Keeping your soldering area separate from the rest of your glasswork is super important. So let’s talk about how to set up your stained glass soldering station!
Can I solder stained glass in my house?
If you have a basement, an attic, or an attached garage, then probably.
But you don’t want to solder anywhere in your home that you can’t keep completely blocked off and separate from regularly used areas.
Cuz fumes. But likely not the ones you’re thinkin’ of…so let’s cover a lil safety before we get into setting up your station.
If you’d rather watch a video on this whole thang, here ya go!
Do I need to worry about lead fumes when doing stained glass?
Not so much. It’s generally accepted that temperatures at which we solder do not vaporize lead. But the flux? That’s what ya need to be concerned with.
Flux can cause lotsa health issues. Even the “safety” zinc chloride & ammonium chloride fluxes that most of us use for stained glass these days aren’t actually safe. They’re just saferrrrrrrr than some of the old school acid fluxes.
The SDS sheets say to use in a well ventilated space.
Problem is, we may feeeeeel like our spaces are well ventilated, but we don’t actually know cuz we don’t have sophisticated air sniffers. Stained glass artists aren’t that fancy. We spend all of our money on glass!
Our faces are extremely close to our work, so even with a fan or fume extractor, we’re still taking a big ‘ol concentration of fumes straight up the nosehole.
In light of that info, please, please, pleeeeeeeease wear your respirator when you’re soldering. Please.
Not just any P100 will do…this is the one 3M makes specifically for use with zinc chloride & ammonium chloride fluxes.
You’re also gonna want Nitrile Gloves. If ya don’t have any laying around, I’ve been using these lately. They’re inexpensive, but they seem to hold up pretty well.
If ya want a whole rundown of all the safety stuff ya need to know, here’s my post on that: Stained Glass Safety
So now we have a mask, we got gloves…
Do you also need to ventilate your stained glass studio for soldering?
Unless you want to have to wear your respirator through all the rest of the steps in the process (cutting/breaking/yadda yadda) after you’re done soldering and wanna work on other stuff, then yup, you’ll want to ventilate too.
Working in front of a window with a fan blowing out is always going to be your best bet.
Smoke absorbers are helpful, but at very best only pull “up to” 70-80% (90% with special filters) of flux fumes out of the air.
I work with a respirator on and a fan blowing out a window and another window open for cross flow. When I’m done soldering, I let it air out for a few hours before I go in without a respirator on.
Now on to the fun part of…
Setting up your soldering station!
I’m gonna give ya the easiest, most efficient, and least expensive ways to get everything ya need in your soldering station.
What’s the best type of mat to use for soldering stained glass?
We have three options that work well. Let’s break ’em down with the pros & cons of each.
Homasote Board or Cork Board
Homasote board can be a bit pricey at supply shops, but word on the street is you may be able to find some at a hardware store for less.
Cork board is cheaper and works well too.
They’re heat resistant, stiff enough to hold your glass, but squishy enough to take pins or nails for holding your pieces in place.
They get really freakin’ schmeckalicious from flux after awhile, so you it’s nice to use the cheaper stuff (cork) so you can chuck the gross one and start fresh.
Silicone Pet Food Mat (this one is my verrrrrry fav!)
For realz. I used to use a silicone electronics soldering mat, but I wanted something bigger. Which made me think of my cat’s silicone food mat. I found a big one with an even bigger lip on it and it’s been marvelous.
Why? Three words:
Hot Solder & Lap.😱
The big ol lip on this one means no melting pants or naughty bits.
They’re heat resistant, suuuuper easy to wipe clean, last a zillion years, and have a lip on them to keep solder bb’s from rolling onto your lap.
And they’re cheaper than both homasote and cork.
Aaaaaand you can get them in all kindsa sizes too!
(Not so much a con as a worth mentioning thang) Ya can’t use pins or nails with them or they’ll leak flux onto your counter below. Painter’s tape only for holding your pieces together.
They transfer heat through to your table underneath more easily than cork or homasote, so it cooooouuuuld conceivably damage the finish on your table. If you’re concerned about that, I’d still use the silicone mat & just put some cork or a piece of plywood underneath.
What other tools & supplies do you need for soldering stained glass?
