This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
The object of soldering is to unite two portions of the same metal or of different metals by means of a more fusible metal or metallic alloy, applied when melted, and known by the name of solder. As the strength of the soldering depends on the nature of the solder used, the degree of strength required for the joint must be kept in view in choosing a solder. The parts to be joined must be free from oxide and thoroughly clean; this can be secured by filing, scouring, scraping, or pickling with acids. The edges must fit exactly, and be heated to the melting point of the solder. The latter must have a lower melting point than either of the portions of metal that require to be joined, and if possible only those metals should be chosen for solder which form alloys with them. The solder should also as far as possible have the same color and approximately the same strength as the article whose edges are to be united.
To remove the layers of oxide which form during the process of soldering, various so-called "fluxes" are employed. These fluxes are melted and applied to the joint, and act partly by keeping off the air, thus preventing oxidation, and partly by reducing and dissolving the oxides themselves. The choice of a flux depends on the quantity of heat required for soldering.
Solders are classed as soft and hard solders. Soft solders, also called tin solders or white solders, consist of soft, readily fusible metals or alloys, and do not possess much strength; they are easy to handle on account of their great fusibility. Tin, lead-tin, and alloys of tin, lead, and bismuth are used for soft solders, pure tin being employed only for articles made of the same metal (pure tin).
The addition of some lead makes the solder less fusible but cheaper, while that of bismuth lowers the melting point. Soft solders are used for soldering easily fusible metals such as Britannia metal, etc., also for soldering tin plate. To prepare solder, the metals are melted together in a graphite crucible at as low a temperature as possible, well stirred with an iron rod, and cast into ingots in an iron mold. To melt the solder when required for soldering, the soldering iron is used; the latter should be kept as free from oxidation as possible, and the part applied should be tinned over.
To make so-called "Sicker" solder, equal parts of lead and tin are melted together, well mixed, and allowed to stand till the mixture begins to set, the part still in a liquid condition being then poured off. This mixture can, however, be more easily made by melting together 37 parts of lead and 63 parts of tin (exactly measured).
Soldering irons are usually made of copper, as copper is easily heated and easily gives up its heat to the solder. The point of the iron must be "tinned." To do this properly, the iron should be heated hot enough easily to melt the solder; the point should then be quickly dressed with a smooth flat file to remove the oxide, and rubbed on a piece of tin through solder and sal ammoniac. The latter causes the solder to adhere in a thin, even coat to the point of the iron. A gas or gasoline blow torch or a charcoal furnace is best for heating the iron, but a good, clean coal fire, well coked, will answer the purpose.
When in use, the iron should be hot enough to melt the solder readily. A cold iron produces rough work. This is where the beginner usually fails. If possible, it is well to warm the pieces before applying the iron. The iron must not be heated too hot, however, or the tin on the point will be oxidized. The surfaces to be soldered must be dean. Polish them with sandpaper, emery cloth, a file, or a scraper. Grease or oil will prevent solder from sticking.
Some good soldering fluid should be used. A very good fluid is made by dissolving granulated zinc in muriatic acid. Dissolve as much zinc as possible in the acid. The gas given off will explode if ignited. To granulate the zinc, melt it in a ladle, and pour it slowly into a barrel of water. A brush or swab should be used to spread the fluid on the surfaces to be soldered. If the point of the soldering iron becomes dirty, it should be wiped on a cloth or piece of waste that has been dampened with the soldering fluid.