Solder & Related Materials
Posted 02 September 2018 - 04:08 PM
What alloy solder is best? I'm using a 97/3 tin/copper alloy, because I happened to have a roll of it to hand. It melts quite a bit hotter than lead-based solder, though, and is a bit of a pain to work with. Do people use old-fashioned sn/pb solder, or modern lead-free ones?
Likewise, the flux I'm using is a no-clean flux intended for circuit boards, again because it's what I happened to have. Is there a significant difference using other fluxes? If so, what?
Lastly, do people use temperature-controlled irons for this type of work, and if so, at what temperature? I've been working at around 380C, because it's the best tradeoff between the solder oxidising on the tip and going manky, and having enough heat to work relatively quickly (my solder alloy is probably not helping here, not is having a high-ish power iron - 70W - with a small handset designed for electronic work. My biggest to is not really big enough for this).
Many thanks for any advice you can give.
Posted 02 September 2018 - 08:28 PM
Posted 03 September 2018 - 11:19 AM
Tom, welcome to the forum!
Solder: Solder is an mixture of metals. The solders commonly used with glass art are 60/40 (60% tin / 40% lead), 50/50 (50% tin / 50% lead), or a lead free. Please consider lead-free solder for items which may come in frequent contact with skin, children (kaleidoscopes, jewelry boxes, …), food (Napkin holders), or wildlife (Bird feeder/houses). Use only solder which is marketed for stained glass use. There is plumbing solder which may appear to work by having a 50/50 label but if you try it, it will not flow smoothly and can damage the tip of your soldering iron.
Characteristics of Solder: 50/50 60/40 63/37 Lead Free
- Melting Temp: 421° 375° 361°
- Solidifies At: 361° 361° 361°
- Pasty Range: 60° 13° 0°
- 50/50: Longer pasty range allows a flatter bead which is helpful when working with lead came
- 60/40: Moderate pasty range, can be used for either foil or lead
- 63/37: Is considered an eutectic alloy which can change from a solid to liquid and back to solid instantaneously simply by applying and removing heat. Mainly used for decorative work. Due to the “no” pasty range, it is not suitable for general soldering.
Flux: There are 3 basic forms I see used with stained glass: Liquid, gel, & paste. Gel has been gaining a larger share of the market where I am in the mid-west. I use it gel & liquid both. They both work well. Key to me is to apply a light coat. If you get a lot in the seams when you go to solder the second side, it will boil & cause the solder to splatter. One thing you can do to help with this is to cut off ~ half of the bristles on you flux brush. It will allow you much better control when applying the flux.
Soldering Iron: There are 3 basic types of soldering irons commonly used for stained glass:
A - Tips which internally regulate temperature such as the Weller 100W. Changing tips change the temperature. (700°F tips are standard with 600°F & 800°F tips available.)
B - Soldiering irons which can reach a temperature of 1100 degrees Fahrenheit but require a temperature controller to help moderate the temperature.
C – Soldiering irons with a built in adjustable temperature regulator like the Hakko 601-FX. A chisel-point tip between 3/16" and 3/8" wide is generally used for stained glass work. Remember, the narrower tips will not hold their temperature while soldering as well as the wider tips due to the smaller mass. The Weller 100W Hakko FX-601-2 are the most popular with many art glass artisans. Those in heavy production work will often use a higher wattage iron such as Hexacon or American Beauty.
There are other soldering irons on the market, but to assist you in producing solder bead with the minimum amount of variations, it is important to have an iron which will maintain a steady temperature. If you can afford to buy a better iron, I would greatly encourage it.
Protect your soldering iron tip when you turn it off by:
- Turn the temperature controller off or unplug your soldering iron if not using one.
- Wipe the tip off on a clean part of your wet sponge
- Apply a coat of fresh solder to the tip then place the iron in the stand to allow it to finish cooling off. (Do not reuse solder for coating the tip for storage.)
Care: Use a brass wire brush to clean the tip when wiping it on a damp sponge doesn’t give you a shiny silver tip while soldering. After cleaning with a brass brush, lightly apply flux & solder to the tip. If it doesn’t shine up, rub the tip in “tip cleaner” or on a sal-amoniac block. Use a small amount of flux while using the sal-amoniac block. (NOTE: Sal-amoniac blocks will smoke a lot when used. Do it in a well ventilated area.)
Temperature controller/Rheostat: Used with soldering irons which do not have a built in method of controlling the tip temperature. The problem with a rheostat is it slows down the heating of the iron, not limit it. If left unused long enough, the soldering iron will still reach full temperature. Newer models use solid state circuitry to provide better control by sensing the current drawn and setting a limit. Use of a temperature controller will allow you to fine tune the temperature of your soldering iron to allow you better control of your solder bead. Mini Phaser, Glastar Soldering Iron Control, & Inland Soldering Station are common ones.
Hope this helps.
Posted 08 September 2018 - 03:24 PM
Thank you both for your feedback. I have considerable experience and knowledge of soldering, both practical and the metalurgy of it, but it's all from the microelectronics world and I'm discovering that it's quite different. For those who come after me, here are om points I've discovered over the past week:
70W is big for an electronics iron, and for electronics work we tend to use quite low temperatures - my iron is usually set to ~280C. This is because you're usually trying to make a spot join. For glass work, you're trying to make a seam join and you need to be able to heat a relatively large body of solder, and to then drag the iron along the seam and have the molten point of the seam follow the iron. This takes a lot of heat. I'm now using a 150W iron with a fairly large chisel tip and I still feel like I have to go fairly slowly.
60/40 lead-based solder is noticeably easier to use than lead-free solder, but it's not a night-and-day difference (the lead-free solder I was using was 97% tin, 3% copper).
No-clean flux liquid intended for PCB work does work with glass work, but the fumes are horrible compared to flux paste used for plumbing work. I'm now using LA-CO flux paste and it works a treat, though as someone noted above the brush it comes with is rather... low-res.
And a bonus note: not everything sold as "copper wire" is made of copper. In my case, I've got aluminium wire coated in... er... something vaguely copper-coloured. It does not solder.
Posted 02 October 2018 - 09:43 PM
Tom and others,
As you might know there is a benefit to having a little copper in he solder, it becomes the sacrificial metal and helps your soldering iron tip to last a bit longer. Our electronics techs at work have been experimenting with different percentages to find what works best and so far it seems that anything over 2% helps. The drawback of higher percentages of copper is that it increases the melt temperature. I have been "playing" with different alloys at home but haven't seen any great benefit and I don't go through a lot of soldering iron tips and they are relatively inexpensive for how long they will last. Perhaps if I did this for a living and my iron was plugged in all the time I might see a difference.
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