Copper Soldering Tutorial – Part 2

March 7, 2013

Today’s DIY: How to solder copper links with beads

If you like bead-embellished wire links, but wire wrapping is not your forte, then this is an excellent project for you!

See previous blog post for basic soldering instructions, including links to torches, soldering surfaces, basic tools and setup.

  1. When cutting or soldering, wear eye protection to protect your eyes from flying bits of wire or solder.
  2. Make a few coils: as many as you can comfortably fit on your ring-bending pliers, a suitable size of Wubbers bail-making pliers, or the fun new shapes of Wubbers mandrel pliers. For round links, I prefer ring-bending pliers for 20-22mm loops (3/4″ – 7/8″), and the X-Large bail-making pliers for 12mm and 15mm links.

    Making Loops with Ring Bending Pliers

    Coiling a few loops with Ring Bending Pliers

  3. Use flush cutters or a jewelers saw to carefully cut the copper wire — either all the same length, or various sizes. Cut carefully so you don’t have to do a bunch of filing or re-cutting. (For clean flush cuts, see tips at end of this blog.)

    Carefully cut loops of wire with flush ends

    Use flush cutters to carefully cut loops of wire with nice flat ends, so they align cleanly.

  4. Verify that your ends align precisely. Re-bend and re-cut if necessary. Solder does not fill gaps … click the image below to see what it will look like if you don’t line them up nicely:

    badly aligned soldered links

    The link on the left, is very badly aligned. It won’t solder at all. The link currently being soldered worked ok, but for a really professional join, you should not be able to see the opening that clearly. The left-most black link did not fully solder, because I didn’t notice I had too much of a gap. Sometimes this happens when I talk and demo!

  5. To embellish a link with a bead, rip off a small piece of paper towel and dip it in water. Wind the wet paper towel around the bead. 3-4 full wraps is good. Make sure the bead is completely hidden inside this wet paper towel, then push the bead to the far side of your link, as far away from the solder point as possible.

    Wrap bead 3-4 times with a wet paper towel.

    Wrap bead 3-4x with a wet paper towel.

  6. Begin heating the wire on both sides of the spot to be joined. Have the solder ready in your other hand, and when the wire begins to glow on both sides of the join, move the flame to the join spot, touch the solder to the join, and it should instantly flow. (Practice makes perfect.)
    You can line up a few links, and solder them one after another, then use fiber-grip steel tweezers to pick them up so you can quench the heat in a cup of cool water.

    Torch Soldering Copper Links

    Link 1. (Click image to zoom.) When soldering each link, be careful to keep the paper and any previously-soldered links at the far side of the current link, away from the torch flame. If you need to adjust anything, use your titanium soldering pick or steel tweezers … NOT your fingers!


    Link 2.

    Soldering Link 3

    Link 3. (Click to zoom.)

    Steel food can used for quenching freshly soldered items.

    Quench (use steel tweezers to drop into a container of cool water).

  7. If the paper begins to burn or smoke before your solder flows – Stop! Let everything cool off (use steel tweezers to pick it all up and drop it into a pot of cool water for a few seconds), get a new piece of paper, re-wet it, and try again. Blackening paper is a sign that your bead is about to get too hot. Shattered hot beads are no fun (you are wearing eye protection, right?). If you’re careful, you can use this method to solder links with most materials: glass, ceramic, precious metal, gemstone and even pearl beads!
  8. When you’re done with a link, or a few links, quench: Using steel tweezers, pick up the hot links and drop them into cool water for a few seconds.
  9. You might prefer to solder your links off the edge of the soldering block. I stacked my magnesia soldering block on top of my ceramic fire block to provide a bit more distance between my flame and the baking-sheet-covered tabletop, and found that small links heated faster and more evenly. This placement made it easier to solder jump rings when attaching a clasp.
    Soldering a beaded link at the edge of the block.

    Soldering a beaded link at the edge of the block.

    Soldering the clasp at the edge of the solder block

    Soldering the clasp at the edge of the solder block.

  10. I would give you some tips on making your own copper toggle clasps … but based on my first two (which are NOT shown here) … I’d better recommend these solid-copper toggle clasps instead.
  11. When using a toggle clasp, keep in mind that the bar end needs a few small links between it and the rest of your bracelet, to make sure you can get the bar into (and back out of) the loop portion of the toggle. Use pre-made solid (raw) copper jump rings, or make your own of any size. Test to make sure you can open and close the toggle BEFORE you solder the links shut!
  12. When the design is done, I like to hammer each link with a chasing hammer or small ballpein hammer. 3 reasons: I like the look of hammered copper, it helps disguise my occasional extra-blobby solder join, and it work-hardens the wire — you will notice these links are very soft and bendable after being heated.
    Caution: Copper solder seems a bit more brittle than silver solder (I assume this is due to the phosphorous). So if you attempt to re-shape a solder join when hammering, you are likely to break the piece right at the join. Don’t worry — just re-solder it! Odds are, you won’t even need to add more solder. Just line it up nicely, wrap any beads with wet paper towel, position the broken join near you on the block, pull all the other parts as far to the back as possible, and re-heat the wire on both sides of the join. Wave the flame back and forth on the wire until the solder flows smoothly where you want it.

