The Workbench

Just what IS a man’s lifetime flux capacitance?

1

Apparently, under 2 ounces.

It's a homely thing, this 2.5"-diameter tin of soldering flux. I bought it from a bin at an old oiled-wood-floor hardware store in Athens, Ohio, probably sometime in 1978. I doubt the hardware store is still there, but this can has been with me ever since.

I don't know how many solder joints I've made with it - certainly thousands. I built any number of PAIA kits and made every cable, every old telco patchbay connection in the recording studio I built with partners in the early 80s. And this cheerful little puck-o-flux has provided the sizzle and the greasy smoke for hundreds of patch cables, guitar cords, guitar rewires, and miscellaneous household and automotive repairs.

2

I suppose there are many such humble tools of trades and lowly (slowly) consumables that might accompany a guy on his hopeful three-score-and-ten drift through time, and it's no big deal.

Shoe polish and the accoutrements of that ritual. Shaving gear. One's handtools. Smoking pipes. The bottle of guitar polish I've had since the mid-80s.

It's just that I reflect every time I use the flux on all the toolboxes it's been through, all the time it's waited in the dark for me to need it again, and the fact that at no time in the intervening 42 years have I not known exactly where it is.

I have no idea what it cost, but lately it occurs to me - given that's it well less than half-gone - it might be the only tin of flux I will ever need. I call that a bargain, and I'm grateful to the good folks at Burney for doing me a solid. It's outlasted I don't know how many soldering irons, and even more tips. Who knew when I bought it that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience?

3

How would a company thrive making a 2 oz product most soldering folk (a relatively small subset of the population, I'd wager) will ever only buy once?

And yet their slogan, printed around the rim of the cap, is OVER 75 YEARS OF CONTINUED PROGRESS MANUFACTURING SOLDERING FLUXES. Pretty straightforward, and a mighty focused statement of purpose. It makes modern buzzword-strewn, equally pretentious and vapid, corporate mission statements read like the pointless tripe they are.

Never mind that soldering is something akin to magic - fusing metal to metal with metal, usually by applying heat generated with electrons corralled and harnessed, all for the sole purpose of harnessing and controlling yet more electrons to do our bidding. At a fundamental level, it's pretty promethean. And I take soldering with serious purpose, joining two things as one so that they may never thereafter be put asunder. A good bright solder joint is akin to a holy thing, and I'm happy to brag that I've never made one that failed in use. (Wires have broken, and I've melted some components - but the solder joints are proud!)

Every time I thrust the tip of the iron into the murky brown ooze of Burnley's goo, hear the sizzle, and see the greasy sacrificial smoke rise, I'm grateful to Burnley for initiating my membership in the Brotherhood of the Iron.

4

Just how many types of fluxes are there, one must wonder?

5

Here we would say it's so old it doesn't have any french on the label.

6

I'd say you'd have to check with the Doc, or maybe Marty would have an idea.

7

Hopeful, three-score-and-ten drift through time

Honestly, the best phrase I've seen in a long time Tim, I'm going to use it in a song. Out-Frigging-Standing

8

As modern folk, we like to think of ourselves as being beyond the concept and use of talismans, but objects like this serve a similar purpose in our modern lives. As you noted, you've known exactly where it was for 42 years, and, in that knowing, knew that your soldering flux needs were met.

Your talisman of the Soldering Gods, and your appreciation of it, is impressive. Thanks for sharing it with us.

9

During my final 2 years of school I spent one day a week at college learning a little about electronics. This would have been between September ‘78 and May ‘80, so very much around the time Tim formed his partnership with the flux.

I came home from school one lunchtime and there was a tv repairman repairing our tv, as such are wont to do. We got chatting about electronics and I made a comment about having never seen so much solder on a reel as he had (I’d been buying wee little retail packs of it branded Eclipse IIRC). Anyhoo, once he’d finished the job he handed me the reel and said “Here, you can have this, I’ve got more in the van”.

