If you want to work with lead free solder for all of your stained glass art, you absofreakinlutely can!
Can you do lead free solder for stained glass?
When I first started in stained glass, for both environmental & health reasons, I wanted to work with lead free solder.
The local glass shop owner looked at me like I had twelve heads, & every forum online I could find held the same sentiment.
Them: “Why would you doooooo that?!?!?! It’s such a pain to work with!”
Also Them: “If I had to work only lead free, I’d quit doing stained glass”.
Still Them: “You’ll never get nice solder lines with lead free. It doesn’t flow well enough”.
Me (in crazy demon voice): “Challenge. Accepted. Baaawuuuhahahaha!”.
So, for the last six years, except for when I do repairs, I work entirely lead free.
See! If you want to work lead free, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Nanny. Nanny. Poo poo!
When do you need to use lead free solder in stained glass art?
Even if you generally work with traditional lead, anytime you’re making a piece that will be handled you’ll need to go lead free. Think things like jewelry, kaleidoscopes, jewelry boxes, ornaments, keychains, candle holders, etc.
While you clearly can use lead free solder for anything you want, a lead soldered window is going to present much less of a hazard to humans & animals than something that people will touch with any level of regularity.
Unless of course you or your dog or your cat like to lick or touch your windows. In which case, go lead free.😁
Is working with lead free solder harder than working with traditional 60/40 lead?
Yup. Well, kinda.
It depends on what you learned with.
I can tell you that people who learn with lead will tell you it’s harder to work with than lead free. But once you’re used to lead free, lead is actually a pain in the rear!
Ya do have to practice a bit more with lead free, but with the right techniques, you can absolutely get really nice freakin’ solder lines.
The two main differences in working lead free vs with lead solder:
- Lead free sets up much faster than lead
- Lead free melts at a higher temperature
The thing to remember with any soldering is…
The faster you go, the higher the temperature. The slower you go, the lower the temperature.
What’s the best lead free solder to use for stained glass?
I’ve tried a lot of them over the years, and my favorite is Amerway Ruby for a few reasons:
- It flows very nicely
- It’s shiny
- It’s made of Tin, Copper, & Silver (some lead free solders contain Cadmium which is not so nice for humans or the planet)
- They maintain high levels of purity in their metals so it doesn’t get as “dirty” as others I’ve tried
Amerway also makes another lead free solder that’s very popular called Tourmaline. Word on the street is that it’s easier to work with for larger pieces (as opposed to little things like jewelry) because it doesn’t contain silver. I haven’t tried that yet, but I’ll update when I do.
Ruby can be a bit harder to find. I get mine at Anything In Stained Glass, but check your local shops too! There’s a link to a bunch of glass shops at the bottom of My Favorite Tools & Supplies Page.
What soldering iron should you use with lead free?
Whether you’re using traditional solder or lead free, I’m a big fan of the Hakko 601 because it…
- Has temperature control right on the iron
- Has a ceramic core for even, consistent heat (an absolute must for lead free)
- Is relatively small compared to the average baseball bat sized soldering iron
You can cheap out on some of your tools when you’re starting out in stained glass. Heck, I still use cheapie running & grozing pliers!
*I may receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase through these links. My integrity cannot be bought, so I will never link to anything I don’t love &/or know to be quality.
But don’t cheap out on your iron.
If you’re in the U.S. (or use American style outlets), get the Hakko 601-02. You may find the Hakko 601-01 cheaper, but it’s made for Japanese outlets so you’ll end up having to buy a converter which means you won’t save any money.
There’s now a Hakko 601 (230V) version made for the UK too! Check your local glass supply shops or Amazon UK for it.
Does lead free solder damage iron tips? Will I have to replace them more often?
The higher heat means you will have to change your tips more frequently with lead free solder than with lead, but a little tip maintenance goes a looooooooong way!
To maintain your soldering iron tip:
- Wipe it regularly on a wet sponge while you’re soldering
- If your tip gets to a point where it doesn’t want to hold solder at all, use tip tinner to re-tin
- Coat your tip in solder at the end of each soldering session to keep it from oxidizing
I keep a spare tip on hand for when my tip finally gives up the ghost, but with regular care, you won’t be ripping through tips like crazy.
What temperature do you set your iron at for lead free solder?
Every lead free solder brand is composed of different percentages & types of metals, so the melting temperature of each is gonna be a little different.
Check your brand’s melting point & work your way up in 5 degree increments until you find the temperature that works best for both your solder & your personal speed.
Amerway Ruby is right around 430F. I personally work between 450-460F. Too much hotter than that and you end up with a bunch of melt through (solder leaking from one side of the project to the other).
Remember the soldering rule: The faster you are, the hotter you go. The slower you are, the lower you go.
Is there a safe flux to use with lead free solder?
I recommend what’s known in the industry as a “safety” flux (I’ll let ya know which ones in a minute).
But note: THERE IS NO TRULY SAFE FLUX!
I’m sorry. I totally kinda did yell that.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there online about flux and safety gear so I get a lil passionate about it.
No matter what flux we use, we need BOTH good ventilation aaaaaand a mask (as well as gloves). Why? The SDS sheets say “use with adequate ventilation”, but…
Because we don’t have sophisticated air sniffers to be able to tell the ppm in the air in our studios, we have no idea if our ventilation is actually adequate. Also, because our faces are reaaaaalllly close to our work we’re getting a higher concentration of fumes right in our faceholes (even with a fan or fume box).
So, wear the mask (exhalation valves make it super easy to breath like normal) and keep any other humans or pets out of your workspace until you’ve had time to really air out the room.
Check out my Stained Glass Safety page if you’re interested in more info about safety for all of the steps in stained glass.
What’s the best flux to use for lead free solder?
Personally, I like Canfield Blu-Glass Flux. It works for lead or lead free. If you prefer a gel flux, I’d go with either Amerway Gel Flux or Classic 100 Gel Flux. All three are made with essentially the same ingredients. The difference is just if it’s more liquidy or more gel.
Amerway Gel Flux
I’ve used this and it does work well. I think gel flux can get a little sticky on the tools so it’s not my preference, but this is a good brand if you like gel!
Should you use separate tools when working with lead & lead free solder?
Yup! You don’t want to cross contaminate from lead to lead free.
I keep a separate soldering mat, iron, flux jar, brush, & pliers for when I do lead repairs.
Is lead free solder safer than lead?
Mostly, yes. There are some lead free solders that contain cadmium, antimony, or other questionable metals, so check their SDS sheets before you choose one.
The nice part about using lead free solder is that you can touch your finished projects whenever you want without having to remember to wash your hands right away.
And, you can really let your creativity fly with lead free! You can make anything you want, for whoever you want (like I mentioned above, earrings, pendants, keychains, kaleidoscopes, etc).
If you’re interested in learning to make Stained Glass Art, or you want to up your Soldering Game, come take a Stained Glass Class with me!
Peace, Love, & Stained Glass,
Get your FREE Beginner’s Guide to Stained Glass, a List of Essential Tools & Supplies to Get Started, Free Patterns & regular tips straight your inbox!