Can I use solder to make a wire dress form?
January 2, 2012 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Making a wire dress form: Can I use solder?

I've decided to make a wire dress form for my girlfriend, and...well...I actually really like the look of it as well.

It will just be like the one in the link and I'm wondering if I can solder this thing together and have it be fairly secure? I'll use a propane torch and lots of flux in conjunction with the gun so that the wire is hot enough and will hold.

At most it will maybe hold an old dress or I may put LED lights on it but nothing heavier. I'm concerned that like the picture, the form won't solder properly to the metal lamp base or each curl.

I don't really want to use chicken or stucco wire and I don't want to weld if I don't have to. I'm not very good but I do have access to a mig setup if need be. My dad and uncle can easily do it and they could give me some quick pointers but are otherwise unavailable to help me weld for any length of time for the next few weeks.
posted by penguinkeys to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Best answer: If you build exactly that with solid core metal and you solder it, it will fall apart under its own weight. If you build it with hollow material... It would still probably fall apart with solder. Solder just isn't structural.

Brazing would be a good middle ground between soldering and welding. It's basically soldering but with much more sturdy brass. You have the equipment to do it, though it is more difficult to do than soldering and will take some practice.
posted by Ookseer at 1:37 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had one of these for many years and to me it looks like it was soldered, although I admit I'm not terribly knowledgeable in this area. But where one wire meets another, there is an irregular blob of metal, and sometimes you can see the sharp edges of the wire still, indicating that the wire itself was not melted, just some other metal melted onto it. That points to soldering, right?

Anyway, I don't abuse it but I don't baby it, either. It gets moved around some, not very carefully, and things flung on it, and it's held up well.
posted by HotToddy at 1:38 PM on January 2, 2012

Besides the structural issues mentioned, solder typically contains lead which will leave marks on things.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:01 PM on January 2, 2012

Best answer: The basic rule for solder: you have to have a good mechanical connection before you can have a good soldered connection. That is, if the joint wouldn't hold together on its own before you solder it, the solder will eventually fail. The solder just holds things rigid. Now, the dress form probably isn't going to subjected to tons of pushing and pulling, but that picture has some awfully long joint sequences. Maybe it would last long enough, or just require a little touch-up resolder every few years? Hard to say.

Brazing (hot solder) would offer somewhat more strength and welding would be the strongest you can get. I'd personally build what's in that picture with small tack welds; you'll need a form or fixture regardless of what technology you use, and once you have that it's just zap, zap, zap.

Re: solder containing lead, there are lots of lead-free solders in the world. They've been used in the plumbing, HVAC, and electronics industries for decades.
posted by introp at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IAAMS (I am a metalsmith)

You seem to be talking about electronic solder, which won't work at all.

It all depends on what you want to make it out of. If you use steel and the mig, the actual welding will take you like half an hour. You'll just be zapping it where metal touches metal. That's what I'd do since you have access to the welder.

If you wanted, you could use brass or nickel and silver solder, which would probably hold together but not be terribly durable.
posted by cmoj at 2:21 PM on January 2, 2012

Bicyclists used to tie spokes together with wire where they met, then soldered the whole thing as a kind of glue. Might be worth a thought.
posted by rhizome at 2:49 PM on January 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I am looking into the MIG and just tacking it on. I've heard good things about JB weld as well. Any thoughts?
posted by penguinkeys at 7:50 PM on January 2, 2012

JB weld will be far too brittle. It's more for filling gaps than structural joints. It'd be ugly anyway.
posted by cmoj at 8:46 PM on January 2, 2012

Could you rent a spot welder like this?

I remember a friend made a really amazing birdcage with one we had back in art school.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:26 PM on January 2, 2012

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