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It's easy to solder copper water pipes

Dear Ms. Builder: I want to install a simple wet bar in my family room. It is simple to run the plastic drain, but I have never soldered copper pipe. Is this something anyone can do and do you have any tips? - Sarah A.

Dear Sarah: It can be a bit scary the first time you try to solder a copper water pipe, but it is really quite easy. When you are done, turn on the water, hear it flow leak-free to your wet bar, it will be a very satisfying feeling. You did it yourself!

Don't be intimidated by soldering. The actual process uses capillary action like the way plants draw moisture through their roots. It is really kind of fun to watch. When the pipe gets hot and the solder melts the capillary action draws it into the joint.

Plumbing work with copper is one task that definitely requires planning before attempting to solder any of the pipes. Cut and bend all the pipes and carefully fit them together first.

Cut the pipe with a simple, safe tubing cutter that you spin around the pipe. Each time you spin it around, tighten it a little more until it cuts through. Go slow at first until you develop a feel for using it. Don't get discouraged if you crush your first, second, third .... piece. You will catch on to it eventually

After fitting, take the pieces apart. Cleanliness and surface preparation is important for the capillary action to work properly. Don't start this task if you are rushed for time because you will just end up spending twice as long redoing it. I know from experience.

Use plumber's sand cloth or fine sandpaper to clean off the end of the pipe. It should be bright when you are done. Be careful if you are using sandpaper not to remove much material. If the joint between the fitting and the pipe is loose, the solder will not draw properly.

Take a fitting brush and clean the inside surface of the fitting, where the pipe slides in, until is it bright. Blow out any dust and slide the fitting over the end of the pipe. It should be a nice snug fit.

At this point, I always lay a couple of sheets of aluminum foil under the area where I plan to solder. Once you solder a piece or two, you will not have problems, but the first time some hot solder may drip down. The foil helps protect the floor.

Open the small tin of paste flux and spread a thin coating on the end of the pipe and the inside of the fitting. When the flux gets hot during soldering, it chemically cleans the surfaces for a good bond. It is not dangerous to use, but keep it out of your eyes.

Now you are ready to solder. Put the fitting over the pipe and light the propane torch. Heat the fitting, not the pipe. The tiny blue flame inside the larger flame should touch the fitting. The flux will start to bubble. Don't overheat it or you may burn the flux making it ineffective.

Once the flux stops bubbling, usually about 20 seconds, touch the solder to the joint. It should begin to melt almost instantly. Remove the flame and watch the solder disappear into the joint. Apply the solder for five seconds maximum.

At this point, you can use a wire brush to clean off any excess molten solder that is hanging at the joint. This extra solder is not a problem, it just does not look like a professional job. Wait several minutes for the pipe to cool before turning on the water or you may blow out the solder.

Tools and materials required: small fitting brush, tubing cutter, round file, sandpaper or cloth, flux brush, propane torch, bucket, lead-free solder, propane torch, flux, aluminum foil, copper pipe and fittings.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.