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A step-by-step guide to soldering

With a long weekend ahead, some may under taking a bit of DIY projects. If you plan on doing any copper pipe work, be sure to check out our step-by-step guide to soldering.

Step 1: Cut copper with a pipe slice
Copper is a soft metal that’s easiest to cut with a tube cutter. Buy one that cuts up to 1-in. tubing, the largest size you’re likely to need for most household water supply lines. Cut larger tubing with a hacksaw, but make sure to file off all the burrs left from the saw teeth. Otherwise your joint will leak. Grip the copper tubing firmly in one hand and tuck one end under your knee to keep it from slipping while you tighten and rotate the cutter. Don’t tighten it too fast; you’ll dent the pipe and have to start over.

Step 2: Remove the burrs
The cut may look clean, but remember to remove the small inside burr, a ridge of copper that’s forced inward by the cutting wheel. Otherwise, it’ll impede the flow of water through the pipe.

Step 3: Clean with emery cloth
Then clean the mating areas of the tubing and fittings, even if they look brand-shiny new. Thorough cleaning is the A-1 key to copper soldering success. It ensures a solid, leak proof joint.

Step 4: Clean with a fitting brush
Cleaning is a two-step process—first, clean all corrosion off the mating surfaces and second, coat the surfaces with flux, an acidic paste that chemically etches the copper.
Professional plumbers clean copper with strips of 120-grit emery cloth, which is usually sold alongside the solder and flux on hardware and home center shelves. But fine steel wool or regular 120-grit sandpaper will do in a pinch. Clean the inside of fittings with the emery cloth too, simply roll a short piece around a finger and reach inside. But you’ll soon get sore fingers!

Step 5: Flux the joint
Brush an even layer of flux over the surfaces to be joined—the pipe ends and the insides of the fittings. Then push the joint together until the copper tube seats full depth. Wipe off excess flux.

Step 6: Heat the joint
Heat the joint with your propane torch, moving the cone back and forth to heat it evenly. Hold the solder against the joint on the side opposite the flame until it melts and flows into the joint. The joint should appear full on all sides. Move to the next joint. The solder hardens as it cools.

Safety Tips

Temporarily hang a flame protector cloth (opening photo) or a steel plate over wood and other flammable materials when soldering nearby. In any event, keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water handy in case you start a fire.
Shut off your torch when you set it down. The propane tank is tippy. Eventually a lit torch will fall over and burn something.

Be sure to keep a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water or spray bottle handy just in case your torch starts a fire. Remember, your household water supply is often turned off while you work!


1 How to Sweat Copper Pipe accessed online 27 May 2016 http://www.familyhandyman.com/plumbing/how-to-solder-copper-pipe/view-all

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