Metalsmithing: Improve Your Soldering Control and Transition to Titanium Soldering Tools
Modern Materials To The Rescue
Until recently, soldering tools weren’t very high tech. Our ﬁrst soldering pick was made from a section of sharpened coat hanger and most clamping and binding was accomplished using soft iron binding or baling wire. The problem with using iron wire is that silver solder adheres to it, it rusts and corrodes when quenched in water, plus it softens or relaxes at soldering temperature.
Once stainless steel tools and binding wire were introduced, the rusting problems were eliminated. Stainless steel is so tough, though, it’s difficult to bend to bind and clamp, and when heated to soldering temperature the wire relaxes causing holding issues.
Along Comes Titanium, the Super Metal
Titanium is a metal that doesn’t rust or corrode and retains its strength at soldering temperatures. If that’s not enough the material is a poor conductor of heat so it won’t act as a heat sink during soldering operations. We soon found that titanium soldering picks and tweezers worked great for moving or placing pieces of metal or solder into the soldered joint. All without any worry about the soldering pick or tweezer being soldered to the joint.
Titanium is now generally accepted as the standard material for soldering picks. You can make your own soldering pick using titanium wire. Epoxy one end into a wood dowel, then sharpen the tip. [3/8" dia. X 4” lg. dowel]
Rumor has it that titanium bicycle spokes can be used as a solder pick. As yet we have been unsuccessful in our quest to acquire one for testing. Have any of you tried this? Please leave a comment below.
Titanium Soldering Clamps
Recently Knew Concepts began selling titanium strips and many jewelers have begun bending up their own soldering clamps.
We ordered some strips and made our own clamps to test and are very pleased with their performance. The titanium strips are also tough and hard to bend but they don’t relax at elevated temperatures so maintain their clamping force during soldering. The Knew Concepts website has links to video instructions as well as illustrations on how to form the strips.
The only drawback we found was, for some applications the strips are just too large and strong. Luckily we found that some of our titanium wire can also be used to fashion smaller clamps required for delicate pieces.
The wire clamps are very easy to make. Cut a length of the wire and bend it in half so it looks like a hair pin. Bend it in half again. Smooth up the ends so they don’t scratch.
Caution: DO NOT USE YOUR GOOD CUTTERS!
Titanium wire is so tough and hard it will nick and destroy the cutting edge of your good cutters. Order a cutter specifically designed for cutting hard materials, such as music or spring wire and dedicate it to this purpose.
Titanium Soldering Pins
The same titanium wire can also be used to make soldering pins. Push the pins into the surface of firebricks to hold parts in place during the soldering operation. These are very easy to make and use and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them. Titanium wire is available in several gauges from Rio Grande, 800.545.6566.
Dealing with the Heat
We recently found that cross-lock tweezers are now available in titanium. Cross-lock tweezers are great for moving, holding and clamping parts during soldering operations, plus they don’t act as a heat sink.
During some soldering operations, it’s necessary to place the flame under the metal in order to heat the heavier backplate without melting the thinner top parts, such as a bezel. One way to accomplish this is with a titanium trivet for enameling, made by Knew Concepts. Enamel, like silver solder will not stick to the titanium. Another way to get the flame under the bottom of the piece is to wind a coil of titanium wire and form it into a toroidal or donut shape. You can also use titanium strips formed in various shapes to raise the project. Any of these devices allows the flame access to the bottom plate for even heating.
Another interesting soldering tool is a titanium hold-down tripod ﬁxture, which we recently developed. This tool is set for publication in our Ask The Experts column in the August 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
We’ve eliminated all the iron, steel, and stainless steel from our soldering tools and we ﬁnd our soldering operations are now more efficient. In addition, cleanup is greatly reduced which makes us Happy Campers!
Tom & Kay
Tom & Kay Benham are Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and author its Ask the Experts column. Have a question for them? Please leave a comment below.