The lost art of blind soldering

DANN WYMAN WROTE: "I just read your page on 'The lost art of making lead joints' on www.contractormag.com. I was actually searching the Web trying to find something that I found with my metal detector today. I found a nifty piece of hard lead with what appears to be the Dutch boy from Dutch Boy paint and the number 111. Any idea what it is?" As soon as I saw Dann's picture of the 1-lb., 50/50 bar

DANN WYMAN WROTE: "I just read your page on 'The lost art of making lead joints' on www.contractormag.com. I was actually searching the Web trying to find something that I found with my metal detector today. I found a nifty piece of hard lead with what appears to be the Dutch boy from Dutch Boy paint and the number 111. Any idea what it is?"

As soon as I saw Dann's picture of the 1-lb., 50/50 bar of solder, a flood of memories flowed through my mind. In our shop, the responsibility for installing galvanized and copper conductors and spouting fell squarely on journeyman Paul Strayer's shoulders. As an apprentice, I was given the opportunity to learn by observing, aiding and, as time moved on, doing this skilled work.

The very first job we tackled together was a huge mansion with 6-in. copper half-round gutters three stories up! The wooden ladders were quite heavy and, as I trapped the base with my foot, Paul would walk the ladder upright. He would straddle the ladder and use its rope to extend the three sections upward — he preferred to do this unaided. Once he had extended the ladder to accommodate the height, Paul would wrap his right arm down through the rungs while hugging the ladder tightly to his chest and lift it straight up about a foot above the top of the roofline.

Not to be outdone, and wanting to assert my prowess with the three-story-extended wooden ladder, I decided it was time I moved my own ladder, thank you very much. I mimicked what I'd seen Paul do for several days and while straddling the ladder, lifted it straight up. The bemused look on Paul's face should have told me all I needed to know: I'd tilted the darn thing a bit too far onto my shoulder and desperately struggled — in vain — to stop the inevitable crash as both ladder and I fell to the ground. Fortunately, for me, no damage was done to the ladder or the house (which I'd missed by a few feet). My pride was another matter!

Paul diligently taught me the art of blind soldering — where the bulk of soldering is performed inside a gutter or scupper box to conceal the solder from view once finished. He was an artisan where cutting and forming complicated compound-joints were concerned and a master at keeping both surfaces in close contact to promote professional solder joints.

We heated soldering irons over a potburner, which was simply a propane tank with a screw-on burner assembly designed to hold a lead pot. The irons would rest over, or in, the flame until Paul would test them for readiness with the bar solder. Once ready, we'd tackle the gutters laid out on sawhorses or scramble the three stories to work on an inside or outside corner. Our flux was muriatic acid that had been "killed" by adding zinc strips. A block of sal ammoniac was always next to the pot-burner to dress up the iron's tip as needed to keep it clean and accepting of solder.

Many years have passed since I've had a need to blind solder. Pop-rivets and caulking long ago took over as aluminum usurped the copper and galvanized conductor market for spouting.

But what about that Little Dutch Boy and the number 111 on that bar of solder Dann had dug up?

The National Lead Co. manufactured more than just lead for the plumbing and roofing/tinning (most old-time plumbers were tinners) industry. The company also produced a line of lead paints using the finest white lead process known as the Dutch method and in 1906 it was hoping to come up with a symbol.

Artist Rudolph Yook came up with the Dutch boy theme in a series of sketches that were refined by portrait artist Lawrence Earle in 1907. Earle was passing through his neighborhood in New Jersey when he spied Michael Brady, a young Irish lad, playing in a yard and knew immediately that his search for a model was over!

Arrangements were made: wooden shoes, blue coveralls and the cap were purchased, and Michael was asked to wear them for a few days so they'd look natural on him. His playmates had great

fun at his expense until they discovered he was being paid the princely sum of $2 per day, which in 1907 bought great gobs of candy and soda pop for him and his friends. He consumed so much himself that, by the third day, he became ill and the family doctor was summoned to diagnose a mysterious stomach ailment!

The National Lead Co.'s offices were located at 111 Broadway in New York. Maybe that's why the bar has "111" stamped on it.

Michael E. Brady was so awestruck by the experience that he grew up to become a famous political cartoonist who was published in the Brooklyn Eagle. And that's how a young Irish lad became the Little Dutch Boy we saw stamped on our bar solder and that you'll still find on Dutch Boy products.

Dave Yates owns F. W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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