Author Topic: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up? (Read 10326 times)

Gerard

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soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« on: January 21, 2014, 09:09:50 AM »
Cold snap, burst pipes, regional plumber shortage. I'm trying to solder things back together, with the aid of a library book and youtube and (I think) the proper tools and technique: separate pipes/fittings, sand all, wipe, brush on flux, put bits together, heat with torch, apply solder, wait till it melts and gets sucked in kinda, wipe, let cool. But every time I end up with a tiny gap or leak.

Can people with more experience suggest things I'm doing wrong? I *think* I've gotten all the water out of the pipes. I do notice that (a) the pipe or fitting takes a while to heat and (b) the solder is not always eager to be sucked in.

Help!
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ritchie70

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2014, 09:24:53 AM »
It's been a decade since I did this, and I was learning as I did, but I remember the solder not even "sucking in" if there was water in the pipe because the pipe wouldn't heat up sufficiently, so that probably isn't it.

Are you sure you're using enough solder?

I'm also not sure what you're wiping. Unless these are exposed pipes in a finished area, it doesn't have to be pretty.

Trirod

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2014, 10:07:35 AM »
The only times I've had problems soldering copper pipes is when I haven't got all the water out of them, so i'm guessing that might be your problem. Make sure the valve upstream of your break is turned all the way off - can be difficult sometimes to get it to close all the way.

I assume you are putting in the solder on the opposite side of the torch? Otherwise the pipe might not be hot enough all the way around.


Greg

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2014, 10:18:30 AM »
Echoing what others have said, any water will make it near impossible. Try drying the inside with compressed air if you have that available.

Use plenty of flux and make sure the pipes (and inside of fittings) are clean, clean, clean. Flux outside of pipes and insides of fittings. Heat pipe and fitting, more heat on fitting than pipe, front and back, moving the flame around a lot. Hot enough when solder wicks into joint (should be drawn into joint by heat), apply solder opposite side of joint from torch flame, don't apply solder in flame area.

As soon as solder is solid (looks dull) it's ok to wipe to remove flux, this helps prevent corrosion. I prefer the water-soluble flux.

If you can't get this to work, consider using "shark bite" or similar o-ring seal fittings. They work well, but are particularly handy in emergency situations. I keep several in my tool box.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 07:17:20 PM by Greg »

MsSindy

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2014, 10:52:13 AM »
My DH is an experienced welder, but we recently had this same problem when we were replacing our water heater and soldering the copper pipes. Even though we had the valves shut off there was just enough of a drip to cause it not to seal. We were trying to rush the job because he was already operating on a lack of sleep and was trying to get to bed. So, I had the bright idea to stuff some paper towel in the pipe to dry it - that did the trick.......unfortunately, 3 days later my mudroom faucet wasn't working...yep, bits of paper towel. Next day, the washer wouldn't fill...yep, bits of paper towel. For the next 7 days, various things with hot water pipes stopped working. Lesson learned.

We admitted what we did to our plumber friend, and he says that they all use bread as a quick way to dry things out. The bread dissolves pretty rapidly....paper towels, not so much!

Greg

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2014, 11:11:26 AM »
You can even buy special plugs for this purpose, they dissolve after some time. Always remove a fixture aerator and flush the line after a repair regardless.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 07:15:43 PM by Greg »

enigmaT120

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2014, 11:35:23 AM »
Some guys here at work mentioned a couple of weeks ago that they have used bread for that purpose. Too late for me, I took all my copper out and replaced it with PEX. My water disolves the copper from the inside. That can't be good for me.


paddedhat

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2014, 01:03:02 PM »
It's gotten to the point where it's pretty easy to avoid soldering altogether. IMHO, I wouldn't plague myself by grabbing the torch when doing a repair, and neither do most pros. anymore. I just helped a disabled friend who had an 1/2 copper elbow fail on a supply line in an exposed basement ceiling. I cut the elbow off, leaving as much pipe as possible on one side. I then cut an 18" piece of new tube, and using a Sharkbite 90* fitting and coupling, the job was done in five minutes. Knowing that the work didn't need to be bone dry is a huge plus. I have done repairs with water flowing down my arm while I got soaked. No big deal.


