Soldering Your Stained Glass Piece

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 49,811
    Stained Glass Artist Phillip McKee demonstrates how to solder stained glass.

    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.

    Hi, I am Phillip McKee of McKee Stained Glass and I am going to show you how to solder a copper foil stained glass creation together. There are some basic tools you are going to need for this step. First you need to have your soldering iron properly heated. A good soldering iron will always come with a temperature controller, you may not have purchased it at the same time, but you always need to use them together. In this case, I am using a TempTrol, which has the temperature controller built into the handle. You may also use one separately, as a separate unit. The temperature controller is there to allow us to work at a temperature appropriate for our solder.

    Different types of solder require different temperatures. We are going to be working with 60-40, which is approximately 70% of the weight up your dial or around 700 degrees. With your soldering iron, on your stand, there is a sponge; you need to keep your sponge very wet. I like having a small bottle of water handy, so I do not have to carry the sponge over to the sink. When you push down on your sponge and it releases a small amount of water, then you know you have added enough. That sponge is there to help clean off your iron tip. We are also going to be using Flux. Flux is a mild acid which assists in electron transfer between the metals, your solder and the copper, so that they bind together.

    We are going to be using a paste flux for this project, there are also liquid fluxes. Paste flux, just like liquid, is applied to a flux brush and then painted onto your piece. For small pieces, you can paint all off the piece, for larger pieces, you want to flux and solder sections at a time. Right now, I am applying the flux only to the joints, the exact places where several pieces converge. When we are rough soldering, we want to first join our piece together. We do that by soldering only the actual points. Take your heated iron, clean the tip, so that it has a nice shiny section. At this point, solder is important, have your glass on the bottom and solder above it and your iron on top, press the heated tip through the solder and onto the glass. That then creates a nice raised joint at each intersection.

    We do this everywhere, where there is a joint. There are also joints around the edge of our glass. Now, for these you still need to provide a solder bead. Do not worry about the metal of the layout blocks, it has been especially coated and treated, so that it will not stick to solder. Simply bite through as you did before and assist in getting it all the way to an edge, just like this. Now, we have a piece that is being held together. Once our pattern has been tacked and soldered together, we can remove our layout blocks. This allows us a little extra freedom, so that if we need to, we can rotate our piece and make it easier to solder. Once we have all of our tacks in place, it is now time to run a bead. Running a bead means creating a nice, long, fluid line of solder that is raised above the foil, you do not want your solder bead flat, a flat bead is a weak bead; you want it to be raised up slightly.

    To do a bead, we use a different order, our glass is on the bottom, we apply our soldering iron to the glass and then we touch our solder to it, right at the tip. We then pull the soldering iron down along the foil line till we get to the end. Do not worry; if it looks a little clumpy at this point, we are going to be coming back later to smooth out the surface, after we have soldered the rest of our glass. Once again, apply your flux all the way around to all your lines and get ready. We start in where there is already solder and we push through existing and join it up with a tack. It is always a good idea to ensure that you have enough solders sticking out from your roll since solder is going to warm and you do not want to have to unravel it while it is hot.

    Once you have applied your solder on all of the seams, you then carefully flip your piece of glass over and solder the other side. There is however, a slightly different technique this time. After we apply our flux to the entire piece, we are not going to tack solder at every intersection. We are only going to apply dams on those sections were there is a joint right at an edge to do this. We are going to put down a tack, but be very quick about it, do not play with it and get it too hot because you do not want it to roll of the edge. Go to your next section, do the same thing very quickly, solder it in place. Those will protect you from having problems later. Now, we can continue and solder all of the seams by running beads. Once you have all of your rough soldering done, then you are ready to move on to finish soldering.