San Francisco Plumbing - How to Solder Copper Pipe - Page 3

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How to Solder Copper Pipe
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Plumbing HelpHow to Solder Copper Pipe
By Contractor Mike

Open the can of flux and get some paste on the brush. A thin coat. Wipe the excess on the edge of the can. You're not applying mastic around a chimney here. Holding one of the 3" pieces in the center, flux each end all around but no more than 3/4" from the end. Slip an elbow onto each end and give a quick wipe on excess flux around the fittings with the 2nd cloth. Put the partly assembled "plug" onto the 1st cloth.

Repeat this until you have your square copper plug assembled. If it looks circular, or like an irregular polyhedron, something went south on you somewhere, so start again.

Since your plug components cannot touch anything during the soldering (draws off heat), use your vise-grips to (gently) lock on to the center of one of the copper pieces so that the plug is hanging over an edge (e.g., a work bench) in a vertical position. The vise-grips will also act as a heat sink.

The basic thing to remember in copper soldering is that heat flows up, then sideways, then down. But because the parts are so close together in this practice session, and everything will heat up rather quickly, this difference is minimal. Still, you are going to start by soldering the bottom two elbows, then the top two.

Unroll the solder so you have about eight inches sticking out. Not a foot, and not two inches -- eight inches.

All you'll probably need to do (if you do it right) is make one adjustment to the length of the solder (after the bottom two elbows are sweated) to finish up on the upper two elbows.

Okay, you're ready to fire up that propane/MAP gas torch. For the abbreviation buffs, MAP stands for methylacetylene-propadiene. It burns hotter than pure propane. Always keep it pointed away from your face and body. And keep that flame in sight at all times, too. Also, never never never lay the torch handle (or tank, if there's no hose) down on its side with the flame on.

Much of what you're going to do next seems counter-intuitive, but read carefully and you'll be soldering like a pro in no time.

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Contractor Mike was a General Building Contractor for nearly twenty years in Los Angeles and is now a produced playwright. 


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