What soldering equipment do I need?

Learning how to solder is wonderful!
It opens up a whole new world of jewellery making
and it is something that you can set up easier, and most importantly, safely at home.

In this blog post I'm going to show you my soldering set up in my studio and the equipment I use with my students.

This is my soldering area - a bit bigger than you need, but then remember that I usually have  students with me so we need room to move! At most I will have 4 students soldering around the table, with two soldering stations on each side of  the table, fewer at any one time if they are beginners. The fifth space at the front of the picture is my space for demonstrating, and I'm the only one soldering then.

It's actually looking quite clean and tidy for it's photoshoot - soldering isn't exactly the cleanest part of making  jewellery!

First of all, the table itself. It is important that you solder at a height that allows you to get a good view of your jewellery as it is being soldered without having to hunch over it. Some people like to have a soldering station set up on one side of their jewellery bench and tend to solder while seated. I prefer to keep things a bit more separate and have a table at which I stand. As such, I have a taller, workbench-style table. I've used two of these tables from Ikea as they also provide some nice storage underneath. An upcycled second-hand table or workbench would do the job just as well -  just make sure that it is sturdy and of a suitable height.

Let's have a look at just one of the soldering stations and the equipment there

    • I use soldering sheets to protect the table below from the heat. If you have heat-proof tiles left over from a DIY project then these will do the job nicely.
    • On top of the soldering sheet are a couple of soldering blocks. These provide extra protection for the table but most importantly a  great surface to work on, and I do most of my soldering on these. They   absorb some of the heat from the flame and pass it back into the  silver, so if you have several pieces on the block waiting to be soldered (for  example if you are soldering lots of links for a chain in the Hammered Chain Bracelet class), they will start to heat up before  the flame even touches them, speeding  your work up. I have a few blocks, and if I am soldering a big piece I will prop a couple up  the block I'm working on to form a small  "kiln" and radiate the heat back to the metal.
    • An alternative soldering surface is this type of softer magnesia soldering block. It's made from a lightweight fireproof material, and it is soft enough to push pins into to support your work when needed. I find that they develop dips as they get older and these are great for supporting work that is curved. 
    • The black brick is a charcoal block. It can be used as another soldering surface but I mainly use it when I am melting small balls of silver such as in the Tiny Flower stud earrings class.

    Next up are the tools I use to hold or move my work as I'm soldering

      • The wooden handled tweezers are reverse action tweezers, both bent nosed and straight ones are useful and can usually be bought as a set. These take a bit of getting used to as they open when you push the handles, opposite to how most tweezers work. This is useful though, as I often use them to hold, for example, an earwire in place on the back of the earring during soldering and I don't have to remember to hold them tightly closed, they do the job for me. The wooden handles provide some insulation.
      • The red handled tool is a solder pick, or solder probe. These are not essential put they are very useful for pushing solder back to where you want it to be if it moves during the process. They are made from titanium and so won't draw the heat away from the solder or metal.
      • Also shown is a third hand with tweezers, a set of reverse action tweezers held on a weighted base. Again not essential but useful for holding small pieces during soldering whilst keeping your hands free!
      The reel of wire is binding wire. It has many uses, including holding together larger pieces during soldering.

      • And there are also a few pennies and small pieces of scrap copper sheet. These are useful for propping up small pieces while you solder them. 

    And of course you need something to heat your work with!

      • I have got two types of hand torches that I use in my classes. It is the heat of the piece of work that melts the solder, not the heat of the  flame, and so if I  am soldering a big piece such as a bangle I need to use a bigger torch to heat the silver up enough. The smaller torch is ideal for chains, clasps, earwires, small pendants etc. Both of these torches are refilled by butane gas cannisters. My small torch is this one, but this is also a good alternative. The big torch is this one, available from a range of suppliers. This is also a good alternative for a larger torch
      • I also have a more specialist (and therefore more expensive!) torch that is fuelled by a propane bottle and an oxyconcentrator. That one is under my desk, out of sight. The torches pictured are all that a beginner will need. 

    The next two pictures shows my soldering materials - flux and solder in various forms

      • The white cone is a borax cone with it's ceramic dish - a cheap and easy to use form of flux. Put a very little amount of water in the bottom of the dish and grind the cone in it to form a milky paste which is then painted onto the silver. I use cheap paint brushes for my flux. Remember solder will only ball up, rather than flow across the join, if flux is not present.
      • The bright yellow liquid is Auroflux - an artificial form of flux, again relatively cheap but doesn't last as long as a cone. Again, just paint it on where it is needed.
      • The lengths of metal are solder strips, the traditional form of solder. I cut these into smaller pieces (pallions) ready to use for  soldering and have a little labelled pot  for each solder - Hard,  Medium and Easy. Have a look at this blog post to find out more about those terms!
      • The syringes contain solder paste, a modern form of solder. Some people love it, some  people hate it saying it's cheating! I say it's got it's place and can be useful, but it doesn't replace solder strips and pallions. Solder paste is basically ground up  solid solder mixed with a flux so that it's ready to use. It is much more expensive that solder strips though.
      • The red handled shears or snips are what I use to cut solder strips into smaller pieces (pallions) ready to use for soldering.

    A few more bits and pieces for you:

      • Safety goggles are a very important piece of kit for a jeweller - you've only got one pair of eyes!
      • The dish of water is my quench pot - such a sophisticated expensive piece of kit! Quench your work to cool it down quickly and safely.
      • The slow cooker is my pickle pot. Pickle is a mild acid used to clean silver after soldering, and it works quickest when it is warm. It can be found in a few different forms, and everyone has their favourite! You can buy expensive pickling units, but slow cookers are a cheaper alternative. Make sure that you buy a slow cooker with a ceramic rather than metal insert. If you put steel or iron (eg reverse action tweezers, binding wire) into the pickle, all of the copper the pickle has collected off the silver as it's been cleaned will go back on the silver! 
      • Which leads me to the brass tweezers. These are used to take work out of the pickle instead of steel tweezers. You can also buy plastic tweezers, and I use small plastic tea strainers or sieves to hold my smaller pieces of work in the pickle. It saves me having to fish about for them at the bottom of the slow cooker!

    If you've read through that you might be worrying that it's a lot of equipment, 
    but do remember that some of it (the solder picks and different soldering surfaces for example) are optional,
    and what you do buy will last you for years and be used for many many soldering projects!

    Essentially all you need are something fireproof and heatproof to work on, tools to safely move your work, solder, flux, something to melt the solder with and a way of cleaning the silver afterwards.
    If you have room for a permanent set up then that's wonderful, but many of my students set up temporary soldering stations in their kitchens.
    A baking tray with soldering blocks makes a great soldering area!

    I've linked to the main supplier of jewellery equipment that I use here in the UK, Cookson Gold, but have a look at this blog post for more ideas of suppliers in the UK and the US.

    Looking for some more soldering tips and great projects to get you started?

    And for weekly jewellery making tips and a place to share your work and ask for advice join The Jeweller's Bench Café facebook group!

    Joanne Tinley

    The Jeweller's Bench is run by Joanne  Tinley. She has been making her own jewellery for as long as she can  remember and left her first career as a school teacher to set up  business as a  jewellery designer and tutor nearly 15 years ago. She is  self-taught and like many people started with wire and beads. Learning  how to solder, however, opened up a whole new world of jewellery making,  one that she is keen to share! There is something so magical about  watching solder flow through a seam, joining  two pieces of metal  together smoothly.