Posted on by Robert Smith

Cufflinks being soldered by RSJS Studios
In the first part, we covered Design, and the second part, Cutting. Here we will be looking at soldering. 

The basic premise of soldering is this. You heat two bits metal that you want to join with a bit of solder and flux between them. When the temperature is hot enough, the solder will melt and with the aide of the flux flow into the joint and you are left with a solid join.

I’ve just done a quick count and this is a list of what we use in the workshop.
  • We have three gas torches, and five different heads for the torches. 
  • Three different types of Flux 
  • Six different types of solder in three different forms (powder, sheet, paste) 
  • Three different surfaces we use for soldering on (charcoal, honeycomb, block)
So in theory, there are two thousand, four hundred and thirty ways we can achieve that premise(3*5 *3*6*3* 3).

Now ninety percent of the soldering we do (putting the backs onto your cufflinks) we use just one combination of the above, so why all the rest?
To get one combination out the way; on our bullet cufflinks as we are soldering brass to brass, we use a type of solder and flux that is specially designed for Brass. In fact, the solder we use is commonly used to repair brass instruments. It’s the best combination for the job.

Now that leaves us with the other two thousand and thirty-six ways. I am going to discuss a couple of methods that we use to better explain why the many combinations.

Sweat soldering

Sweat soldering is used to join two flat pieces of metal together on top of each other. We use this technique on all our silhouette cufflinks. In the picture below is a Mario Design from a recent wedding commission. 

Nintendo Mario Cufflinks being made


The reason it is looking a bit blotchy is what we are doing in this process, is putting a thin layer of solder across the piece. To do this, we cut very small pieces of solder sheet, mix them up with borax as a flux and place them on the piece. We then melt the solder and move the molten solder around with a pick until eventually there is a uniform layer across the top (tinned).

We are using charcoal as our surface for this task. The reason for this is charcoal absorbs very little heat and instead reflects it back. This gives us very fine control when using a torch on where the solder flows. 

Super Mario Cufflinks being Made

For the second part of this process, we put the silver disc we want to join on top of our tinned piece and heat both pieces up till the solder flows around the edge. The second biggest challenge in soldering is bringing both pieces up to temperature at exactly the same time.

The disc in the picture is one millimetre thick and the tinned piece is only half a millimetre thick. If we don’t get this right, then there is a risk of the tinned piece bending with the heat, or even worst melting. This is where the reflection properties of the charcoal come into play. What we tend to do is rather than point our torch directly onto the pieces, we heat the charcoal around it, allowing the temperature to rise in a slow and steady manner.

Pick soldering 

Handmade beer hop cufflinks being made by RSJS Studios

The following pictures were from a commission to make four pairs of Beer hop cufflinks. For this, I hand cut over one hundred and twenty-eight tiny silver leaves that all required soldering individually. Now the third biggest challenge in soldering is not undoing the work you have done before.

One of the reasons we have different types of solder is they melt at different temperatures. There is Hard (melts at 745’C) Medium (720’C) Easy (705’C) and Extra Easy (690’). In the aforementioned Mario Cufflinks, we use Hard to do the sweat soldering, and Easy when putting the backs on. In the case of the beer hop cufflinks, using multiple grades of solder is not really going to help us. So to achieve this, we are going to make sure we are only heating and melting what we want to melt.

Beer hop cufflinks bespoke

As our surface, we are using a honeycomb block, unlike the sweat soldering where we wanted the heat to reflect back, here we want to disperse any excess and this is where the holes in the block help.

How cufflinks are made,  Pick soldering
In this not staged at all photo, what I am doing here is heating up a small piece of solder so it jumps to my pick (hence the name). What I then do is place the leaf where I want it, heat it with the pick next to it, so the solder then jumps from the pick to the leaf. Very small and very controlled actions and if you are wondering if that takes a long time. The answer is yes.

 

Beer hop Cufflinks made for a wedding and how they are made

Finally,

These are just two of the techniques we use, other techniques include chip soldering – where we place a small chip of solder between the two pieces, Mud soldering where we use a solder in a paste form and wire soldering where we dab the solder on.

All have their advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, we are after creating the strongest join we can so your cufflinks will last.

I mentioned the second and third largest challenges we face, but thought I would save the first for last. Whatever you are trying to solder, it hasto be meticulous clean otherwise it simply won't work – no matter what method you use. To achieve this, we have just as many methods and tools to do this, as we have to solder.

