Tag Archives: how to

Light Box Soldering Part II

I’m picking up where I left off from my last post about this lightbox.  If you missed that post, you can read it here.

So I’m pretty happy with the way this wire has been integrated into the edges of this lamp box.  The wire was easy to form around the edges and corners, and helped me fill in some pretty big gaps.  I just basically continued from where I left off, bending the wire to wrap around the top edge and then back down the side, and spot soldering as I went along.

Once I had all four wires soldered into place, I was left with four stubby ends sticking out the bottom edge.  I’m going to leave them for now, until I add another piece of wire to the bottom edge, or figure out what my lamp base is going to be and how I’m going to attach everything.

Wire sticking out the bottom edge

I was reading some interesting techniques on the website of I.Tashiro, an incredible stained glass artist from Japan.  (You really should check out more of his work and techniques on his website — so informational and so beautiful!)  I’m not sure how this light box will be finished, but I might just build a wooden box for it to sit in and try out the brass sheet base technique on another project later…

Moving on from there, I went back to add some finish solder along the edges and along the inside corners.  Filling in the inside corners added some backing to the outside finished edges, so that the solder didn’t just drip through.

Soldering the inside edge

Everything worked out fairly well — I really only had trouble in two areas: the first was on the panel that I left the old copper foil on.  I had one joint where the solder just would not adhere to the copper foil, so there is a small gap between the corner solder bead and where two pieces of glass in the panel all meet.  Overall not a big deal, but I need to check if any light shines through.  The second was was adding a finish solder bead to the joint with the widest gap.  Even with a wire reinforcement on the inside, the solder still melted through very easily and dripped out, or cooled too rapidly (I think?) and I ended up with a weird texture on the surface of the solder, instead of it looking smooth and shiny.  If anyone has any tips for avoiding this issue (other than to just get better at sizing panels to fit together with less crazy gaps, clearly…), please post them below!  I ended up using an old orange box as a make-shift prop to keep the edges level and the solder bead sitting in the centre of the corner.

Using an orange box as a prop

Overall, I think the solder worked out ok.  I am still going to add a piece of wire along the bottom edge, and I’ll try another attempt at touching up the bad texture solder joint.  I don’t think this is my finest solder work, but I think I’m having some issues with my soldering iron set-up, so I’ll play around with that as well.  However, the point of finishing my older project before taking on anything new is kind of two-fold for me: to get projects that I started three years ago finished and out of the way, and to serve as a set of practice projects before I start attempting to make items of saleable quality.  So I can just chalk this one up to practice, at the very least.  At the most/best, I will have a new light box that I can take to work, use at home or gift to someone, and that’s not too shabby!

Finished soldered edges and corner

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Light Box Soldering Part I

So in my last post, I talked about some of the projects in which I’ve used reinforcing wires to add strength and support to the soldering lines, and I’ve started the process of adding in this support to my green and grey light box.  Here are a few photos to show you what I’m doing.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m making this up as I go along.  If anyone has suggestions for a better method, definitely let me know!

When planning where I want reinforcement, I thought about it in terms of adding strength, as well as providing a stop-gap for solder along all the edges of this lamp.  So I knew I need wire along every edge.  In the end, I decided to cut four pieces of wire and then bend them to fit — one piece of wire would start at the bottom of the lamp, run up a corner edge, run along one side of the top edge between the side and top panels, and then overlap about an inch back down the next corner edge.  I started with the one-inch overlap part, thinking it would likely be easier to fit a longer, more maneuverable piece of wire overtop of that piece afterwards:

Starting with the one-inch section on all four corners left me with long ‘arms’ that I would bend and solder as I went along:

Four pieces of wire

After placing in all four pieces of wire, I began to bend and solder them along the top edge, working one at a time.  I spot-soldered the edge to keep the wire in place.  The spot-soldering allowed me to bend the wire in each section to keep it as tight to the corner as possible and when I go back to add a finish solder bead along these edges, it will help keep the wire from popping back up as the solder melts along.  On the left corner, you can see where the wire I’ve just soldered and the wire intended for the next edge intersect:

