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An Introduction to Soldering

I have sold quite a few items now that I have made by soldering together pieces of glass and I wrote this blog to give you a bit of an insight into how and why I do it.

I first got the idea to teach myself how this skill after speaking to my Dad about it late last year. He reminded me about when he used to make terrariums by cutting pieces of glass and soldering them together into 3D geometrical shapes before planting them with various tropical plants. As a child it fascinated me and I would sit in the garage and watch him for hours. Maybe I was also influenced by the fact that I live with a plumber and plumbers use soldering techniques to join pipework, creating water tight seals. Especially my plumber – ‘push fit’ is a dirty word in our house!

So what is soldering?

Essentially it is a technique used to join together two pieces of metal and this is done by melting a softer alloy (the solder) using a hot iron until it becomes a liquid and allowing it to flow along the joint, filling it up before cooling and becoming solid again. It can also be used for electrical.... things.... but I don't know much about that so I'm sticking to what I know.

OK, so how does this relate to glass then? Well there’s the thing…. Glass can be joined together using this technique for many different useful and decorative purposes – making terrariums, stained glass windows, tiffany lampshades, etc. But solder doesn’t stick to glass so you need to coat the edge of the glass with a metallic substance before you can form the joint. For my work, I use a sticky backed copper tape and attach it to the edges of each piece I’m going to use in the project. That’s my least favourite part of the whole process and often I’ll do loads of pieces in one go while listening to a podcast on a dull Sunday afternoon… especially if it’s raining. Because I’m so OCD, it’s not enough to just stick the tape on and be done with it, I have to go along each edge and smooth out the wrinkles (using the edge of a cocktail stick!) and make sure it’s fully stuck down. It may sound tedious (because it is tedious) but the more time you spend on the preparation, the better the end result will be in my experience.

Learning to solder is time consuming, fiddly and sometimes frustrating. I’ve got it wrong a few times, broken 2 soldering irons, taken the skin off my fingers when I’ve tried to take it apart and salvage the glass and I’ve spent hours and hours just to end up with one tiny piece of work. But having said that, the results when you get it right are stunning. My sea glass birds on driftwood have been made this way and have always amazed people when they see them. I’ve repeated this model a few times now and I feel I’ve now got it down to a fine art.

I’d love to make a tiffany style lampshade one day – that’s the dream. It’ll probably take me a year but I’d love to do it. Until then I’ll keep experimenting and seeing what new ideas I can come up with – in particular I am looking forward to the Christmas decorations I will be making this year!

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