I've also done this work many times, the old fashion way. First you attempt to drain the lines. Then you cut the joint and try to get all the water out. Now it's time to stuff the lines with bread. Now IF everything is sparkly clean, bone dry and the God's are smiling, you will succeed. Unfortunately, the first attempt seems to be a 50/50 shot in my experience.

All I can add to the other soldering tips is this. First, don't do it if you can avoid it, and Sharkbites make it pretty easy to avoid. Second, if you do decide to take a shot at it, use a MAPP gas torch. Much hotter, and WAY more successful. Propane is for cooking hot dogs, it sucks for plumbing work. Good luck.

Spork

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2014, 01:51:52 PM »

I'm not adding much but "me too"... but I always used the bread trick as well.

...and sharkbites are freaking awesome. Why didn't somebody come up with that 20 years ago?
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Exflyboy

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2014, 02:48:28 PM »
Yes another vote for the wonderbread.. works great. As for sharkbites they are OK for the odd joint but they are very expensive.

I eventually broke down and bought the crimpers which make much cheaper joints... I would solder on (using bread) a copper to PEX connector and crimp from there.

Make sure when soldering old pipe to throughly clean off the oxidation with wire wool.. then coat with flux, assemble the joint, heat and flow in the solder.

Frank

Gerard

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2014, 07:03:25 PM »
Thanks to everybody. I kinda ended up listening to all of you, tried various drying-things-out techniques and then went with the sharkbites, which I freakin' love despite their high unit cost. Now I can bathe again! I'm gonna get some scrap pieces of copper tubing and practice with the torch and solder, just to eventually stumble my way to competence.
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Exflyboy

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #11 on: January 22, 2014, 04:23:08 PM »
Its easy.. with the scrap pieces thoroughly wire wool off the oxidation, then you will find it mysetriously solders very easily.. then wad the bread up the pipe and it will work great. Heat transfers along copper very easily so be careful not to burn yourself.

Frank

dragoncar

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2014, 04:36:06 PM »
So just out of curiosity, does pipe solder contain lead? Does anyone care?

Gerard

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #13 on: January 22, 2014, 04:50:14 PM »
The solder I bought makes a point of saying LEAD FREE in big letters, but I assume earlier solder (that holds my existing pipes together) had enough lead in it that I make sure to run my lines for a minute in the morning to flush them out before getting drinking water.

(I live in an older urban neighbourhood with lead in the soil, so I've done enough reading to realize that minute amounts of lead won't harm me... I make an effort not to eat dirt, though.)
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dragoncar

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2014, 04:55:18 PM »
The solder I bought makes a point of saying LEAD FREE in big letters, but I assume earlier solder (that holds my existing pipes together) had enough lead in it that I make sure to run my lines for a minute in the morning to flush them out before getting drinking water.

(I live in an older urban neighbourhood with lead in the soil, so I've done enough reading to realize that minute amounts of lead won't harm me... I make an effort not to eat dirt, though.)

I guess I'm at the point where a little lead here and there won't kill me. My brain has already developed and I'll soon be FI. If I lose a little brain function over the next 30 years maybe I'll be happier in the long run.

Spork

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #15 on: January 22, 2014, 05:04:49 PM »
The solder I bought makes a point of saying LEAD FREE in big letters, but I assume earlier solder (that holds my existing pipes together) had enough lead in it that I make sure to run my lines for a minute in the morning to flush them out before getting drinking water.

(I live in an older urban neighbourhood with lead in the soil, so I've done enough reading to realize that minute amounts of lead won't harm me... I make an effort not to eat dirt, though.)

I guess I'm at the point where a little lead here and there won't kill me. My brain has already developed and I'll soon be FI. If I lose a little brain function over the next 30 years maybe I'll be happier in the long run.

That's the sprit!

I thought it was tin... but when I googled it it appears to be a tin-silver-copper mix.
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greaper007

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2014, 07:05:45 PM »
I second the above advice, super clean joint, lots of flux, and shove tons of bread in the pipe. Make sure to apply the solder before the flux overheats (turns black) but not before it flows without the flame touching the pipe.

PeachFuzzInVA

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #17 on: January 23, 2014, 06:20:10 PM »
If you have all the tools and equipment already, I can see soldering the pipes, but otherwise shark bites are the way to go for a quick, inexpensive DIY fix.

