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