Soldering Copper Foil

poppies in the wind

Soldering copper foil is something most glass crafters either like or dislike. There doesn't seem to be much, if any, middle ground. After going through this tutorial, I believe you'll be in the "I Like It" catagory.

Preparing To Solder

After you have your project assembled, look for anything that should be fixed up. Cracks, flaws, torn foil...anything at all. In the oval panel I used for this tutorial, there was a flaw in the large blue nugget that I did not see until I finished the first side and held it up to the light. The flaw was difficult to see at certain angles, but when I turned it just right, it loomed out at me. I had to repair the panel before I even turned it over to work on the second side. If I had been aware of that flaw while I was foiling the panel, my afternoon would have been much more pleasant.

As well as the flaw in the nugget, there was a crack in a piece of glass, caused by some hot solder landing on it. I was impatient and tried to flick it off with my hot iron. Instant crack. I don't know what I was thinking, because I knew better than to do that. Anyway, it gave me a good subject for the repair section of this tutorial. I do try to find a positive side to everything!

Supplies You'll Need

solder and flux

1. 60/40 solder
2. liquid flux (water soluable)
3. 80 or 100 watt iron
4. paper towels
5. flux applicator (I use Q-tips)
6. Wet paper towel or sponge to wipe the iron tip on
7. Fume extractor

Getting Started

Set up your fume extractor following the manufacturers directions. If you don't have one, you should get one ASAP, but until then, have plenty of ventilation in the room and a fan blowing from behind you so it will blow the fumes away from you.

Plug in your iron. If you are using a rheostat, set it at a fairly high setting. A too cool iron will cause more problems than a hot one will. If you have used enough flux, and you keep moving along, your iron shouldn't overheat.

Fold a paper towel into quarters, wet it and squeeze it out. Use this to periodically wipe your iron tip, to keep it clean while you are working.

Flux as much of your project as you will be able to work on in one session. You don't want to have to stop to add flux once you start. The amount of flux to put on the foil is difficult to describe. It shouldn't be sparse, nor should there be puddles. I guess the best way to describe it is to be able to see that the foil is wet.

cutting off a working piece

If you find holding an entire roll of solder awkward, you can make working pieces by wrapping some around your hand four to six times, then cut it off the roll with scissors or with the tip of your hot iron. This will give you a good amount to work with and it's easier to handle than trying to hold on to the entire roll. If you think you'll need more than what you have cut off, just make more working pieces to have ready when you need them.

It's Time To Solder

pieces tacked in place

Before you start, go around and tack any pieces that need to be held in place. In this picture, there are several pieces that were not sitting level due to the surface I was working on, and the nuggets needed to be held down, so I tacked them in place before I started.

Running a bead

Put your iron on the seam and touch the end of the solder to the top side of the tip. Pull the iron along, all the time gently pushing the solder onto the tip. Don't stop and start...just keep moving along the seam. You are aiming for a nice rounded bead. If you aren't using enough solder there won't be a bead, and if you use too much, the bead will be big and heavy looking.

If you are going from the inside of the panel towards an outside edge, lift the solder off the tip about 1/2 inch from the edge of the glass, but keep moving the iron to the edge. There will be enough flowing ahead of the tip to finish off the seam without having to add any more.

Before I go on, you should know that you can take it off as well as put it on. If you have added too much, simply hold the piece upright, up off the workbench, and slowly run your hot iron down the seam. It will run off and drop onto the work surface. Hot little beads have a tendency to roll around, so be careful that some doesn't roll off the work bench and get on you. I once had some fall through an opening in the top of my sandals. That definitely hurt! I have not worn sandals while working with glass since.

needs to be touched up

touch and lift method

If you have areas that need to be touched up, use the touch and lift method. Touch down into the middle of the bead until you feel the tip of your iron touch glass. You will see the solder melt on either side of the tip. When this happens, gently lift the iron straight up. You can do this along an entire seam if you want. For each touch down, just slightly overlap into the area where the solder melted from the last touch down. You will find a rhythm to it once you get comfortable with the technique.

all fixed up

You can get a beautiful, even, raised bead using the touch and lift technique.

touch up from the edge

Another way to touch up a small area it to slide your iron in from the edge of the bead, rather than touching in the middle of it. Experiment with both methods and see what works best for you. I use both, but I do use the touch and lift method the most often, and I can't give you a reason why. I just do!

side one done

When side one is done, wipe it off with a paper towel.

side two ready to solder

side two all done

Now you can turn the panel over and do the other side. Don't worry about the edges on either side just yet, they will be done last. When side two is done, wipe it just as you did side one.

Turn the piece back over to side one and look it over. See if any solder has run through from side two. It should not have happened unless you held your iron in one place too long, or if you had a big gap between two pieces of glass for it to run through.

If it did run through, hold the panel upright and run some off with your hot iron. Lay the panel back down and let the area cool completely. Then you can quickly dab your iron in the bead that needs to be fixed up. Dab and lift straight out, rather than touching all the way down to glass. If you hold the iron in one place too long, it will just run back through to the other side and you will end up chasing solder back and forth forever.

The next step in this tutorial is Edge Beading

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This page was last updated on March 24, 2016