Regular Solder vs. Lead-Free Solder


I have some questions about Lead-Free Solder. Does it tarnish over time? Can you use patina on it? Does it flow like regular solder? Is it better than regular solder?

We are sure that you arent the only one with these questions. Lets start with the question of whether or not its better than regular solder. Since the harm from lead is caused by ingestion, any project that will come in contact with food or food containers should be made with lead-free solder. In addition, anything that is handled, like jewelry or kaleidoscopes, should be made with lead-free solder. Hands have a terrible habit of making it into the mouth before they get washed!

So, yes it is better than regular solder in these situations. As far as working with solder, you should be diligent about cleaning your hands after touching any solder. Dont eat, drink, smoke, or do anything while working that will cause you to ingest solder, regardless of what type you are using.

So how does lead-free solder differ from regular solder? That depends on your definition of regular solder. The most popular solder used in copper foil work is 60/40 (60% tin, 40% lead). The other option is 50/50 (even amounts of tin and lead) which flows a little stiffer and takes a little longer to set up than 60/40.

Most lead free solders flow much like 50/50. The finish on lead-free solder is a little duller than either 50/50 or 60/40. It isnt unattractive, just not quite as shiny. Our experience in using lead-free solder taught us that using a hotter than usual soldering iron will produce the best results. If you use an iron that has a temperature controller (either internal or external), simply turn it up. If you are using an iron that requires different tips for different temperatures, you will need to buy a hotter tip. The best thing to do is to practice soldering at different temperatures until you get a feel for the lead-free solder.

Lead-free solder is made up of a different combination of metals than either 50/50 or 60/40 solder, so it may require a different chemical to change its color. Check with your supplier to see what they recommend for the lead-free solder that they sell.

As far as tarnishing is concerned, any metal will oxidize over time when its exposed to the air. We think this is what you are referring to as tarnishing. The way to minimize oxidation (regardless of what type of solder you use) is to use a finishing wax which seals the surface of the solder.

Its wise of you to explore and find out all that you can about the metals and chemicals you are working with. Stained glass can be a rewarding and safe hobby when the proper precautions are taken.

Reprinted with permission from Stained Glass News. All rights reserved.

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Robert H.  •  May 12, 2018
Does anyone know if I can re-patina on top of my silver solder? It didn't come out as nice as I'd like.
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Jennifer B.  •  April 22, 2014
@kolika lead free solder is as strong as regular solder, though it's a bit more difficult to work with. Be sure you have a new soldering iron tip to avoid contamination. Silver solder is different from the solder that we sell and we know very little about it. It's generally used for jewelry and electronics. It's heated with a torch and not used in stained glass applications.
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Kolika C.  •  March 29, 2014
I am making windows for my baby's nursery and wary about using leaded solder. Just wondering about the longevity/ strength of lead free solder. Can someone please advise? Also, the studio I rent space in has silver solder (?) I have never used that before. Any tips on how to make best use of that?
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Jennifer B.  •  February 27, 2014
@Bonnie N. Lead free may be a bit stronger than 60/40 but not significantly enough to make it worth using in a large panel. It tends to be less shiny in spots and is much more difficult to work with. Generally we find that 60/40 is ideal for pieces that will not be handled or worn as jewelry. It shines up nicely and you will end to have cleaner solder lines in your panel.
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Bonnie N.  •  February 25, 2014
on the subject of lead free solder - Is there any difference in the finished "strength" of lead free as opposed to 60/40? eg. I am doing a panel that measures 18" X 32" .
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Elizabeth B.  •  June 20, 2013
@Peppup114 Electrical solder may not turn out as 'shiny' or 'silver looking' as the 60/40 solder we sell for stained glass.
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Tracy C.  •  May 13, 2013
Can 60/40 electrical solder be used in stained glass? If so, what would the results be like on stained glass since I don't have a stained glass store near me?
Stained Glass News

Stained Glass News

Stained Glass News is a full-color newspaper which has been dedicated to informing, entertaining and inspiring stained glass hobbyists for over 22 years. Each issue features: • information on new books, tools and glass • quick tips & hints and Q&A's • columns on stained glass, mosaics, and hot glass by industry experts • photos of our readers' projects in the Readers' Gallery • glassworking hints from our readers on The Readers' Page • a photo and information about a glass workshop belonging to one of our readers on The Readers' Page • other information that makes working with glass easier, more fun and more rewarding SGN is published five times a year (on the first of January, March, May, September and November). The current issue is SGN #90 (May, 2010).