If you’re new to soldering stained glass, it can be a fun but sometimes frustrating process. There is a definite learning curve involved, but with time and practice, the end result is worth the effort. However, to even begin the soldering process, you need to have the right tools to successfully create a stained glass piece.
Below are the essential items necessary to effectively solder stained glass:
1. Soldering Iron
The soldering iron is the most important tool that you need to solder stained glass. The soldering iron is used to melt the solder and to fuse the stained glass pieces together. As with any new tool or piece of equipment, it is important to get a high-quality soldering iron to make the soldering process successful and increase its longevity.
A soldering iron that has a temperature control is always recommended as you can adjust the heat to the right temperature for your project. Look for an iron that has a comfortable grip which can make it easier for you to handle while soldering.
Solder is a metal alloy that is used to join metal parts together. Solder comes in different variations, but for stained glass, the best choice is a solid-core wire solder. However, you will need to choose the solder that works best for your project or piece.
Solder is usually made of tin and one or two other metals such as lead, copper, or silver. Solder comes in both lead and lead-free variations. Stained glass uses solid solder with an external flux.
The most often used solder for stained glass are a 50/50 solder: 50% tin/50% lead or 60/40 mix of tin and lead. 60/40 solder is most often used in copper foil assembly, specifically copper foiled pieces. Because it can make a flat seam more readily, 50/50 solder works well for copper foiled pieces as well as lead came pieces. You can also choose a lead-free variation as a safer alternative. For jewelry, suncatchers, gift boxes, or other items that might come into contact with your hands, lead-free solder is the safer choice.
Flux is the chemical solution that is used to clean and join the metals. It helps the solder flow with the copper foil or came. It is placed on the joint before the soldering begins to create a strong bond and hold.
Flux comes in either a paste or liquid form and you will need to find a flux that works with your solder. Flux comes in different forms including organic acid water-soluble, inorganic, no-clean or rosin. All flux types have some amount of acid and will need to be cleaned when you finish soldering. The best flux for your stained glass project needs to be strong enough to clean the oxides but won’t attack the stained glass pieces. Most stained glass fluxes are water-soluble organic or inorganic acids.
4. Brass Wool or Sponge
Brass wool or a sponge specifically made for soldering is important to have on-hand to help to while you solder to help preserve your soldering iron tips. When you solder a stained glass piece, you need to apply solder throughout the process or project. However, before adding any solder to your soldering iron, you need to clean the tip with dry brass wool or a slightly damp brush to remove oxides and re-tin the tip. This needs to be repeated throughout the soldering process and is called re-tinning.
If you decide to use a soldering stand, they usually come with dry brass wool and/or a solder sponge for the re-tinning process.
5. Flux Applicator or Brush
A flux brush or applicator is used to apply the flux on the areas to be joined.
6. Heat Resistant Surface
You will need a flat, burn-resistant surface to work on your soldering project. A piece of plywood can work as a surface as well.
7. Gloves and Mask
If you are using leaded solder, it is important to wear gloves at a minimum. A mask and safety glasses are recommended to protect from all flux fumes and solder spatter.