How To Solder Distilling And Brewing Equipment (Guide)

When done right, soldering can be an easy way of binding different metals that make up brewing and distilling equipment. Soldering not only makes it easier to join your still’s pieces, but it allows you the ease of reheating, detaching, and cleaning the pieces when the need arises. There are various solders in the market, the most common ones being silver, lead, and lead-free. 

If you’ve been wondering how to solder your brewing and distilling equipment, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, we’ll cover how to solder distilling and brewing equipment, and the right type of solder to use. 

Who’s This Article Aimed At

As a homebrewer, you know there comes a time when you have to separate your copper pipes in time for cleaning. Or worse still, you’re faced with a leaking pipe and have no clue how to bind the pieces back together. Whichever category you fall under, this article is catered to you. Soldering your own equipment is a terrific way of removing and replacing your copper pipes whenever you want to. And to take apart the different pieces of your still and use them for different purposes.

The Different Methods Of Joining Metals

There are three main employable methods for joining metals. The significant difference between these is the heating temperatures required for each technique because the heat does affect the type of material used. 

Welding

Welding is a process of taking two different pieces of material (often steel) and using heat to melt the filler rod to join the pieces together. Welding is dependent on temperatures being above 5000℉. The result is one piece of steel. The piece can then be bent as desired because there’s no third piece that needs to be handled differently. Gas, acetylene, and oxygen are used as heat sources when welding a piece of steel or copper. Below are the four main types of welding.

Stick welding

Stick welding, also called shielded arc, or manual metal arc welding uses stick-like electrodes. The center has a metal rod similar to the material you’re welding. When heated, it creates a spark that starts an arc and as it melts the material in use, it creates a peaked shape on your bond. As the rod burns down, it burns off the flux which creates a coating, called a slag, on the weld which helps protect it from getting contaminated by oxygen. 

Flux Core 

A flux core uses a feeding motor where you push the rod through a tube and gun. It works similarly to the stick welding technique, only you don’t have to stop the welding process when the electrode runs out. 

MIG welding

When it comes to MIG welding, you don’t have to worry about any slag left behind because it doesn’t use flux. Instead, this technique uses a steel wire covered in copper, which passes through and out of a gun. It uses a nozzle and shielding gas (argon, carbon dioxide, or both) from a gas cylinder and it’s this gas that protects the weld pool.

TIG welding 

Often called gas tungsten arc welding, this type of welding involves the use of an electrode that does not melt. This is because the electrode is made up of tungsten alloy. It’s the most precise welding to use.

Brazing

Brazing is another popular method that involves joining metal. The process of brazing is achieved by heating the alloy that joins the material together. Anything above 840℉ is considered brazing. Due to high temperatures, this technique requires a torch or furnace.

There are three main types of brazing

Torch brazing

In the torch brazing technique, filler material is melted using an oxyacetylene flame. A flux is first applied to the surface that’s going to be brazed, and the torch is directed against the workpiece and towards the joints. The flame used helps prevent oxidation on the torched portion.

Dip brazing

When it comes to the dip brazing technique, welders place the material to be brazed in a molten salt bath or molten metal bath. The former has a flux that acts as a heating source, while the latter uses the filler as the heat source. Dipping the metal in a dip filled with molten matter speeds up the joining process of the material used. 

Furnace brazing

As the name implies, this technique uses a furnace as a heat source. The filler material is melted in the furnace at a controlled temperature and atmosphere. It’s in the furnace that the brazing metal melts and fuses with the joints. 

Soldering

Soldering is a joining method that depends on heating metals at temperatures of up to 840℉. The filler used to join material together is called solder. As the solder heats up, it bonds with the metal parts. Here are the most common types of solders. 

Lead solder

This is the most common type of solder used. It has a higher melting rate because it’s made of tin and lead. Though it has been slowly phased out in most industries that heat and burn lead, it’s still easily available at most stores. Most solderers prefer this metal because it’s easier to work with and affordable.

Lead-free solder

After much controversy surrounding the use of lead and its effect on health, a lead-free alloy made of mainly copper and tin was put in place. The use of high and low-burning metal is so that the solder can easily melt on the workpiece you’re soldering. 

Silver solder

Silver solder comes in different melting temperatures, from super easy to hard. Hard silver is ideal when you want a strong bond between your material, with super easy being the easiest to melt. Most of these solders have about two percent silver. The silver ensures the joints are a little harder and reduces any liquid leakages. 

How To Solder Distilling And Brewing Equipment

With a few pieces of copper and tools which are readily available at your local hardware, you can easily solder your brewing and distilling equipment. As mentioned earlier in the post, there are various solders in the market. Below is a guide on how to solder your equipment and a brief explanation of why it’s vital to use lead-free solder.

