you put items in your pickle or remove them.
  • Quench cup – A small ceramic cup or bowl with tap water.
  • Cooling surface – This can just be a place on your heat resistant work area or you can use a pumice cup for cooling.
  • Sand paper or steel wool and a cleaning cloth– Always clean your metal right before soldering. Contaminants can prevent the metals from melting properly and/or bonding. Do your cleaning in a separate area from your soldering. Sand first then wipe off dust and hand oils.
  • Flux and brush– Flux is an oxygen reducing agent that will facilitate soldering and reduce firescale. You will also need a small paint brush or flux brush to apply flux to your solder joints.
  • Solder – Silver solder comes in sheet, wire or syringe paste forms. Everyone has their own preference and different forms can be better suited for specific soldering applications. Personally, I like the wire for ease of use. The temper of the solder refers to the melting point of the solder. There is soft, medium or hard solder. For simple starter projects you will just need soft solder. As your skills advance you should have all three temper solders on hand so you can do more complicated soldering with multiple solder joints.
  • Sterling silver materials – Different tutorials will suggest different starter projects or drills to learn soldering skills. At a minimum you should start with some sterling wire and jump rings on hand so you have practice materials.

 

Step 3

Watch tutorials
Soldering Made Simple by Joe Silvera
Soldering Made Simple by Joe Silvera

Don’t just wing it. Soldering is complicated and you will become frustrated if you don’t take a class or get good instructional reference materials. There are many books and videos available that offer silver soldering instruction. I prefer videos and there are many available for free on YouTube. My favorite DVD for purchase is Soldering Made Simple by Joe Silvera.

 

Step 4

Get started

Tie your hair back, make sure the kids aren’t around and lock your cat out of the room. You don’t want to be distracted when you are new to soldering. Your first experience with the torch can be intimidating but you will get comfortable very quickly as long as you have a quiet workspace free from interruptions.

Before you even get out your metal you should practice turning your torch off and on several times. Then practice moving your torch flame on your soldering surface with your non-dominant hand while you maneuver the tip of your pick or tweezers near the flame in your dominant hand.

 

Step 5

Practice

Like anything new soldering takes a lot of practice and patience. I keep the following reminder checklist in my studio so I stay on track whenever I pick up a soldering project.

  • Tight fit
  • Clean
  • Flux
  • Solder
  • Heat
  • Quench
  • Pickle

Have fun!

Soldering opens up a whole new world of design possibilities in your jewelry making. Experiment and enjoy the new horizons you encounter as your skills develop. For a complete selection of jewelry making tools and supplies be sure to visit us at Halstead!

Further Reading

3 Torch Tips for Soldering

Torch Tips, Fuels & Solder Melting Points

Butane Hand Torch Troubleshooting

Design Inspiration for Soldering

Soldering Half Round Wire & Pattern Wire for Rings

6 Steps to Soldering Earring Posts

Soldered Silver & Brass Snowflake Pendant

Eva Sherman’s Spectacular Soldering Rings

Shop Soldering Supplies Now!


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12 Comments

  • Hello I am new to soldering and I am very confused as to what materials you can and can’t soldering so what materials can you use when soldering. I design fused glass jewelry and I usually wire wrap but I want t set them in a bezel for rings etc.

    Please HELP

    • You can solder most metals but specific techniques vary slightly from metal to metal due to the different melting points of the materials. Gold-filled can be soldered but it is more difficult and not recommended for beginners. If you cannot attend a soldering class or seminar you can find many books and instructional DVDs for purchase or YouTube videos for free online. Soldering is difficult to do well without some instruction so it is worth investing in a one day course if you intend to make custom bezels.

  • Hi! I recently started making sterling silver jewelry, but unsuccessful because after soldering, my sterling silver pieces become super fragile and break. Can you please tell me what I’m doing wrong? I tried to solder sterling silver ear wires to sterling silver earrings. First I dip sterling silver pieces into a mix of boric acid and denatured alcohol (to prevent burns), then I heat it until it starts to bubble, then I add some silver bearing paste (contains flux), join pieces together and heat again. And then I dip it into a warm pickle solution. After I clean and file my pieces, they easily break. I don’t know what it is I am doing wrong… I would really appreciate if you can steer me in the right direction. Thank you!

    • Hi Elena,
      Sorry you’re having such a hard time soldering and hopefully these tips might help you. First, you should apply solder & flux before any heat is applied at all to the piece. Also, filing may be too rough and you may want to try wire solder instead of paste next time. Lastly, you should watch some YouTube videos to help educate yourself, there are many qualified how-to videos out there. Hope these tips help!

  • Well, number of jewelry making techniques are available today. Information shared by you about Soldering sterling silver technique is genuinely very informative and commendable as well.

  • I’m soldering fine but when I put my piece in the pickle it’s turning the joint black and I can easily break it. What am I doing wrong. Thanks. Em

  • hello! I sort of have silver soldering down, but I’m starting to use gold fill wire and would love recommendations on what sort of solder and flux to use. I’ve searched everywhere for videos and can’t seem to find any. I’m trying to find a local class, but need some help a bit sooner than that. I appreciate any help you can give me! Thank you! Chanel

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