Working with Solder

I displayed an interest in making projects out of stained glass so my fiance bought me the entire package to get me started. I cut some glass and did the foil work but I am apprehensive about getting lead into my body. Do you think I can use lead free solder and achieve the same results as I would if I used the regular solder?


Answer

If you take the proper precautions, it would be highly unlikely that you'd get lead in your body.

Lead poisoning is mainly caused by eating it, such as licking your fingers, putting lead or solder in your mouth etc, while you're working with it, or breathing in lead dust.

Don't laugh about putting it in your mouth while working with it. I once knew someone that held the solder in his mouth so he could use both hands while soldering jump rings on to a suncatcher.

Use a fume extractor or work in a well ventilated room when you solder, don't eat or drink (or smoke) in your work area, wash your hands frequently, and change your clothes when you are done.

With that said, if you are still worried, yes, you can use lead free solder. I have never used it, but I'm told that there is a learning curve involved to get it to flow properly. If you are taking a class, have your instructor show you how to use it. I do know that you will need a different flux than the one you use with leaded solder.

I have been working with lead for 35 years and my lead levels are within the normal limits. I do have a blood test occasionally to make sure I'm still okay. In all the years I've been working with glass and been associated with other glass artists, I've never know anyone that had lead poisoning. That's not to say it doesn't happen and I don't want you to think that I'm trying to diminish your concern.

Maybe other people reading this can tell us about their experiences either working with lead or using lead free solder. If so, please use the comments section below.

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sharp edges on soldering.

by lizzy
(wales)

Hi there,
I love copper foil work, but tend to get tiny sharp edges on the solder. Don't think its the soldering iron, think its me!
Could you please tell me what I'm doing wrong?

Many thanks,

Lizzy

Answer

Your iron isn't hot enough. You will get sharp bits with a too cool iron. Turn off your temp controller and just use the iron as is. You'll be surprised at how much better your soldering will be.

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Old Soldering

by Wendy
(Bath, Pa.)

Over a year ago I started a stained glass lamp. For numerous reasons I had to stop working on it. Now that I am able to work on it again, I found that some of the tack soldering I did earlier has turned white and spots om the foil turned green. The solder is also very hard to melt. Is there anything I could use or to clean the soldering to make it easier to work now after it has been sitting for so long?

Answer
Hi Wendy,

Go over the foil and solder with Bronze Wool (available from some stained glass suppliers and from some Ace Hardware stores), or use very fine steel wool. Bronze Wool is the better product, but it isn't always available.

Whichever product you use will remove the green from the foil and the white from the solder.

The green and white is called oxidation and it's caused by the air getting to the unprotected foil and solder. Leaving flux on for so long contributed to the problem.

Once you have removed the green and white, wipe over the panel with flux remover, then a damp cloth. Wipe it dry before you start soldering again.

If you need to leave it for a day or more, use flux remover to clean the flux off the lamp, then put the lamp in a zip lock plastic bag (they make some very big ones for clothing storage). Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag as you zip it closed. You can leave the lamp like that for several months.

If you can't find a zip lock bag large enough to accommodate the lamp, wrap the lamp in plastic wrap, making sure there aren't any openings for air to get in.

Those storage methods can be used to keep any foiled projects free of oxidation until you are ready to continue soldering. The two main things to remember are to clean off any flux and store the project in an air tight plastic bag,

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How to keep solder shiny

by May Maloy
(Ayr Scotland)

I would love to know how to keep solder staying shiny silver when my project is complete.

Thank you
May Maloy

Answer

The only way to keep it shiny forever is to have it silver plated. Other than that, if you want it shiny, you'll have to wax and polish it frequently. The chemical nature of solder is to oxidize when exposed to air.

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getting a good bead on a glass gem.

by Daniella
(Starke FL USA)

After foiling, when I try to get a bead around the gem, I have a very hard time, it gets all lumpy and ugly when I want a smooth good bead all around. And the glass gets hot too so it is hard to handle. Is there any jig I can make/use to do it? I am trying to make some critters so I have to solder two gems, one small and one large together and then bead all around the two. What is the best way please? I am new to stained glass and mosaics, I love both of the crafts and want to be good at them.

Answer

Hold them with a spring type wooden clothes pin, or go to your local flea market and get some hemostats to hold them with (there's usually a vendor withh all sorts of dental and medical type tools at flea markets). An Ove Glove works well too and keeps your hand burn free!

Make sure the spot you are soldering is parallel to the work bench, not tilted at an angle. You'll have to turn the gem a little bit each time you solder a new spot. It's tricky but gets easier with practice.

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Is Expensive Solder Really Better?

by Bill
(Cincinnati, Ohio)

I have been told that Canfield solder is about the best there is, but it is also pretty expensive. I can buy Canfield solder for $13.95 a pound from my local glass shop or buy Victory solder over the internet for $7.60 a pound. My internet supplier says that the only difference is the brand name. My local glass shop says that Canfield is a much better quality. Both labels say that they are vrgin metals and both are 60/40. Who's right? I can not tell any difference.

Thanks,
Bill

Answer

Hi Bill,

I don't agree with your local stained glass shop. There are several brands of solder that are top of the line. Fry, Hirsh and Canfield are all brands that I use and I find them comparable in quality. I have never used Victory, so I can't comment on it.

However, I had a look at several web sites that sell Victory solder, including its manufacturers' web site. It appears to be a pure metal solder. There are quite a few places that sell it, but I don't know if that's because the company salesmen are giving the retailers a "good deal" to get it into their stores, or if it's because it is a quality product. Perhaps someone reading this has used Victory solder and can give us their opinion, using the comments section below.

And to further answer your question, yes there are inferior solders. They leave the bead looking dirty and filmy with specks of "stuff" visible in the solder bead. I can't give you any brand names, as I have never used any of them myself, but I have seen work done by students that bought cheap solder and regretted it after using it. So...you do have to be careful about what brand of solder you buy. If it's dirt cheap, I'd be hesitant to buy it.


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