 

Coming up in Part IV - Filing

Cufflinks being soldered by RSJS Studios
In the first part, we covered Design, and the second part, Cutting. Here we will be looking at soldering. 

The basic premise of soldering is this. You heat two bits metal that you want to join with a bit of solder and flux between them. When the temperature is hot enough, the solder will melt and with the aide of the flux flow into the joint and you are left with a solid join.

I’ve just done a quick count and this is a list of what we use in the workshop.
  • We have three gas torches, and five different heads for the torches. 
  • Three different types of Flux 
  • Six different types of solder in three different forms (powder, sheet, paste) 
  • Three different surfaces we use for soldering on (charcoal, honeycomb, block)
So in theory, there are two thousand, four hundred and thirty ways we can achieve that premise(3*5 *3*6*3* 3).

Now ninety percent of the soldering we do (putting the backs onto your cufflinks) we use just one combination of the above, so why all the rest?
To get one combination out the way; on our bullet cufflinks as we are soldering brass to brass, we use a type of solder and flux that is specially designed for Brass. In fact, the solder we use is commonly used to repair brass instruments. It’s the best combination for the job.

Now that leaves us with the other two thousand and thirty-six ways. I am going to discuss a couple of methods that we use to better explain why the many combinations.

Sweat soldering

Sweat soldering is used to join two flat pieces of metal together on top of each other. We use this technique on all our silhouette cufflinks. In the picture below is a Mario Design from a recent wedding commission. 

Nintendo Mario Cufflinks being made


The reason it is looking a bit blotchy is what we are doing in this process, is putting a thin layer of solder across the piece. To do this, we cut very small pieces of solder sheet, mix them up with borax as a flux and place them on the piece. We then melt the solder and move the molten solder around with a pick until eventually there is a uniform layer across the top (tinned).

We are using charcoal as our surface for this task. The reason for this is charcoal absorbs very little heat and instead reflects it back. This gives us very fine control when using a torch on where the solder flows. 

Super Mario Cufflinks being Made

For the second part of this process, we put the silver disc we want to join on top of our tinned piece and heat both pieces up till the solder flows around the edge. The second biggest challenge in soldering is bringing both pieces up to temperature at exactly the same time.

The disc in the picture is one millimetre thick and the tinned piece is only half a millimetre thick. If we don’t get this right, then there is a risk of the tinned piece bending with the heat, or even worst melting. This is where the reflection properties of the charcoal come into play. What we tend to do is rather than point our torch directly onto the pieces, we heat the charcoal around it, allowing the temperature to rise in a slow and steady manner.

Pick soldering 

Handmade beer hop cufflinks being made by RSJS Studios

The following pictures were from a commission to make four pairs of Beer hop cufflinks. For this, I hand cut over one hundred and twenty-eight tiny silver leaves that all required soldering individually. Now the third biggest challenge in soldering is not undoing the work you have done before.

One of the reasons we have different types of solder is they melt at different temperatures. There is Hard (melts at 745’C) Medium (720’C) Easy (705’C) and Extra Easy (690’). In the aforementioned Mario Cufflinks, we use Hard to do the sweat soldering, and Easy when putting the backs on. In the case of the beer hop cufflinks, using multiple grades of solder is not really going to help us. So to achieve this, we are going to make sure we are only heating and melting what we want to melt.

Beer hop cufflinks bespoke

As our surface, we are using a honeycomb block, unlike the sweat soldering where we wanted the heat to reflect back, here we want to disperse any excess and this is where the holes in the block help.

How cufflinks are made,  Pick soldering
In this not staged at all photo, what I am doing here is heating up a small piece of solder so it jumps to my pick (hence the name). What I then do is place the leaf where I want it, heat it with the pick next to it, so the solder then jumps from the pick to the leaf. Very small and very controlled actions and if you are wondering if that takes a long time. The answer is yes.

 

Beer hop Cufflinks made for a wedding and how they are made

Finally,

These are just two of the techniques we use, other techniques include chip soldering – where we place a small chip of solder between the two pieces, Mud soldering where we use a solder in a paste form and wire soldering where we dab the solder on.

All have their advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, we are after creating the strongest join we can so your cufflinks will last.

I mentioned the second and third largest challenges we face, but thought I would save the first for last. Whatever you are trying to solder, it hasto be meticulous clean otherwise it simply won't work – no matter what method you use. To achieve this, we have just as many methods and tools to do this, as we have to solder.

 

Coming up in Part IV - Filing