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Copper Tubing(solder)

Copper tubing has long been the pipe of choice for the delivery of potable water in homes. Copper has also been used for drains in the past as well, but with different fittings. Copper tubing for potable water can be connected in a few ways, which will be dealt with later, but the method we will deal with here is soldering.

A few basic soldered copper fittings

Soldering copper fitting can be very simple(with the correct tools) to quite complicated, depending on the circumstances. A few drops of water or a tight location can turn a simple soldering job into a lot more than you expected. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to tell ahead of time which way it will all work out.

Soldering does take a bit of skill and the proper tools. It can be quite difficult at first, but with some practice, the basics of it can be picked up easily enough. However, the question you should ask yourself is "how much soldering am I going to be doing?". If the answer is "not much", it may not really be worth the time or money learning the methods.

For those of you who do wish to learn the techniques of soldering, we'll start here with the basics

Basic tools

  • 1. Steel wool
  • 2. Flux(soldering paste) with brush
  • 3. Cleaning brushes(1/2" and 3/4")
  • 4. Cleaning tape

These are the most preferred products of professionals. Unless either the copper tubing or a fitting is very tarnished, most preparing of both can be done with just steel wool. The cleaning brushes and tape just make the job quicker and easier. Steel wool can be used for the pipe, like the cleaning tape, and can be bunched up and spun around inside the fitting, like the cleaning brushes.

The key to good soldering is cleaning and pasting the pipe and the fitting properly. Both the pipe and the fitting needs to be completely free of dirt and oil. Both the pipe and the fitting should be showing shiny copper, like a scratched surface. The pipe needs to be cleaned at least an 1/8" deeper than the fitting, so that fresh copper pipe is showing after assembly.

After the pipe and fitting are cleaned, flux should be pasted on both. Only a small amount of paste needs to be used, but the whole area should be very lightly covered.

Tubing cutters like the ones to the right make the job of cutting copper tubing nice and neat. A fine toothed hacksaw blade will also work, but will leave a rough end. This can sometimes cause problems when putting the joint together. A tubing cutter is well worth the money!!

The last two things that will be needed is a torch and solder. A rag or paper towel is also recommended.

A torch like the one above will do the job most of the time. Anything above 1" in diameter gets a bit too difficult. A professional plumber will normally have a much bigger torch with a separate tank and torch tip for anything more than a few small joints. These bigger torches provide a better flame and more control over the flame. They are great to use if you have access to one.

Once the pipe and fitting is cleaned and pasted, put together, and the torch and a roll of solder is unrolled and ready, its time to solder. The torch must heat up the joint higher than the temperature where the solder will melt. For a standard 1/2" fitting, this will take approximately 20-30 seconds. Once the joint is hot enough, just touching the end of the solder to the pipe will cause it to melt. The touch should be focused on the side of the joint away from the solder. The melted solder will fill in the gap between the pipe and the fitting, sealing the joint.

WARNING! molten solder falling from a joint will burn just about anything in its path, including people! The liquid solder will also splash. Watch out for carpet below. The paste drops that fall from a joint can also burn. Take appropriate precautions!

When the joint is filled with solder, the torch can be removed from the joint. The solder will remain liquid for a few seconds. For a nicer looking joint, the joint can be wiped free of any excess solder drops at this point.

(left)A roll of solder, unrolled and ready to go. Bent with hook to make it easier to use.

Once the joint has dried, water can be put through it. The water line should be flushed out immediately afterward. There will be air and a small amount of paste present in the pipe.

TIP: Water(even a tiny drip) is the enemy of the soldering process. A small amount of water will absorb the heat from the torch, keeping the joint itself below the temperature for melting the solder. Sometimes with a very small drip, enough heat can be applied to turn the water into steam and overcome this problem. It does not, however, take much water at all to keep a joint from "taking". The sign that a joint won't take is when the solder will not turn into a liquid. It will just ball up and roll off of the joint onto the floor.

Free Online Plumber does not warrant any of the information on this page, in regards to the accuracy or effectiveness of these procedures or this information. Always check and follow all applicable local plumbing codes.
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