If you find this guide helpful, PLEASE take the time to say so, in the box at the bottom of the page. Thanks! Also check out our Guide on 3rd Hands and Ventilation. VENTILATION is particularly important with Hard solders. YOU MUST KNOW THIS: IT CAN MEAN YOUR LIFE!
First, there are two and 1/2 general categories in solder: Soft and Hard and now 'Tween. There really is no overlap and the major difference is that one will melt with a soldering iron and the other a torch. The Tween works with both.
The Soft solders can use a soldering iron. They have a lower melt point, usually well under 600 degrees and are more malleable; they can move easier when cool. As a torch is much hotter than any soldering iron it can be used here. They use a different variety of fluxes and are NOT compatable primarily because of temperatures while in use. Soft solders melt from 200 to 650 degrees farenheit generally.. With Soft solder Chip, pallion or chippable (all the same thing, pretty much) are the most efficent way to go. Less blobbing, and blobbing is more of a problem with Soft solders, and so less time spent cleaning up the join. Ribbon solders are also chippable, just much wider.
The Hard solders always will *ALWAYS* need a torch to melt and the melt point (MP) will be over 1100 degrees usually. All Hard solders are stiff and tenacious. The Hard solders are also known as "braze material". The most efficent use of these solders is in "Chip", pallion or chippable form.. This is done by applying a teeny but, say 1/16 of an inch or 1mm if you speak metric, to the cleaned and fluxed metal. Then (unlike wire solder where you first heat the metal THEN apply the solder) you heat the metal WITH THE CHIP ON IT till it flows in and a join is made..This applies to true Gold solders as well as Sterling and Argentium solders. As this is a vital difference and money and time are involved let me repeat:
1. With wire solder you clean then flux then heat untill the metal is hot enough to melt the solder.
2. With chip solder you clean and flux and cut an appropriate bit (or bits for long or circular joins) then heat both the metal and the solder.
It should be noted if you are working with thick metal castings (we are NOT talking jewelry here) an oxy/actylene torch will be needed with a HiTemp Black flux and you must heat the metal until the metal is hot enough to melt the solder.
ABOUT SOFT SOLDERS
This category has had solders with lead and tin USUALLY as the major ingredients. Our governments, largely worldwide, have mandated that lead be phased out. There are still lead solders being sold, just fewer. Other ingredients have filled out the field with tin as the dominant element..
Since tin has become THE major ingredient alloyed with silver, copper, antimony, bismuth and a couple other metals with them in the .2% to up to 6% range.
When the second ingredient is silver it will be the best for staying bright, electrical conductivity and tenacity of hold. It will need to be 4 to 6 percent to achieve this. It is a craft (and with high silver content) jewelry solder. It should be noted that the jewelry trade keeps Hard solders as it’s standard.
I sell 4 varieties of soft solders: a Ribbon and Ribbon/Wire craft solder 430F MP (Melt Point)and an Elven Craft Chipable and wire solders 600F MP , and Tix, wire and chip 275F MP as well as an electrical solder with rosin core and 4 percent silver. With an Acid Gel Flux or Liquid flux, soft solders can adhere to any steel, including stainless, as well as silver, copper, gold, bronze and more. There are MANY more than that. Plumbing solders are lead free and will have a tad of copper and silver with the balance being Tin. HVAC solders are almost always Hard category solders.
Generally the higher the degree of silver in any soft solder the better the grip, the tougher the hold. This is not true for Tix which has rare metals, but not silver.
When the second ingredient is copper it will be all the above, but to a lesser degree as copper is less conductive and much less malleable. It is a good plumbing solder with some craft applications.
Frequently amounts of secondary ingredients are in the mix, with tiny amounts of silver and larger amounts of copper, antimony, etc. These are good general use solders however some of the ingredients, like antimony and copper, are toxic and ALL SOFT SOLDER IS LIKELY TO DISCOLOR SKIN except Elven Craft and Tix. Discoloring will wash off, but you will generally need a hard solder to avoid these complications and more pointedly medium or hard heat, Hard solders. If you use soft solders in jewelry, and many do, make sure the joined pieces are soldered with either Elven Craft or Tix if they are in constant contact with skin.
There is NO gold color or copper color Soft solder made or available, though folks have swore it to me. You must go with Hard solders for these color choices.
ABOUT 'TWEEN SOLDERS:These are a new class of solders still being developed by us. They combine the ability to use a soldering iron with the strengths of better metals and at the same time show a skin friendliness: THEY DO NOT REACT WITH SKIN! So far only one of these is being manufactured and being sold in 2 forms, chipable and wire under the name Elven Craft Solders. They also work very well as one more way to Step Solder as they are far below the Hard solders and far above Soft solders. a bit of the best of both worlds.
ABOUT HARD SOLDERS
This category has 2 subgroups that overlap a bit: Jewelry (J) and Utility (U). The J and U are NOT official but will help show overlapping uses in the table below. As silver is the most pricey ingredient it shows up in all names.. The table is only a partial listing, very partial, as there are well over 40 varieties just in the cadmium free type.
