Learn to start silver soldering today! 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’ve put together this step by step tutorial and list of jewelry soldering tools & supplies to get you going.
Step 1: Prepare Your Work Area
Personal safety is also important! Protect yourself with safety glasses so you don’t damage your eyes or prescription glasses. 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 to solder and wear closed toed shoes just to be on the safe side.
One last thing, ventilation is important when soldering. Please make sure you are in a well-ventilated area before beginning to solder. On all of our solder item detail pages online, you can find downloadable SDS sheets. These SDS sheets will give you all of the information about the material lists and what warnings they may have. We recommend downloading these sheets and keeping them on hand in your jewelry studio.
Step 2: Gather Supplies
Here is the glossary of the jewelry soldering tools and supplies covered in the shopping list above.
- 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. You will only need one of these when you start out, but down the road you will gather more of these soldering supplies as you learn new techniques.
- Soldering pick – You will need one of these to adjust your solder or jewelry piece while it is hot. Always keep a soldering pick in your dominant hand while soldering so you don’t accidentally touch hot metal with your fingers in case something shifts.
- Tweezers – With a pair of tweezers you can grab a hot item and lay it off to the side to air cool plus you can also use it to place your solder as well.
- Torches and butane – Handheld Micro-flame or Max Flame torches are great starter torches 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 while soldering.
- Flux – Flux is an oxygen reducing agent that will facilitate soldering and reduce firescale. You will need to choose between a liquid or paste flux. Paste flux can be applied with a small paintbrush but it tends to dry out so you’ll need to periodically add water to soften it up. A liquid spray flux will cover your entire piece with flux, however, the nozzle tends to clog up so you’ll need to occasionally unclog the tip.
- Solder – Silver solder comes in chips, 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.
- Copper tongs – Do not put your tweezers in pickle! Steel will ruin your pickle solution so get in the habit of using copper tongs whenever you put items in your pickle pot or remove them.
- Crockpot – A small crockpot 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.
- Warning: Once the crockpot has pickle in it, you can no longer use it for food items.
- 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 as your pickling solution.
- Quench cup – A small ceramic cup or bowl with tap water.
- Clean Rag – Use a clean rag to dry your piece after quenching it in the warm water.
- Sandpaper – Always lightly sand your metal right before soldering. Contaminants can prevent the metals from melting properly and/or bonding. Do your sanding in a separate area away from your soldering station to keep that area clean.
- Cooling surface – This can just be a place off to the side on your heat resistant work area, or you can use a steel bench block or a pumice cup for cooling.
- 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
Step 4: Practice!
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 work space free from interruptions.
Before you even get out your metal you should practice turning your torch off and on several times. Like anything new, soldering takes a lot of practice and patience. 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. These simple practice runs will not only build your confidence but also allow you time to get comfortable with the torch.
Step 5: Get Started Soldering
Now that you have all of the soldering tools and supplies that you need, it’s time to start silver soldering. I keep the following reminder checklist in my studio so I stay on track whenever I pick up a soldering project. This checklist will assure you that you’ve done everything you need to do and in the correct order.
Note: Are you having problems with the solder not flowing? Check out the Top 5 Reasons Silver Solder Doesn’t Flow article to help troubleshoot the problem.
Have fun soldering jewelry!
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 soldering tools and supplies be sure to visit us at Halstead!
Now that you know how to solder silver get tips for soldering copper and brass by reading Erica’s article: Soldering Copper & Brass Metals in the Jewelry Studio
Read on for More Soldering Tips:
Design Inspirations for Soldering Jewelry: