The Soldering Iron

We use gas, but it has one disadvantage …

Some of you folks are forever teasing us about our soldering iron. I mean, here we are – Williams & Byrne – designing and making fabulous stained glass for fabulous houses: at the top of the profession, and yet we use gas to join the painted glass and lead. But my point is –

Gas works for us, with the quantity of soldering we must do as quickly and as efficiently as we can, in order to get on with the next big project. But there’s just one small, annoying problem …

What is it?

Watch the video here:

Best,Stephen Byrne

P.S. You’ll need to turn your volume up. And if you can’t see the video in the box on your right, see here for common problems or just watch it on a different site.

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54 thoughts on “The Soldering Iron

  1. Hello everyone,

    Yes, the fire alarm does go of when it comes to Gas … I still remember how you had to switch them off when you just wanted to fire our painted glass last June. But this is also a good thing to have such fire alarms; they give some safety and it’s a must for the insurance people ;-).

    Hope all are doing great.

    • Yes. Some things we never learn. Several times one of us has even had to get out of bed and return to work, having been rung up by our sleepless neighbour at the studio. (Oil can be quite smokey …)

  2. Love the “low tech” iron. We have an Aga cooker in the kitchen for much the same reason. If the power goes out in the winter, we can cook and have a bit of heat as well.

    About cementing … Do you use a traditional mix of whiting, lamp black, linseed oil and gum spirits or a more modern pre-mixed cement?


    • Hello Don,

      You guessed it: we make our own putty because then we can be sure it’s fresh and because we can also make it to whatever stiffness/softness we require.


  3. Hello Stephen,

    Yes that’s fun. That reminded me that I have a fire alarm everywhere in my house except my glass-studio and the little hall next to it. So always using gas for soldering I never had that alarm problem! I think I will buy one and hang it in the little hall.

    I didn’t know that way to clean the iron. I will try.

    Thank you!

    • I wish we could remove our fire alarm but as Hassan says we need it for our insurance. And I must remember to tell you the story of our yearly fire-safety inspection …

      • Thats why I thank you because I’ll also need it for my insurence.

        I always use gas because I don’t like my electric iron. And (until now) I didn’t burn my fingers with my gas iron; I did, however, with the electric one.

        Stephen: if you want one of those zevatron I have a few here, I will send you one.

        Now of course I’m very anxious to hear that story of your yearly fire-safety inspection …

        All the best,

        • Hi Annemiek,

          I’ll include the story of our fire-inspection in a video podcast we’re working on: not long now for that. And thank you so much for your offer of a Zevatron iron, that’s incredibly thoughtful, but we use our electric iron so rarely (just for the occasional copper-foiling) that the one we have here will probably out-live us!

          All the best,

        • If you are looking to get rid of some old Zevatron irons I might be interested.


          • I use them in my workshops no I can’t get rid of them. I’m sorry. Just wanted to give the gentlemen something back for all the knowledge they share with us.

            All the best,

  4. A great alternative is an electric iron. My father has used the brand Zevatron (German company: see here) for over 50 years. It has roughly the same right angle configuration. He started with a propane torch but switched to this electric version many years ago and he used the same iron for about 30 years. The H15 is the model he used with a regulator.

  5. I’ve just seen your film about the soldering iron – I specially liked the dramatic music.

    I have an electric iron (120 watt). It goes perfectly, even for larger works. Having seen your film, it looks so dangerous with the flames coming out! Instead of the ‘candle wax’, I use liquid stearine. If you use it economically, it doesn’t smoke that much. Make sure you have good ventilation.

    Tip: before ironing, remove the batteries from the fire alarm!

    Monique (in Antwerp)

  6. I’m always amused whenever I see you gents using that gas powered iron and I wonder, does your clothing ever catch fire or do you ever singe the hair off your hands & arms? I sometimes must employ some acrobatic techniques during the course of soldering some larger panels and I am certain that I would experience some form of minor disaster using such a device! Shoot, I’ve burned myself plenty of times with my electric irons. I’m not particularly careless or accident prone, but sometimes … Anyway, Keep up the good work. All of us out here in the global glass community find you fellows to be a wonderful resource and amusing as well!

  7. That made me laugh. I would have gone batty with the fire alarm going off like that and knowing me I would probably burn myself with the open flame and the sound of it would get on my nerves, quick. I’ve done very large scale production windows with just my regular iron… I think I’ll stick with that….no offense. 🙂

    • None taken – of course not. It’s always a case of what works best for each of us and what we’re used to. I just know how it entertains most people to see this iron in action.

  8. You have made me remember how I used this iron until 1980 more or less (but with gasoline) and it brings memeries to my mind. Thanks by your video. It was as listen to the 60’s music …

  9. Wow! How “Old School” is that! I’ve not seen those irons for sale here. The good news in our studio is that we already enjoy vents over the tables, and I would have already peeled that alarm off the wall.

