You will have to forgive me if the following information is located somewhere else like, this site, in a book, on your instruction sheet, or is common knowledge. Somehow, I have never been able to find adequate model "iron work" information. There are many excellent articles on silver soldering in this and other forums. One example is Silver Soldering
by Russell Barnes. Download the .pdf here - Silver Soldering Hints
. However, my soldering work always seemed to be either too much solder or not enough. A lack of easily followed, pertinent, information has always vexed me to the point of exasperation. So, after much trial and many, many errors, I decided to write my own instructions. Hopefully, others will find these instructions useful as well. Over time, I have developed some (still tedious) techniques and discovered some tools that have allowed me to create passable "iron work"
Butane Mini Torch
A refillable butane torch is a requirement for the technique described. I personally like the Bernzomatic 3-in-1 because it is easy to adjust the flame and easily refilled using compressed butane. However, any small butane torch will do. The Bernzomatic model above has the soldering tip still attached. This is taken off so it can be used as a torch.
I have a large variety but I only use one for soldering. It is called a Mitten forceps and a company called Dr. Slick makes it. Squeezing the clamp all the way past the last notch will open them which saves a two handed operation. You can buy them from L.L. Bean for $18.50.
I use Round Nose Pliers for two operations, making eye rings and for closing and forming rings and hooks. These can be found in any craft shop that sells beading supplies. I suggest you buy the smallest diameter nose. Round nose pliers should cost between $5.00 and $6.00.
Xuron makes Tweezernose Pliers, which I use to do the preliminary and final shaping of the rings. The jaws of these pliers don't have ridges that can destroy or mess up paint or coatings. They should cost about $8.00.
The Xuron Flush cutter 410T does an excellent job of cutting the spirals of wire to make rings. It is also and excellent thread nipper. It should also cost about $8.00.
An 8" X 8" piece of bathroom tile makes a wonderful soldering board. One tile from Home Depot should set you back about $1.00 - 3.00.
Last, but not least, are wooden match sticks. These are used to spread the soldering flux compound on the wire. You can buy 250 for $3.00. They also make great paint stirrers. If you get bored, you can also build with them. They are available most craft stores.
A few words about the materials I use. Most of the items mentioned below came from stores located within ten miles of my home and believe me; I live in the middle of nowhere. This is important to note because it means that the materials are easy for anyone to obtain. Substituting local items for the materials in kits is not an unforgivable faux pas
. Personally, I think sourcing materials is one of the first steps to learning how to scratch build a model.
Wire comes in standard sizes called gauges. The wire that is used for model ships to make iron work is usually 16-28 gauge. This sizing causes some confusion because the high the gauge size, the thinner the wire. Right now I am using wire that is from 22 to 28 gauge in size.
Harvey’s Flux & Solder
Is the easiest material I have ever used to solder. I found this at my local Discount Drug Mart for about $6.50. It is mainly used to solder copper plumbing joints together. I decide to try it because it contained both flux and solder as mixed together in a thick gray paste. After a lot of trail and error, I found a very small amount is all that is needed. Also, although it can be activated with a regular lighter, a butane torch actually works better because it allows you to control its flow. Below, I have included a few pictures of techniques I discovered to recreate the iron strops for blocks and deadeyes.
Most wire pieces used on model ship start out as different diameters of rings. Multiple rings can be formed and cut together using different dowels, rods, soldering iron noses, etc. to size them. Appropriate diameter sizing is important because different ship’s parts require different diameters. Unfortunately, the correct diameter size is often found by trial and error. Once you find a diameter that is correct for the part, I suggest you make a note on your plans as to what you used to prevent constant guessing. Take the wire and wrap it around the forming correct size of forming tool making a tight spiral as shown in the picture. Also note that the wire being used is coated black.
Once the wire is formed, slide the spiral off of the forming tool.
Congratulations! You’ve made a tiny Slinky! LOL It's important that you DON'T try to even up or fix the spacing of the rings at this point. Doing so usually just distorts the coil and the end result is you will have uneven rings. Hold the rings by the trailing wires and use the wire/sprue cutter as shown in the following picture.
When the coil is cut you will have rings. These rings in jewelry and bead making are called jump rings.
You may also notice that you can see the brass at the wire's core. The solder will adhere to the brass.
Soldering The Rings
Once you have individual rings you can begin to solder. These rings will be used for single blocks on a 1/96 scale Model Shipways model of Niagara
Clamping The Ring- In this technique I use the Mitten Clamp. The tool has serrated jaws, which hold the part securely, and the ring can be release by pushing the handle together.
Once the ring is clamped in the mitten clamp, the ends of the ring need to be aligned. This is done with the Tweezernose pliers.
Unlike other soldering methods, no further preparation to the wire needs to be done. The Harvey’s solder adheres the irregular surface of the ends of the wire and flows to the exposed brass ends. The solder and flux now needs to be applied to the separation. The wooden match sticks are used as a stir stick and an applicator. Every time the Harvey’s solder/flux is opened, it should be stirred. After stirring the excess can be scraped back into the jar. What is left on the stick after mixing and scraping is perfect for application. I don't like using brushes because the solder is hard to clean off of the brush and small brushed are expensive. Match sticks are cheap, do an adequate job, and most importantly, can be thrown away.
Apply a very, very small amount of the paste to the separation. I cannot stress enough that a little bit goes a long way. I use the tip of the stick to apply the paste AFTER I have wiped the excess off on the side of the jar. The picture below shows an example of an adequate amount of paste application.
Heat is then applied to the paste covered separation. I use the Bernzomatic set at about 2 1/2;. I also move the heat from outside the ring to inside. This technique seems to make the paste resolve into a smoother soldered joint.
Making Strops Out Of Soldered Rings
Once the ring is soldered, it has to be formed into a strop. The first thing I do is form it into an oval shape on the workbench using pliers and applying pressure from the outside of the ring. I have tried to stretch the rings into appropriate shapes, but I always seem to often break the solder joint during the process. I also put the soldered joint in the 12 o'clock or six o'clock position. When the joints are in those positions, they are easier to hide with other ironwork or rigging.
Once you get the hang of making ironwork with soldering paste, the process becomes routine. Also, like anything worth doing, practice makes perfect. I am open to any ideas, additions or constructive criticism of the technique I have described. My fondest hope is that it helps a fellow modeler get over a hump in the building process.
Laneb (Lane Bettcher)