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home : community : tips & techniques : stained glass : stained glass basics : basic soldering techniques

Basic Soldering Techniques

Basic Principles of Solder:

1. Solder is a tin/lead alloy with the exception of lead-free solder which is a tin-copper alloy.

 

    The 3 basic types of solder used for stained glass are:

    50/50 50% tin/50% lead - most commonly used in box and lamp assembly

    60/40 60% tin/40% lead - most commonly used in lead and copper foil assembly

    63/37 63% tin/37% lead - most commonly used for decorative soldering

    The higher the ratio of tin to lead, the easier to the solder will flow at lower temperatures.

2. Solder will not stick to glass alone, so each piece of glass must be wrapped in copper foil.

3. Solder needs a flux to flow smoothly and bond to other metals (i.e., copper foil or lead came).

NOTE: Use only solid-core solder. Never use acid or rosin core solder for stained glass.

TIP: Handling solder poses a risk of lead poisoning if certain safety precautions are not followed. Lead cannot be absorbed through the skin - only through ingestion or an open cut. Follow these basic safety rules: Always wash hands well with soap and water after working with lead. Never eat, drink, or smoke while working. Always bandage any open cuts on hands and fingers. Keep children away from work area. Soldering should be done in a well ventilated area - outdoors or in a garage is best. If indoors, open a window and run a fan.

Getting started: Once all of your glass pieces fit snugly, you are ready to foil and solder. You don't need any space between foiled pieces, but can easily fill gaps with solder to up 1/8". Clean each glass piece of any grinder dust or cutting oil and wrap with copper foil. Assemble pieces together on a flat, heat resistant surface.

Using a flux brush, apply a small amount of flux to each joint and "tack solder". Tack soldering is applying a small amount of solder to each joint so that your pieces are held in one place.

Next, apply a light, even coating of flux to all seams. Too much flux will spatter and create small pits or bubbles in your solder seam. Too little flux will leave irregular solder seams and uncovered foil.

Basic soldering techniques: Heat iron to a temperature that melts the solder you are using to a liquid state (approximately 700 degrees). Remember to periodically wipe your iron tip on a water-wet sponge. Grasp your iron the same way you would hold a knife; fingers curled around one side of the handle, thumb on the other. The tip of the iron should face so that the wide flat sides face side to side and the thin sides face up and down. Hold the solder comfortably in the other hand with approximately 6" uncoiled.

If you are holding the iron in your right hand, it will be easiest to work right to left. If you are holding the iron in your left hand, work left to right.

Begin soldering approximately 1/4" from the edge of your piece. Here is where a small amount of coordination is required. Feed the solder against the flat side of the tip and lightly touch the iron to the copper foil seam. You should hear a little sizzle and see the solder puddle under the iron tip. Move the iron slowly and smoothly across your copper foil seam at the same time you feed the solder against the tip.

Watch your solder seam. If it's flat, slow down and use more solder. If it's pouring onto your glass, speed up. Good soldering takes patience and practice - most people need to complete a few projects to get the hang of it. If you are planning to use a U-channel came to edge your piece, leave abut 1/4" of your copper foil seam free from solder at the edge of your panel. If you are simply tinning your edges, complete the seams all the way to the edge.

If you are unhappy with the way your solder seam looks, don't keep going over it. Move on and come back to it later. Too much heat in one place can cause your glass to break. (Not to mention getting you frustrated!) Remember, you can always re-flux and go back over these seams once they have cooled.

After you have completed one side of your piece, carefully turn it over. Generally, you will hold your piece on the edges near the center. Turning your piece over from the top can sometimes cause your piece to bend in the center.

The second side of your piece doesn't need to be tack soldered. Simply apply a light amount of flux to the seams and solder as you did on the first side.

Finishing the Edges: To finish your edge you can either tin the outside edges or attach a U-channel came.

