Smooth Solder Lines

As background, I am a novelist and photographer who got into stained glass with the hope of turning some of my photographs into stained glass art. I am still working on basic projects to learn the art and have completed three projects to date. My cutting and fitting improves with each project and my instructor says I am ahead of where I should be after only three projects. However, I am not pleased with the soldering. I was taught to solder on circuit boards by a former employer 30 years ago, although I never had to do the actual work. That was my only experience with soldering before the stained glass class.


My solder lines are not smooth all over. There are pits and high spots. I have viewed your tutorial on soldering and I will try more of the touch and lift method the next time. But, my instructor (who owns the studio and sells a lot of his own work) has many pieces with the same problem. In fact, I had fairly smooth lines on the last piece before he went over the lines, just to "touch them up" as he said. He says this pitting and high spotting is normal. There are no other glass studios where I live, so I cannot view other artists' works to compare.

Is your touch and lift method enough to smooth out my lines or is there something else I need to do first? I'm moving slowly with this and doing lots of practice because I want to get it right. A small gallery that hangs my photographs wants to hang the resulting stained glass works in a window with the original photograph adjacent to the window. I may be new to this, but I want the work to be as professional as possible.

Thanks, Frank

Answer

Hi Frank,

Soldering takes a lot of practice no matter which technique you use. I must say though that your instructor should learn how to make smooth solder seams before he tries to teach others how to solder. He is very wrong in telling you that pitting and high spots are normal. There has been more than once that I've made a student do their soldering over because it wasn't smooth and even.

The pitting could well be caused by contaminated flux. When you use flux, never dip your flux brush in the original flux container. Pour just enough into another container to use for one soldering session. If there's any left when you're done soldering, dispose of it. The reason for this is that the flux brush picks up contaminates as it is brushed over the foil. If the brush is dipped back into the original container, those contaminates are released in the flux. Over a period of time, that flux will cause all sorts of problem when you solder, mainly spitting and pitting.

Another reason for the pitting could be that your soldering iron tip isn't clean. Keep a paper towl that has been folder several times, and damp, next to where you're working. After every few seams, wipe the tip on the towel. You want that tip to be bright and shiny. As soon as you see any build up on it, wipe it clean.

As for a technique for soldering, my touch and lift method works well for me and the people I teach. However, there are other techniques that work equally well for other people. I'd suggest sticking with one technique and perfecting it. You will have to practice, practice, practice. Have a look at my soldering tutorial. It shows a different technique than the touch and lift method. You might find it easier: Soldering



Comments for Smooth Solder Lines

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Mar 27, 2009
Soldering on the Side
by: ColdSabre

Frank,
I find a combination of the tap technique and setting a long bead on the side of a narrow head to be great for making clean soldering. The flat part of the tip is great if the solder falls through the glass but only after the area has cooled (work on another part of another piece of the work, not the same piece of glass). The side or narrow side with a steady supply of solder can give you a continious bead; make sure your iron can run along the entire length you want to solder, the cord and your arms can run. If you use the side, practice pulling away from the bead gently and at an angle (45 degrees) so it looks like a gentle fold.

Also, the tip about putting flux in a cap or another container is invaluable. Prior to using this tip, I would find various temperature fluxations and particles in the bottom of the bottle, not to mention flux not acting right and spending more money than needed replacing solder that was perfectly good.

Mar 12, 2009
Redoing Solder Question
by: Jack

This question is from a newcomer. When I want to COMPLETELY redo all the solder on a project (since I am totally dissatisfied with the end result), what are you recommendations as to techniques for removing the solder, and the prep work for a 2nd try? Thank You

Answer

You don't need to remove the solder. Use more flux and go over the solder already on the panel. You can always add more solder, or remove some (if you have too much on a seam). To remove small amounts, you can pick it up with your soldering iron and flick it off to the side. Just be careful of those hot solder beads as they roll around on your work surface. They are not something you want to come in contact with!

If you must totally remove the solder because it is dirty (pitted, black specks, etc), use the technique on my Repairing Copper Foil page. You will remove the solder the same way as shown there. Nothing more needs to be done to prepare for soldering...just add flux and solder the panel again.

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