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Soldering Blocks - Which one and why? tips and tricks.

Soldering Blocks - Which one and why? tips and tricks.

When you need to solder, you need a surface to solder on. A soldering block not only protects your benchtop from fire but can also offer many other properties that will assist in the soldering operation. Pepetools offers a range of soldering blocks in different sizes, shapes, and materials. Here we discuss the different types and the relative advantages of each type.

 Soldering

Why do you need a soldering block?

Soldiering silver and gold requires the use of a gas torch. The first reason for using a soldering block is to protect the bench top from the flame and prevent burning your bench. But not all soldering blocks will do this. They can also serve to reflect heat and assist in getting the metal up to temperature. They can also have a chemical property which helps when soldering. So, choosing the right soldering block is very important.

 

Material.

Soldering blocks come in a variety of materials, each with different properties. Charcoal blocks are made from wood, either natural or compressed. Ceramic, made from fired ceramic (pottery), Refractory boards are flat sheets, or blocks designed as an “Asbestos substitute”. (asbestos is no longer used in any soldering products)

Ceramic Blocks.

 

 Ceramic soldering blocks

Pepetools ceramic soldering blocks are made of unglazed ceramic material and have been kiln fired like pottery. Lightweight and hard, they feature a honeycomb design with holes passing all the way through. This allows the heat to disperse through and away from the piece, assisting with even heating and reducing the chance of overheating (melting, reticulation, and fire scale). These blocks can be particularly useful when soldering or annealing flat shapes, allowing more even heating.

 Round ceramic block

Round ceramic soldering block

Convenient round ceramic blocks are available in 4” diameter and 6” diameter both ½ “thick. The space saving 4” is ideal for small jewelry items such as rings, whereas the 6” version is better for larger items such as bangles. 

Pepetools also offer a range of ceramic sheets in varying sizes. Again, all feature a unique honeycomb design with holes passing directly through the blocks. Available in 5½" x 4" Rectangle, and 8" x 5 ¾ “Rectangle both ½” thick.

 Square ceramic blocks

Rectangular Ceramic Soldering Blocks.

Tip: - Due to the holes in the honeycomb design, if the block is placed on a tripod, it is possible to heat a piece from underneath. This facilitates sweat soldering where a sheet is heated from underneath, and components are placed on the surface, with solder already applied.

Tripod

Above a tripod used with a ceramic block to heat the silver from underneath. 

It is also possible to use stainless steel binding wire or pins, inserted into the holes to hold and secure items whilst being soldered. If necessary, a piece could even be tied to the block to prevent movement. Note: - Small Ceramic pins can also be purchased, which fit in the holes, but they do tend to be very fragile.

binding

Above steel binding wire threaded through the ceramic block to hold a piece in position for soldering. Tip;- remember to allow the piece to cool before handling it to remove the wire. Easiest done by sniping the wire.

 Steel Binding Wire
Pepetools Stainless steel Binding wire. Ideal for holding and binding items when soldering. Also ideal for binding charcoal blocks.

 

Ceramic Block Advantages.

  • Great heat dissipation, assisting with even heating.
  • Ability to heat from underneath.
  • Holes provide fixing points for pins or wires.

 

Points to consider.

The ceramic is hard and long lasting but can be brittle if the blocks are dropped. They can’t be drilled, cut, or carved, and may crack if excessive force is applied, or the block dropped.

 

Important Tip. Due to the honeycomb design, a flame can pass directly through the block. Hence it should not be placed directly onto a wooden bench top, as this could result in damage to the surface underneath. These honeycomb blocks should be used on top of a fireproof surface such as a large refractory sheet or solder block. This will help to protect the bench surface underneath.

 Refractory Sheets

Refractory Sheets

(also referred to as Asbestos substitute).

Available in 3 sizes 

  • Small       6" x 6" x 3/4" (150mm x 150mm x 19mm)
  • Medium 7" x 7" x 3/4" (170mm x 170mm x 19mm)
  • Large      12" x 12" x 3/4" (300mm x 300mm x 19mm)

 

These new materials offer a safer alternative, as asbestos is no longer used. The sheets come uniformly flat and smooth with square edges. They give a superb surface to solder upon, reflecting heat and assisting in getting  item's up to temperature. They don’t conduct heat and so act as great insulators, protecting the work surface underneath. The large 12” x 12” sheets are a great flat surface, on which to perform all your heating operations and act as an ideal base for other blocks sheets and soldering surfaces. The large area is perfect for annealing coils of wire or large items. Or mass production when soldering multiple items in one go like soldering large qualities of jump rings. The smaller sheets offer a compact solution for small soldering operations right on the bench.  For operations using excessive heat such as small crucible melting or casting, several sheets can be layered up to provide extra protection to the bench top.

