What REALLY makes a smooth solder seam?
You all know that lumpy solder seam feeling. You try and TRY to improve your stained glass soldering techniques but STILL you can’t get a nice smooth finish.
Well I have a secret for you.
It’s a tiny but crucial tip – taken from my Stained Glass Made Perfect Course – that will improve your stained glass soldering techniques and help you get over the hump and start producing smooth, even seams to be proud of.
You’ll see that it isn’t a question of speed, or the right flux or the correct solder – although these things help.
It’s all about controlling the heat of the solder with the angle of the soldering iron tip.
Stained Glass Soldering Techniques
Have a look at the Video Tip below and give it a go yourself. Play around with the angle of the tip. Try it flat, try the corner, try the side. This will help you:
- see how the solder behaves differently.
- learn how much heat is transferred to the solder with the different angles.
- start to control of your soldering iron.
And with that control comes smooth, even solder seams.
You might not have instant success but if you keep at it I can guarantee that your stained glass soldering techniques will improve.
More Stained Glass Soldering Techniques
- Try looking just ahead of the iron’s tip, not directly at the tip, as you move the iron along the seam.
It’s like driving. The more road you can see ahead, the more anticipating you can do and the better you drive. It’s the same with feeding solder to the tip.
- Don’t be afraid to move your panel so that you get the best angle for running the bead. If you’re in the wrong position it will make soldering smoothly more difficult.
- This might challenge you but try holding the iron like a pencil and drawing it towards yourself. Rest your soldering hand on the bench to stop it wobbling as you go. You might find that this gives you better control. As always; find what suits YOU, not anyone else.
- Try dropping a series of blobs along the seam and joining them up to make the smooth seam.
That way you don’t have to worry about feeding the solder. This is the technique students find most helpful in the Stained Glass Made Perfect course.
- Try flat soldering the front side first, making sure that the gaps are filled. Wipe of flux, turn over and bead Side 2. This is now easier as there’s no gaps for the solder to get sucked into. See image below.
Go back to Side 1 and run the bead. This is now easier as there’s a solid base that makes running a smooth seam easier.
By beading Side 2 first you get a soldering warm up and can identify problem areas to pay attention to when you go back to Side 1.
If you get the hang of this you may find in time that you don’t need to tin first.
Solder Smooth Intersections
- When you hit an intersection, solder down each ‘spur’ about half an inch before returning to the main line. See image above. The solder will remain liquid.
When you’ve finished the main line you can go back to each ‘spurs’ and easily pick up where you left off.
This will avoid solder collecting at and forming lumpy intersections.
Tool Related Soldering Tips For Smooth Seams
- Experiment with temperature to suit YOU. Find the temperature that works for you. This will change depending on what you’re doing too. Edges, internal seams, decorative soldering. They all need slight adjustments in temperature and speed.
- Too much flux can cause problems. Flux will splutter and can get trapped in the gap between glass and spit when you solder side 2.
- Make sure you keep the iron tip clean by wiping it frequently on a damp sponge to remove the build up of residue.
- Check that your iron is maintaining a constant temperature. Weller soldering irons have the reputation of cool spots and it’s another thing to factor in. The Hakko FX 601 maintains a very even temperature which helps.
Learning To Relax
- Don’t worry about doing the seam in one pass. It creates too much pressure. Try making a run of solder over the seam without worrying about smoothness. Then go back and make the bead on the second run. As long as you let the solder cool down in between you can go over it a few times.
Let go of expectations, it’s liberating!
- Learn to slow down, you’ll make smoother lines if you do. Because glass expands at the edges when heated it’s very VERY unlikely that you’ll crack the glass. Soldering overlay in the middle of a shape is much more likely to crack the glass so you have to speed up a bit with that.
If you have any other tips, feel free to add them in the comments below. You may help others achieve smooth solder seams. My students often find good ways of explaining things to help the penny drop!
Have unsightly gaps? Go here to see a video on how to fill and solder them