How to solder custom frame pendants
Solder is a confusing topic. There are two completely different soldering methods used in jewelry making, yet people rarely explain which type they’re talking about – much the way people say they spent the weekend simply “at the lake.” (If they are your friends, you do know which lake … and hopefully this post will help you make friends with solder!)
Solder is a metal alloy that is melted to connect or coat metal pieces. I think of it as hot metal glue. Soldering is the act of melting and applying solder. The two soldering methods are:
- Soldering with a torch. Often called hard soldering, brazing or silver soldering, although copper, brass, gold and other metals can be torch soldered. There are different grades of hard solder (which melt at different temperatures, and just to confuse things further, are called soft, medium and hard). We’ll talk more about this type of soldering in a future post.
- Soldering with a soldering iron. This is often referred to as soft soldering, and is used with base metals (like pewter) and plated metals. The solder is made mostly of tin and has a (relatively) low melting temperature. Never use a soldering iron with precious metal jewelry: it will ruin the jewelry.
Therefore, if jewelry is made of silver or gold, it has to be torch soldered. Successful soldering requires heating the metal pieces, not just melting the solder, so if the piece is very large or thick, it’s probably torch soldered as well. Now that you know the general soldering landscape, we are ready to jump into Lake Soldering Iron!
First off, not all soldering irons are created equal. There are many varieties on the market and most were not designed for jewelry making. The two most important things to look for are tip style and wattage. We recommend a 60-watt chisel-tip soldering iron. The pointy tip irons are designed for tiny electronics like circuit boards and are of little use for jewelry, other than sealing jump rings. Lower than 60 watts might not heat up enough. Simply Swank’s soldering iron and the 60w Hakko soldering iron meet both requirements!
Next, the solder itself. It is important to use lead-free solid-core solder. Avoid solders that have rosin or acid cores. Rings & Things sells Choice, SILVERGLEEM, and Staybrite silver solder. All 3 work great with soldering irons; Staybrite is more expensive because of its higher silver content.
Third, flux. All solder requires flux in order to melt and flow. Flux is included with the Staybrite solder. Simply Swank’s flux is sold separately and packaged in a super convenient nail-polish bottle. LA-CO Brite flux is a larger 6oz package, and is designed to be dripped or brushed onto your project.
Simply Swank’s full video tutorial for making jewelry is available on DVD (Ed. note: It’s a good dvd, but there are just a few left … Simply Swank is no longer in business). Here is my condensed version of the process:
Sandwich images between 2 pieces of glass and wrap edges with copper foil tape. Burnish smooth.
Clean with alcohol to remove any oils from your fingers – a clean surface is the best soldering surface!
Apply flux to the copper tape. Touch your hot soldering iron to the solder to pick up a blob, and run the iron over the copper tape. Repeat. Repeat. Completely cover the copper tape with solder. If it looks lumpy, run the iron across the bumps to remelt the solder and smooth it out. Be sure to clean your soldering iron’s tip frequently. If the solder isn’t flowing, either the tip is dirty, your piece is dirty, you need more flux or you aren’t heating the piece sufficiently. Clips, clothespins or a third hand are all helpful tools for holding your piece while protecting your fingers.
Add a blob of solder to the point where you’d like to attach your jump ring. Use pliers to hold the jump ring on the blob, and reheat with the iron to secure it in place. File any rough edges, buff with a polishing cloth, and you’re done!
Making soldered pendants is totally addictive. Microscope slide glass is an affordable way to indulge your pendant-making habit. When I saw this ad for Sharktopus (an actual movie!) I had to preserve it within a frame.
My solder isn’t completely smooth, but it isn’t too bad for a first attempt. Now that I know how to care for the soldering iron (thanks Simply Swank) I’m sure my next will be better! And don’t worry – there are no evil sea monsters lurking in Lake Soldering Iron. Come play! ~ Cindy
Editor’s Note — Please see the
UPDATED How to Solder Glass Pendants
blog article, which replaces
Simply Swank links.