Introduction: How to Solder (for Jewelry Purposes)

About: I'm a metalsmith and jeweler and I run my own small jewelry business. I work primarily in sterling silver, copper, brass, enamel, and occasionally beads, semi-precious stones, and found objects. I'm also a fo…
This instructable will demonstrate how to solder sterling silver rings using a torch, silver solder, and various other tools to create a pair of sterling silver earrings. How about making your friend or loved one a custom pair of sterling silver earrings!

**Warning, if you are reading this to try and learn how to solder for computer circuits, read no further. Soldering jewelry involves an open flame torch and temperatures up to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 930 degrees Celsius. This will very likely destroy any circuitry that you attempt to use this technique on. Unless, of course, you intend to destroy said circuits, then by all means, read on.***

The next page will include a list of tools and materials you will need for this project.

Step 1: Materials List

Here is a list of tools and materials that you will need for this project:

  • Sterling silver wire or jump rings
  • A torch. The one I am using is a small butane powered plumbers torch by Ronson which I got for about $30 at Walmart. Butane refills are about $2 each and fill it up almost twice.
  • A soldering pick. I got mine in a set from Home Depot for about $5, but just about any kind of long thin steel rod will work.
  • Borax Flux. You may need to look for a specialty store or order this online.
  • Silver Solder. Silver solder is an alloy of silver, copper, and sometimes a little zinc. It comes in three main grades - Hard, Medium, and Easy. Hard melts at the highest temperature, Easy at the lowest. For this Instructable, I used Medium as my torch is a bit small to melt Hard very quickly. If you have a larger torch you might want to start with Hard, then use Medium on your second solder joints to prevent reflowing your Hard solder and loosing the connection. You will probably have to order this online or over the phone from a precious metals supplier.
  • Wire cutters. Use these to snip the silver solder into small pieces.
  • Tweezers. You may want these to hold something in place while soldering. Good ones have wooden grips so that they don't burn your fingers during extended soldering.
  • Pickle. No, not the food. Pickle is a weak acid that is used to dissolve oxides and flux from the metal after soldering. Basically it makes the metal really clean by eating away all the dirty stuff. Also, never put anything made of steel in the pickle. The steel reacts with the pickle, making it so that the pickle will copper plate your silver. It's a weak acid, but it's still an acid, so if it gets on your clothes it will bleach or eat holes though them, and you should wash it off if it gets on your skin, and be especially careful to keep it out of your eyes.  Update: I've heard some people use citric acid or a salt & vinegar solution instead of the acid pickle you can order from jewelry supply stores. I've never tried these methods myself, but they seem like cheap and easy options for beginners so I thought I'd list them.
  • Some kind of plastic/ceramic container to put the pickle in. I just used a old Tupperware container. You can't use metal, especially steel.
  • Earring hooks to attach to your earrings to make them dangly.
  • A short length of thin copper wire. Use this to dip your silver in the pickle. Never put steel in the pickle.

Optional tools or materials you may want:

  • Sandpaper - Use this to clean up your solder seams. I prefer 320 or 400 grit, but these will not leave a high polish.
  • A polished hammer and anvil. You can hammer the silver to flatten, harden, and planish it a little bit instead of sanding, saving a lot of time. Planished silver is shinier than sanded silver, but you can't use a regular hammer for this because if there are any marks in the hammer face, those marks will transfer to the silver. The same applies to the anvil.
  • If you're looking to save some money, or you want to practice with something less expensive than sterling silver, these techniques can also be applied to copper or brass wire and sheet as well. Just remember that if you use silver solder on copper or brass, the silver will show up against the brown or yellow of the other metals.

Most of these tools or materials can be ordered online, from companies such as the ones below: - Hauser and Miller supplies precious metal materials such as Sterling silver wire and silver solder. They have low minimum purchase requirements, and their shipping is fairly low too. Their selection is somewhat small though. - Another good site for raw silver materials such as wire and solder. - Rio Grande can supply you with pretty much everything you'll need for this project. The only problem with them is that they have some high minimum purchase requirements for raw materials, such as silver wire or solder, and they also have high fabrication fees. They do however, have an enormous selection. This would be a good place to find flux, pickle, sterling components such as ear posts or hooks, etc. You can also purchase tools from them such as hammers, small anvils, soldering tweezers, and torches. - I've never ordered from them before but I hear their prices are pretty good and they seem to have a decent selection of things like raw materials and findings.

