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Old 08-01-2010, 04:33 PM   #1
DX-SFX
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Default Soldering Basics.

For those feeling timid about stepping foot into the world of soldering, it's much easier than you probably suspect. This is a basic introduction to encourage people to have a go.

What is soldering? It's the joining of two pieces of metal or alloy with another lower temperature melting alloy. Some metals solder better than others but in Eagle context, this means usually the easily solderable brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) joined with an alloy generally referred to as 'soft solder'. In nearly all cases, you'll get a much stronger joint than is achievable with an adhesive. This is because solder forms a metallurgical bond rather than a purely mechanical one.

There are a number of solders on the market but only two types need concern us, both of which are quite suitable for our purpose and easy to get hold of. Until recently, the main solder was always going to be regular tin/lead solder as might be used on electrical circuits or by plumbers to solder copper water pipes together. Because of concerns over lead content and poisoning, this type is slowly being phased out although it's still easy to get hold of from model engineering supplies and electronic component retailers. However, there's no need to panic and rush out and buy some before it disappears. The new lead free plumber's solder (which is 99% tin) intended for plumbing and widely available in DIY shops, is an excellent substitute. It behaves the same way and melts at the same temperature so there are no differences in the way you need to handle it.

Tin/lead solder is available in another particular form which some people may prefer but I'll cross that bridge later on.

Equipment:



Forget electric soldering irons. They just don't have the heat capacity to raise the large volumes of brass likely to be encountered to soldering temperature. Note I mentioned heating the brass to soldering temperature. It's not enough to merely melt the solder. If the object you're trying to solder isn't hotter than the melting point of the solder, the solder will only bead on the surface and later fall off into your lap while laughing at you mockingly. For this reason alone, a small butane gas torch like the one illustrated or something similar is a must.

It's also imperative for obvious reasons that you have a flame proof surface to work on. I have some vermiculite boards bought from a specialist company but fire bricks are also good. Common sense should dictate what you choose for a work surface.

Flux:

Imperative if you want good joints. Why? All metals tend to oxidise when heated in a flame. This layer of oxide prevents the solder from bonding with the subject metal. Flux performs two roles. At soldering temperatures, it's acidic and eats through any oxide layer allowing the solder to contact clean fresh metal. In addition it provides a protective layer that prevents further oxidation while the joint is being made. Because it's acidic, it's important to remove it completely after the joint is made. The one I use is again easily available in DIY shops and used for plumbing. It can be used with both tin/lead solder and plumbers all tin solder. I use cellulose lacquer thinner to clean it off but other solvents will work.

Some tin/lead solders designed for circuit board electronics contain a mild flux actually within the solder. The well known UK brand is sold under the name Muilti-Core. This is NOT an adequate flux for fabrication work. Similarly most fluxes designed for circuit boards are inadequate because by their very nature, the flux is designed to stay on the circuit board, and we all know that acid and electronics don't mix. Just get a tub of plumbers flux and use that. Also don't get too hung up on the acid thing. This type of flux is a mix of metal salts suspended in a vaseline base. Technically it's acidic but there's no danger of it eating its way through the outer hull if you drip some on the floor. Just wash your hands after using it.

And finally, try to give the flux an easy ride. It has a number of things to do while it's at soldering temperature so you can help it by making sure the two brass parts being joined are as clean and grease free as possible. Plumbers flux is very good at cutting through even the worst oxidation but cleaning parts can't hurt. Below are some illustration showing the use of flux and its advantages.

Last edited by DX-SFX; 24-03-2010 at 10:21 AM. Reason: Rubbish Spelling
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Old 08-01-2010, 04:39 PM   #2
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Thanks!! All good info.

L
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Old 08-01-2010, 04:49 PM   #3
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Photo 'A' shows a clean strip of brass with a short pre cut length of tin lead solder placed on top but no flux. If we heat the brass, the solder melts and flows out over the brass but the flow is limited (photo 'B')




If we brush the area with flux first as in photo 'C'....



