Finish Soldering Your Stained Glass Piece

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 40,758
    Stained Glass Artist Phillip McKee demonstrates how to finish soldering a piece of stained glass, cleaning up bumps, bubbles, and flat areas.

    Phillip McKee

    As an artist, I work in the medium of stained glass. I have always had an interest in stained glass. From early childhood I was enchanted by the Middle Ages and especially the medieval church. Seeing the beauty of the windows was always a joy to me. It was with great joy that I studied Medieval History first at Yale University and later at Harvard. I even held a research fellowship at Princeton in 1993. Even though I studied economic and diplomatic history instead of Art History, I still managed to work my artistic interests into my work at every possible opportunity.

    But after all of that education, I chose to become a firefighter. Needless to say, this was not greeted with much enthusiasm by my family. However a firefighter's work schedule gave me the free time I needed and I was able to pursue my other passion -- glass art!

    Since 9-11, stained glass has become an even greater part of my life as I went through rehabilitation for injuries suffered at the Pentagon. Glass has provided me with a creative outlet that I have sorely needed during this most difficult time in my life and in the life of our country. It has also given me a new place in life now that I am physically disabled and no longer able to continue as a firefighter.

    I am also pleased to announce the publication of my book Make It or Break It; Stained Glass For Beginners as a CD E-Book by CWS Press. It is an innovative CD-ROM that allows for page-flipping and browsing just like a book but it can also be searched like a regular electronic document. The CD also comes with a free trial version of GlassEye 2000 and over 340 patterns in GlassEye format.

    And I am now the senior Stained Glass Art Instructor for the Arlington County Adult Arts Education Program at the Fairlington Arts Center. If you live in Northern Virginia this is a wonderful way for you to be able to study stained glass under my tutelage while remaining close to home! In addition I offer private lessons in my home studio.

    But I did recently return to my academic roots. In June 2004, I exhibited several pieces as a part of the "Visions & Experiences" Exhibit at the Yale University School of Art Gallery. If you did not have a chance to visit the exhibit while it was occurring, I have created a Virtual Tour. It is an executable file which can be downloaded and viewed on your computer.

    Finish soldering is when we clean up our solder. We make it pretty. We ensure that there are no clumps, there are no spikes, there are no bubbles, there are no flat parts. To accomplish finish soldering, we take a well heated iron with a clean tip and we begin moving up and down a solder bead. We press down, hold and lift, this provides us with a count of three. One, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three; as I am moving to this count along the solder bead, I am ensuring that I overlap slightly with each previous tap. This allows for one long continuous bead. When doing that tied look and I see that this could use a little more solder and so I bite some off and apply it to the bead.

    This will increase its size and allow it to show the proper proportions. Once I am done, I move to the next bead. If it needs a little extra, bite some off, start at the junction and do my up, down tapping motion to a walls (ph) bead until the next juncture. Clean and start again, we do this along all of our solder beads until we are comfortable that each one has the proper amount of solder and is smooth. If when tapping on the upbeat, we notice that we pull solder with us into a spike that looks almost like the curlicue on a soft serve ice cream cone. That means that we need to apply more flux before we can continue. At times, when doing this, we will notice bubbling coming up through the solder.

    This is flux trapped beneath the solder that is burning off. If the solder cools enough before the bubbles has had a chance to pop, you can wind up with a hole in the solder. If that happens, you need to go over that line again. You will notice at times, I have also been flicking off excess solder onto my Homasote board. I do this because solder that is not needed on a bead, will move over onto the iron and can be removed. Once you are comfortable with one side, flip it over and move onto the next. When you get to joints or you tack solder, you may notice that it is not very even, it does not show off to point very well. To remove glass there, you can simply heat it up and pull through and flick off the excess.

    This will help define your corners more. Another artifact that can sometimes appear at this point in your work are heat lines. Those are small wavy lines on the solder which appear when you have got warm solder cooling next to cold solder. It can be very difficult to remove those at times, patience is of utmost importance. When you are comfortable with the look of your solder lines, it is now time to tin the edges. Tinning involves a large amount of flux and very little solder, the idea is to cover the outside exposed copper with solder to protect it. What we do, we simply grab a little excess solder, maybe from a bubble or a small bead that has shown up somewhere, apply it to one of the edges where you have applied lots of flux and just run across. This will apply a paper thin layer of solder and protect the copper from corrosion and damage.

    If you run out, grab a little more so that you have good protection. You will also be tinning the outside edges, if you are uncomfortable doing this or have difficulties, you can lift up the glass using a small stamp. When you have tinned all of the sides of your piece on both sides, then go back to these little edge tacks and remove just a little solder from them. You want to remove approximately one-eighth of an inch to create a flattened area right at the edge. This will allow your metal frame to slide on easily. Next, we are going to be looking at how to patina your solder, to enhance its appearance.