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 1Prepare 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 2Gather supplies
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 3Watch tutorials
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 4Get 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.
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
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!