Weedy Acres

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #18 on: January 23, 2014, 08:13:52 PM »
Glad you got this one worked out, but here's a couple tips for next time:

Make sure you clean it really really well. Use an emery cloth or special purpose wire brush to thoroughly clean off the inside and the outside of the pipe and the inside of the fitting to 100% remove the copper oxide.

Flux and solder.

If that doesn't work, try tinning the pipe. You can probably find this on youtube, but basically after you clean and dry everything, apply solder to the outside of the pipe and wipe it off before it hardens. This will leave a trace of silver on the pipe and kind-of primes it. Then flux, put the fitting on and solder.

Exflyboy

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #19 on: January 23, 2014, 08:38:31 PM »
If you have all the tools and equipment already, I can see soldering the pipes, but otherwise shark bites are the way to go for a quick, inexpensive DIY fix.

I have never heard of one failing but personally I would not bury one of these fittings inside a wall. A soldered joint is a much more permanent fix IMHO.

Tools are nothing more than a blowlamp, wire wool and a pot of flux.

Frank

ritchie70

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #20 on: January 24, 2014, 11:05:13 AM »
If you have all the tools and equipment already, I can see soldering the pipes, but otherwise shark bites are the way to go for a quick, inexpensive DIY fix.

I have never heard of one failing but personally I would not bury one of these fittings inside a wall. A soldered joint is a much more permanent fix IMHO.

Tools are nothing more than a blowlamp, wire wool and a pot of flux.

Frank

Have to agree. I first ran into them in the plumbing aisle in Home Depot buying some pieces to fix plumbing at my MIL's condo and couldn't bring myself to trust them. Just seemed iffy looking.

dragoncar

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #21 on: January 24, 2014, 11:11:43 AM »
If you have all the tools and equipment already, I can see soldering the pipes, but otherwise shark bites are the way to go for a quick, inexpensive DIY fix.

I have never heard of one failing but personally I would not bury one of these fittings inside a wall. A soldered joint is a much more permanent fix IMHO.

Tools are nothing more than a blowlamp, wire wool and a pot of flux.

Frank

Have to agree. I first ran into them in the plumbing aisle in Home Depot buying some pieces to fix plumbing at my MIL's condo and couldn't bring myself to trust them. Just seemed iffy looking.

It's a rubber seal, right? Rubber certainly degrades over time... possibly in under a decade.

Spork

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #22 on: January 24, 2014, 01:38:07 PM »
If you have all the tools and equipment already, I can see soldering the pipes, but otherwise shark bites are the way to go for a quick, inexpensive DIY fix.

I have never heard of one failing but personally I would not bury one of these fittings inside a wall. A soldered joint is a much more permanent fix IMHO.

Tools are nothing more than a blowlamp, wire wool and a pot of flux.

Frank

Have to agree. I first ran into them in the plumbing aisle in Home Depot buying some pieces to fix plumbing at my MIL's condo and couldn't bring myself to trust them. Just seemed iffy looking.

It's a rubber seal, right? Rubber certainly degrades over time... possibly in under a decade.

They are.... but if you don't like rubber seals... plumbing systems are potentially full of them. My (limited) experience is that undisturbed rubber tends to be okay. I've seen globe valves work 40 years *when they're not used*. (Like an old non-ball valve cutoff valve under a sink... It won't leak ever... until you actually cut it off once.) But actually start flexing that rubber... all bets are off.

Hell... it's not quite the same thing, but I just replaced the master cylinder in my 1975 Triumph this last year. It went leak free almost 40 years even being used.
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Midwest

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2014, 08:58:22 AM »
Clean with sandpaper (really clean), plenty of flux and wait for the flame to turn green. When the flame turns green, apply the solder while continuing to evenly heat the joint.

I had trouble at first getting the joint to suck in the solder to go in. Watched a video on youtube and they mentioned the green flame. Also, keep the heat on while soldering instead of heating up and then soldering. The "solder kit" includes really cheap flux that doesn't work that well. Spend the money and buy some good flux. Bread works great to dry out the joint. Opening a nearby valve or faucet helps as well as it allows the steam to escape. If you are near something flammable, ceramic tile works well as a flame stop/heat sink.

