Solder Alternative Metals with a Micro Torch: Soldering Copper, Brass, and Nickel
Let’s start by discussing the type of “alternative” metals that we are going to solder. We are soldering “nonferrous” metals, meaning that all of these metals belong to the same iron-free family and therefore can be treated the same way when used for making jewelry. Specifically I am soldering copper, brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) and nickel (an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc). See the common thread with these metals? Yep, it’s copper. Think of these metals as a bunch of cousins belonging to the same family but with very distinct personalities.
If you have worked with sterling silver in jewelry making before, you’ll see that copper, brass, and nickel act in a similar manner due to their copper content. The Max Flame torch from our previous article is the one I use with alternative metals since it has a bigger flame. It is perfect for them. It’s hard to melt them with the torch since they have higher melting points than sterling silver and are easily cut, filed, and shaped. They are less expensive than sterling, making these metals perfect for beginners.
There are three different types of solder that I choose from when I am soldering these metals, and the great news is that they all contain flux, so there is just one easy and simple step to apply.
Silver Paste Solder
First I would like to introduce you to silver solder paste, a powdered metal solder suspended in a thick paste flux that is convenient for simple soldering applications including jump rings, since it stays put and is easy and quick to apply. It is hard to control where solder paste flows, so special attention must be paid to the amount applied and where it is placed. Silver solder paste comes in three melting points, easy, medium, and hard–just like regular silver sheet or wire solder.
I apply the solder paste in small amounts (about the size of a size 11 seed bead) on the piece to be soldered using a titanium solder pick. Then I solder as usual. The solder line is silver, but a few swipes with a file or sandpaper and the seam just disappears right into the metal, and the silver solder is no longer visible. I use this solder on copper, brass, and nickel as well as sterling silver. I just love it!
Brass Paste Solder
Next up is another paste solder. This time it’s brass. It comes in one flow point, so it’s perfect for soldering pieces that just have a single step. It melts to a perfect match for brass. Clean and polish just as you would when you use silver solder.
Copper Wire Solder
Finally let me introduce you to copper wire solder. Remember these all contain flux, so copper wire solder is also ready to use. It comes in one flow point, so again it is perfect for soldering single-step copper pieces. I cut the solder wire using special solder cutting pliers, but you can snip it with a regular wire cutter, too. Cut 1/16″ pieces and place along the seam. Fire up your torch and you are ready to go. The solder flows to a perfect match for copper.
Whatever alternative metals you choose to work with you’ll find a perfect match with these three solders! —Kate
Learn more from Kate Richbourg with her instructional resources in the Interweave Store!