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Following are tips, techniques, questions and replies regarding 'soft' or 'lead' soldering. This is the type of soldering that is done in stained glass work but artists are now making great photo charms (find out how here) with the same tools and techniques. If you have any questions, please email Christine Cox.*

Soldering Troubleshooting and FAQ

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Soldering is a Learned Skill First, soldering is a learned skill. Don't assume that you'll be perfect the first time out. Give yourself time to learn and you'll enjoy it more once you've mastered it.
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Never, never, never dip a hot
soldering iron tip into flux!

While working make a circle of the following goods around you: copper foil tape, damp synthetic sponge in dish, flux, roll of solder, iron stand and iron. In front of you is your work in some kind of holder or vise. Put some flux in a separate dish and then dip your cold soldering iron into it. This will help protect your tip from oxidizing while it heats up.

Cut and clean the glass with rubbing alcohol and a lintless cloth (I use microfiber).

Plug in the iron (with the tip in place).

While the iron heats, neatly line the edges of the glass with copper foil tape, burnish and then stabilize your collage for soldering.

Use a Q-tip to flux all the copper foil tape on the photo frame. Don't forget the front and back.

Remove the hot iron from the stand and quickly wipe both sides of the tip on the sponge.

Now either "chase" the solder down the side of the photo frame or just pick some solder off the roll with the tip of the hot iron and then "flow" it down the tape. Wait a second for the solder to set and then carefully turn the frame in the vise or whatever holder you've chosen, and then solder again. Repeat until all sides are soldered.

Touch up the front and back of your charm and then solder a jump ring to the top to act as a bale.

Tip Doesn't Hold Solder The first rule is to keep your iron's tip clean (as in silver) at all times. The number one mistake I see students make is to let their tip get hot without solder on it and then the tip oxidizes. Once the tip is oxidized it is much more reluctant to accept solder. While an oxidized tip can be cleaned, it's really a pain and it's easy to avoid.

Here's a rule to never forget:

Heat + Oxygen = Oxidation

If you rob the iron of either ingredient it will not oxidize. So, it you have solder on the tip at all times, oxygen can't get to it and therefore it can't oxidize. If you ever see black color appearing on your tip, clean it with a damp synthetic sponge and then immediately tin (coat with solder) your tip.

Cleaning Tip I've put up directions for how to use a sal ammoniac block
Copper Foil Tape Doesn't Stick Before putting the copper foil tape onto the glass be sure it's free of cutter oil by cleaning it with rubbing alcohol.

Burnish the tape well with a wooden fid or some other implement. I tend to use the back of my thumb nail but that's not necessarily the best idea and it can ruin your nails.

You'll want to avoid touching the iron directly onto the copper foil tape because if the tape gets too hot the adhesive on the back gets ruined and the tape will no longer stick to the glass.

Don't use too much flux as it can ruin the adhesive on the copper foil tape. I like to use a Q-Tip to apply it and brush from the center of the tape out, toward the edges. The idea is to keep the brush from directing the flux underneath the tape. Some people prefer to use Gel Flux so that it stays in place a little better.

How to make a jump ring bail

Find out how to close a jump ring securely

Get ready because this all happens very quickly.

Your piece should be in a Mini Vise or otherwise secured, with the place where you want the bail facing up.

Use 2 pairs of pliers to open and the close the jump ring securely.

Flux the place where you want the jump ring and also the bottom (the cut side) of the jump ring itself. Put some solder on your clean, hot iron tip (if the solder doesn't want to flow onto the tip, it sometimes helps to dip the end of the solder - never the hot iron tip - into the flux). Hold the jump ring, cut side down, in a pair of needle- or flat-nose pliers. Hold the pliers so that the jump ring is about 1/8" above where you want it to be.

Now touch the loaded iron tip to the fluxed solder on the piece. As soon as you see the solder melt, lower your other hand and (with the pliers) lower the jump ring into the melted solder. Now FREEZE long enough for the solder to set up and then let go of the ring with the pliers. Don't like it? Remelt the solder with your iron and try again.

I recommend making a junky soldered piece and putting the ring on over and over until you get really good at it.

Rheostat Q: I have a Weller 100 iron and want a taller bead on my work. Can I use a rheostat?

A: No. The Weller 100 iron is "temperature controlled" which means that there is a controller built into the handle of the iron that regulates the temperature by turning the iron off and on (the same way your home oven works). It's possible that a rheostat can conflict with that task and cause problems with the iron.

The correct way to get a taller solder bead on your work when using the Weller 100 is to use a different tip than the iron came with. There are 2 options and it's just a matter of preference which you use.

  • One option is to use a 600 tip (which come in several widths). The Weller 100 ships with a 3/8" 700 tip on it. Iron and tips vary and sometimes they get a little too hot for a tall bead. In this case you'll get what's called "tinning," which simply means that the solder spreads out flat when touched to the copper foil tape. A cooler tip makes the solder flow more slowly so that there's time for a bead to build up.
  • The other option is to use a 700 Bead Tip made specifically for the Weller 100 iron. The tip has a channel cut into it and solder builds up in this channel and therefore forms a taller bead on your work.

If you are using a soldering iron which isn't temperature controlled (such as the Inland/Choice irons we sell) you can use a rheostat to regulate the temperature of your iron tip.

Q. Where should I set my rheostat for soldering? This depends on if you'd like a tall bead or a thin film of solder. I usually have students start with their rheostat set on 5 and then we adjust up or down depending on their iron's heat output.

Solder Q: I want my pieces to be bright silver like yours and Sally Jean Alexander's, but they're kind of dull. What am I doing wrong?

A: Aha! The secret ingredient is . . . SilverGleem Solder! It has real silver in it so it has that shine you love. Other solders, such as 50/50 or 60/40 don't have any silver in them (they are made up of tin and lead) so they have a dull pewter-y look to them.

If you are using SilverGleem you'll probably find that you need a higher heat than when using leaded solders. If you are using a Weller 100 iron use a 700 tip. If you are using a non-temperature controlled iron and a rheostat, turn your rheostat up one or two numbers on the dial.

If you are using lead came, 50/50 is usually a good color match.

Flux Flux does several things; it breaks the surface tension of the solder so that it can flow, it gives the solder a path to follow, it cleans oxides off of the copper foil tape and it prevents oxygen from getting to the copper during heating.

Some fluxes are acids so it's important to keep your work area and your hands clean. Use baking soda or dish soap to neutralize the acids.

Some people prefer Gel Flux to Liquid. The main advantage is that it stays in place on the copper so you'll be less apt to get flux under the tape.

Note: The answers on this page are compiled from my own experience and the experience of other teachers, vendors and friends. I cannot take responsibility if you have a problem. Please research your project, techniques and tools thoroughly before beginning.

Since 11/17/04
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