Renovation Road Trip: Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings with DIYdiva

By Chris @ Picardy Project | Updated Oct 26, 2012 10:44 AM

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The third stop in our Renovation Road Trip brought us to Michigan, where we met the wonderful Kit from DIYdiva. Since she DIYs solo most days, Kit had lined up a few different projects for us that would have been tough, if not impossible, for anyone to handle on her own. In the end, however, it was a project requiring know-how, not manpower, that we were able to help out most with.

Two 1/2″ copper supply lines needed to be capped after removing the Jacuzzi tub from her bath.

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - Jacuzzi

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - Copper Pipes

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - Pipes

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

The existing gate valves were leaking a drop of water every few seconds. Sometimes this happens during the soldering process if the washer deforms. Other times the washer simply degrades with age. This wasn’t an emergency, but it wasn’t good either.

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - New Valve Fittings

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

The challenge did provide Kit with the perfect opportunity to buy some new tools. At the local hardware store, we helped pick out the best fittings and tools to have on hand during a soldering project, lessening the likelihood of an emergency return visit to the store.

It’s always a good idea to have on hand a torch with flux, solder, and prep tools (wire pipe/fitting cleaner, reaming tool, acid brush), plus a variety of fittings. Perhaps the most important fittings to carry at all times are caps, and for just this type of occasion.

When it comes to torches, I prefer the kind that ignite and lose power with a push button; they are the safest and easiest to work with. (I’m also partial to using MAAP gas instead of propane—it’s more expensive but burns hotter, so it works more quickly.)

The first step when sweating pipes is to clear water from the work area. We turned off the main water supply and drained water from the pipes to accomplish this. Working in the upstairs bathroom, it was easy to let out a little water by turning on the sink in the downstairs bath. We could actually see the water empty out of the supply lines as Meryl turned on the water downstairs.

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - Prepping Pipes

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

Next, we prepped the pipe and fittings for soldering. Kit used her brand new brush to prep inside of the caps and outside of the pipe. The goal here is to get fresh, clean-looking copper.

Soldering Copper Pipes - Clean Copper

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

Using an acid brush, coat both mating surfaces with a medium coat of flux. Place the cap over the end of the pipe.

Now you’re ready to solder! Focus the heat to the fitting (but you might also want to give a little attention to the pipe, especially if it’s a larger one). Since we were capping a little ½” line, the heat went all the way around the pipe and fitting pretty easily.

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - Soldering Shot 1

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

With 1/2″ pipe and MAAP gas, the flux should start to smoke within 20 seconds, which indicates that it’s time to apply solder. How do you know if it’s hot enough? Remove the heat and touch the solder to the joint. If it melts easily, you’re all set to move forward.

Turn your torch away from the pipe and apply the solder to the side opposite the heat.

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings - Soldering Shot 2

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

The solder should melt and be drawn into the fitting. Move the solder around the pipe to ensure it penetrates into the fitting on all sides.

Then spray a little water and carefully use a thick rag to wipe the excess solder and flux away from the joint to make it look sparkling. As you get more practice, you’ll waste less solder and produce professional-level joints far more quickly.

Soldering Copper Pipe Fittings- Finished

Photo: Meryl Rose Philips

Kit is always someone who is eager to learn a new trick or trade, so we were happy to lend our plumbing know-how to her tool belt. Two stops down, two more to go. Time to hit the road!

Read every dispatch from the Renovation Road Trip right here.

For more on plumbing, consider:

How To Solder Copper Pipe Fittings
10 DIY Pipe Fitting Projects (No Plumbing Required)
Everything You Need to Know About Winterizing Pipes