    Was that tallow you were fluxing with?

    My 100 watt electric irons bow down to you, sir!

    • Indeed it was tallow. And I must prevail upon our next-door farmer to let us make our own (maybe I can patent a smoke-free variety).

      Vents over tables: an excellent idea. Here, in our converted barn, we just can’t manage that. The door is always open though, so the fumes are swiftly blown away.

  10. Greetings Gentlemen,

    I was almost scared when I first saw that fire-breathing dragon in one of our videos. What I noticed in this video is that the lead you are using is quite substantial, far larger than I would normally use. When I have had occasion to use this gauge of lead I have also resorted to a gas iron. It really is the most efficient way to get the large amounts of heat required for those bigger joints.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Yes, the lead is substantial (this was one of the 16 skylights which are going in a ceiling which is 15 feet to the ground). We’re about to do a good-sized panel within which a lot of copper-foiling will be needed (in order to give the required amount of detail). And I’ll certainly use the electric iron there …

      • I have a kitchen hood here, but using gas is noisy and a kitchen hood is too. So lately I bought a large silent fan from a computer-parts store. I want to build this one at the end of the pipe. I have to fix it one of these days …

  11. Some people are correctly concerned about fumes and health. Can I just explain that, although we don’t have vents, the studio doors – it’s a converted barn – are wide, wide open when we solder, no matter what the weather.

    Also, this fire alarm is … a “pain” – by which I mean it’s the safety equivalent of Woody Allen – “over-sensitive” doesn’t begin to describe it. I’ve known it go off just because I’ve come into the studio – it’s that delicate. David and I are always talking about installing another one. I guess that’s one of those jobs we’ll get around to when we have time …

  12. I might have a hard time converting to gas after 42 years experience with electric irons, especially for the copper foil technique. What is the flux “stick” you are using in the video, I have never seen anything like that. We use liquid or paste zinc chloride based flux on foil or lead came. It definitely doesnt clean up with a light brushing as in the video. Also, Its often 100 F here in northern California in the summer, we’d all be “well done” with the gas iron!

  13. Hi S! I have been leading up stained glass and leaded lights for over thirty year plus with gas, with the workshop doors open. Gas is also great in the winter for keeping you hands warm … You might want to point out that there is a brass ajustment on the handle to control the heat.

    • Thanks for making that important point. Yes: the iron has a regulator to control the mix of air and gas, so it’s a simple matter to adjust the heat up or down.

  14. Stephen,

    My philosophy is to never, ever give up something that works for me and doesn’t give me any grief while doing so. So many new tools, appliances, computer applications, etc. are poorly designed that it is a relief to pick up a tool that does the job it was designed for and does it well. Of course, it does look a bit like a fire-breathing dragon and the music really adds to the tension of soldering with such a beast! Thanks for the tip about fire alarms. I didn’t think about that in relation to my kiln setup – oops!

    All the best,

    • Hi Pat,

      Yes, a fire alarm is a good idea. But maybe not one as sensitive as ours. (It goes off even when I strike a match to light the gas stove in the kitchen.)


  15. Hi Stephen.

    Good to see someone else using a gas iron. I have used one (as well as tallow for flux) for years and wouldn’t contemplate going back to electric.

    FYI, Kansacraft sell gas irons, plus replacement bars etc..

    I’m interested by the idea of making my own cement. Would it be possible for you to post a recipe? Also, where do you manage to get whiting from? I’ve tried everywhere I can think of with no luck!

    All the very best to you.


    • Pete,

      I don’t know about the U.K., but here in the states I get whiting from a local paint store. This is an operation that prepares its own brand of paints in addition to carrying other big national name brands. I would suggest looking for this type of small paint manufacturer if you want to purchase anything more than trifling small amounts of whiting.


    • Hi Pete,

      Thanks for the suggestion. And certainly I’ll write down the recipe we use to make our own cement. I’ll do this in a newsletter.


  16. Whiting is Calcium Carbonate, the same material they use to mark football lines on the field. Ask your local groundskeeper where they get it and you will find it available at an inexpensive bulk rate.

  17. I can get 50 lb bags of Whiting at my local ceramics supply store, in Texas. It’s a common ingredient in ceramic glazes and hand-made clay.

  18. Hi guys!

    Once again thank you for a great video and newsletter -it is wonderful to see close up how you work. However, may I ask a favour? That being: please could you post some pics of the finished pieces? This is really a tease! I hope you are able to get to work again after the rains.

