Tinning copper wire for stained glass gives you options of adding decorative wire details to your work. If you’re interested in doing this – and why wouldn’t you be, they’re lovely! – you can save money by making your own tinned wire. This video shows you how to strip the plastic from electrical wire and tin (coat) it with a layer of solder.
The reason we tin wire for stained glass is so that it will take the patina and you can match it to the patina in your project.
You can always choose the easy route and buy tinned wire you can find an impressive range of wire here (affiliate). It’s nice to make things simple for ourselves sometimes 🙂
Wire comes in different gauges or thicknesses. The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wire, which for me seems the wrong way round! You have to choose the correct size for the application.
This will give you some idea of the different widths and what to use them for:
14-18 gauge is the range for most stained glass projects. #14 gauge is good for hanging and #18 for more decorative stained glass work.
There’s always room for pushing the boundaries – if you want to do something very delicate like cat’s whiskers you could go even thinner – say #22. Tinning this thin wire is difficult as it’s so thin so you might want to use this just as it is. Something a bit thicker – like a straight flower stem – could be #12 wire.
Tinned Copper Wire
Pre-tinned wire is wire covered with a coating of solder. You can make it cheaply by buying copper wire or even cheaper by recycling electrical wire.
Stripping Electrical Wire
- Find about 1m long electrical wire with the correct gauge
- Strip the plastic casing off. If you have a wire stripper, great! But if not you can use a utility knife. It’s important for safety reasons that you always do this away from you and not towards you.
- The trick is to leave the knife in the same position and pull the wire towards you. Put the knife nearly on the workbench, hold it steady and pull the wire slowly towards you. This removes the plastic coating. Do it in stages.
- When you get close to the end pull the remainder off.
Straightening The Wire
Once you’ve rescued your copper wire you need to straighten it.
- Get a pair of pliers and a very thick cloth or towel
- Grasp the wire tightly through the towel and pull the kinked wire 2 or 3 times through. This straightens out all the kinks in it
- Lastly, clean it off with some damp steel wool to make it accept the solder better. Don’t forget your mask and your gloves for this as the little bits of steel will get everywhere.
Tinning Copper Wire Instructions
Now for tinning copper wire for stained glass!
- Coat the wire with flux using a sponge because it covers the wire nicely. The flux gives it an additional clean and allows it to take the solder.
- Make sure that you cover all of the wire.
- Pick up a blob of solder or put some solder on your iron tip and move the iron along the wire, covering the wire with solder.
- When you get the hang of tinning copper wire you can keep the iron still and pull the wire under it, coating as it goes.
- Make sure you cover the whole of the wire.
- When it’s all covered remove any rough bits gently with steel wool and you’re done.
- Don’t hold the wool too tight because you can remove the solder and end up with copper again if you’re too vicious with it.
That’s it! You’ve created your very own tinned wire, exactly the same as the wire you buy in shops. You can use it to add decorative detail to your projects or for hanging sun catchers.
Try out decorative soldering to go with your wire work here