The Importance Of Using Lead-Free Solder

Though lead solder is relatively cheaper and has a low melting point, it does have its disadvantages. Lead is known to be harmful to the environment because it’s made of lead and tin. When heated, it creates fumes that, according to the World Health Organization can be toxic when inhaled. Lead-free, on the other hand, is not only environmentally friendly, it makes for a stronger solder which gives you a more reliable joint, and can resist fatigue from several thermal cycles.

When buying lead-free solder, look out for Cadmium and Antimony. These heavy metals might have a low boiling point, but they’re not food-grade materials and can be harmful to your health. Ideally, look for one with tin and silver or tin and copper alloy.

What Types Of Material Can You Solder

Not all metal can be soldered because of heating limitations, but there’s still a handful of material you can solder, and these include:

  • Copper
  • Stainless Steel
  • Nickel
  • Bronze
  • Lead
  • Brass
  • Tin

What you’ll need

Now that we’ve gotten the basics underway, it’s time for the fun part: soldering your equipment. Below is a list of tools and equipment you’ll need. You can order these from Amazon.

  • Lead-free solder
  • Torch (preferably a self-igniting one)
  • MAPP or propane gas
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Liquid Flux
  • 2″ stainless steel ferrules 
  • 1″ to 2″ copper reducer
  • ½” to 1″ copper reducer
  • 1″ copper pipe
  • ½” copper pipe
  • 2″ copper pipe sections
  • 80 grit Sandpaper
  • Small paint brush
  • Round wire brush 

Preparation And Cleaning

  • Using sandpaper, sand all the surfaces that will be soldered. This includes inside and outside the reducer and the ferrule. Ensure you clean the parts until the copper is shiny. 
  • Using the wire brush, clean the inside of the joints and any part that will be making contact with any of the fittings. 
  • Dry assemble all the parts you’ll be soldering and make sure they fit properly.
  • Using the paintbrush, take the liquid flux and coat the parts you’ll be joining together.
  • Slip the parts you’ll be soldering, and get your torch ready. 

Soldering Instructions

  • Wear your gloves and goggles.
  • Light your torch and start heating the portion you want your filler material to be pulled into. 
  • Apply heat about 3″ away from the join. If you heat too closely it will burn the flux.
  • Place the solder on the copper pipe and let it melt onto the pipes. If it doesn’t instantly melt, continue heating the pipes.
  • Let the solder cool off. 
  • Check for any gaps. If any, heat and apply more solder, until there are no visible openings around the join.

Cleaning And Polishing The Joint

Once you’ve completed the task of joining your metals, it’s recommended to remove any excess solder and give your copper one final shine. Follow the steps below to clean and polish the joint.

  • Using sandpaper, sandpaper the pipes and joints until they’re shiny. You can also use soft steel wool to refine the shine. 
  • Using a file, even out any thick solder protruding from the sides of the pipes. 
  • To clean the insides of the pipes, use a metal brush to clean all the dirt. 

Cleaning The Pipes

You can also use a vinegar run to remove any copper sulfate that might be hanging inside the pipes. To do a vinegar run, follow these steps: 

  • Take a gallon of vinegar and pour it into your boiler. 
  • Fill the boiler with water until all the elements are covered. 
  • Turn on your still and let the vinegar steam for 30 minutes. 
  • Turn it off and allow your pipes to cool down. 
  • Rinse the pipes using warm water. 

To give your pipe a good clean, you can do a sacrificial run. Alcohol is a great solvent, so this helps to really draw out any excess grit and dirt. You can ferment a wash or use some cheap wine. Let the still run for approximately 15 minutes, collect the distillate and use it for sanitizing or household purposes. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you solder copper on a moonshine still?

Here’s a simple technique for soldering your moonshine 

  1. Prepare the material you’ll be soldering. To do this, take sandpaper and sand the copper pipes and the insides of the joint until they’re shining bright. 
  2. Using a metal brush, clean the insides of the copper joints.
  3.  Assemble the parts you’ll be joining to see if they fit snuggly. 
  4. Apply the flux to the parts that will be joined. Make sure you apply enough flux so it binds well, then assemble your pipes. 
  5. Light up your propane or MAPP torch, and heat the joins 3″ away to avoid burning the flux. Touch the tip of the solder into the copper and let it melt on the joins. 
  6. Solder all around the joins, and let it cool. 
  7. If you notice any holes on the joins, reapply heat and solder to cover them up. Clean the soldered parts with sandpaper and do a final touch with soft steel wool.

Conclusion

Soldering your equipment can seem complicated at first, but it’s a doable task. The most important thing to look out for is the heating temperature of the metals you’re using and make sure you use lead-free solder. Lead-free is typically pricier than lead solder, but your health and the material you’re joining will thank you for the effort. So, now that you’re equipped with information on how to solder your distilling and brewing equipment, why not get your safety goggles and gloves on, and start soldering? 

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