1. Tinning your piece: Tinning your finished piece is easy. You simply make sure all of the foiled edges on the front and back of your piece are covered with solder. Tip your piece up on its edge and apply a light coating of flux. Holding your piece from the top, apply a small amount of solder across the top of your piece. It takes practice to get a small bead to stay on top and not drizzle down the sides. Remember - solder will not stick to glass and usually not to a cooled off solder seam. If your solder does drizzle, simply wait for it to cool and lift off the drizzle with your fingernail or a etching knife. You may need to heat it at the top if it is stuck. Never pull or force it off as this may tear your foil. Repeat the process on each edge and attach rings into a solder seam at the top of your piece. If you just attach rings to anyplace along the top it may not be secure enough to hold the weight of your piece. This method is most suitable for suncatchers and small pieces.

2. U-channel came: There are many types of U-channel came available. The most popular types are copper, zinc, and lead. Lead is most commonly used on round or irregular pieces. Copper and zinc are most commonly used on squares and rectangles. Zinc is used with black patinated and silver seams. Copper came is used with copper or bronze patinated seams.

The first step is to make sure any seam leading to the edge of your panel is flat at least 1/4" to the edge. To edge, simply use a fine toothed hobby saw and mitre box and cut a small amount (about 1") to use for measuring. Lay your stained glass piece on a flat surface in the direction you would like it to hang. Slide the U-channel over the right edge. If it is too snug, use the curved end of your fid and open up the came. Slide the small piece of came used for measuring onto the top right corner of your piece. Move the came on the right side up until the two cames meet together at the top. Carefully remove the measuring came and slide it onto the bottom right corner. Use a felt tip marker to mark on the side came where the two cames meet at the bottom. Remove the side came and cut the came at your mark. Remember to allow for the width of the saw blade. Slide came back on the right side of your panel and check the fit. Repeat procedure with left side.

To fit the top piece, remove the right side came and slide the came to be cut onto the top edge. It should fit flush to the inside of the side came. The open ends of the came should be to the top and bottom of the side cames. Slide the came onto the upper right side until it meets the top came. Mark the came to the inside edge of the measuring came. Cut the came and replace on the top. Slide right side came back on and check fit. Repeat procedure for the bottom piece.

Solder rings into the top of the side pieces of came. Fill holes in the U-channel with solder by dabbing small amounts at a time. Work quickly - this is tricky!

Delphi-Expert
147 Posts
Top Contributor Gallery Artist
Jennifer Bonesteel
Thursday, May 22, 2014
@suchitass if you have a converter for the plug, I believe you should just be able to plug it in and get started. If you have no converter you are welcome to return the iron for a refund - that may be a time consuming option - and select a soldering iron with international voltage. Feel free to contact sales@delphiglass.com for additional assistance, we will be happy to help.
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2 Posts
suchitass
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Hi, I have soildering iron - studio 100w iron-125v,10amp. I stay in kuala lumpur. Used step up plug also, but it is not working. Please guide me how i can use it. Thanks
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1 Post
swatson9
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Ok, as someone who is teaching themselves, i want to know: Why: NOTE: Use only solid-core solder. Never use acid or rosin core solder for stained glass. On my begining project i clean the copper foil with flux and then use 60/40 with flux core. Works out great.
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37 Posts
Top Contributor Gallery Artist AGF Winner Contest Participant
zoomer
Thursday, February 9, 2012
in your article on solder you forgot to mention that 60/40 solder has a higher tin content than 50/50.and tin is what takes on the patina it is better to use 60/40 if you want a better patina
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57 Posts
Top Contributor
jhaan
Monday, October 3, 2011
@DianeS Chances are it is not the solder but your soldering iron. If the iron has an adjustable thermostat turn it down to a cooler temp. If the iron has an internal thermostat you will have to work quickly with the solder and let the came and solder cool down after each application. Using a solder that sets up quick is also helpful. Try 50/50 solder for this.
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5 Posts
DianeS
Sunday, October 2, 2011
I am using 5/64" hobby came around some pieces and I'm finding that using the 60/40 solder, the came is melting. I'm barely even touching the lead! Is there a better solder that I could use with the hobby came?
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1 Post
mynameindhu
Saturday, December 25, 2010
i am cj advertiser
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