While I am by no means saying you must order your materials from one of these sites, several of them I have used previously and not had any major problems with them. If you prefer to do your own research, these sites may be a good starting place to compare prices, although for most silver items the price fluctuates daily with the precious metals market, so the best way to check prices on silver items is to call the company and ask for a price check.

Step 2: Prepare to Solder!

Ok, now that you have your tools and other materials, it's time to lay everything out to solder.

Cut your solder into tiny chips, like the size shown on the penny. You don't want a lot, otherwise you'll have more to clean up.

Lay your silver rings or wire onto the kiln brick and push the parts you want to solder together until they're touching. Sometimes using your tweezers or soldering pick to move things around can be helpful.

Mix a little water in with the flux until its a watery paste, and use the paint brush to apply dabs of flux to the joints you intend to solder.

Using your tweezers or damp paintbrush, pick up the solder chips and place them on the fluxed solder seams.

Double check that everything is where you want it to be before picking up your torch.

Check and make sure that the torch is set to high flame, so that it will be hot enough to melt the silver solder.

Ok, time to start soldering!

Step 3: Start Soldering!

Make sure your workspace is clear of paper towels and other flammable objects, then turn on your torch.

You'll want to start heating the metal from a distance. If your flux is still wet when you start heating it, it will boil, so you want to heat it gently from a distance (and a slightly cooler temperature) so that the solder chips don't get pushed of the seam by the bubbling flux.

If your solder does jump off during heating, then use your solder pick or tweezers to reposition it, while continuing to keep the piece gently heated.

Once the flux is dry, it will start to turn hard and crusty. This is stage one.

After stage one, the flux will turn clear and melty, like a liquid, this means that your silver is approaching the temperature needed to melt the solder.

You want to keep the entire piece heated evenly. Metal is a good conductor, so if one part of your piece is really hot, and the other side isn't getting heated as well, the heat will flow through the metal to the other side, and it will be much more difficult to get the whole piece hot enough to flow the solder. Use a gentle circular motion to make sure that all pieces of metal are evenly heated.

Here's a video I made showing how to move the torch around, how close to get, and how to reposition solder.

As your flux starts to turn clear, start moving the flame closer so that more heat is applied to the metal. Just before the solder flows, it will slump, kind of like in Terminator 2 when T-1000 was shattered and frozen on the ground, slowly melting.

When it melts, it will happen fast, and the solder will spread onto any metal it is touching. If your two pieces of silver have moved apart, push them back together while the solder is still melted, and they should join. Use your solder pick or tweezers to do this.

Repeat these steps on the other earring, and when all the solder seams have been flowed, turn off the torch and let them cool a bit.

Then, put them on a length of copper wire, and drop that in the pickle. You can also use a toothpick or other wooden object in the pickle, or copper tweezers (you can buy special copper tongs for working with pickle). Bamboo tongs would work as well.

Step 4: Check Your Work!

Once your metal in the pickle looks silver again, take it out, rinse it off, and take a look at the solder seams. If your solder did not flow into a joint, re-flux and add more solder, and try to reflow it again. This is a common problem, so don't worry if it happens to you.

Once you have a pair of well soldered earrings, you may wish to sand the solder seams to make them smoother, or hammer the earring flat (also making the joints smoother).

Once you've polished the earrings to your liking, attach them to the hooks with some smaller jump rings. Open your jump rings by twisting them apart, not by pulling them.

Not like this: <-- O -->

Pulling a jump ring apart deforms it, and it is hard to make it perfectly round again. Twisting the ring makes it easy to twist back into place.

Once it's polished and has the hook attached, you're done! Put them in a pretty box and give them to someone special, or keep them for yourself!

Step 5: A Little More Information...

If you want to use posts on your earrings, you will want to solder them in place before polishing. Do this by putting a piece of solder where you want the post to go, hold the post in your tweezers, then heat the solder until it slumps and stick the post right on top of it, while continuing to heat the whole piece and post. The solder should flow and attach the post to the metal.

The picture on this page is a pair of copper wire earrings that I soldered together, then blackened to help hide the solder seams. Copper in its natural state will slowly tarnish to a brown color, but if you want to keep it shiny, spray it with a clear lacquer or polyurethane. Silver will also tarnish, but it is much easier to polish back to shiny silver so I usually do not use lacquer on it.

Using a variety of pliers (round nose, needle nose, etc) you can create many interesting shapes that can be soldered together. Soldered jewelry is more sturdy than wire wrapped jewelry as it can not come undone or pulled apart unless it is broken. Use soldering to create interesting chains for bracelets, necklaces, or many types of earrings.
Good luck and let me know how your soldering experiments turn out!
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