I thought I knew how soldering worked. I thought what happened was that you applied heat to the edges of two pieces of metal until they melted and stuck together. I’d watched my dad use a soldering iron dozens of times over the years – once to get a stubborn tick off the back of the family dog. It’s testament to how much that dog trusted Dad that the operation was carried out with no injury to anyone except the sizzled tick – yet somehow I must have missed a crucial part of the process.
In a high-ceiling workshop at the London Jewellery School, instructor Kimberley Wingrove showed us how soldering is really done as we made a ring from a strip of flattened silver. The two ends of a centimetre-wide strip were carefully prepared so they were absolutely parallel before the ring was shaped and those ends were squeezed tightly together to make the smallest gap possible. Kimberley snipped solder – fusible metal alloy – from another strip, selecting a square piece as small as a pin head. She painted the two ends of the ring with flux, a chemical cleaning agent.
The tiny piece of solder was set on the soldering block. The space in the ring was set right on top of it. Kimberley ran a burner flame around and around the silver. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. Nothing happened but then... the melted solder suddenly flew up the seam like a zipper, fixing the silver ends (which hadn’t melted at all) together in a tidy bond. It was like magic. I wanted to clap.
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