.... you'll see that the same length of solder flows over a far geater area and more easily (Photo 'D')



Why is this important? Well, when you come to start joining parts of tubes together, you want the solder to flow into the joint in order to make a strong joint. If you flux the joint first, lay a small precut length of solder in place and then apply the flame, the solder melts and then almost instantly flashes all around the joint by capilliary action. It also means there is the minimum of clean up to perform. If there is insufficient solder to fill the joint completely, just repeat the process. Photos K, L and M illustrate a fluxed joint, immediately after applying the heat and the final joint after clean up respectively:







Note how neat the joint is in 'M'. This has had nothing done to it except to wash the surplus flux off and then rub it with a Scotchbrite pad like you'd use to clean saucepans. If you do find that you've added an excess of solder or the joint subsequently needs a bit of dressing, just clean it with thinners and then make good with an appropriate rat tail file.


----------------------------------------

Last edited by DX-SFX; 24-03-2010 at 10:22 AM.
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:08 PM   #4
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I mentioned earlier an alternate form of solder favoured by some. It's basically a solder paste made by mixing soft solder particles into the flux mix. (Photo J)



There are several brands available and although the one illustrated is a big tub, it can be got in much smaller quantities or in hypodermic syringes. It's designed for model railway enthusiast who construct rolling stock from thin brass sheet and etched brass so model railway stockists are the first place to look. It's main purpose is for what they call sweated joints. This is where it's painted on in advance between two components which are then subsequently heated. It will flow into joints but personally I have two reservations about it. Firstly, it tends to over cook more easily in a flame leaving quite a hard sticky residue behind. The other reservation is that I don't feel it gives such a strong joint in fabrication as the separate solder and flux. However, that's down to personal taste. For example Mark42 prefers it and we're always gently ribbing each other about it so it's another option worth exploring.

Photos F, G, H, I(a), I(b) show respectively solder paste applied to a piece of brass, the same spot after applying heat, the same joint after final clean up, the paste applied as it's intended between two pieces of brass and the same joint after clean up.












Soldering is immensely satisfying and a skill well worth getting to grips with. I can only recommend that anyone has a go because you'll find it's much easier than you first think. The ultimate advantage of it is that if you muck it up, you can simply reheat to take it apart it and have another go.

Slightly more advanced to follow soon.

Last edited by DX-SFX; 08-01-2010 at 05:10 PM.
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:13 PM   #5
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A great guide there DX-SFX,i have never used no flux solder myself and it explains a lot

I technique i am using on the the 44" cages is to break off a small amount of multi core solder and insert it inside the tube i am about to heat,then heat the tube joint and apply solder to the outside,any bits i have missed are caught with the molten solder on the inside,i have to say your joints are much cleaner,so i might mix and match to see what suits myself

Thanks for the guide

Donald
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:22 PM   #6
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Use separate flux and you'll instantly see a huge improvement in the speed you work and joint appearance. There's also no reason you can't use flux on the joints you've already made to improve them.

Last edited by DX-SFX; 24-03-2010 at 10:25 AM.
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:27 PM   #7
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Fantastic stuff...

Now I need to go and get a butane torch like that one. I have a small one but I just don't think it's man enough for the job.

I already have the solder, flux and brass - need to start cutting and shaping now and then I can have a go !
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:30 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by w8cmp View Post
Fantastic stuff...

Now I need to go and get a butane torch like that one. I have a small one but I just don't think it's man enough for the job.

I already have the solder, flux and brass - need to start cutting and shaping now and then I can have a go !
Just a quick saving for you Chris B&Q had the torch (not an RS one) for 9.99

Scewfix had the same torch for 20.00 and a different brand but same torch is 20 in Argos

Hope it saves you a 10

Donald
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:41 PM   #9
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They are refilled using the pressurised butane cans you can buy cheaply at newsagents to refill cigarette lighters. Worth getting a couple of can's aprox 1.30 each. Each filling of the torch lasts about thirty minutes continuous use and each butane can refills about thirty times.
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Old 08-01-2010, 05:55 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rockwellcm View Post
Just a quick saving for you Chris B&Q had the torch (not an RS one) for 9.99

Scewfix had the same torch for 20.00 and a different brand but same torch is 20 in Argos

Hope it saves you a 10

Donald
Cheers Donald...need a trip to my local B&Q as well as Halfords nearby. Need stocks of grey primer as well as some more Ford Diamond White as my own resin 44" build is progressing (slowly).
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Old 08-01-2010, 06:41 PM   #11
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Thanks for that detailed article DX, your effort is well appreciated
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Old 08-01-2010, 06:41 PM   #12
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I only tend to use the paste, on it's own, on close fitting flat parts. As Chris says I don't think it's strong enough for most pipe connections which is why I always add small precut pieces of solid solder to the mixture. On my next Eagle builds, 22 & 44, I will be mostly using the process shown above.