Exflyboy

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #24 on: January 25, 2014, 12:48:00 PM »
I would not use sandpaper.. use wire wool..Thats what the plumbers use (at least thats all I have ever seen used).

Other than that plus the bread (mentioned above) your technique is correct.

Exflyboy

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #25 on: January 25, 2014, 12:50:31 PM »
If you have all the tools and equipment already, I can see soldering the pipes, but otherwise shark bites are the way to go for a quick, inexpensive DIY fix.

I have never heard of one failing but personally I would not bury one of these fittings inside a wall. A soldered joint is a much more permanent fix IMHO.

Tools are nothing more than a blowlamp, wire wool and a pot of flux.

Frank

Have to agree. I first ran into them in the plumbing aisle in Home Depot buying some pieces to fix plumbing at my MIL's condo and couldn't bring myself to trust them. Just seemed iffy looking.

It's a rubber seal, right? Rubber certainly degrades over time... possibly in under a decade.

They are.... but if you don't like rubber seals... plumbing systems are potentially full of them. My (limited) experience is that undisturbed rubber tends to be okay. I've seen globe valves work 40 years *when they're not used*. (Like an old non-ball valve cutoff valve under a sink... It won't leak ever... until you actually cut it off once.) But actually start flexing that rubber... all bets are off.



Exactly what happens.. but still disturbed or not do you really want to bury a quick push to fit connector inside a wall?... There are just better alternatives.

Frank

tarantoga

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #26 on: February 09, 2014, 12:15:51 PM »
Second, if you do decide to take a shot at it, use a MAPP gas torch. Much hotter, and WAY more successful. Propane is for cooking hot dogs, it sucks for plumbing work. Good luck.

This. I recently had to do my first small plumbing project using copper (adding a shower head to a tub) and went out and bought a "starter kit" (torch, flux, cleaner, solder). I tried soldering copper pipe pieces for two hours without any luck, I was almost ready to give in and call a plumber.
Finally I went out and bought the slightly more expensive MAPP torch - everything worked as expected on the first try. The higher temperature made a huge difference.

Vilx-

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #27 on: February 09, 2014, 02:29:27 PM »
To the author - you said that you only used sandpaper. Does that mean you only scraped the male end of the pipe joint? I cannot imagine how you could scrape the female side from the inside with a sandpaper. For this purpose I've used a special brush made of hard metal wires.

letro

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #28 on: February 09, 2014, 03:51:29 PM »
Yes Plumbers use Acetylene torchs and solder 1/2 fittings in one minute.

dragoncar

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #29 on: February 09, 2014, 08:43:19 PM »
To the author - you said that you only used sandpaper. Does that mean you only scraped the male end of the pipe joint? I cannot imagine how you could scrape the female side from the inside with a sandpaper. For this purpose I've used a special brush made of hard metal wires.

Jesus, this post hurt my vagina.

Vilx-

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #30 on: February 10, 2014, 02:46:49 AM »
What was so bad about it? O_o The "male/female" thing? I really don't know how else to reference the two ends of the pipe (sorry, English is not my primary language). Usually when you talk about electrical plugs you use the "male/female" notation, so I assumed it would be valid here.

Greg

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #31 on: February 10, 2014, 09:45:36 AM »
I think they were joking.

Vilx-

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #32 on: February 10, 2014, 09:59:56 AM »
Fair enough. ^^)

TomTX

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #33 on: February 10, 2014, 05:56:02 PM »
To the author - you said that you only used sandpaper. Does that mean you only scraped the male end of the pipe joint? I cannot imagine how you could scrape the female side from the inside with a sandpaper. For this purpose I've used a special brush made of hard metal wires.

1) Wrap sandpaper around finger, rough side out.

2) Insert in female side.

3) Apply moderate pressure against the wall and rotate finger.
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honobob

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Re: soldering copper pipe -- where am I screwing up?
« Reply #34 on: February 10, 2014, 06:12:21 PM »
heat with torch,

Can people with more experience suggest things I'm doing wrong? I *think* I've gotten all the water out of the pipes. I do notice that (a) the pipe or fitting takes a while to heat and (b) the solder is not always eager to be sucked in.

Help!
didn't read all the replies but the first thing that stuck out to me is that you may not be heating the correct part. It's the fitting that should be heated.
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