Soldering helpers can ease a lot of frustration for those of you new to soldering or even if you're an old pro at it. Most helpers can be made of things laying around the studio or if you have any scrap metal in the garage. In the photo above I show three easy setups for soldering helpers. First, the steel binding wire, a third hand tweezer and some bent titanium soldering strips from Knew Concepts - these are new and I love them!
Simple steel binding wire is one of the most versatile and used items in my studio. We had fenced in a small dog run several years ago and had a bunch of steel wire left over so, you guessed it, I appropriated the leftovers to my studio. A roll of binding wire will run you about $20 for about 297 feet from a jewelry supply store. That's a lot of wire, so cost effectiveness is great. However, if you're a penny pincher or on a budget, you can probably pick up steel wire from your local hardware store for a bit less.
NOTE: If you do pick up wire from a hardware store, make sure it is NOT galvanized steel wire. Galvanized wire will put off toxic fumes if you heat it with a torch.
Steel binding wire can be used in many different ways. You can wrap it around pieces to keep them in place while soldering or you can bunch it up like in the photo below to create a pocket of space between your soldering block and the piece to ensure a good heating environment.
When I need to ensure I get even heat all throughout my piece, like when soldering a thick bezel to a sheet backing, I will twist up the wire and create a "stand" of sorts to lift the piece up off the brick to get good reflection under my piece as well as create a space to allow the air flow to reach its best surface. In the photo above right, you can see I've placed my piece on the wire and will be using my torch from below and from above to evenly heat the metal to ensure a good solder flow and complete joint.
The next best assistant I've found is the independent third hand soldering stands. It comes with a pair of cross-locking tweezers and an adjustable holder. The stand itself is a little heavier and needs to be in order to keep from tipping. As you can see from the photo above right, I used two stands to hold my piece in a vertical position because I'm getting ready to solder the bail to the bezel. I will most likely break out a third hand to hold my bail.
One other note about the third hand, the steel tweezers will act as a heat sink while soldering smaller pieces, so this is a good option for soldering a small piece to a larger piece. When you're soldering two pieces of different girths, you always want to heat the bigger piece more when attaching the smaller piece and the third hand will help you to control the heat on the small piece.
A basic, economy third hand will run you about $12 from a jewelry supply store, but it's worth the investment to get the additional helping "hand" to assist in precarious soldering operations.
Now... the "Cadillac" version of the soldering helpers I've found are the titanium soldering strips from Knew Concepts. These babies are really fantastic. They come in packages of 10 pieces and are roughly 4" long with a width of about 3/16" or roughly 4.7mm. These can be bent, sawed and shaped into any kind of holder you may need.
Go to KnewConcepts.com to see some really great images of holders in use. These will set you back about $20 + shipping for the package, but I highly recommend getting at least one package. They're extremely versatile and just fantastic. Since getting these, I rarely use the binding wire.
You can see from my photo above right, I've used one strip to bend a holder on the side walls of my box pendant in progress. These strips stand up very well to the heat I need to solder my silver items and are able to be used over and over. I bought two packages several months ago and have yet to use any of the second package.
So, what do you think? I'd love to hear your experience with any of these soldering aids. And, if you have questions, I'd be happy to answer them.