Construction / Molds
Scoring / Breaking Glass
Fitting The Glass
Solder / Soldering
Releasing a Shade
Ring and Rim
Tools, Aids etc.
Health & Safety Concerns
Selling Your Artwork
Jill Ballam asked: I usually solder with 60/40 and use a 100Watt Weller
iron. Recently, while working on a lamp, I changed to 50/50 solder. I
tried repeatedly to re-work my lead lines, but couldn’t get them
as smooth as I wanted. Is this a feature of the solder? Lorrie Gordon
answered: Your experience is a feature of 50/50 solder. You 34
switched from a solder that was 60% tin to a solder that was 50% tin.
Tin gives solder its “freeze point”, and the lower the tin,
the slower the freeze. So your 50/50 solder remained molten longer, resulting
in the seam reflecting any and all movement around it. However, you can
make this work to your advantage by also realizing that the tin also impacts
the “melt” point of solder, with the higher the number, the
quicker the melt. So you probably noticed that your 50/50 took a little
longer to heat up and melt. One tip I picked up is to solder the inside
of the lamp with 50/50, then switch to 60/40 for the outside of the lamp.
You will experience less melt-through because the 50/50 on the inside
is heating slower than the 60/40 on the outside, and helping to “dam”
the outside solder.
Derek Windram: The difference between melting points of solders, say 40/60
to 60/40 is only around five degrees. The biggest difference is the “elastic”
properties. 40/60 goes from solid to liquid relatively slowly and passes
through a pasty, crystaline stage. When it sets, the reverse occurs. 60/40
goes from solid to liquid very quickly and appears to bypass the pasty
stage. If you consider this, you will realize why you get less “ridging”
when you use 60/40.
Joan Bengtson: If you start to experience allergic reactions during a
soldering session, I recommend using a water wash-off gel called Fluxomatic
instead of your usual flux.
Dave Hammond: When I worked in a commercial glass studio, we experimented
with different types of flux to try to find out why tiny holes were appearing
in our lead lines. Our conclusion was that the water-based flux that we
used boiled too much and was causing these holes to appear. We tried various
brands of paste flux and found the the flux used by plumbers is just as
reliable as any well-known brand at half the price. Plumber’s flux
has a slightly thinner base which makes it easier to spread.
Chaz Smith: When tinning a shade, I use a wet sponge to clean off extra
solder and flux while the solder is still hot. This gives a very thin,
even tinning. Then I go back and flow a solder bead over the entire surface.
Paul Crist: Before you start tinning, be sure you will have time to complete
the tinning of both the outside and inside of the shade within a day or
two. The flux you are applying is corrosive to the copper foil in your
lamp and will eventually produce a green encrustation that is difficult
to solder through. Even though you are working on the outside of the lamp,
some of the flux will get through to the inside.
Paul Crist: Use an iron between 100 and 175 watts, because you need control
rather than heat to bead. You must be able to hold the lamp steady at
all angles, so that you will always be soldering on a horizontal surface
- if not, the molten solder will flow toward the downhill side, creating
a bump or seam. First of all, re-flux all the lead lines to be beaded,
even though there is a lot of flux left from the tinning operation. The
trick to beading is using the right amount of solder with the right amount
of heat for the right length of time. Too much solder will create a high
bead that is hard to control. A good bead should be less than 180 degrees
of curve - somewhere in the range of 120 to 140 degrees. You want to apply
enough heat to melt the lead line from 1/8” to 1/4” on each
side of the soldering tip, but not so much so that the solder sinks through
the lead line to the other side. You also want to leave the iron on the
bead long enough to get the solder hot so it won’t “peak”
when you pick it up, but not so long as to cause the solder to sink through.
Often, enough heat is provided by using only the corner of the tip on
the edge of the bead. Work along the lead line, so the adjacent area is
still hot and will blend with the area you are working on. This requires
a good deal of patience at first, but, with practice, it will become easy.
Mary Ritter: To achieve thin solder lines involves beveling the back edge
of each piece of glass by tilting it and taking a bit off that edge. It
takes only a moment or two to do this with your grinder. Test the “why”
of this method by holding up two adjacent pieces of glass and tipping
them to the approximate curve of your mold. You’ll notice that when
the back edges meet, there is a significant gap at the front side of the
glass which would have to be filled with solder. This results in thick
solder lines on the outside of your shade. However, when the individual
pieces are beveled, the result is a thin outer surface solder line and
a thicker inside solder line. This equalizes the width of the outside/inside
solder lines, while minimizing the outside and maximizing the inside solder
lines of a shade. When I cut out my pattern pieces, I only cut once, between
the pieces. After I’ve traced the pattern piece onto the glass,
I score the glass just inside the black line that I’ve drawn. This
results in a nice, close fit. I finish off by beveling the inside edge
of the piece.
Jennifer Buckner: I used to get very tense while soldering because I found
it so difficult. Then my glass teacher taught me to put down a series
of “dots” of solder along the foil line rather than trying
to run a consistent line from a spool of solder. Once these dots are in
place, I go back and melt them into a bead. Now , I enjoy the soldering
phase of a project and do a much better job. I no longer have those ugly
accumulations of solder at intersections and fewer “pits”,
too. I use a very narrow tip on my soldering iron.
