My God, why did I ever think this was a good idea?
From an email sent mid-soldering. Halfway in, I knew I was out of my depth. First off, I was using plumbing supplies from Menards I picked up two months ago when I decided the actual jewelry soldering kit at my local independent art shop was a bit too expensive (at $60, of course). So I wandered the long, foreign hallways of the hardware store, looking for a soldering gun. Anything that would point to the supplies I needed.
And then, of course, there's all kinds of stuff there. Rolls and rolls of solder with these markings on them, percentages. I was a screenwriting major, for God's sake! Math was left behind at summer classes between my junior and senior year, as I'd failed, yes failed, it the first time.
I knew two things: that I needed this mysterious liquid called Flux, and that my solder shouldn't contain lead.
Okay. Flux, easy to find. Yes, it's a big bottle, and I'll probably never use all of it. It will go in the pile of Things Kira Bought When Something New Caught Her Attention. It will be in good company, out in the garage sale/donation box. And the solder wasn't hard, as I was looking for the words Lead Free.
Anyway, my soldering iron had gone missing months earlier, so all these supplies were bought for when I found it. And that date was unknown, as I wasn't really looking for it. So when a soldering iron showed up in Dad's office, I knew it was my time.
Now, living on the cheap, I had to find things to supplement those shiny professional and probably correct items. My mat was an old plastic one decorated with blue paw prints, previously used under the dogs' drinking bowls. The spongy thing to wipe off the iron was the soft side of a green kitchen sponge. The holder was an old glass ashtray that just was perfect for the iron I'd “borrowed.”
The basics of soldering are easy – brush some flux on the copper tape you've put around the item, hold the solder in one hand, the iron in the other, and drop beads of solder onto the tape. Okay. Easy enough, right?
Not so much. The iron I'd found only heated up on the arm, not the tip, so I was brushing sideways on the broad back of my teardrop pendant. Instead of getting those nice, smooth lines, I had globs. Big globs. Mountains. Distraught, I grabbed Dad and asked for his help.
His solution? A huge-ass electric soldering gun. Yes, a fucking GUN. Irons are so yesterday – get yourself one of these bad boys; you can literally feel the electricity humming through it as you smooth out your nice, thick, lead-free plumbers' solder.
Let me give you a piece of advice. Or, rather, a warning: the glass gets hot. Not hot-I-can-kinda-touch-it but Oh My God My Fingers Are Gone hot. And when your shaky hands let it drop from the pliers you're using to hold the thing, and it falls into your lap, be thankful you're wearing long pajama pants. I swear, I was playing hot potato with the thing until it clinked onto the floor and I could grab it with the pliers again.
But that's okay. It's back now, right?
I have always had very shaky hands; it's a by-product of the Fibromyalgia. In college, I could never be the cameraman when filming projects. A digital camera has to have the flash on or else there's a huge blur (thank God for tripods). I've gotten better at writing by hand, but paintbrushes go in waves, things bob, and soldering guns go all wonky.
So I'm sitting there, holding this huge gun, electricity humming through my hands, trying, desperately, to get the damn A-clamp holding the charm to stay put, watching my solder melt beautifully only to go in wavy lines or little hills.
After four unsuccessful tries at doing some sort of ring – a loop of solder melted all over the blue paw print mat, and a real jump ring just stood there, totally not submitting to my awesome power – I threw the whole thing down and declared it a mild success.
No, it is not smooth. It is a dull grey, lumpy thing with a pretty picture inside. Nothing to write home to Sally Jean about. But hey – I made it, tried it, and damnit, got to use a soldering gun.