Soldering

Soldering is the normal method for connecting copper plumbing pipes. This is a very different thing than the sort of soldering done on electronic circuits with small soldering irons. Heavy duty soldering of large metal parts requires flame, and sometimes a lot of it.

You will need those safety goggles! Hot solder and corrosive fluxes can spatter alarming distances. Since you will be handling hot metal, a pair of good quality leather workshop or welding gloves is a very good idea. Metal stays very hot for a long time, and a piece that has been sitting for several minutes may still be hot enough to give you a nasty burn. The wet rag test works well - before touching anything that has been near a flame, touch it first with a wet rag. If it sizzles, then so would you if you touched it with your bare hand! Another good idea is to keep a pail of water in the workshop. When you have soldered a piece together, leave it to cool in air for a minute or so (sudden cooling of solder weakens the joint), then bring the whole thing to a temperature you can safely handle by plunging it into the water. This will be a good opportunity to give it a good scrub to remove excess flux.

To solder large items, you will need a hand-held butane or propane torch. For silver soldering and brazing, a set with a separate oxygen tank makes a MUCH hotter flame. You need solder and flux, and the only kind you should get is lead-free! Flux is a paste that you paint on the surfaces to be soldered. It dissolves the oxides that form a barrier between the solder and the metal. There will be a warning on the container, but it bears repeating here: treat plumbing soldering flux with respect! It is acidic and corrosive. Wash it off your work when you finish soldering, and wash yourself carefully if you get it on your skin.

A useful tool is an old fashioned soldering iron - a large block of copper that you heat up in the flame and which holds a great deal of heat. We didn't include this in the original list of tools as most jobs can be easily done without its help, but it can be very useful when soldering small parts. Don't even think of an electric soldering iron for electronic circuits. It can't generate nearly enough heat.

Solder is not capable of filling large gaps or voids. Pieces to be soldered should fit together snugly, so melted solder can flow into the joint by capillary action. Clean the surfaces to be joined with a wire brush and/or emery paper, then paint with plumbing soldering flux and assemble the joint. Heat until the solder melts on touching the hot metal. NEVER melt the solder directly in the flame. If the metal is hot enough to melt the solder, then the solder will run freely and be rapidly sucked in to coat and join the flux prepared surfaces. As the solder is being sucked in, play the flame on the part towards which the solder is flowing. This will help it along its way and ensure a sound joint. Afterwards, wire brush and wash the soldered joint thoroughly to remove all traces of flux that may remain.

There may be times when it is difficult to assemble parts so they hold together on their own as you solder them. This is especially true with small parts. In these cases, you can apply solder to the separate surfaces first (a process called tinning), then clamp or wire the parts together, and apply heat to re-melt the solder and create the joint.

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