Separate pieces of sheet metal can be joined together by a process called soldering. In this process, filler metal (solder) is added at the seam and the sheet metal is heated. The solder material melts at a lower temperature than the sheet metal, flowing to form a joint. The minimum tools used for hand soldering are: a heating tool, filler metal and flux.
Soldering is an ancient practice, in use whenever people made articles out of metal. Commercial enterprises set up for the fabrication of sheet metal started to flourish at the end of the seventeenth century.
Soon sheet metal items became easily available. Tin cans and stove pipes were some of the most popular. In addition, architects began using sheet metal to cover large buildings. Two famous examples of metal-clad buildings are the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
While a soldered joint is not as strong as the original metal, it is sufficiently strong for hundreds of different applications. Soldered sheet metal products have the advantages of being relatively strong, light weight, and water tight.
Present day sheet metal items include: gutters and downspouts, air conditioning ducts, furnaces, industrial stacks, machine guards, quonset huts and roofing.
Heating Tools: Electric tools include a soldering iron or soldering gun. In situations where electricity is not available, a propane or butane torch equipped with a soldering tip can be used. A small battery-operated soldering iron is also an option.
Solder: The choice of filler material, or solder, is based on the metals to be joined. A combination of lead and tin is the most common.
Flux: The most common types of flux are acid, rosin and organic. Acid flux is used mostly in commercial shops as it is a bit dangerous to work with and remove. Rosin flux also needs to be removed after soldering, or it will leave gluey mess. Some of the cleaning solutions can be harmful if not used properly.
Organic water soluble flux has recently become available to the general public. They are easy to use and can be cleaned up with only water. Flux can be included in the solder, or applied separately. Tubes of solder with flux inserted into the hollow inner core are sold as "rosin core solder," "acid core solder," or "organic flux core solder."
Other helpful tools when soldering sheet metal are tin snips, vise-type pliers, vise knife, flux file, work gloves, steel wool and a small brush.
Soldering sheet metal is exacting work. Make sure you have plenty of light. Keep your work area well ventilated to decrease your exposure to potentially harmful fumes. Clean the point of the soldering tool on the cleaning pad or steel wool before putting it away.
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