Soldering with Betsy, Part 1: An Ideal Soldering Setup
If you will, please put on your gloves and surgical gowns. Cover your hair, put on your face mask, and follow me into my dissection studio. I’m going to let you take a very close look at my soldering setup.
Don’t be afraid if this is the first time you have done this. Just listen to my calming voice. I know some things can’t be unseen. But developing your own soldering setup is a very personal experience. It may grow and change you as you gain experience. Remember (ahem, do I have your attention?), there are iron-clad rules for soldering safety, but after 12 years of soldering and a few classes, this is what works for me.
ABOVE: Circle clockwise, starting at 12 o’clock, and you’ll see my charcoal block. Then you’ll see T-pins, the scoop of my professional-grade fume extractor, a small tightly covered jar of yellow ocher mixed with alcohol, a small paint brush, torch tools and soldering picks, my annealing pan, the torch striker, more soldering tools, a spray bottle of Prips flux, my pickle pot, and water for quenching.
See? Nothing that will come out of the morgue and bite you in the neck.
Safe Soldering Setup: Tools and Supplies
When I improved my studio a couple years ago, I installed an adjustable height Husky-brand wood topped work bench capable of supporting a 600-pound body. ($192.) I lashed my acetylene tank ($78) to one of the legs, using nylon, tie-down ratchet straps ($20). These tanks contain acetone (about $40 per fill-up), so you should be scared here. You don’t want them to tip over, because this is hard to disconnect from emotionally. Underneath the bench, I have my ventilation filter system ($250 used). And this year’s big improvement to my soldering setup is the giant cookie sheet ($12.50). Like I say, some things you can’t unsee.
I attached a lazy Susan to a cake pan, and filled it with pumice ($8). On top of this I’ve placed a soft Solderite board. I buy them by the square foot ($28) and cut them into six-inch sections, scoring them deeply with a box cutter and ruler, then gently breaking them apart. The soft board is great because I can position delicate findings in place with straight pins or prop them against small strips of Solderite. Or I can dig into the surface to hold things together. You’ll see examples of this in my past blog posts and step-by-step articles. I also have a block of charcoal ($9) banded with a piece of steel wire to hold it together. I use this to melt wire and scrap into spheres for granulation.
I’ve used small butane-fueled Blazer torches for years, but kept melting details away when I tried to attach 22-gauge sterling silver wires to bigger surfaces. The professional bench jeweler who kept fixing my boo boos suggested I add an acetylene torch to my soldering setup. I settled on a Silver Smith torch ($210) and it’s been great. I invested in one additional tip ($38 each), working with a Size 00 and 0. The 00 tip gets clogged up with flux. So, I occasionally clean it in my Ultrasonic. Wish List: bigger tips
I use liquid Prips flux ($6.90 for 8 oz.) in a small spray bottle ($1.95), heating and spraying to build up a powdery surface.
Since my work is small, an 8 oz., flat-bottom, heat-proof white souffle dish is fine. Just remember, when you’re ready to change the water after a week or two, be sure to neutralize the liquid with baking soda before pouring it out.
I finally wore out my old Crock Pot Mini Dipper pickle pot after eight years of use. ($15) Although it holds 16 ounces, I fill it less than half full. Pickle is made of sodium bisulfate; it’s nasty to neutralize and dispose of so I use as little as possible and keep it as long as possible.
TIP: Since I often forget to turn off my pickle pot, I’ve plugged it into its own power strip ($9) and have added a nightlight to the same strip ($2.50). When I flip the power strip switch off, the night light is off and the pickle pot is off. Wish List: a brighter indicator light (Kate Wolf suggested a string of Christmas tree lights); citric acid
Copper tongs last forever ($5.25); titanium soldering picks ($10.95 for set of three) need to be sharpened from time to time. I solder a lot of tiny things together, and a fine tip is really useful so you can see what you are nudging around. Fine-tipped tweezers also are handy ($2.99), but soldering chips sometimes seem to stick to them. My locking tweezers are titanium ($17.99 a pair). Can’t live without ’em because they last a really long time. Note: These instruments do not have to be sterilized, but it’s good to scrub them up once in a while.
Finally, in the center of the photo above, is a sterling silver fork. I use it to pull soldered pieces out of my pickle pot when I can’t find my copper tongs. And because of the surface area of the tines, it’s great for sticking in the pickle pot to remove coppery residue.
Think of it as a pickle fork.
(Cue screams and shrieks of horror as students flee from a bad pun.)
Check out part two to read more of my soldering setup dissection, how to set up an acetylene torch, and a magnetic tip, plus a huge bonus: playing with fire! I ask my insurance agent about keeping an acetylene torch in my studio. Will my rates go up if I admit to this? Read on to find out!
Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.