Are you installing a new water pipe or need to fix a leak in an existing one? Hiring a plumber to do the job can take time and be expensive. For simple tasks like these, you can quickly learn how to solder copper pipe by yourself. Most of the supplies you are going to need are available at your local hardware store.
If you do not have soldering tools, you can also find them at any place that sells hardware. The money you save will more than pay for it. Here are 7 helpful hacks for learning how to solder copper pipe:
1. Gather Your Tools
The necessary tools and supplies to carry out this job are available in most hardware stores in the plumbing department. You might also need the original plumbing isometric drawings of your home. Here is an extensive list of everything you are going to need.
- The correct size of copper pipe: Most water pipes range from 3/8 to 1 inch in diameter. This information is usually printed on the pipe. The 1/8 inch thickness of the copper is not added though. Therefore, a 3/8-inch pipe is actually 1 inch in diameter. Be sure to buy L style, which has a red tag. The L style is the standard copper pipe for residential use.
- Connectors and joints: When learning how to solder copper pipe, you will become familiar with the different connectors and joints needed for each type of project. These include 90-degree elbow joints, male/female adapters, reducing adapters, and T/cross adapters for multiple water lines.
- Pipe cutter: Copper piping is sold in standard lengths. Therefore, you may need to measure and cut a pipe down to the size you need. A pipe cutter is a C-clamp with a blade. Tighten the clamp around the pipe and twist the cutter around it. As you tighten the clamp more, the blade will cut through the pipe. It is much easier to use a pipe cutter than a hacksaw.
- Air/propane blow torch: Copper pipe needs temperatures up to 500 degrees F for plumbing jobs. The propane blow torch uses small, replaceable propane tanks.
- Solder: Only use lead-free solder wire approved for copper pipes. Standard width is 3/8 of an inch, and it is usually sold in one-pound rolls.
- Several clean cotton rags and a spray bottle of water.
- Solder flux: This is a tin of zinc chloride jelly used to clean the ends of the copper pipes before you solder them. Some tins have a built-in brush to apply the flux. If not, a clean cloth will do the trick.
2. Safety Precautions
Before you attempt a soldering job, be sure that you wear protective equipment. You will need heavy rubber gloves to prevent burns from the blowtorch, hot pipes or molten solder. Always wear safety goggles when working with metal or fire.
Keep your clothing away from the flame and watch for any sparks. If possible, work in a wide-open space, away from anything flammable. Keep children and pets away from the equipment and your work area. Keep a fire extinguisher close if needed.
3. Prepare the Copper Pipe
As you discover more about how to solder copper pipe, these steps will make more sense. Before you solder the pipe, take a piece of fine sandpaper and sand the end of it as well as the fitting. You must remove all the copper oxide coating so the pipe will solder into the fitting securely.
Sand the ends well. Afterwards, make sure there is no dirt or grease on them. Any residue can weaken the solder and cause a leak. Paint the ends of the copper pipe and the connectors with flux. After the job’s done, put them together.
4. Light the Blow Torch
Working with a blowtorch takes a little practice. When you are learning how to solder copper pipe, you will get better with experience. When the flame turns blue, this is your sign. This change notifies you that the blow torch is hot enough to begin working.
With constant movement, heat the joint that needs soldering. With your other hand, lightly touch the solder to the joint until the solder starts to melt. The process is easier if you hold the blowtorch with your non-dominant hand. This way, it will be easier to guide the solder wire with your dominant one.
5. Melt the Solder
As you heat the solder wire, it will go toward the heat and melt into the joint. Your goal is to work the melted solder all around the joint for a complete seal around the pipe. Keeping the flame ahead of the melting solder is key to sealing larger joints.
Remember to keep the flame moving constantly. Otherwise, you can overheat the copper and blacken it. If that happens, you must take the joint apart, re-clean it, and solder it again. If you do not proceed this way, the joint will not seal properly, and you will have a water leak.
6. Remove Excess Solder
While the joint and solder are still hot, spray a mist of water on excess solder. This way, you prevent it from running. Wipe the solder away carefully with some clean cloths. Keep your gloves on as the copper pipe will still be hot. Be careful that the joint is tightly fitted before this step as you can mess up the seal if you move lose pipes.
7. Final Rinsing
Once the joint is securely soldered, run some clean water through the pipes to flush out excess flux or debris. As the water goes down the pipes, check the joint carefully for any leaks.
Learning how to solder copper pipe is a valuable skill to master for your home. With the right equipment, procedures, and safety precautions, you can save money by fixing leaky pipes yourself. Always be careful when you are working with heat and flame. Keep in mind that bigger plumbing jobs are probably best to leave to the professionals.
Do you have any pointers or experiences to share about soldering copper pipe? We would love to hear about it!