Lead free stained glass solder … the usual reaction is that it’s dull, lumpy and hard to use. But is it possible to use lead free solder for stained glass successfully?
The truth is that it IS a bit trickier to use than leaded solder. The good news is that, with practise and by implementing a few basic principles, you’ll be able to produce work equally as beautiful as before.
And you’ll be able to market your work as safe for customers to enjoy.
When To Use Lead Free Solder
If you’re not sure whether you need to use lead free solder, ask yourself if people handle the stained glass you make.
It’s best to use lead free solder for projects that are touched or worn. These include stained glass jewellery, kaleidoscopes, boxes and any other giftware.
What Is Lead Free Solder Made Of
I often get asked if lead free solder really IS lead free.
The answer is ‘yes’.
It was developed by industry in an attempt to move away from lead solders that are potentially bad for health and the environment.
All solders are types of metal alloys (mixes) and lead free solder is no exception. It’s just that lead has been removed from the equation.
Instead of the 60/40 tin/lead we’re used to, lead free solder is a mix of either tin/copper or tin/copper/silver. Small amounts of Bismuth and Antimony can also be found in some lead free solders.
So you can be reassured; lead free solder for stained glass is exactly that – lead free.
Best Lead Free Solder For Stained Glass
As a result of the higher tin content (and silver if used), lead free solder is more expensive to buy.
There is a silver lining to this though; lead free solder is less dense than leaded which means you get more length of solder wire for your money. To be exact, you’ll get 14% more feet of wire with a 1lb spool. Every little helps these days.
The lead free solders that contain silver flow better and have greater tensile strength. They may be worth the extra money if these characteristics are important for you and your project.
There are several lead free solders for stained glass on the market from a variety of manufacturers. As is usual in stained glass, there are many variables that affect results. Your best bet is to try a couple out for yourself and see which works best for your own particular set up.
Here are a few pointers for you:
Amerway’s lead free stained glass solder comes in 3 varieties; Ruby, Tourmaline and Emerald. 2 out of the 3 work well for stained glass.
1. Ruby 97/3 – tin/silver
Unsurprisingly, with the silver content, this is 1st of the 2 Amerway products that works well with stained glass. It flows easier and is therefore easier to work with. It has a lower melting point and is stronger.
2. Tourmaline 99.3/0.7 – tin/copper
Available on Amazon here (Paid link)
3. Emerald 97/3 – tin/copper
This one is harder to use with less successful results for stained glass.
Victory White Metal
Victory White Metal has a stained glass specific lead free solder product:
1. No Lead Super 50 – 97/3 tin/copper
As a bonus, it works well for sculpting if you don’t increase your iron’s heat.
Available from Amazon here (paid link)
2. Victory White Metal also offer a ‘lead free plus’ solder which contains silver
Canfield’s range of lead free solder rightly has a very good reputation, especially for stained glass jewelry making. Unfortunately the relatively high cost of their products puts people off purchasing.
In their defence, all Canfield’s lead free solders contain silver which makes them more expensive to manufacture than those made of just tin and copper.
1. DGS Lead-Free Solder – tin/copper/silver
2. Pewter Finish Lead Free – tin, silver and copper
This lead free solder gives a matt finish that mimics antique pewter. It’s said that it behaves similarly to 50/50 tin/lead. This is the solder to choose if you want a more antique look.
I haven’t used it so can’t comment with any authority but if I know stained glassers, I KNOW that they like a good shiny finish, LOL.
Best Lead Free Solder For Stained Glass Jewelry
Canfield’s Silvergleem is the outright winner when it comes to lead free solder for stained glass jewelry.
1. Silvergleem 96/4 – Tin/Silver
This is a great lead free solder. With 4% silver (the highest silver content of any lead free solder) it’s no surprise that Silvergleem gives a shinier finish and works equally well for beaded and decorative solder seams. It flows in a similar fashion to 50/50 tin/lead solder. It’s shiny finish can be buffed and left or it can be patinaed and waxed. It looks good even after coming into contact with skin and lotions.
Using Lead Free Solder For Stained Glass
Lead-free solder does not flow as nicely as 60/40 or 50/50. Bear in mind it reacts more like 50/50. Worry not, with practise, and patience, you can run a very nice solder bead with lead-free solder.
- A clean tip before you start is essential for lead free solder for stained glass. It’s a good idea to have 2 tips; 1 for leaded soldering and 1 for lead free to avoid mixing the two.
- Keep cleaning your iron tip as you go to prevent it gunking up.
- The 2 most important things to remember when soldering lead free stained glass are MORE HEAT and MORE FLUX.
The reason for needing a high heat is that lead free solders have a higher proportion of tin which has a higher melting point. Lead-free solder melts about 20 to 45 degrees C higher than 60/40 solder.
Consequently it takes extra heat to make it flow nicely.
You need to have a hotter iron than you usually use when running a bead. I can’t be specific here as all irons are different and the way people approach soldering varies greatly.
Turn your iron up from the temperature you usually use for beading a seam. For example, if you were using a Hakko at 410C, turn it up incrementally to 460C (centigrade) to work out which temperature works best for your particular set up.
If you have a Weller with a 7 (700F) tip, you’ll need to invest in an 8 (800F) one to achieve a higher temperature.
When running a bead, it will be helpful to work slowly, which allows the solder to heat up a little more. Have your iron tip flat to the solder to transfer as much heat as possible.
As usual, be aware that there’s a balance to be had here; you can crack the glass if you dwell too long in one place. Let it cool and return if necessary.
Lead free solder is known not to flow as easily as leaded solder. As a result it requires more flux than normal to help it flow.
Gel flux is a good bet as it doesn’t create so much toxic fumes and doesn’t evaporate so quickly.
Dipping your solder in flux as you solder is a way of ensuring that you apply enough flux to achieve a good flow.
Using Patina With Lead Free Solder
The patina you use for 60/40 or 50/50 solder won’t work on lead free solder because it’s formulated to work on tin and lead.
If you want to patina lead-free solder you’ll need a patina for silver. Midas Black Max from Rio Grande is one brand. You or your supplier should be able to order it, or you can check out jewelry making companies for similar.
Whether or not you use patina, make sure you finish up with a finishing compound or wax to prevent oxidation as normal and keep your solder looking its best.
Is Lead Free Solder Better Than Leaded Solder?
Certainly, there are safety and environmental benefits. And if you are making stained glass objects that will be handled, it’s a necessity.
With practise (and more heat and flux!) you can produce solder of a similar standard with lead free solder.
That said, you don’t need to use it for pieces that aren’t touched. Your best bet is to learn how to use it and choose the most appropriate solder – leaded or lead free – according to the project.
Good luck and share any more tips you have with everyone in the Comments Section below. Thanks 🙂