Spot solder along the top edgeFrom there I bent the length of the wire to follow the side corner along to the bottom edge.  The point here is that it will overlap and help cover the next one inch section so that when I apply a finish solder bead, everything gets covered evenly.  I guess I will have to see how this theory will work out for my next post:

In the picture above, you can see a pretty sizeable gap between the side and top panel, and the wire helps add bulk to fill this in so that it’s not just solder doing this job.  From there, the wire that was just bent around the corner was soldered into the side-side edge, again as tight as possible.  The next wire (the one sticking out the right side of the photo) will be bent around to the side-top edge, the same way I’ve just described above.  And so on until all four sides are done.  Up next?  Adding a wire ring around the bottom edge and applying a finish solder bead to all the edges.


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Send In the Reinforcements

In my recent post about my green and grey light box project, I got to the point of having the panels spot-soldered soldered together and in a basic 3D form.  This post, I’m going to talk about my use of reinforcing wire in my projects, as that’s the next step for my light box project.  

Using reinforcement is something that I’ve started doing in my work partly from functional necessity and partly for aesthetics, although really the aesthetic aspect also adds function regardless.  The first lamp I added reinforcements to was the hanging lamp I designed and built for my mom.  I wanted some additional structure on the inside so that all the long strips would stay together and not pull apart (that’s a lot of straight lines).  I also wanted to add a wire reinforcement at the top and bottom edges to keep it in a circular shape.  There are four “circles” of support wire in this lamp: two at the top and bottom edges, and two that snake along (approximately) the top and bottom of the coloured squares, soldered to the inside of the lamp.

Lamp with Little Squares

The second lamp I used reinforcements in was the table lamp I built for my sweetheart. I needed to add a support that allowed me to add bulk and structure to the edges of the squares, as they didn’t fit perfectly together and I wasn’t keen on overlapping the edges very much — I wanted the corners to meet somewhat evenly.  I used reinforcing wire along the corner edges, sunken into the finish solder.  I also wanted to add some bulk to the finished edge at the top, instead of having a really flat, sharp edge.  So I used wire here too (wire everywhere!) to provide something to which I could adhere more solder and create a built up edge bead.

Prairie Gold Table Lamp

Since then, I’ve seen a few projects that have come back to me squished or broken, and have started incorporating wire into my smaller sun catchers (I’ve put support wire into these projects here and here).  They feel sturdier, and at least I know that someone really had to try hard to squish it if they return a project to me for repairs later!!

So that’s what’s up next.  I’m going to use a similar approach as the one I described for the table lamp above, but probably with a few extra pieces and some thinking about how to use longer pieces and bend them.  I’ll share an update and photos this weekend!

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Grey and Green Light Box

So last week I posted about some lamp panels I was refurbishing from my first attempt three years ago.  I worked on this lamp some more this week, and it’s starting to really take shape!  This week so far I’ve pieced together the top panel for this light box and spot-soldered the sides and top together to actually form the 3D shape.

These are the panels fitted together.  I designed just the four sides originally, but then later wanted to add a top panel.  The four sides were designed to have curving lines that continued and connected all the way around the lamp.  When I went to design the top panel, I essentially laid out the four side panels the way you see in the picture below, marked where all the solder lines hit at the top edge, and designed something that would connect all the pieces on top.

Panels fitted together

From here, I used tape and a really (very) poor tiny square tool as an approximate shape to hold the panels together so I could spot solder them.  When I actually have the time and space to get something else together, I want to make a proper 90 degree jig out of some plywood.  I have a few fantastic metal pieces that I can pin down to set up jig guides, but I don’t want to destroy this table too quickly!

Putting the side panels together

After the sides were spot soldered together, I placed the top panel on, in approximately the right location (I’ll be the first to admit that my sides were not 100% square and all the same lengths…), and spot soldered it down to add some structural integrity to this whole light box lamp thing…  I plan to reinforce all of the corners/edges with copper wire, so spot soldering is how this will be held together until then.

