Stained Glass Repair (Solder Surgery)




Introduction: Stained Glass Repair (Solder Surgery)

When soldering stained glass pieces together, it isn’t uncommon to go over some areas several times to get the bead of solder just the way you want it. I’m assuming this is especially true for people with limited experience, since you (we) don’t have the proper finesse to get a perfect bead in your line of solder on the first round or two.

Sometimes when an area is gone over with the soldering iron too much though, you may rip parts of the copper foil tape. Since the copper tape is the only surface the solder is allowed to stick to, it can make your beads of solder look funky when damaged, because the bead becomes smaller or distorted in the ripped areas. Many times, it is just a little tear in the tape and the solder either fills it in or its doesn’t look off enough to need to fix it. You can even put a tiny bit of extra solder on the damaged area, and sometimes when it “bubbles” over that spot more you can kind of fill in that gap and make it look good enough without having to do any extra work.

As with many types projects though, there can also be “point of no return”, where the damage is so bad that it is no longer able to be salvaged as it is. The crazy thing with stained glass is even if you have a small part with only a dozen or less pieces of glass like this flower, it is still trapped within at least an hour or two worth of work. I had already created a lead came border around this piece too, so I really wasn't trying to take the whole thing apart just to fix this little spot.

If I can make my piece look just as good (or at least REALLY close), with vastly less time, then I think I’m going to take that method every time. I figured I would make this an instructable because I tried to do it before this and failed, so I wanted to show a better way than shooting in the dark. There is also an easier way to do this that would probably normally work that I mention at the bottom, but this method should be much stronger.


Tools & Supplies

  • Soldering Iron 65-300 watt (higher wattage type meant for stained glass)
  • Solder (standard 60/40 is good)
  • Copper Foil Tape
  • Flux w/brush
  • Scissors
  • Small pliers or tweezers
  • Wet Sponge

Step 1: Remove Solder From Affected Area

Once you have identified that some of the copper foil tape has been damaged to the point it will need repair, begin by melting all the solder in the area off, and remove it from the surrounding area too, at least .5 inches out, on both sides of the “wound”. To do this, hold the piece upside down, then when you touch the soldering iron to where you need it, you should see the solder flow off the piece and onto the iron. Wipe the soldering iron onto the wet sponge to get off the excess solder. Keep repeating this a few times until all the solder is gone from the whole area.

Step 2: Cut a “Band-Aid” Copper Strip to Size

After removing solder from the affected area and its surrounding edges, measure the spot or line up a piece of copper tape to it so you have a guide of how big to cut the strip. Make it about an inch bigger than the size of the damaged spot, so that it fits into the whole area of removed surrounding solder. You don’t have to be super precise here since you're going to cut it down a little more later, so it's fine to actually go a little bigger than you need.

Step 3: Soak Copper Strip in Alcohol

Take off and throw away the paper backing from the adhesive side of the copper tape, then put it in a small container of Isopropyl alcohol or something similar which will break down the adhesive. Most non polar solvents would probably work fine here as long they don’t leave any residue. You could probably even use something like “Goo Gone” as long as you clean off any residue it may leave with water or something after.

Step 4: Remove Adhesive From Strip

If you are using a strong concentration solvent, it should only take a minute or so to start breaking down the adhesive, although a few minutes does allow it to come off a little easier. The adhesive doesn’t fully break down in the alcohol though because it is the gummy kind that is similar to the type used to stick new credit cards to the mail they come with. After the short alcohol bath you only have to gently rub the sticky part and it will begin to “booger up”, allowing you to easily remove it all in one or two little clumps.

Step 5: Cut Strip to Specific Shape of the “wound”

Now you’ll need to cut your small strip into the exact shape of the affected area to mimic the shape that should've been there if the damage didn’t happen. It can be tedious to cut such a small piece of foil so precise, so take your time here, and start over again if you make it a little too small. It needs to be less than half as narrow than the usual 7/32" copper tape to match the width of the two pieces of glass/foil coming together. It can vary a little bit depending mostly on how even you applied the tape in the first place, but it should be just a hair under 3/32” (about .094”) thick for a repair like this. You will want to line it up a few times to the area to cut the strip to the exact appropriate shape because the more precise you are the better it will look, so keep continuing to cut tiny slivers of foil away wherever necessary until it’s exactly where you want it.

