Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Shiny, Silver, Solid: Solder

As I was writing last week's article, it struck me that there may be a number of folks who have no idea how to solder things. That's a shame, as soldering is a very useful skill and incredibly simple to learn. This week, we'll see just how simple it is.

Solder creates a very strong mechanical joint between two metal pieces. While it employs heat, far less is required than for welding or brazing, meaning it is far less likely to damage tempering or hardening of metal parts. It is also far less equipment intensive.

Solder refers to any of a number of metal alloys, selected to give certain properties when heated and used to bond parts. No matter the alloy, some manner of flux should be used to improve flow of the solder and allow for a better, more uniform bond as it cools. Some solders contain flux in the wire, and will be marked as "flux core." Other solders require a separate flux, which for our purposes is a waxlike product that is soft and can easily be brushed or rubbed onto our work material.

A tub of flux. 
Our soldering supplies.

The piece of copper is the same size as the one I made last week's candle from, and will be made into a second candle. Although it is hard to see, I've already applied flux in this picture.


My workpiece is held in a bench vise, as I'll need both hands to work the solder. While the heat required is much less than welding, you still don't want to try and hold your pipe, even with a gloved hand.

This is the torch I use. This model also works quite well, and is dead easy to light. I buy my propane locally, simply to avoid shipping issues, but it can be bought online if needed.

The solder ring is clearly visible,
showing a good joint. 
As you can see, it takes less than a minute to go from first heat to completed permanent joint. Once the pipe is hot enough, the solder flows easily and seals completely. The bead that fell off happened because the pipe wasn't hot enough for the solder to flow and bond.

Making little things like this is also great practice with your gear before you need to fix something that has serious implications. With a little practice, you'll develop the skill to mend other metal pieces. This can save you time and money that would be spent on a repairman, or keep things running when a repairman isn't available. It's one of those skills that you'll never regret having in your mental toolbox.


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