Spot soldering on the top panel

Once it was all together, I found a light bulb (probably the same size and warmth that I’ll use in the finished lamp) and stuck it underneath on the table to see approximately what the finished light box would look like… Pretty!  I like it on much better than off, which I think is a small failing on my part – normally I like to have some contrast between the glass in an unlit lamp to give it some definition and texture without relying completely on the light – in this piece I feel that the grey, grey-green and green are all similar in tone and saturation of colour and end up blending together a bit more than I would like.  Until you turn the light on!


Then I think it looks great!  {I do have to note that for a light-box with a covered top, you should always use only a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, because with a regular incandescent bulb, the fixture will get really hot and could burn someone or be a fire hazard.}  So next up?  Filling in the gaps and reinforcing the edges with copper, and final soldering and patina.

I’m not 100% sure how I am going to finish the base of this lamp, but I’m sure I will be able to come up with something.  I purchased an ikea lamp at the thrift store this past weekend, and I am planning to disassemble it and use the electrical parts to create something better (and prettier!)  Stay tuned for updates as this project progresses!

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Panels Re-Do

*le sigh*

I started working on a couple of lamp panels several years ago (I think it is three years ago, although I am ashamed to admit that was the last time I had studio space set up…) and I recently pulled them out again to finish them as part of my goal to complete old projects before working on new ones…  Sadly, the copper foil oxidized and soldering the pieces together (over the old solder and bad copper foil) was just not going very well.

Oxidized copper foil

I decided I would pull all the old copper foil off, replace it with new foil and just start over.  {You can see the process for how I did this in my post on fixing up the hummingbird sun-catcher.}  Removing the copper foil was time consuming and annoying, especially so with several components of textured glass, but in the end it made soldering everything much easier, cleaner and produced better results.

This is the solder result from the panel that I just worked on soldering over as-is.  There was not as much oxidization on the copper foil as on the panel in the picture above, and I figured I could probably make it work:

Bad solder...

These solder lines didn’t melt as smoothly on the fixed-up panels – and the finish on it is kind of grainy and dull, like it tarnished faster than the solder on the panels where I replaced the foil.  Here’s what those solder lines look like:


Ok, so maybe my photos aren’t quite the best…  But you can kind of get the idea that this solder line is smoother, plumper and shinier.  The soldering process went much faster as well because the copper foil was new, and everything was just happy to stick together.  After my first attempt to solder the original copper foil panels, I figured something a bit more intensive would be required to get the solder to bond to the copper without totally starting over — so I scrubbed everything down (old solder, recent solder, copper foil, glass) with a bit of soap and steel wool to clean the existing materials and rough-up the copper for a better bond.  It works – I got the rest of the solder lines onto the panels without too much trouble.

Up next?  Finishing the top piece of this lamp box and connecting all the pieces together!

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A Little Fixer Up’er

I made a series of sun-catchers for family members one year, and this little hummingbird was one of them.  Sadly, he got squished and his wings fell off!  *sad face*  So as something I can do to finish a variety of projects I started (before moving on to new ones), I thought I would work on fixing up this sun-catcher with some improvements!  I talked about some of the steps I could take to fix this piece in an earlier post, and here they are in more detail and with pictures.

Step One:  Removing the broken wings.  Luckily the glass isn’t broken – the copper foil has just been pulled off the edges of the glass.  To remove the wings, I pulled them off with my hands, breaking the copper foil to remove them from the pieces.  {Just a note – use your judgement when doing this.  If it will pull other solder seams or otherwise make more trouble for you to fix, just melt everything off gently with the soldering iron.}  Then I melted the solder in the joint between the wing and body, using the soldering iron to push the remaining foil out of the way.


Step Two:  Remove the old copper foil from both wing pieces.  I used a small exacto knife to help me scrape the copper foil off all edges of the wings.


Step Three:  Cleaning the glass.  There is a sticky residue left over from the copper foil around the edges of the wing pieces.  To clean them, I put them into a sink of warm water with a small amount of dish soap.   I let the soak for a few minutes, then used an old rag to wipe off the sticky stuff on the edges of the glass.  Good as new and ready to be re-foiled and attached back on!

