Friday, January 7, 2011

Some Basic Soldering Techniques For Suncatchers You Should Know

There are some basic soldering techniques for suncatchers you should know about before you actually begin construction of your project.

Some basic knowledge about the composition of solder is needed, before you begin using it to construct your suncatcher projects.

With the exception of lead free solder which has no lead in it; there are basically three types of tin/lead alloy solders that are used in stained glass construction.

Generally, the higher the ratio of tin to lead; the easier the solder will flow at lower temperatures.
  • The most commonly used solder in "Tiffany" style lamp and box construction, is 50/50 solder. This is a 50% tin and 50% lead composition.
  • The most commonly used solder in lead and copper foil construction, is 60/40 solder. This solder is composed of 60% tin to 40% lead and is easier to work with.
  • For decorative soldering, the most commonly used solder is 63/37. This solder is composed of 63% tin and 37% lead and is easiest to work with at lower temperatures.
Since solder does not stick to glass, each piece of glass must be either wrapped in copper foil or encased in lead came before it can be made into a project.

Solder will not bond properly to other metals without the use of flux. In order for solders to flow smoothly and bond to came or copper foils, a good flux must be applied to both pieces that are to be soldered.

Tip: Never use an rosin or acid core solder for stained glass sun catchers. Use only solid core alloys of solder.

The following basic soldering techniques apply to all types of stained glass construction:
  • Before you are ready to foil and solder your project; all of your pieces must first fit together snugly.
  • Although you can easily fill gaps up to 1/8" wide with solder, your project will have a more professional look with equally wide solder joints. You don't need any space between foiled pieces.
  • Once your pieces are cut, you are ready to foil. Clean each piece of glass with soap and water to clear off any cutting oil or grinder dust.
  • When thoroughly dry, wrap each piece with copper foil and burnish it securely to the glass.
  • When all the pieces are foiled, arrange them in proper order on a flat heat resistant surface.
  • With a flux brush, sparingly apply a small amount of flux to each joint and tack the pieces together with a small amount of solder. All you are doing here is holding the pieces of your project together.
  • Your next step is to apply a light, even coating of flux on all the rest of the seams.
Tip: If you apply too much flux, your solder will spatter and create small pits or bubbles in your solder seam. If you apply too little flux, it will leave irregular solder seams and uncovered foil in your project.
  • Finally you can begin to solder the balance of the seams in your project.
Here are some basic soldering techniques for you to follow:

You will need to heat your iron to a temperature that will melt the type of solder you are using to a liquid state. This is about 700 degrees F.
  • Occasionally wipe the tip of your hot iron on a wet sponge to keep a "glossy" coating on the tip.
  • Hold your iron the same way you would hold a knife. Your fingers should be curled around one side of the handle, with your thumb on the other side.
  • The narrow side of your iron's tip should be closest to the seam of your project. The wide flat part of the iron's tip should be facing "side to side".
  • Hold the roll of solder in your opposite hand, with about 6" or 7" uncoiled and straightened somewhat to touch your hot iron.
If you're right handed, it's easier to work from right to left.

If you are left handed, work from left to right.




  • Start soldering about 1/4" from the edge of the seam.

    Feed the solder against the wide flat surface of the tip as you lightly touch the iron to the foiled seam. The solder should puddle under the iron tip and you will hear a sizzle from the flux heating up.

    Slowly move the tip of the iron across the foiled seam with your right hand, as you slowly feed the solder coil against the tip with your other hand.
  • If your solder seam is flat, slow down and use more solder. If the solder is pouring onto your glass, speed it up a bit. Try for a moderate continuous speed and try not to stop until you are finished with your seam.
Good soldering takes patience and some practice. You will probably need to complete several sun catchers before you get to the point where your seams look like a Tiffany lamp.
  • Don't keep going over a seam if you don't like the way your solder seam looks. Applying too much heat in one place can cause your glass to break.

    It's better to move on and come back to touch it up a bad seam later. You can always apply more flux and go back over the seams after they have cooled.
  • Once you've completed one side of your piece, carefully turn it over and repeat the procedure on the other side.

    Be careful when you turn over a large piece. Hold your project on the edges near the center of the piece. Don't turn over a large piece by picking it up from the top or you could bend it or split it in the middle.
It's not necessary to tack the second side of your project, just put a small amount of flux on the seams and solder away!
  • If you are using lead came to edge your project, don't run your seams all the way to the edge of your piece. Stop soldering about 1/4" before the edge of the piece so you can butt the came up to the solder joint.
  • If you are not using came to edge your project; just run the seam all the way to the edge of your sun catcher and tin the foiled edges.
These basic soldering techniques will get you going but in order to achieve perfection, you will need to practice on a lot of projects.

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