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Let's Talk Soldering

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#1 browne92



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Posted 12 April 2018 - 10:02 AM

A couple of years ago, I decided to do a few stained glass Christmas ornaments to give as presents.  Got a few colors of glass and some foil, but had more time than money, so I used the iron and electronic solder I had already.  Yes, rosin core solder leave a sticky mess, but with a little effort I got them cleaned up, and all was well.


This spring a saw something that just screamed "perfect stained glass project" to me, and since money isn't quite as tight, and I have several to do, I thought I'd look into getting the right equipment and materials.


Now I'm by no means new to soldering.  I've done electronic soldering, sweated copper pipes for plumbing, even silver soldered piano wire to make retractors for a surgeon who was practicing micro surgery on lab rats, and needed smaller retractors because the ones used on humans were too big.  But no matter what type of soldering I was doing, there was always a common theme:  The heat source is never used to melt the solder.  The heat source is used to heat the metals being attached hot enough to melt the solder.  In electronic soldering, you apply a tiny amount of solder to the tip (a dry tip won't transfer heat), hold the iron on one side of the joint, and apply the solder to the other side.  When the joint gets hot enough to melt the solder, success!


So when I start shopping, I saw some things that just confound me:


1.  Why is the solder so thick?  1/8"?  I tried using my .062 (1/16) electronic solder and I had the stuff all over the place.  Didn't waste near as much when I used the super thin stuff I had.  


2.  Why is the iron so screaming hot?  100 watts?  I was doing just fine with my 40 watt Weller.  You're only trying to heat a thin strip of copper.


3.  Why is the tip so wide?  1/4" seems like massive overkill.


So, I looked up a video on stained glass soldering, specifically, this one:




Ah ha!  Now I see what's going on!  He applies the solder to the iron, not the work.  So he only grabs the solder he needs.  That's why the solder is so thick.  And the solder has to have enough residual heat when it hits to tin the foil.  That's why the iron is so hot.  And he's transporting the solder to the joint on the iron, that's why the tip is so wide.


Having to change the way I solder after doing it the same way for over 40 years is not going to be easy, but I'll give it a go.  I'm just glad I didn't learn to solder stained glass before I went to tech school.  They'd have thrown me out.  

#2 Mt_Top



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Posted 12 April 2018 - 01:39 PM

People have been doing stained glass for a hundred years or more.  Over time, somethings have worked and some have not.  Sounds like you are willing to learn how things are done before trying to reinvent the wheel.   Do some practice pieces to get the hang of it before attempting your masterpiece.

#3 WayneFL



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Posted 13 April 2018 - 04:58 AM

If one of my employees soldered like that, I would train him to solder correctly.   

#4 John



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Posted 13 April 2018 - 06:37 AM

I have seen very few glass artists who use solder bars.  What a time waster!

#5 annabelle



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Posted 13 April 2018 - 08:08 AM

Soldering for copper foil construction is unlike any other technique.  Watch more videos, if that helps.  I suggest you take a soldering class, if one is offered at a local stained glass store.  Then practice, practice, practice.

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