 Soldering sheets

Tip: - When new, they are clean and white and can be drawn on with a HB pencil or marked with a steel scribe and ruler. With a new board, use a T square and pencil or scribe to draw a line across the center, and perhaps one across at 90 degrees. These can be invaluable for aligning objects, especially when soldering bails and jump rings onto pendants.

 

Advantages; -

  • Large size. the biggest advantage of these sheets is their sizes. Ideal as a fireproof base for your soldering area.
  • Carve, Cut, and drill. Although a little crumbly in texture, these sheets can easily be cut with a knife or sawn. Likewise, they can be carved and drilled. This gives endless possibilities for customization, allowing the jewelry to be propped up and supported on multiple pieces. Small sheets can be used to make walls and barriers to protect the surrounding area from flame and help reflect heat into the piece.
Soldering on sheets
Above, a huge silver pendant being soldered on a large sheet.
Note how the piece is being supported by two small offcuts of sheet.

 

Points to consider: -

With continued use the surface may eventually begin to crumble and crack. The surface can often be restored by simply sanding with an emery block or rough sharpening stone over the surface.

The sheets do not bend or flex, this may crack them. They should always be fully supported on a flat surface. Do not hammer on them.

 

 Charcoal Blocks

Charcoal Blocks

Available in three sizes

    • Small - 3.1"W x 2.3"D x 1.1"H  (80 x 60 x 29mm)
    • Medium - 5.5"W x x 2.8"D x 1.1"H (140x70x29mm)
    • Large - 7.9" x 5.5" x 1.1" (200 x 140 x 29mm)

The traditional surface for jewelers and probably as old as Jewellery making itself. The charcoal block in its simplest form is a block of wood that has been carefully burnt to create a black, high carbon block. As Charcoal blocks are made from burnt wood, it is advisable to ‘season” the block by scorching the surface when new. Likewise, a block can be refreshed by rough sanding the surface and then re-scorching it.

Rather like wood (although much more brittle) charcoal has the advantage that it can be cut drilled and carved. Many jewelers carve indentations into charcoal blocks to ball up silver. Or shapes can be carved into the block for very simple small castings. Steel pins and nails can be driven into the block to provide support for jewelry. They are without doubt the most versatile of all the materials. 

Pepetools charcoal blocks are slightly different. Whilst they still have the same charcoal composition, the Pepetools blocks are compressed. This makes them less susceptible to warping or cracking and increases the uniformity and density of the block. They will also last longer than traditional wood charcoal. They are available in a variety of sizes for large and small jobs. The larger ones make great soldering surfaces whilst the smaller ones are ideal for carving and drilling.

Chemical advantage: - as the charcoal burns it removes oxygen from the surrounding area. It is claimed that this helps to reduce oxidization, especially when heating silver. This can help reduce fire scale and also help to provide optimal conditions for the solder to flow.

 

Advantages: -

  • Cut, carve, and drill. Just like soft wood. Highly versatile
  • Inexpensive - consider it a consumable
  • Creates an ideal atmosphere for silver soldering.
  • Traditional method.

 

Points to note:-

The traditional charcoal block, being made from a single solid piece of wood, has a grain and can be prone to cracking along the grain of the wood. For this reason, new blocks are often bound around the edge with steel wire to prevent this cracking. see link below to the charcoal block blog. 

Like charcoal on a barbeque, after excessive heating, the charcoal can continue to burn and give off heat. So care should be taken not to leave it unattended after use.

Tip:-  it is advisable to place it on a fireproof base such as a large refractory sheet.

 

Recommendations: -

            Hopefully, now you can understand the relative merits of each material. As a recommendation the 12” X 12” is a great starting point. It can be placed directly on your bench top and is suitable for most Jewellery soldering jobs, giving a good flat surface and protection to your bench tip. Additional items such as charcoal blocks (ideal for silver), or ceramic blocks can be added on top of it to increase versatility.

Want to learn more about soldering?
Check out these great resources for lots more info...

Pickles and Fluxes. What are they? How do you use them.

How to pick the best solder and flux for jewelry soldering.

Smith Little Torch - How to setup for your jewelry studio

How to prepare a charcoal block

 

 

Check out Pepetools.com for all your soldering needs. Blocks, Solder, Flux, Pickle, solder picks, and everything else for the jewelry maker.
Pepetools.com 
Written and illustrated
by Dave Wilson
www.celticdreams.co.uk 
© 2024 Pepetools.
www.pepetools.com

Hardened Charcoal Soldering Block, Compressed, European

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Honeycomb Ceramic Soldering Blocks

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