    Best wishes,

  19. I have never heard of gas-soldering irons! Fascinating! I really enjoy your site and tips! Am about to start a smallish church window that requires a design painting on many pieces. I’ve always done copper foil … so this will be a first, to use lead. I may be asking you some questions! THX for sharing!

  20. With your quick demo of a gas iron, it didn’t look to me that the solder joints were very smooth. Am I wrong. I make my solder joints as smooth and complete and consider it one of the most important parts of a beautiful panel. I have seen beautiful windows and have built over 6000 panels for a company that does mostly fully painted window, some of them scenes 25 feet tall by 50 feet wide. Obviously many separate panels. I am going to purchase this as soon as I have time. I just bought an airbrush kit, and have painted on glass using glass line paints and reusche. Still learning, and need more help.

    • Hi Ray,

      I am curious about what you mean by “smooth”. Do you mean a solder joint that is flat and almost level with the surface of the lead?

      This type of joint is not good for a number of reasons. The joint relies solely on the solder for its integrity. A firm ‘blob’ of solder gives much greater strength. The other factor is movement. Lead-light windows move with changes of temperature and pressure. Generally the lead accommodates most of this stress. However, the ends of the lead that are subjected to the heat from soldering tend to harden leaving the solder joint to accept the stress (more so in shorter lengths). The solder tends to be softer than the lead at the joint leading to hairline cracks. These cracks allow moisture ingress.

      This was recently reinforced to me when asked to look at a fairly ‘new’ (30 years) window that is collapsing (folding). The window is part of a set and close inspection revealed most of the set were suffering. They appeared to be well-made. The problem is that most of the solder joints around the smaller pieces of glass had cracked and moisture had infiltrated the gaps. They were nice flat smooth joints. The one window in the set I won’t have to touch is the one with nice round “blobs” of solder. (A second person must have soldered this window.)


    • Hi Ray,

      Thanks for your question. I am always honest on these pages and in my newsletter – so I’ll say immediately I didn’t know about the fascinating points which Philip makes above (I’ll return to them in a moment).

      As for the joints in the short film: our judgement was – even though these panels are skylights and will be resting on a tray and will be completely protected from the elements – we needed joints at least as large as this to be confident about the structural integrity of the panels. And certainly neither David nor I have ever been called back (in 30 years) to repair work of our own that had failed.

      But what can I say? Each of us only has a limited amount of experience and a limited amount of knowledge. So we must always keep our eyes and ears open.

      Now I found Philip’s contribution (above) absolutely fascinating. It made me wonder about the relevance of the ingredients of the different leads we all of us use (e.g. our hand-milled lead does not contain Antimony, whereas our industrially-milled lead does). I just don’t know enough!


      • Thanks Stephen,

        Antimony will add some hardness and durability to lead. A small amount is good. The ancients often mistook antimony as lead.

        The composition of the solder is probably more important. 60/40 (tin/lead) is the most common and fine for most applications. For larger pieces I prefer 50/50. It has a higher melting point but is much stronger. The industrial style ‘sticks’ of solder are usually less refined than that supplied on spools and can contain traces of other elements, such as antimony.

        It is a fascinating area of study. A lot of what I have learnt about lead, and metallurgy in general, comes from working with pipe organs.


        • That’s so useful – thank you! One thing we notice is that the industrial lead (with antimony) scarcely oxidizes in the 100 Kg box it came in, whereas the hand-milled lead (without antimony) always needs a good clean before we solder. (It’s also softer, more malleable, which is mainly why we use it, because it makes a better fit.)

          Useful point you also make about the solder. And it’s interesting you mention your experience of working with pipe organs: it’s precisely when you / anyone brings previous experience like this to a craft, and shares their knowledge, that improvements can be identified and made (rather than simply conforming with the prevailing habit).

  21. Hello!

    I’m a REAL beginner with painted glass.

    I have subscribed to your “how to paint” book on-line … but it is lost on my dead computer: can I get it back on my iPad?

    I have been to classes, done a bit of stained glass work, loved it, done a bit of painting, loved it – and have bought an electric kiln for glass so I can fire my painted pieces my self. The kiln has now arrived.

    Where do I look to gaining absolute beginners help on this front.

    It’s rather different to handing the tutor the pieces and then getting them back next week.

    If you have time to help I’d be so grateful.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Claudia,

      First up, please email me with the name of the guide which you downloaded, and then I’ll sort things out for you.

      Second, firing – too big a topic to deal with on a post about soldering: the main thing is, to be methodical: make test pieces (several which are all the same), fire each one using different schedules, take notes, do more tests … After 10 or so firings you’ll start to get an understanding of your kiln. It’s good to remember that all kilns are different. A reading of “650 c” on our kiln may actually equate to “670 c” on yours.

      All the best,

      P.S. As with skiing, so with firing: just give it a go.

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