The numbers below only apply in general and will differ a bit from producers and suppliers, but overall stay pretty much the same. What they will do is give you an idea of which what and why. It should be noted that the highest silver content solders will give the least skin reaction. Argentium Solders offer over their whole line range, from Extra Easy thru Hard, the best in color and fewest skin complications (just like Argentium Silver).
Speaking of Argentium solders all of them have lower melt points than their sterling counterparts as Argentium Silver itself has a lower melt point.
One small misconception seen by many in the jewelry trade is that the hard solders are rated by strength. That is not true: 38 thru 56 solders are be harder and tougher that higher grade solders. Both are used for industrial applications, both are used for joining carbide bits to steel blades for cutting and milling steel and wood. This is not an accident. I would grant that cadmium is also a common alloy in those type solders as it helps in ductility. Those solders are the choice because they work best. They are the toughest and strongest
Industrial Solders. These are the same as above
Silver content/ Type/ Name Melt Point Flow Point Cadmium? Uses
5% J, U Copper Color 1120 1325 No Goes on and stays copper color
15% U Bronze Color 1120 1225 No Tarnishes to bronze patina Bronze sculptures, etc.
38 %, J, U "GOLD COLORED" 1200 F 1330 F No Good general filler, best gold color
45 % J, U "GOLD COLORED" 1225 F 1370 F No Very strong, bandsaw & carbide,
. good gold color.
45% J, U "sorta copper" 1125 1145 Yes Cadmium variety great for steel, carbide
50% U BAg50Ni 1220 1305 No Stainless, carbide , berillium, corrosion resistant, tough56 % J, U "EXTRA EASY" 1145 F 1205 F No Jewelry var. very strong and white
1125 1145 Yes With cad, good for carbide
65 % J "EASY" 1240 F 1325 F No A bit of color to it, but white overall
70 % J "MEDIUM" 1275 F 1360 F No Very strong overall, very white
75 % J "HARD" 1375 F 1450 F No Highest melt point, strong, very white
One other thing that is critical, is the fact that each solder/braze materiel must have the correct flux to work properly.
Soft solders have at least 3 varieties of flux : acid gel, acid fluid (tinner's flux), and non-corrosive flux which may have rosin as a base (depending on the mfg.). As a rule the gel fluxes are for tougher situations like jewelry and crafts and are easier to work with. A fluid flux is better on level surfaces, but works no better than the gel. A non-corrosive flux is for electrical connections, but may work on some other applications as well where time and being ignored are likely. A rosin flux is a poor flux, but is widely seen as THE ticket for electronics due to lack of corrosion. SHAMELESS PLUG.: Sal Ammoniac's Tip DeGunker is for soft solders and are a mix of chems that when used on a wet sponge (which any iron should have with it's holder) keept the iron tip CLEAN. Clean tips transmit heat best and save time and money.
Hard solder fluxes are another thing entirely and will have completely different ingredients, usually abase or non acidic in nature with boron, fluorine, potassium and more included. I sell 3 varieties: a White GP flux for general use which works with brass, copper, silver and gold. The Blade King flux is meant for steel applications and will also work on all the metals GP will work on. My Black HiTemp flux works on carbide,and all the other 2 types of metal fluxes as well. Big tip: White GP flux gets clear and glassy at 600C or 1100F. When you see that change you know you are close to the work zone.
If you are working with jewelry including gold, most likely a White General Purpose Flux (White GP) is all you will need.
If you are working with steel, iron and such you will want a higher level flux. For bandsaw blades and most iron and some steel a powdered flux like my Blade King is fine. For big castings like motor cases,cast iron shrouds, things that take muscle to move, you will want the Black HighTemp Flux. This flux will not burn of under high heat and prolonged exposure to oxy-actylene torch work. Remember the rule: heat the work, NOT the solder.
If you are working with sterling silver you will want to think of using Pripps flux or a light coating of boric acid to help prevent this oxidization. It is caused by the copper in sterling silver clumping and then forming a black or orange oxide caused by air bonding with the copper. For those of you lucky enough to use Argentium Silver this will never be a problem. Argentium has no copper, so no problems with copper. It also is tarnish resistant and can become twice as hard as sterling silver with simple treatment in a kitchen oven. I sell this and also include it in some kits. It is recommended for all sterling where hard solder is being used. It is NOT good for your health and as with almost all soldering things ventilation is needed.
This is a chemical solution to heat discoloration. When silver and some gold are heated they will change color. It can be buffed out, but the same result can be achieved in seconds with Pickle.The Acid Pickle I sell is called ArgentiMate Acid Pickle. Whether you use mine or others, if you are working with Argentium limit the time and quantity uses as it leaches the germanium from the silver.
This is a solder flow or control chemical. The one I sell is called Soldergate. What any of them do is stop solder from flowing to (or away from) an area that is being joined. This limits the areas to be cleaned up. It can also find use in "step soldering" where it helps hold previous joins.
I hope this helps with many of your questions, I'm glad to help with your problems or needs.