Working in Stained Glass: Part 3 – Soldering

Other than grinding the glass pieces, soldering is the messiest part of working in stained glass. Soldering involves both chemicals and high temperatures, so I have a separate part of my workbench dedicated to this part of the process.
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Because of the fumes that are released during soldering, I have a fan that sucks the fumes away from my workbench and vents them outside. That’s the silver tube in the upper part of the photo.

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The first step when I’m soldering is to apply a chemical flux to the copper foil. This causes a chemical reaction that allows the solder to bond to the foil and spread smoothly along the seams.

I use a 100 watt Weller soldering iron, which is a fairly standard iron that a lot of stained glass artists use. Working with lead-free solder, I’ve found that using a high temperature tip makes a big difference. I use an 800 degree tip, which is more than twice as hot as your standard oven temperature!

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The first thing I do when I’m soldering is to tack solder the pieces together to make sure they fit properly. That way, if I do need to recut or regrind a piece, I won’t have to completely undo all my soldering, which generally means taking off all the foil and starting over.

In the upper left, is the brass sponge that I use to clean my soldering iron tip as I’m soldering. Because of the high heat, soldering irons tend to build up a layer of black gunk (dirt and impurities that burn up during the process) that need to be cleaned off regularly. Using water and a regular sponge is often recommended for cleaning iron tips, but I found the water to be quite damaging, switching to the brass sponge has made a huge difference.

Photo 11The final soldering step is to finish all the seams and coat all the copper foil with solder. I want my seams to look as smooth as possible, so usually spend some extra time to smooth out the solder.

The final step to complete the piece is to clean it. Cleaning is probably the most important step to ensure that the seams of the piece look as good as possible. I use a 3 step process for cleaning, first I wash all the seams with a mixture of ammonia and water. Secondly, I rinse off the ammonia using dish soap and water and finally, I polish the seams using a clear car wax.

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Just like that, they are all shined up and ready to go!

Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

 

 

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Working in Stained Glass – Part 2: Grinding and Foiling

This is my second post on the process of working in stained glass. Click here to read Part 1.

Once all the glass pieces have been cut, I use a grinder to smooth out the edges and correct any minor cutting errors. A glass grinder has a bit that is coated in diamond dust and a water reservoir that keeps the bit and glass from getting hot. Grinding is very, very messy as little pieces of glass get everywhere and it’s probably my least favorite part of the process.

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Once all the edges are ground, I rinse the glass to get rid of any bits of glass or felt pen marks and then it’s time to foil the pieces. All of my stained glass pieces are made using the copper foil technique. This technique, which was made popular by Louis Comfort Tiffany, uses pieces of very thin copper tape to cover the edges of each pieces of glass. The copper tape that I use has an adhesive on the back, in Tiffany’s time, they used beeswax to attach the copper to the glass.

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Copper foil comes in a variety of widths. I use 1/4″ wide foil for most pieces and 1/2″ for pieces where I am plating two pieces of glass together. Once the foil has been wrapped around the edge of the pieces of glass, I burnish the foil so that there are no air pockets and that the foil is well adhered to the glass.

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The copper foil acts as an interface between the glass and the solder (which we will get to in Part 3) and gives the solder a substrate to stick to. Next step: soldering the pieces together!

What’s on My Workbench – Part 1

This is my main work area, where I cut and foil my glass pieces. I also have work areas for grinding and soldering my pieces as well as extra space to spread out large pieces.

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Moving from top left to bottom right:

1. Tropsie the stuffed triceratops – I got Tropsie when I was 8 years old from the Museum of Natural History in Ottawa. His current position is Chief Workbench Supervisor.

2. Craft clamps – I use these whenever I need to hold two pieces of glass together, usually with something between them.

3. Over the years I’ve dabbled in other mediums, these are some of my past needlework and polymer clay pieces.

4. Is is not possible to have too many pairs of pliers and wire cutters.

5. My glass cutter. I use a Toyo pistol-grip cutter with an oil reservoir. If you haven’t tried a pistol grip, I strongly recommend it, it is much easier to use for long periods than a pencil style cutter.

6. A color wheel is great for those times when the color combination isn’t quite coming together.

7. My workbench always seems to have a few unfinished projects on it. These have been sitting there for nearly a year.

8. My workbench is made from basic 1 inch think plywood. Some glass artists prefer a carpeted surface to cut on, but I find that it collects too many glass slivers for me to cut myself on. A tape measure is also essential equipment.

9. I have storage for large and mid-sized glass underneath my workbench and bins with smaller pieces on a shelf to one side, all organized by color.

 

 

Coasters and Trivets

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Coasters in brown, gold and green.

Coasters in brown, gold and green.

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If you’re looking for a unique way to protect your furniture, you’ll love these colourful coasters and trivets. Made by sandwiching threads and fibres between a piece of coloured glass on the bottom and a piece of clear glass on the top, these coasters are durable and beautiful. Each coaster has felt bumpers to prevent scratching of furniture and can easily withstand the heat of a teapot of cup of tea. Enjoy a set of 4 coasters (3.75″ square) for $37.50 or a 6″ trivet for $22.50.

Pyramids

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3" Pyramid - Dark Blue

3″ Pyramid – Dark Blue

 

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These pyramids are meant to be played with. Each one is filled with sand, beads and small treasures. Each time you pick it up, the contents change and shift, creating a new scene with new items to search for. Perfect for a desk or coffee table. Sizes include 1.5″ ($15) , 3″ ($20) or 6″ ($45).

Girls with Curls

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Girls with Curls

Girls with Curls

Full of fun and whimsy, Girls with Curls make perfect gifts for girls of all ages. Each figure features a unique combination of decorative buttons and beads. These delightful suncatchers will look great in a bathroom or bedroom window. Each Girl is approximately 7″ high. $20 each.