    Hammering a link on a steel block

    Using a chasing hammer to texture a soldered copper link on a steel block

  13. To clean the finished design, drop it in a pickle pot for a few minutes, or tumble it with steel shot and a few drops of ShineBrite for 2-3 hours.
    Note: Not all beads can tolerate tumbling or pickling, but most can tolerate both! If in doubt, test a single bead for the full amount of time before soldering a whole strand.

    The earring on the left is ready to be tumbled. The earring on the right has been tumbled for about 2 hours. It still has a few black spots and could use a little more time in the tumbler.

    The earring on the left is ready to toss in. The earring on the right has been tumbled for about 2 hours; it still has a few black spots and could use another hour in the tumbler. (Click to zoom.)

For basic information about copper solder, refer to previous Blog Post: I Love Copper Solder!

Both of these copper bracelets were tumble polished for about 2.5 hours:

Soldered Copper bracelet with aventurine beads

Finished bracelet made of 6mm large-hole aventurine beads and 18-gauge copper wire.

Bracelet - Soldered Copper Links with Fancy Jasper Beads

Finished bracelet made of 8mm large-hole Fancy Jasper and 16-gauge copper wire. All links soldered with copper solder.

Tips for efficiently cutting wire with straight ends:

For an absolutely perfect cut, use a jewelers saw (do a quick search for tutorials on making your own jump rings). At the moment, I don’t have a good space for sawing, so here’s how to get good joins using flush cutters:

  1. Use a good pair of flush cutters, like these Lindstrom or Xuron flush cutters, and pay attention to the angle — hold the blades perpendicular (90 degrees) to the end of the wire.
    Flush cutters - front/outside

    This side of the pliers cuts a nice straight (flush) cut.

    Flush cutters - other side

    The opposite side (or “inside”) of the flush cutters leaves a bit of “v” shape on the end of the wire.

  2. Do a few practice cuts. Notice that the outside of your cutters gives you a nice straight (flush) cut, and the piece of wire that was on the inside of the cutter blades has a “v” shape. If both sides of the cut have a “v” shape (see below), then they aren’t the right type of cutters, and it’s time to invest in a good new set.

    Good and bad flush cuts

    The top wire is poorly cut.
    The bottom wire has flat (flush) ends.

  3. To cut matching links, trim off the “v” portion, then for the 2nd cut, position your cutters at the other end of the coil (or flat piece of wire, if you haven’t coiled it yet), so both ends of this new piece of wire will be flush (flat). This gives you a “v” on the spool end again, so keep repeating this process for perfectly matching links.
  4. If you forget, and the end of your new link receives a “v”, simply snip the “v” off and you now have a slightly shorter link — this is probably fine for a bracelet or necklace (or a design made of random-size links), but not so good for matching earrings.

Questions? I’m happy to answer them! ~Polly

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  • Ginger April 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Hi, I was wondering if this copper solder will take the Liver of Sulfur patina the same way that copper sheet does. Thanks! 🙂

    • Polly April 23, 2013 at 8:10 am

      Hi Ginger,
      Yes, it does. I tested one of my bracelets just a moment ago with the Liver of Sulfur XL gel, and the whole thing antiqued nicely, solder joints and unsoldered portions.

  • Ginger April 25, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    That’s great! I’m going to order some right away! Thanks for testing it for me! 🙂

  • Polly May 4, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Thank you Polly for the great, brief instruction on copper soldering. I am new to wire work and your blog addressed my questions and then some.
    I have to admit I was a little startled when I saw my name at the end of your article given I haven’t run across many women with this spelling.
    Have a great day and thanks again! Polly 🙂

    • Polly May 5, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Polly, I’m happy I answered your questions. And thanks for posting. Admittedly it does feel a bit odd to be addressing a note to Polly and signing it the same way! I don’t run across many either. ~Polly

  • Marlena June 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Congratulations to you on this tutorial. It is the best I’ve come across on soldering copper. You touched on all details and I can’t wait to start on my copper bangle.

  • Jane April 15, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    This is one of the best copper soldering, with a bead, tutorials I have seen. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Polly April 18, 2018 at 8:57 am

      Thanks! This was a lot of fun. I should do it with sterling silver or fine silver sometime soon…