Every now and again I pull off a foot or so and after twirling it around a pencil decant it into an old 35mm film can as it’s less cumbersome to use like that, but 40+ years later I’m still nowhere near needing to buy solder. And like Tim I’ve always known exactly where both the film can and mother reel are.

11

Proteus said: "I suppose there are many such humble tools of trades and lowly (slowly) consumables that might accompany a guy on his hopeful three-score-and-ten drift through time, and it's no big deal."

Three score and ten??? Holy yikes, that only gives me four more years as of today!

Then again, the way life is these days, even that might be too long.

12

How would a company thrive making a 2 oz product most soldering folk (a relatively small subset of the population, I'd wager) will ever only buy once?

And yet their slogan, printed around the rim of the cap, is OVER 75 YEARS OF CONTINUED PROGRESS MANUFACTURING SOLDERING FLUXES.

Not wasting money on keeping up with graphic design and packaging trends may have been the secret to their success. That tin looks more 1904 than 1978.

13

Family heirlooms: Dad's wood brace and Grandpa's soldering iron -- both well pre-WW2.

14

How would a company thrive making a 2 oz product most soldering folk (a relatively small subset of the population, I'd wager) will ever only buy once?

I believe that plumbers were the main users of this type of flux. I remember seeing it on the job when I worked in new home construction. It's used for soldering copper pipes together, and a plumber can go through a can fairly quickly. That yellow can sparked some memories of the plumbers tool kits, they always had a can of flux that IIRC was the same stuff.

Typically in electronics soldering, the flux is in the core of the solder (rosin core). I've been a technician since 1979, and we use the rosin core solder, the rosin is the built in flux. It has a pine smell to it when soldering, as it is the same rosin as used for violin bows.

15

Family heirlooms: Dad's wood brace and Grandpa's soldering iron -- both well pre-WW2.

– Dave_K

Until this moment, it never occurred to me that there was such a thing as a pre-electric soldering iron. But of course there would have to be, with soldering having been around for thousands of years. Just never thought about it. I had to do a little googling on how they were used. You could set it on a small torch to heat up:

16

Afire: when using it for jobs at home he'd just take over the gas cooker!

17

Fire is fire, says afire.

18

I believe that plumbers were the main users of this type of flux. I remember seeing it on the job when I worked in new home construction. It's used for soldering copper pipes together, and a plumber can go through a can fairly quickly.

Ah, you're probably right. I know my electronics solder supposedly has a rosin core, but I don't trust it. If I don't get the sizzle and smoke, I'm not happy.

And I'm still using a spool of solder from Radio Shack...won't be getting any more of those either!

19

Proteus said: "I suppose there are many such humble tools of trades and lowly (slowly) consumables that might accompany a guy on his hopeful three-score-and-ten drift through time, and it's no big deal."

Three score and ten??? Holy yikes, that only gives me four more years as of today!

Then again, the way life is these days, even that might be too long.

– Parabar

Crap. I'm over the limit.

20

"Three score and ten??? Holy yikes, that only gives me four more years as of today!" - Parabar

I think that's the number of years you work before you can retire.

22

Well, 3S&10 came from the Bible.

Looks like we'd have extended the average lifespan since then, but as of 2017, in the US, we're only up to 78.54 years.

That last .04 of a year seems to be splitting hairs, but if my math is right, it's 14.6 days, and I guess at the end of life another two weeks might seem worth doing the math for.

23

And me only 13 months!! Yikes!

24

This looks to be a Shelf Life conundrum...

That's some ugly looking stuff!

https://www.indium.com/blog...

– Twangmeisternyc

Me thinks I prefer “flux capacitance” over “shelf life”.

25

I'm surprised you don't like rosin core solder, Tim. I find it makes everything easier - if smellier. My family hates the smell. I don't even notice it anymore. I have a little extractor fan with a filter on it right behind were I solder. The filter gets white quite quickly which reminds me of why I bought it! I really don't need to be breathing in those fumes. That white stuff would be lead. I don't get on with lead free solder.


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