San Francisco Plumbing - How to Solder Copper Pipe - Page 4

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

We start with the lower right elbow:

· With your right hand holding the propane torch handle, place the end of the blue flame at the center of the outside elbow curve.

· Wait until you see the flux bubble up (approx. 10 seconds)

· With your left hand, touch the solder to the very bottom of the elbow where it meets the copper pipe (the furthest point from the flame). It may take a moment to start melting and draw into the fitting. When it does melt, back the torch off a few inches (or away altogether) and gently push the solder until you see a solder blob. Pull the solder away.

· Carefully switch hands (do not cross over or under the flame with the solder!) and, without applying more heat (the elbow should still be hot enough to melt the solder), touch the solder to the top inside of the elbow (again the furthest point from the original flame source) where it meets the pipe. When you see the solder blob, pull the solder away.

· If perchance you waited too long and the solder doesn't melt, aim the flame to the bottom outside of the elbow again, wait a few seconds, and touch the solder to the space between the fitting and pipe.

You can't see inside, but you have just completed your first sweat fitting. Good work! If solder dripped down the side of an elbow, wipe it off with your 2nd rag.

Normally, you would move to the next elbow before it starts to cool, but let's stop a moment for a brief explanation of why this worked the way it did.

What you've used are basic principles of metallurgy and thermodynamics. The hottest part of the copper (the outside of the elbow) actually sucked the solder towards it, even from what seemed a long ways away, and the acid-based flux etched the copper evenly and for good adherence between the two copper pieces. When the solder got to the end of the pipe where it met the inside stop of the elbow, it merely stopped and backfilled all around the fitting and flowed back out into the cooler air.

Okay, before the whole plug cools down, move to the opposite elbow. And remember never to cross over the solder and the flame - change hands!

It takes more than a few minutes for your copper plug to cool down enough to touch it safely. In a real situation, the copper house pipe on either side of the fitting will draw off heat very quickly. But to test your test soldering handiwork, wait five minutes, take the entire plug by the vise grips, and dip it into your bucket of cool water.

After successfully completing your test solder, you are now ready to tackle any soldering job, including re-routing the copper line from your stucco wall back inside of the garage.

Back to where it belongs!

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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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