Sticky residue on edges of glass

Step Four: Re-apply copper foil.  I’m using a 1/4″ copper foil, partly because I’m out of 7/32″ and partly because I want there to be a solid border around these wing pieces.  Going to 3/16″ is not a great option for single pieces that will be attached by only a single solder joint.

Foiled wings

Step Five: Attaching the wings back onto the body.  I thought about why these wings came off in the first place, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of structural connectivity between the body and the plane of the wing.  It was very easy for the wing to be bent upwards or downwards, and for the copper foil to pull away from the glass.  So I’m going to use some thin wire to help create more stability.  I’ve started incorporating wire supports into my work to add structural integrity and strength, so I think it’s not a bad idea here.  I’m going to bring a piece of wire from the middle line of the body across the front edge of the wing, and the same thing on the back – a piece of wire running from the middle seam of the body across the back edge of the wing.

Step Six: Soldering it all together.  This process takes some time, and it would be amazing if I had a third hand to keep it all together.  If you’re thinking about getting into stained glass, be prepared to constantly cut and burn your fingers.  The first step to make this process much easier was to apply a layer of solder on all edges of the wings separately before adding wire or attaching them to the body of the hummingbird.

I chose to solder the wire all the way around the wings, both because it created a more consistent line around the wings, and just adds strength, which is the point of this fix.  I spot-soldered the wire first and then went over it again to add a smooth edge.

The last steps in reattaching the wings were to attach the wire to the body joint, and then to cover it all with a heavy line of solder.  This is where the earlier step of applying a thin coat of solder all the way around the edges really helps out – the goal now is to create joints between the existing solder instead of trying to get into some really tight spaces with a soldering iron to get everything coated.

Step 7: Clean the piece and VOILA!  Good as new!



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How To: Make a Reverse Pattern From Pieces You Cut Out Three Years Ago

So, I think the title says it all…  I have a lot of glass from projects that I cut out years ago and put in containers (I honestly did think I would work on them much sooner than this!) with the intent to put them together into something beautiful!  Alas, I did not put any record of how the pieces were supposed to fit together into the container with them…  Most of these containers have been puzzled over and eventually just abandoned into the scrap pile to be used for other projects at some future date.  But I did find one envelope that had a few clues to help me put it back together!


The envelope contained 17 pieces, and had the label “butterfly” on the outside.  So far, so good.  I know what I’m supposed to be piecing together.  With the contents of the envelope emptied, the real fun begins.  Moving the green and white pieces around brings back a memory of a butterfly pattern I made in 2007 (!!), so that is some help.  I have an idea of how it is supposed to fit.  And at last, another clue clicks!  Some of the pieces are numbered!  And one of them is labelled with a number 1.  A starting point!  From there, it becomes clear that there are some white pieces designed to be squiggly edges of wings, and some that fit next to the butterfly body.  The green pieces just fall into place in between – and once one wing is laid out, the next is just a mirror image!  I think I just got lucky…


I grind up my pieces to get the fit just right, and clean and foil them up – ready to go!  But then I realize that I don’t have a pattern (thanks, love of getting rid of things I haven’t used in years + moving at least four times since I cut this glass), and it would be nice to replicate this butterfly for future projects, as it’s actually quite cute!  So I assemble the pieces in their full shape and trace an outline onto a piece of paper.


The next step is to clear the pieces and then trace each piece individually.  I started with the body, because it’s clear where that one is supposed to go, and the rest of the pieces can be traced out based on their relative positions.  Next I moved outwards into the wings, tracing the basic edges of each piece, and lining up the next piece against the newly traced lines.


Once I traced all the pieces, I had a basic outline of the butterfly and all the components of the wings.  To finish off the pattern, I traced it out with a thick sharpie marker, to connect all the lines and to make it easy to copy this pattern on the light table in the future.


After that, time to finish the butterfly!  I have to say it’s not my best solder work, but it’s been three years and then some, so it’s not a bad start…  I have a rheostat on my soldering iron, and think the temperature may need some adjustment.  But that’s neither here nor there.  I finished my first project in three years!  Fly little butterfly!


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