Basic Soldering Intro
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Basic Soldering Introduction

This is taken from a set of posts when everyone was jumping on the I-don't-want-to-glue-I-want-to-solder bandwagon.  Remember, if this is too overwhelming you don't have to go to this step.  Use JB Weld epoxy or other glues... and save this for another time.

Soldering has two main components.  At it's most basic...

  • The Soldering Iron is just a hot knife with a pointed tip at the end that gets veryyyyyyyyy hot.
  •   Solder is an "easy" to melt metal that will join two other pieces of metal.
  • Heat up the two pieces of metal where you want to join them. Then you touch the solder to the metal and it fuses... in theory anyway....

However... nothing is quite as easy as it sounds....


What is Solder, an Introduction

== by Hannah L.

I'm responding to this post in a general way because I am noticing a certain trend... Soldering problems! Personally, I really like soldering and it is the foundation for much of my art pieces! So, I would like to share some soldering tips with everyone so you will not feel intimidated or frustrated!

Disclaimer: I am not an expert, but I have a lot of experience and use soldering very often.

Solder Types

First of all, there are MANY types of solder. They are categorized as being hard or soft. This basically means that it melts at a high or low melting point respectively. The hard solders are generally used for jewelry making and with precious metals and are melted using a torch rather than an iron. The soft solders are what most of us are probably using as they have low melting points and can be melted with a soldering iron.

Since most of us are using the soft solders, I will exclusively talk about them rather than the hard solders.

Next of all, solder is made of different materials which specifically respects to melting point and flow as well as the material. Most solders contain lead with a combination of tin in different quantities. Lead has a low melting point, and so the more lead in the solder, the less heat is needed and the easier the solder will melt and flow. But the problem with solders with low melting points is that sometimes the solder joint is not strong enough. So solder with less lead and more tin is needed for strength as tin is stronger.

There are also solders which are lead-free. Since most of the objects we are making here are objects that will most likely be worn, lead- free solder is HIGHLY recommended.

The lead-free solders are usually composed of tin, and/or other metals or alloys such as copper, silver, antinomy (sp?), etc... These types of solders are used a lot  in plumbing when joining copper water pipes together. These solders can also be melted with a soldering iron and a very strong, but they do not melt and flow as easily, so heat must be applied longer.

The package and the spool of solder itself should list the components.  It will tell you if there is flux in the solder.  It will also mention if it has lead.  READ THE PACKAGE.


Now, there is more to soldering than just the solder and the metal you wish to join. There is also flux. Flux is a material that is applied to the metal to transfer the heat of the iron to the metal so that the solder will actually chemically bond with it. It is a catalyst in the reaction, so to say.

I'm sure many of you have not heard of flux or have used solder without flux and have had good joints. In reality, you are using flux without knowing it! A lot of the hobby and electronic solders are called "core solders" .  This means that in the solder is a core of rosin and flux! The rosin is there to keep the solder's integrity until it is melted.

There are also "solid solders" that do not have a core of flux so that flux must be externally applied to the metal joint.

There is another type of core solder you may encounter called "acid core". This is a lot like the rosin core except that the flux contains a certain acid. This type of solder/flux is used to bond metals that need a "little more encouragement" to bond.

The problem with the core solders with the flux inside is that if heat is left too long on the joint, the flux will burn off, and the solder will no longer flow or bond to the metal. This causes having to apply more solder which can cause it to just "lump" on the joint instead of flowing over the joint. It is much more effective to use solid solder and apply the flux to the joint. The solder will flow and bond much better!

If you use an external flux that you must apply yourself, make sure that it is lead free too.  Check the package.

Which metals to use?

Lastly, which metals can be soldered? Basically all metals can be soldered, but we are looking for a low melting point soft solder and a flux. With the soft solders and a zinc chloride flux (most common), these metals will bond very easily: copper, tin, and brass. These metals will NOT bond: Iron, stainless steel, steel, and aluminum. There are special solders/fluxes that will bond these, but some of the fluxes are a little more harsh and hazardous.

Are you overwhelmed yet? Well let me sum it up for you. You will find that most stores carry the solid core solder with the zinc chloride flux. If you are not sure, look on the package.

The best thing I found was in the plumbing dept, which was a combination pack of lead- free solder and flux. I've even seen this same pack at Wal-mart. This may be the best yet.

Clean your metal

Finally, Whenever you join metal, make sure that where you plan to join the metal is CLEAN. Use steel wool to get rid of the oxidation and other mess. Apply the flux with a brush and solder away, making sure you apply enough heat.

There is also some kinds of craftwire that have some kind of a metal coating (usually tin), but have a copper core. If the wire doesn't bond, just file off some of the coating, exposing the copper and the solder should bond.

Your Soldering Iron

While you can pick up a soldering iron for next to nothing, do buy the next level up.  Get one with changeable tips. 

Just for a soldering iron alone, changeable tips allow you to pick a very fine tip when you're doing fine detail work.  Normal work is done with the "standard" tip that is on some guns.

The screw-on tips give you extra versatility to do things like...

  • Etch leather (which can be done w/ a standard tip, but you can be fancier).
  • Hot knife - it's a screw in attachment that puts an Exacto blade at the end... and heats that puppy.  Good for plastic cutting.
  • Heat Set rhinestones - whole new use.  These setters screw in just like tips.  You can place one stone at a time, right where you want it.

== Cat


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This page was last updated 04/22/08