Pepetools Charcoal Soldering Blocks
Preparing your soldering blocks.
When it comes to soldering surfaces, there are many options to choose from, Ceramic sheets, fireproof sheets, and blocks. But most professional jewelers prefer to stick with the traditional medium, which is the charcoal block. Here’s why…
The charcoal soldering block is exactly as it sounds, it’s a small brick of charcoal. Sizes vary but they are typically about the size of your palm 6” long, 3” wide, and 1 ½ “thick. The blocks are made from natural wood, often Willow, which is slowly burned to produce a black burnt charcoal brick.
The use of a charcoal block has several advantages. Firstly it is great at reflecting heat and helping the metal to warm up quickly and evenly.
The blocks are very easy to carve, so can easily be customized to your requirements. Groves and indentations can be carved and molten metal cast straight into the block. Steel pins can be pushed into the block to provide support for complex projects. Likewise, holes can be cut to allow items to be inserted into the block and stood up.
Tip:- several blocks can be used together to prop up larger items.
The main reason why professionals choose charcoal is because of its ability to help reduce oxidization. As the charcoal heats up it burns and uses up oxygen. In doing so it creates a low oxygen environment on the heated surface. This in turn greatly helps to reduce oxidization on your metals, especially important when working with silver or other nonferrous metals which may be prone to tarnish and fire scale.
Although the blocks ‘can’ be used right away, a little preparation will help them last much longer and work better. Follow these tips to get the most out of your charcoal blocks. Remove any outer wrapping and labels from the block.
As the blocks are made from natural wood, they have a grain structure. Usually, the grain of the wood will run along the length of the block. As the block burns, with repeated heating, it can potentially crack along the grain. Binding with stainless steel wire will help keep the block in one piece and greatly extend its life.
Pepetools Stainless steel binding wire is ideal for this. The steel wire won’t melt under normal soldering temperatures, and the stainless nature will prevent it from rusting. Wrap the wire tightly around the edge of the block, twice is usually sufficient. Use pliers to twist the ends of the wire and tuck them neatly into the side.
Wrapping Steel binding wire around the block.
Using a pair of small flat pliers, go along the wire putting a small sideways kink in the wire. Work your way all around the block. This will help to tighten it and keep it snug to the block. Don't over tighten or you could shatter the block.
Tip: - some people use a round file to make groves at the corners to help keep the wire in place.
Pepetools binding wire is also useful for tying items together whilst soldering, as the steel wire won't melt. Remember to remove any steel wire from the item before pickling.
Scorching the Surface.
Although the charcoal is already burnt. The properties of the block can usually be improved by further burning the surface. Lightly brush a soft flame over the surface to further darken it. Don’t allow the block to catch fire, you are simply scorching the surface. Aim to get the surface a uniform black.
Once prepared the block is used as a soldering surface. Jewellery can be placed directly on the block and the heat applied. The charcoal will heat up and glow red, reflecting the heat and creating the ideal environment for soldering. As always, the joint must be clean, well fluxed, and close fitting.
It is advisable to place the block on a heat proof surface, to protect the underlying bench top.
After use, the block can continue to burn and may remain hot for some time. Do not leave it unattended. Ensure the block is extinguished when you’re done for the day. If needed, spray with water or dab with a damp cloth. Don’t submerge the block or get it soaked, as this may reduce its lifespan.
Eventually, as the surface of the block burns away, the surface may become crumbly and uneven. This can quickly be restored by sanding the surface flat, with some very rough sandpaper on a flat surface.
Top Tip: - A rough sandstone type paving slab is ideal for this purpose.
Rub the block over the surface in a large figure 8 motion
(as you would when sanding jewelry).
Once you’ve sanded the block flat, remember to re scorch the surface again.
Not all blocks are equal.
Pepetools offer a range of "Compressed" charcoal blocks. These have been specially treated to make them denser and harder wearing than traditional charcoal blocks, meaning they will last much longer and are less prone to splitting. Pepetools supply them in a range of sizes, for large and small projects.
Tip:- use two smaller blocks on top of a larger one to help support awkward items.
Above:- Pepetools Compressed Charcoal soldering blocks
available in a range of sizes.
Check out Pepetools.com for all your soldering needs. Blocks, Solder, Flux, Pickle, solder picks, and everything else for the jewelry maker.
by Dave Wilson