Nice informative posting here Chris.

I have the same torch myself, it's very nice, I think I got it from Machine Mart.
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Old 08-01-2010, 07:31 PM   #13
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Yes, I use it for the bulk of my work. I must have had that torch for nearly fifteen years or so. There's very few joints on a 44" it struggles with and there's always a simple blow torch for the most demanding. The self igniter is the biggest plus. Certainly one of the most useful and much used bits of kit in my tool box. Trish occasionally pinches it to crisp the top of Creme Brulee.

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Old 08-01-2010, 07:55 PM   #14
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Quote:
Trish occasionally pinches it to crisp the top of Creme Brulee.
this could be the excuse i have been looking for to buy one of these as we both love creme brulees aswell.
on a more technical note when soldering some of the more complicated joints( i.e. where 3 or 4 pieces come together, or where you already have one joint and then later need to add another piece) should you use differnt solders that have diferent melting points so you dont melt a joint made earlier. hope that makes sense and thanks for a great piece of info, certainly more tempted to try now.
cheers Paul
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Old 08-01-2010, 08:56 PM   #15
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I was just saying to a hobby shop owner yesterday that I needed to master soldering. Thanks for this DX
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Old 08-01-2010, 09:49 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paul gray View Post
this could be the excuse i have been looking for to buy one of these as we both love creme brulees aswell.
on a more technical note when soldering some of the more complicated joints( i.e. where 3 or 4 pieces come together, or where you already have one joint and then later need to add another piece) should you use differnt solders that have diferent melting points so you dont melt a joint made earlier. hope that makes sense and thanks for a great piece of info, certainly more tempted to try now.
cheers Paul
No, you don't need different solder and I'm going explain why in another instalment later on but briefly, it takes a little more heat to break a joint than to make it because the solder and brass have combined slightly (within a very close fitting joint) to become an alloy of tin, lead, copper and zinc. In addition you can see the solder melt. It turns from a dull silvery grey to a more chromey appearance which also means you can see how far the heat from the flame has travelled. Just bias your flame towards the new piece and away from the existing joint and, providing you're using the magic flux, the new piece of solder will flash around the joint at which point you should remove the flame the instant it does. If the solder in the rest of the joint starts turning chromey, take the flame away immediately. In practice you'll find once you start building that even if you do melt a whole joint, it rarely shifts because most parts are attached at the other end to some other part of the structure.

Last edited by DX-SFX; 24-03-2010 at 10:28 AM.
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Old 08-01-2010, 11:18 PM   #17
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Great Chris,
now you've gone and made it look so easy I'll have to think of another excuse as to why I don't try it.
I have done circuit soldering before and the flux is a life saver for ensuring you don't solder the wrong wire to the wrong connection.
My only question thus far should one consider taking up the challenge of a 22" or 44" is, for the four main lengths of the spine which is better/stronger brass tube or brass rod?
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Old 08-01-2010, 11:48 PM   #18
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For the four main longerons of the spine on a 44", I'd recommend rod. I included rod in the brass packs I put together a short while ago. For a 22", it's not so critical although I've still used rod on the two 22" spines I've made to date.

It is easy otherwise a duffer like me wouldn't be able to do it. If you feel unsure, just invest in a couple of strips of brass from K&S and have a play.

Last edited by DX-SFX; 24-03-2010 at 10:29 AM.
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Old 09-01-2010, 12:21 AM   #19
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BTW, in case anyone hasn't seen this, here's Jon Wilson's thread about making a replica grab arm. A lot of the tips I was planning to illustrate are in this thread so rather than repeat them, it's easier to link here. IIRC, this was Jon's first go at soldering too so feel inspired.

http://www.eagletransporter.com/foru...ght=refuelling
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Old 09-01-2010, 12:58 AM   #20
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Man this is great! Keep this thread!
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