The Easiest Way to Solder A Copper Pipe and Repair Broken Plumbing
I will start by saying I am not a handyman, in fact I am about as far as you can get from being handy. I have an uncanny ability to break small engines, I am horrible at detail work of measuring, but I do a pretty job of pulling things apart and not being able to get them back together.
I had a problem with my tub faucet and needed to replace it and as I took the old faucet off I was confronted with a non-standard configuration and I could not find a replacement that would work without some changes including cutting the old fitting from the ½” copper pipe and extending it 4” from the wall. Simple enough!
Since I know, you can learn anything from the internet and I have seen my father do plumbing I figured I could do it without any problems. I could not be any more wrong; plumbing takes some real skill especially when done in close quarters and when you do not want to burn down the hose with a propane touch.
The basics of plumbing are simple enough:
Step 1: Cut your pipe to length and clean the pipe and all fittings with a wire brush and abrasive paper until all the copper shines.
Step 2: Dry fit all of the pieces together to ensure they fit and the final product will be correct.
Step 3: Apply flux to the pipe and fitting and put them together and wipe the excess flux from the pipe.
Step 4: heat the pipe, fitting, and apply solder to the joint and allow it to cool.
For a beginner without practice the steps are simple enough but in my first attempt I could not get a good view of the area I needed to solder because of its location near the wall and ended up having an unevenly soldered joint. To avoid needing to cut a hole in the wall to access the plumbing I needed a different approach.
When I was at the hardware store to buy my pipe cutter, propane torch and other tools I notice a product that appeared to be a flux paste with solder in it so on my second (or was it third or fourth) trip to the hardware store I decide this would be my next approach.
The product I ended up finding is called Solder-It Copper Bearing Paste (Home Depot sells a similar product called Oatey Safe-Flo), which makes the process a little easier for the beginner. Rather than applying the flux, heating the pipe, and trying to get the solder to flow properly you simply apply the paste to the pipe and the fitting, join them and do a half twist to ensure coverage, and heat the fitting evenly from all sides if possible allow the solder in the paste to flow.
I had a small job, used this product on three joints, and needed to fix one of the three due to uneven heating and a pinhole leak. To fix the joint I just put a small bead of the paste around the joint and re-heated it to allow more solder to flow into the joint.
While the product is quite a bit more expensive than the traditional flux and solder method, which probably makes it less preferred for large job, this approach made the job easier for an inexperienced “plumber” like me.