Soldering A Leaded Window

"Soldering a leaded window is the next step in this tutorial. Your window should, by now, be all leaded up and square."

Double click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.

making sure corners are square
measuring the diagonals

Before you begin soldering your window, check it one more time to make sure it is square. You can use a triangle and check each corner, or you can measure the diagonals making sure they are both the same measurement. If it isn't square, now is the time to fix it. You should also measure it to make sure the dimensions are right. Once you are done soldering a leaded window it is very difficult to change things (it can be done, but believe me it's not fun).

Before you begin soldering a leaded window, go over your panel and find any areas where the leads don't touch, and places that the corners of the lead are not flat. You can push those lifted corners down with your fid. Don't go at it with a heavy hand. It doesn't take much pressure to flatten them. Push too hard and you'll have to wait for the tutorial on repair!

gap filled, needs trimming

The areas where the leads don't touch need to be filled in with bits of lead. Take a scrap piece of lead and cut it down the middle of the heart so that you end up with two pieces of lead, each with 1/2 of the heart attached. Now you can cut the lead pieces into shapes that will fit between the leads that don't meet. It might take a couple of tries to get it just right. The filler pieces must fit tight. The 1/2 heart will slide down into the gap between the two pieces of glass and the lead face will line up with the lead already there. The filler in the picture needs to be taken out and trimmed now that the size and shape is correct. Like I said, it might take a couple of tries to get it right.

gap not filled

This is what happens when the gaps are not filled. The solder joint is pinched in the middle. Trying to add more solder just makes a big glob of solder on one piece of lead or the other. Do you see the big glob of solder on the border lead in this picture?

Now that the lead is ready, it's time to talk about soldering a leaded window. You will need:

1. 80 or 100 watt soldering iron and a soldering iron stand.
2. 50/50 solder (if it's available in your area), or 60/40 solder if you can't get 50/50.
3. Flux. I like to use paste flux for lead work and I'll talk about why later on.
4. Flux brush or Q-tips.
5. Paper towels or cloth rags.
6. Ventilation. A good quality fume extractor such as the Hakko 493-10 Smoke Absorber, or plenty of open windows and doors. The fume extractor is best. Whatever you use, just make sure you are not breathing in the fumes while you are soldering a leaded window (or soldering anything else for that matter).

While I'm talking about ventilation, here are two things you should not do while you are soldering. Do not have a fan blowing directly on the window, and do not solder outdoors if it is windy. The air moving directly on the window, while you are soldering, causes very grainy solder joints. I learned both of these "do nots" from experience. It is okay to have a fan blowing in the room as long as it is not blowing directly on the window. Soldering outdoors is fine also, just not on a windy day.

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Using Flux

paste flux

Flux cleans the lead so that the solder can bond with it. If you don't use flux, the solder will not stick to the lead. Solder flows wherever there is flux and doesn't flow where there is no flux. To control where the solder goes, paste flux is the easiest to use because you can put it exactly where you want the solder to go. Liquid flux makes this a bit more difficult as it is hard to control where it goes. Liquid flux dries after a while, and trying to solder on dried flux gives very poor results. You can use liquid flux when you are soldering a leaded window, but you should only flux the number of joints that you can solder in 1/2 hour.

flux all joints

You are now going to start fluxing the lead joints/areas where the leads meet. A general rule is that the solder flows out from the center of the joint, a distance equal to the width of the face of the lead. If you use that rule, you will know where and how much flux to apply. Flux all joints, or at least all of the joints you plan on soldering for one session. Once you start soldering, you don't want to have to stop to apply flux. You do not want to put a big glob of flux on each joint...put it on like you are applying paint. That will be enough.

Every time you put your soldering iron down it begins to heat up more (gets hotter). If all of the joints are fluxed, you can move right along with the soldering iron and the iron should stay at the same temperature (unless you are soldering very slowly).

Many people like to use a temperature controller when soldering a leaded window. That is totally up to you whether you use one or not. The only thing to remember is that your soldering iron will get hotter, the longer it sits, temperature controller or not.

The controller only controls the amount of electricity that comes into your soldering iron. That means that it will take longer to get too hot when set at a low setting, but it will still eventually get too hot. So, don't make the mistake of plugging in your iron, setting the controller and expect the temperature of your iron to be just right no matter how long it sits there before you use it. If you use a controller, you should find that you won't need it once you have developed your skills.