Step 6: Flux and Tin the Copper “Band-Aid” Strip

Once you have your piece cut to the proper size and shape, you will want to flux and tin it. With such a tiny piece it can be a little tricky, but with some small pliers or tweezers, it shouldn’t be too hard. Get a good coat of flux on one side, and with a little solder on your iron, rub it against the piece until you have a nice shiny thin bit of solder coating it. Do the same thing for the other side, fluxing first, then tinning. Flip it around and do the same thing to both sides where the pliers were grabbing it before.

*I realize this picture looks a little odd, like I didn't actually tin it. It was one of those kind of pictures though, where even though it was completely silver in person, it came out looking kind of just copper colored.

**Tip: Don’t flux both sides first, then try tinning. Once you take the soldering iron to the copper it will make most of the flux drip off the other side if it’s there. So flux and tin one side, then flux and tin the other side.

Step 7: Spot Weld (solder) the Strip Into Place

Now that your strip is cut to the right shape and tinned, its ready to attach it to your piece. Flux the “Band-Aid” strip again now that it is tinned, this time on both sides. Also apply flux liberally to the affected area and the surrounding area you removed solder from too. You could get lucky and get the whole strip fused in one shot, but after trying this a couple times and failing, I realized “spot welding” works much better.

Pick a side you want to start with and REALLY make sure your piece is lined up just right on both sides. It helps holding the piece in place with one hand while you apply a dot of solder with the other hand. That is why its called “spot welding” if you didn’t already know, because you only need a tiny spot to stick it into place.

You may not get this right on the first shot, so once the dot of solder is applied, then look again to make sure it’s lined up perfectly with both sides. If its not just right, then melt the small spot you made with the iron, and pull off the strip with your other hand to line it back up and spot weld again. Once you get it just how you want it, then you can spot weld the other side of the strip, securing the whole thing into place.

Step 8: Fuse the Copper Strip to the Piece (optional?)

With the whole strip now stuck in place from the two dots of solder on the sides, you should now take the soldering iron to the middle of the strip where the “wound” is located underneath to fully fuse it all together. This should fuse the little bit of solder from the “wound” to the solder that is tinned onto your strip, creating a nice adhesion at the damaged area.

*Note*: You may not need to do this step, as it should fuse the two layers from the heat of soldering it all together anyways. I just felt better knowing it was all secured fully in place before I moved on myself.

Step 9: Solder the Strip Fully Into Place

Now you get to pretend like you never had a mishap at all and hopefully you are able to solder the whole area normally, just like nothing ever happened! As long as it is secured enough in place, it shouldn’t shift now. I didn’t want to risk it though, so to be safe I only soldered half at once, let it set, then soldered the other half. When you touch the iron to an area of solder, it will level out the whole area you heated up. Use this method, while dragging the iron here and there to get the solder bead just right, BUT… don’t mess with it too much this time, or you’ll find yourself doing another repair in the same spot!

Step 10: Clean Up and Pretend Like You Never Messed Up!

Once it looks good to you, clean off the flux, brush it with steel wool, coat your piece in a finishing compound, and you’re finished! If it was done properly, you shouldn’t be able to notice that the area was even damaged in the first place. Perfect way to hide your mistakes!

Step 11: Side Note

Ideally you want a little copper foil in the middle where the actual damaged area is so that it can grab onto something. However, if this part is so damaged that there is little to no copper tape left, then this method should still work. Giving yourself an extra 1/2” on both sides of the “wound” ensures the “bandaid” bonds properly, regardless of what the middle area looks like.

Step 12: Alternative to This Method

You may wonder why I didn’t just stick the strip to the area and solder it from there. I did try this and it wasn’t working great for me because I was trying to fuse the strip to the area with the adhesive still on, and that obviously didn’t work because it just melted the glue and caused a mess. If you just stick it there, flux and spot weld, you can probably often get away with this (as this guy is doing here: I found this video after the first failure, but still didn't want to do it like this because it isn’t really fused to the piece, and it’s just that little bit of booger glue holding the mended part to the glass. The surrounding solder should still hold in there fine though, so I may just be over thinking it. Either way, I went with this method because it seemed better to have the whole thing fused into place, creating a much stronger bond.

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    Penolopy Bulnick
    Penolopy Bulnick

    2 years ago

    That's a beautiful stained glass piece :)