Lynn Perry: When I’m beading the inside of a shade - especially
one that is very curved, I need a third hand to feed the solder, since
I am positioning the shade with one hand and holding the soldering iron
with the other. I solved the problem by cutting about 12-18 inches of
solder off the roll and soldering one end of it to a seam inside the lampshade.
The loose end is near where I am working so it’s easy to reach with
the soldering iron. Another plus is that any solder drips fall inside
the lamp and not on me!
Carol Conti: I bead the outside of my lamp with 60/40 solder before I
release it from the mold. (It melts faster so I can get a smoother bead.)
Because of the heat passing through the beading - which is done on the
inside of the lamp, the outside solder always looks smoother. I use 50/50
solder on the inside. If sputtering occurs, it is possible that there
is dirt or too much flux on the solder. Wipe it off and try again. You
might have to use a bit of very fine steel wool to remove possible oxidation.
Marialyn Prange: Because I also do a little spinning and weaving, I have
lots of fiber around the house. I found that wool is a great material
to use when trying to keep solder from falling through to the other side
whilst beading a lamp or smoothing hot solder around the rim of the lamp.
Wool absorbs water and insulates much better than cotton. It does not
ignite and burn nearly as easily as cotton. So, get yourself a piece of
wool with the hide still attached - like an old bicycle cover or scrap
of sheepskin from a car seat. Another way to smooth out solder is to use
a brush that is wider than a flux brush; small natural hair paint brushes
Mary Ritter: Ignore any flux left on a soldering project in progress.
Whatever you do, don’t wash it off with water or other chemicals.
If you feel more comfortable doing so, cover your shade with plastic to
protect the foil from dirt, air and humidity between soldering sessions.
Scrub your completed lamp well before applying patina. If any areas are
blotchy, try dipping a bit of (very fine) bronze wool into the patina
and gently scrubbing that area to which you are applying patina.
Joan Bengston: As for irons, I use a 100W iron with a 3/8" tip on
a rheostat for general use. I have a variety of tip shapes but for beading
on foil I prefer either a pyramid tip or a chisel tip rolled over on it's
side edge. I can melt the solder on the vertical flat surface of the chisel
and it flows nicely into the bead. It's frustrating having to stop periodically
to wait for the iron to heat up again, so for heavy duty work like tinning
the cast brass lamp rings and rims, etc. and also for soldering foiled
flat panel windows I use a 250W with a 1/2" chisel tip. It's kind
of heavy but it holds the heat steadier than a smaller iron. I can work
a lot faster with it. I keep it on the rheostat, but I usually find myself
setting it as hot as it will go.
Dan Rose: To clean the tip of your soldering iron, make a 1/2” indentation
in a block of Sal Ammoniac and fill the indentation with solder. Run the
hot iron across the block and through the solder until oxidation is gone.
Derek Windram: Diligent tip cleaning either with a Sal Ammoniac block
or with the Multicore TipTinner is essential.
Chaz Smith: If a controller is used with a soldering iron, over-heating
can cause the tip of the iron to burn out. A tip changes color as it heats
from silver to yellow to purple. It should be regulated so as to never
turn purple. Solder sticks to an iron and will transfer to your work when
it is silver in color. Anything hotter than silver is oxidizing the tinning,
and is really too hot. When you have finished soldering, clean your tip,
melt as much solder as it will hold, and turn off the iron. The extra
solder protects the tip from oxidation. Sal ammoniac can help to tin the
tip of a soldering iron. Melt/burn a hole in the block of sal ammoniac
and get a bead of solder in the hole. Keep working the tip in the bead
of molten solder until it adheres. Your best bet though, is to keep a
clean iron, make sure it is well-tinned and don’t overheat it.
Mike Barnes: The temperature control in the Weller 100 is via electromagnetic
force. As the temperature changes, the magnetic field will change, moving
a magnet inside the tip which allows more or less transfer of heat to
the tip. You control the temperature by changing to a higher or lower
rated tip. Using a rheostat with a Weller iron does nothing since the
temperature is maintained by the tip.
Hexacon Electric Company: The tip is made of copper. The front part of
the tip is iron plated and tinned with solder. The rest of the tip is
nickel & chrome plated. If you do not keep a coating of solder on
the tip, the solder will oxidize away and expose the iron plating which
will also oxidize. The solder will not wet to the tip and will roll right
off. It’s what we call a “dewetted” tip. When that happens
you may be able to revive the tip. You have to clean the oxidized iron
plating so it will tin. Do not file the tip! You will wear through the
iron plating. You can use our TS-10 tip scrubber, Scotch Brite, or very
very fine emery (taking care on the sharp edges of the tip). Once the
tip is clean, plug the iron in and as soon as the iron will melt solder,
add solder and flux to the tip. Don’t delay as the tip will oxidize
again and you will have to start over. 37
Patina is made to react to the lead in solder, so if you use lead free
solder be aware that it does not take patina well. Another problem with
using this lead free product is that there is a danger of cracking the
glass while you are soldering, since more heat is required to run a satisfactory
Vic Seested wrote: “A month or so ago, I almost finished soldering
a lamp, but lost interest in it with only a little left to do around the
rim. I left it just as it was with the flux still on the lamp. Today,
I got back to finishing the last of it, but the solder won’t take.
