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Monday, 21 February 2011

New tools!

Anyone who is a fan of my facebook page will know that I recently decided it was time to learn how to solder my jewelry. When I'm sketching out new designs I am constantly limited by shapes which can be connected together through wire wrapping. Sometimes this is actually a good thing because it forces me to think harder about my designs and often allows me to think of more different ones. However there are other times when I can picture a really beautiful shape in my mind and know that there is no way I can actually make it because it wouldn't hold together or wouldn't be rigid enough.

My shiny new butane torch :)

I started by investigating the equipment I would need. The main item is a butane torch, used to heat the solder until it melts. While I could order one for $80 from my bead supplier I decided to investigate the prices from other sources and I was glad I did. In the end I found one for $30 on and there were several cheaper ones which would have worked too, I decided to pay a little extra for one with a stand. The most important thing to consider is the maximum temperature the flame will reach - torches designed for creme brulee don't reach high enough temperatures for soldering.

Obviously several more pieces of equipment are needed to solder safely and effectively. These were much harder to acquire. None of the suppliers I have used for beads and other jewelry tools had them and neither did Amazon. I did a google search and managed to find several companies selling the right stuff. Comparing prices was complicated because I had to take into account shipping and sometimes the products weren't exactly the same. After filling my shopping cart with the items I would need from 3 of the stores and then going through checkout until I reached shipping I discovered that Rio Grande was my cheapest option.

A heat-proof board of some kind is very important to avoid damaging or burning your work surface and it turns out these can be made from several different materials. I took the time to read up on the different types but still didn't manage to draw any conclusions so I bought the cheapest one.

Most of my jewelry is copper or silver and I couldn't find any copper coloured solder so I bought silver solder to use for both. It comes in 3 different melting points and I got 'easy' - the lowest melting point type.

Flux (used to help the solder flow where you want it) also comes in so many different forms, some of which have to be mixed with water, some already a gel or liquid. I went for 'ready flux' which is liquid.

I decided to make my own pickle (used to dissolve impurities after the soldering is complete). There are several different recipes on the internet but I couldn't find allum in the supermarket so I went with a vinegar and salt mixture: 8 parts distilled white vinegar to 1 part salt with some water. Even though I heated the vinegar to boiling before adding the salt, most of it didn't dissolve but the pickle seems to be working fine anyway.

Of course as soon as all my equipment arrived I had to test it out! I prepared a project while I was waiting for the items to arrive so it was all ready to go and I watched several videos on youtube, which were easily enough to give me a good idea of what I was doing. I found this video to be the most useful and comprehensive.

Of course I couldn't start with practice projects, that's not me! I had to dive straight in with a really important piece and I want to share that with you in a future post so keep an eye out to find out what it was!

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