Are you frustrated with the way your soldering turns out? Getting you seams to be uniform and smooth takes practice. Here are some tips to improve your soldering.
First, in order to have seams that are uniform you have to fit the pieces together so there are no large gaps between the pieces. Large gaps will give you wider, uneven seams. Grind your pieces where they touch to narrow the gap.
We normally use 7/32″ copper foil when wrapping the glass. If you have thicker glass, you may need to use 1/4″ foil. For very small pieces I often use 3/16″ or 13/64″ so more of the glass is seen. Pay attention to foiling so it is even on both sides to get more uniform seams.
Sometimes your foil may split, particularly when you are wrapping a small inside curve. Unless you add a “bandaid” there will be a gap where the foil splits. To apply this bandaid, cut a 1″ piece of copper foil and lay it perpendicular over the gap on the front and back, then trim the foil. Also, at the place where foil overlaps, you can use a utility knife to trim a little off if one side is noticeably wider.
Be sure to use the right iron for soldering stained glass. Electronic irons are not powerful enough and can make the job frustrating. Hakko’s newest iron, the FX-601 is our studio favorite. Keep your soldering iron clean by wiping it on a wet sponge. Occasionally clean your tip. Hakko recommends their “Solder Tip Cleaning Wire Sponge” for their ceramic iron; for other irons you may use a sal-ammoniac block.
Use a good 60/40 or 50/50 stained glass solder. Children, teens, and nursing mothers should use lead free solder. Apply your flux. Begin by tack soldering your pieces together, then tin (apply a thin layer of solder) your seams. Now you are ready to go back and add a bit more solder and round the seams. Getting this right is what takes practice. Do not get discouraged. Seams should be about as high as they are wide. Start where you have a long seam. Place your tip at a joint, begin to add a little solder onto the tip and slowly and smoothly draw it down the seam adding a little solder as you go. Solder tends to “puddle” up at the joints where the glass comes together, so as you near the next joint stop adding solder and use what’s on the tip. You can go back over the seams, but do not let your piece get too hot. Not enough solder will leave ridges and too much solder will bulge over on to your glass. Remember, practice makes perfect.
We carry a full line of stained glass supplies and will be happy to make recommendations on improving your soldering techniques. Intermediate classes are ongoing and open studio hours are available.