We got your soldering mat down. Now let’s move on to the other stuff!
For your Soldering Iron
You’ll of course need a soldering iron. The very best for stained glass is the Hakko 601. I have a whole big ol post talking about it & why it’s the bomb diggity here: The Best Soldering Iron for Stained Glass if ya wanna deep dive on that.
You’ll want a stand for it and some tip tinner for when your tip loses its tinning.
Aaaaand, you’re gonna wanna keep your sponge wet for wiping your tip. I use a little squirty bottle cuz it’s easy.
Hakko 601-02 Iron (for U.S. outlets)
If you see one on amazon that’s cheaper, it’s probably the 601-01 (which is for outlets in Japan)…If you’re in the U.S. & ya get that one, you won’t be able to plug it in. If you’re in Europe, the 601-03 is likely for you.
Studio Pro Soldering Iron Stand
There’s lotsa stands out there. I use this one & like it cuz it’s heavy…your iron isn’t gonna knock it over. It has a sponge area & a lil area to keep extra tips.
Thermaltronics Tip Tinner
As long as your tip isn’t completely shot, this will makes a funky tip totally useable again. Lead free.
For your Flux
A chemical brush is your best bet for getting flux on your stained glass piece. Give your bristles a hair cut before using so they don’t grab a crap ton of flux.
In a pinch, you can use a Q-Tip, but they do often leave little fuzzies on your foil which can get in the way when you’re soldering.
You don’t want to dip your flux brush in your flux bottle because it will contaminate the whole bottle. So ya just grab two little jars. Baby food or small mason jars work great!
Jars for Flux
Pour out a small amount of flux into Jar #1.
You only want as much as you’ll need for your project because you can’t dump it back in the bottle again when you’re done cuz samesies as dipping your brush…contamination.
The second jar you’ll use for storing your brush in while you’re soldering. Your brush holds some flux in it, so Jar #2 saves you from having to squeeze out the excess after dipping so often.
Aaaaand, it stops ya from getting too much flux on your piece and having it spatter all up at your facehole.
So Ya Don’t Burn the Crap Outta Yourself: Clips, Clamps, Heat Resistant Gloves, & Sharpened Dowel Thingers
I probably don’t hafta tell ya this, but…
Solder is reaaaaaallllllly freakin’ hot! So your glass gets quite toasty too.
Of course you always want to wear nitrile gloves to protect your skin from the flux, but they don’t do much for the heat.
Personally, I like to use clamps to hold onto my pieces as I go, but if you prefer to use heat resistant gloves over top of your nitrile ones, that can work too.
I don’t have a pair of heat resistant gloves to recommend yet cuz none of the ones I’ve found that are reasonably sized to work with (read: not like clown hands size) go up to the temps we work at.
Keep in mind too…if you find any that have cloth material on them, solder sticks like crazy to cloth so you’re gonna feel that burn if any wayward bb’s go flying on them & they may be hard to pull off of your hand quickly. Eeeek!
Aaaand…one of my favorite tricks to keep your fingers safe while tinning: Sharpen a dowel to a relatively small point. Use it to hold your glass from sliding around while you tin.
Other Tools: Pliers & Tweezers & Craft Knife
We’ve established that flux is schmecky, so you’ll want to keep a separate set of tools just for soldering so you’re not getting it all over, well, everything else.
I keep an old craft knife for trimming any spots I may have missed trimming while foiling, a pliers for holding onto jump rings, a locking tweezers for removing foil while doing repairs, and a rosary pliers & wire cutters for working with wire.
Flux will wreck these tools over time so ya may as well go the cheap route on them.
These are the ones I use:
Beadsmith Micro Mini Jewelry Kit
These lil dudes don’t take up much space & are tiny enough to get into jump rings & other funky areas. The wire cutter is only good for 20 gauge or thinner so you’ll want a regular wire cutter too.
HTS Locking Tweezers
The locking mechanism on these is a lifesaver when you’re pulling foil off in a repair.
That’s about it for your soldering station! If ya want to take a class, get one-on-one help, free patterns, & hang out with some of your fellow glass hoarders…come join my Peace, Love, & Stained Glass Community!
Peace, Love, & Stained Glass,