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One must-know maintenance task for the stained glass studio: take care of your soldering irons

When I started in 2005, there wasn’t much information online on stained glass. I started with a box of glass scraps from E-bay, a glass cutter, solder, a soldering iron, and some lead channel.

One thing I didn’t know but have since learned was how to maintain my soldering iron and tips.

4 min read

Maintain your soldering irons

Use a rheostat

If you visit my studio, you will see that I use a rheostat with all of my irons (because none of mine have one built-in). A rep from Diamond Tech told me it was important to save the iron’s life by running it through a rheostat, also called a controller. I also like to manage how fast it heats up, like a temperature control, but not quite. Even with a controller, the iron will reach full temperature, just not as quickly.

Clean your tip with a damp sponge

Make sure you are cleaning your tip with the damp sponge during your soldering session. You do not want it turning black like the one on the left pictured below. Keep your sponge damp throughout your soldering session. Keep that tip shiny and what is called “tinned”.

Ruined tips

When you finish for the day, clean the tip and coat it with solder. If you don’t intend to use your soldering iron for a while, store it in a plastic bag.

Do not take steel wool to your iron tips. This could remove the nickel plating and ruin them.

Leave a little solder on your iron tip at the end of the day

Retin a bad tip

You might be able to restore a bad tip. While hot, dip your tip in paste flux and a little drop of solder on a sal ammoniac block. Scrub the tip in the solder and sal ammoniac. Then rub it in brass wool and repeat until it gets shiny.

You can also get what’s called tinning flux. Try dipping it in that, scrubbing it on a sal ammoniac block, the brass wool, and repeating.

Some tips are too far gone to restore. The nickel plating has been removed from abuse and neglect, and there’s not much you can do.

The photo below shows a good tip.

Nice shiny tip

Tinning a new tip

When you get a new iron tip, make sure you tin it before the first use. You do that by, while cold, coating it with flux and wrapping it with cold solder in a horizontal position. Then let it heat up. You can dip it in the solder that drops on your work surface. Do this until you have a nice, shiny tip

Remember, humidity and rust are some of your tools’ worst enemies.

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