Getting Ready To Solder

wiping tip on wet paper towel

After you have fluxed all of the joints, wet a sponge or fold several paper towels in to thirds and wet them. These will be used to wipe your soldering iron tip frequently as you are soldering a leaded window. Wiping does two things. It keeps the tip clean and it helps to keep the tip cooled down if it is beginning to get too hot. A wet sponge works best for cooling the tip.

Now it's finally time to plug in your soldering iron. While you are waiting for it to heat up, take some scrap lead and put flux along the entire length. Use this to test the temperature of your iron. Your iron should be hot enough when it starts to melt solder. Hold some solder on the scrap lead and touch down on it with your iron. Hold the iron down for 1 second, then lift it off. If the solder flows smoothly, the temp is right. If it burns the lead, the temp is too hot. If the solder leaves sharp peaks, the temp is too low. This should be done every time you heat up your soldering iron when you are soldering a leaded window.

lead has melted..iron too hot

Here is what a too hot iron does when soldering a leaded window! The lead has melted on the corner joint and started to melt on the next joint. I had to remove the bottom lead by cutting through the 2 joints with my lead knife. The lead was replaced and soldered with a cooler iron. This really happened, it wasn't done for demonstration purposes. I was too busy telling the photographer what to do and not paying attention to what I was doing.

cutting solder with a soldering iron

Cut off a length of solder to work with. Holding the entire spool is too cumbersome. I usually wrap the solder around my hand three or four times, pull it off my hand and use the hot soldering iron to cut the solder. If you are soldering a leaded window that is fairly large, cut off two or three of these solder pieces, so you won't have to stop to cut off more in the middle of your work.

How To Solder Lead Came

When you begin soldering a leaded window, start methodically either up and down or side to side. Don't jump around from here to there and back again. It is far too easy to miss a joint if you don't have a plan of how you will solder. It's easy enough to miss a joint anyway, and it's a good idea to have someone else look the window over when you are done. It is easier for someone else to spot a missed joint than you. the one who has been looking at it for a long time.

soldering a T joint

T joint soldered
four way intersection
four way soldered

Lay the solder across the joint, with the end of the solder touching the end of the joint, not sticking out over the end. Touch straight down on the solder and hold it there for 1 to 2 seconds. The time will vary depending on the temperature of your iron. Try 1 second first. If the solder hasn't flowed properly, try 2 seconds the next time. Then lift the iron straight off the joint and pull the remaining solder away at the same time. In other words, you will be simultaneously removing the soldering iron with one hand and the remaining solder with the other hand.

This is where many people have a problem when they first start soldering a leaded window. They hold the remaining solder there while they are lifting off the iron, and the remaining solder gets stuck to the joint. If this happens to you, just touch down with the iron again and pull the solder loose. You might have to go back and smooth down the joint. If you need to re-work the joint, wait until the joint is cool and apply more flux before you begin.

good solder joints

You want the solder to be smooth and flat, not a bead. When you are soldering a leaded window, the lead should look like each piece flows into the next. No dents, no globs, just smooth solder joints.

What To Do When The First Side Is Done

When you are done with the first side, wipe it with a paper towel or a cloth. Wiping removes the flux and lets you examine the solder joints. You'll have a better chance of seeing if you missed any joints, and see if any joints need to be touched up. The paper towel or cloth will also catch on any jagged points that you didn't see. They would need to be re-worked. Have someone else look the panel over to see if they can spot any missed joints. As I said before, when you are soldering a leaded window, it is easy enough to miss one or two joints, especially if you don't solder methodically.

When you are satisfied with the first side, remove the framing boards and turn the window over. If it is a small window you can literally pick it up and turn it over. If it is a large window get someone to help you. Pull it half way off the table, holding it flat. Have one person grab the top and the other person hold the bottom. Tip the window upright and slide it to the floor so the bottom or top edge of the window is resting on the floor. Turn the window around and reverse the process to get it back on the work bench.

Now you can begin soldering the window on the other side. Follow the same steps as discussed for the first side. When the back is done, turn the window over again and give it a final wipe down before you begin to putty. I do not wash a leaded window. The puttying process will clean it up.

That's it for soldering a leaded window.

To learn how to putty your window go to: Putty A Leaded Window.

If you have any questions or comments about your soldering a leaded window, please feel free to Contact Me.

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This page was last updated on March 5, 2016

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