The Top 10 Tools You Need to Solder Sterling Silver!
Soldering sterling silver is so much fun! Plus you’ll find you can create much more unique jewelry, which will make your handcrafted pieces stand out from the others!
1. Soldering Board
Setting up for soldering requires a heat-safe surface. Safety is key… make sure you have the proper surface! I use 2 stainless steel wire mesh stacking kiln shelves with 1 soft fiber kiln shelf on top. I find it easier to use these shelves as they don’t leave black marks on my hands and tools like the typical soldering charcoal block, plus they double as my kiln shelves and don’t take up much room. I purchased my shelves from Metal Clay Supply for a mere $6 – $9 per piece.
Another, more traditional, option is a soldering fire brick. It’s great for soldering sterling silver plates, fine silver head pins, or your PMC pieces!
2. Sterling Silver
If you’re going to solder sterling silver, you need some sterling
silver! For most of my ear wires and jump rings, I use round sterling
silver wire, 20 gauge. I purchase my silver wire from many places, usually I hunt around for whoever has the best deal the day I’m ordering. Artbeads, CoolTools, RioGrande or even on Amazon. You can usually purchase 1/2 ounce spools of wire, or by the foot if you’re just starting out and need to keep your costs down.
3. Silver Solder and Flux
In wanting to keep my process simple and cost efficient, I’ve found a marvelous product that includes both solder and flux, silver solder paste. I started out using “easy” paste, which melts at a lower temperature and will be all you need to solder 20 gauge wire. I usually purchase my silver solder paste in 1/2 ounce tubes. Only using a tiny pea-size blob on each soldered joint, this stuff goes a long way! This paste is so easy to use, and doesn’t create a mess when soldering. Plus you don’t have to add a separate flux when you’re soldering, which makes it that much easier!
4. Torch and Fuel
You need a heat source to solder silver. I use a butane torch with refillable butane fuel which can handle your smaller soldering needs when you’re first starting out, such as ear wires and jump rings. I chose the smallest torch I could find when I first started out (called a pencil torch) as it was easier for me to handle, lightweight and easy to store. Not to mention I was nervous to purposefully start an open flame in my house, but with some practice and my kitchen extinguisher close by, I lost my fear rather quickly. I purchased a bit larger butane torch after some frustration with my small pencil torch and I’m happy to say the upgrade has proved very useful.
5 & 6. Fire Coat: Boric Acid & Denatured Alcohol
Before soldering, you need to prep your silver as to not allow any “burns” on your metal. I use a half and half mixture of boric acid and denatured alcohol in a glass jar with an air-tight lid. (Caution: flamable! So keep that lid on tight when not in use!) Using metal tweezers, simply swish your silver in the fire coat, then flame off with a lighter or match. I purchase boric acid (powder form) from Cooltools for $6 per 4 ounce jar, and denatured alcohol from Walmart $5 (in the paint thinnner section). Ps… Keep a fan running in your studio when fire coating and soldering so as not to inhale any fumes.
7. Lighter or Matches
I use a fireplace or a camping lighter to flame off the fire coat while prepping my silver. You can use a striker to light your torch flame if you’re using a traditional jeweler’s torch or if your butane torch does not have a built in lighter or ignition.
Tweezers come in very handy when soldering, they help you hold your silver pieces in place when they’re too hot to handle. I chose to work with cross-locking fiber grip steel tweezers as they offer a heat-resistant grip and a curved tip, which makes picking up silver pieces off my soldering board a bit easier. Plus, I really enjoy the cross-locking feature because I don’t have to keep a steady “squeeze” on the handle. I love these!
9. Silver Prep or Pickle
After soldering your sterling silver, you’ll need to remove the oxidation (darkening) that’s left behind on your pieces in order to make your sterling silver shine. I use Silver Prep (powder form) from Cooltools for $8 for an 8 ounce jar. I enjoy using this pickle mix as it is natural and non-toxic! Using 1 tablespoon per 1 cup distilled water (this powder goes a long way). Heat distilled water in a small cooking crockpot that you’ll use only for your silver prep pickle mix… don’t cook food in this pot after pickling! After pickling, your silver can be polished to a nice shine.
10. Steel Block and Hammer
Anytime during your soldering process, if you want to flatten any part of your silver, you’ll need a steel block and a small hammer. I found my steel bench block (4″ x 4″ x 3/4″) for $19, (and I think they’re actually cheaper now.) You can purchase larger blocks for more. If you’re wanting to shape your silver into rings, bracelets, or necklaces, you’ll need steel mandrels for each, which can run from $20 on up.
Thanks for checking out the top 10 soldering tools I can’t live without!
Now… Go try it for yourself and let me know with a comment below the tools you love and how they’re assisting your creations!
Got any tips for tools that I missed in this list and should have shared? Please let leave a comment below and let us in on your knowledge!