There are a wide variety of types of solder being sold on eBay, and not all of them are suitable for use in stained glass. This guide will cover the most common types, and what the differences are between them.
First, some terminology. The two most common types of solder for stained glass are 60/40 and 50/50. There are also some specialty solders like lead-free and quick-setting solder with different ratios of metals in them, but the two types mentioned are by far the most widely used. The names refer to the ratio of tin to lead in the solder. This means that 60/40 solder is 60% tin, and 40% lead, and 50/50 is an even mix of tin and lead.
Within those two types of solder, there are some notable differences. 50/50 solder melts at a higher temperature, and re-solidifies more quickly than does 60/40. When heated, it also tends to spread out more than 60/40 does. Because of that, 50/50 was traditionally used for lead came projects, since the solder joints would be flatter. Since 50/50 re-solidifies more quickly, it can be more difficult to get a smooth bead with it. It is also commonly used when there is a need to fill in a larger area with solder, like the angled corner of a panel lamp, box, or other 3-dimensional project. 60/40 solder tends to form rounder, higher beads, which makes it ideal for copper foil projects. It also stays liquid longer, allowing a greater working time when soldering, which is handy for smoothing out areas that need touched up. Because of each solder's characteristics, it is not uncommon to see a 3-dimensional project soldered first with 50/50 to fill in the large gaps, followed by a top layer of 60/40 for smooth, rounded finish (but if you work quickly with 60/40, there's really no need for a first layer of 50/50).
As mentioned earlier, 50/50 used to be the standard for lead came projects. Anymore, however, many studios are using larger, hotter soldering irons than they have in the past. This allows 60/40 to be heated to a higher temperature, which makes it spread out like 50/50. Because of that, the use of 50/50 solder has dropped considerably. Additionally, some environmental laws have made it illegal to sell 50/50 in some states, due to its higher lead content.
From a strictly financial standpoint, 50/50 solder is a better value, as it is usually slightly cheaper than 60/40 solder, but the resulting difficulties in working with it make the small tradeoff in price well worth it. Numbers speak for themselves: 60/40 outsells 50/50 in our eBay store by a 100:1 ratio! What about patina? There is no difference between how well 60/40 or 50/50 solder takes patina, so that shouldn't be a consideration when choosing a type of solder.
We're frequently asked about the differences between generic solder and "name brand" solder. While there are some very good generic solders on the market, there are also some really bad ones. The bad ones contain a lot of recycled materials with loads of impurities in it, which can wreak havoc when trying to use it. How do you know? By wasting money on junk until you find some good stuff! Or you can spend a little more for a quality product that delivers quality in each and every roll. We sell quality Avril brand solder, which comes from a company that's a long-time manufacturer of solder and lead came for the stained glass industry. We've compared it to Canfield and other high-end solders, and found it indistinguishable, except for the price. Plus, our bulk purchasing power allows us to sell quality brand-name solder for less than most sellers sell no-name generic solder for! Be sure to visit our eBay store at the link below for our selection of quality Avril solder, available by the roll, as well as 4 and 10 pound lots.
Lastly, a word about resin core solder. Resin core solder is used in the electronics industry, and is used when no flux can be applied. If you try to use it for stained glass work, it turns into a slimy, gooey mess, and can be tough to clean off. Even though the price may be great for it, this type of solder cannot be used for stained glass work.
We hope you've enjoyed our guide to the different types of solder, and that it's given you the information needed to make an informed decision about your solder purchases. We'll be providing more guides in the future, so if there is a topic or area you'd like to see us focus on, just let us know.