I’ve played around with soft soldering techniques off and on through the years, but I’d never been motivated to really dig into this accessible, alternative soldering technique. When the book Soldered Alchemy from Laura Beth Love was published, I had all kinds of motivation–24 projects worth, to be exact!
If you aren’t familiar with soft soldering, there are some things you need to know up front.
First, there is no flame! No torch! You use low-temp, lead-free, soft solder wire with a flameless soldering iron like those used in stained glass. The low temps mean you can soft solder anywhere–at your kitchen table, on your back porch, even in the park if you get a cordless soldering iron. (Plein air jewelry making, anyone?)
Note: Soft soldering isn’t intended to join two pieces of metal together like traditional soldering. It creates forms from wire and decorative metal effects on various objects.
Here are six introductory bits of info about soft-solder jewelry making, excerpted from Laura Beth’s Soldered Alchemy book–along with a little eye candy so you can see how versatile and neat-o this technique is!
6 Soft Soldering Tips
1. Soft solder is the silver alloy metal that you can melt and shape with a soldering iron to create a bezel around an object as well as to coat and fill the wires in jewelry projects.
2. Solder will only adhere to copper foil and copper and silver wires; it doesn’t adhere to glass, stones, pearls or ceramic china shards. To solder these surfaces, you will create a copper foil or a foil-and-wire frame around them.
3. Use a high-quality soldering iron (at least 100 watts) with a separate rheostat control. A rheostat controls the electrical current, allowing you to adjust the temperature of your soldering iron for different decorative soldering effects. This might be one of the trickiest parts about soldering. and it’s another thing that simply takes persistence, patience and practice. If your rheostat temperature is too high, the solder will not hold its shape and will melt from your project. If your temperature is too low, your solder will form sharp points and peaks.
4. For decorative soldering techniques, such as raised droplets, it is easier to have a smaller iron tip that allows you to pick up smaller amounts of solder with greater precision. But it is possible to create decorative soldering effects with a standard soldering iron tip; it just takes more practice.
5. Keep your soldering iron tip clean and shiny. Another essential item for your soldering setup is a block of sal ammoniac. This is used to clean and tin the tip of your soldering iron. If you find that solder refuses to stick to your iron tip, it probably needs to be re-tinned. Brush a small amount of flux onto the sal ammoniac block and gently rub the hot soldering iron tip against the block where you applied the flux. Then pick up some solder with the hot tip. The solder should coat your soldering iron tip and make it shiny. Tin your soldering iron tip after each soldering session, before you turn your iron off, to ready it for the next time you use it. Note: The process of tinning your tip with the sal ammoniac will create hazardous fumes, so only do this in a well-ventilated area or outside.
6. Several brands of lead-free solder on the market are suitable for jewelry making. Some, like Silvergleem, contain a small amount of silver. For safety purposes, use only lead-free solder for creating jewelry.
“When you work with a particular material for so long, you get to know it the way you would a close friend,” Laura writes. “Through much experimentation and jewelry play, I found that by combining two common jewelry techniques–wire wrapping and soft soldering–something magical happens. When combined, wire and soft solder create an entirely new jewelry technique, the end result of which has an alluring look and feel unlike any other, hence the alchemy.”
Soldered Alchemy also covers related topics like tinning (“the process of coating a metal object, either a wire or the soldering tip, with solder”), “bridging” wires with molten soft solder to create solid surfaces, adding patinas to soft-solder projects, using copper foil tape to wrap and incorporate broken china, sea glass, and similar items in your soft-solder jewelry designs, and decorative soldering.
In addition to all of the above from Soldered Alchemy, you’ll also get a tutorial (or reminder) on how to make wire findings like ear wires, clasps, and cord ends so that your soft-solder jewelry pieces can be truly handmade. There are lessons on wire wrapping, burnishing, making unique handmade chain, incorporating gemstone beads in your jewelry, and more, so even beginning jewelry makers can get up to speed quickly and make the beautiful soft-solder jewelry projects in this book–using tools and supplies you can get at the local hardware store! Order your copy of Soldered Alchemy by Laura Beth Love now!
Master soft soldering jewelry and more from Laura Beth Love, in books and videos!