I’ve tried cleaning, scouring and chemically treating the area without
luck. I’m at wit’s end, so any suggestions?”
Jim Clark: Try a little 0000 steel wool.
Mike Barnes: Do what Jim recommended, but if you use steel wool from a
hardware store be sure to clean the surface with isopropyl alcohol before
fluxing and soldering since the wool has oil in it to keep it from rusting.
Mary Ritter: I recommend using bronze wool because it isn’t oil-treated.
When I use bronze wool, I dip it in a little flux. It seems the flux acts
as a cleaning agent as well as a bonding agent.
Nikki O’Neill: What worked for me in this situation is steel wool
and elbow grease, then use a much stronger flux - like oleic acid.
Chaz Smith: This is where CJ’s comes in handy. If you clean what
you’ve done with CJ’s, you can let it sit for months before
resuming work. You may be able to wet the foil down with flux and use
a bit of a gentle scrubbing motion with your iron to clean and get solder
Wesley Wong: I’ve finished the major soldering of my lamp. In the
final phase of cleanup, I noticed two problem areas in my lamp. On one
glass piece next to the rim, the foil has pushed up off the glass –
leaving a small gap between foil and glass. On the second piece, the foil
worked itself off the edge of the glass and now there is a gap big enough
to see to the inside of the lamp.
Kevin Hendon: These gaps don’t have any structural bearing on the
shade, so, for the gap at the rim, take the soldering iron and re-heat
the area, while pushing down on the foil. If accumulated solder is an
issue, try solder wick to remove the excess and try again. For any sort
of gap, fill it with very fine threads of Bronzo. This is great stuff
and can be sanded as well.
Mary Ritter: You might try a cosmetic fix on both those gaps by first
giving the areas a very thorough cleaning so all the flux is removed.
Then tape a piece of copper foil over the gap, extending it so it goes
beyond the gap and lines up well with the exising foil edge. Burnish it
down well, then tack it lightly on each end to make sure it stays in place.
Solder over it, blending the new solder line in with the existing one.
Now, as for brass wool (Bronzo); I’d heard that steel wool has an
oil coating that prevents rusting, but oil could interfere with the patina.
So, I initially used this product to scrub down solder lines. Since then,
I’ve found it especially great for filling large gaps like under
dragonfly wings. I’ve also substituted it for solder wick. Roll
a small piece into a thin strip, soak it in flux and then poke it into
the area of the solder that needs to be removed.
Ernie Downy: I buy solder wick at Radio Shack. It is called desoldering
braid, but 38
it is exactly the same thing.
Hap Webb: These are pretty basic questions that have been discussed before,
I'm sure, but I'm just wondering what is working for others and if there
is anything new. How do you position your large lamps when you solder
the inside? Do you put a bead on the inside as well as the outside? And,
do you use 50/50 to tin and then 40/60 to bead or...? Which solder do
you like best and which flux works for you?
Lynne Salcetti: I use a lamp positioner to solder my lamps. After doing
my very first one in my lap - nestled in several beach towels, I knew
there had to be a better way! I solder but do not bead the inside and
I use 60\40 solder. I prefer paste flux - used very sparingly. I use a
100 watt iron and wear a respirator when I solder the inside of the lamp.
Irwin Terry: At our Studio, we use Canfield 50/50 solder. We prefer Nokorode
paste flux. I have tried water soluble fluxes and they were a nightmare.
The inside of the shade sputtered and bubbled when soldering and the flux
corroded the foil instantly on the inside of the shade before it was off
the form. As for the inside of the shades, we smoothly solder the interiors
of our lamps but do not put a full bead inside. There are few things that
look less professional than looking inside a lamp and seeing lots of holes
in the solder from air/flux bubbles. I clean my shades with odorless mineral
spirits in a utility sink area with a vent fan, and always wear protective
gloves and a facemask to help minimize chemical exposure. Once the flux
and wax are cleaned off the shade, we wash the shade with "original"
Palmolive dish soap to clean it thoroughly. It works well for us.
Nancy Pimental: We bead solder the inside of the lamp as well as the outside.
That enables us to bury our reinforcement wires inside, and it gives the
lamp extra strength and a finished look. We like to use the Quik Set solder
by Canfield for lamp soldering. It is a special 60/40 that sets up quickly,
and with it, you can actually solder on "not so level" areas
without it running.
Mike Barnes: I always use Classic 100 Jel Flux, and 60/40 solder without
any sputtering or corrosion problems and it's easy to clean. I have occasionally
used 50/50 to tin. I also finish my lamp on the inside just like the outside,
as you would a good suit.