Many stained glass artists keep three different irons ranging from light duty to heavy duty. For light duty projects, I recommend the Hakko FX601 as the best stained glass soldering iron for light work and repairs. For medium duty work, the Weller W100PG 100w Soldering Iron will handle just about anything and is considered the best soldering iron for stained glass work if you only purchase one. For any heavy duty work, American Beauty Heavy Duty 200w is a true work horse and extremely reliable.
Stained glass windows, as well as other colored glass art mediums date as far back as the 7th century. Hundreds of pieces of colored glass and lead, were discovered in windows of the monastery of St Peter. Back then the tools were obviously different but the same principles apply, construct a mosaic of glass pieces, and keep it together by soldering the pieces with lead.
I was first introduced to stained glass work as a child. My cousin is a professional stained glass artist and my mother helped out some, also doing her own projects as a hobby. I have vivid memories of both of them hovering over tiny intricate designs of colored glass mosaics, fingertips dark from lead, smoke rising as they soldered each piece together.
There are many tools and accessories used in the process of creating a beautiful stained glass art piece. From stained glass soldering tips to the solder used for stained glass art, I will briefly touch on those items but today we are talking about the best soldering iron for stained glass. Over the years I have learned what makes soldering iron attributes are import for applying stained glass solder by watching my family and asking them about it.
Their information was very informative when I was in the process of choosing my very own set of stained glass soldering irons. Whether you are a beginner or seasoned artist, I have rounded up a list of the best soldering irons for stained glass!
How To Choose: A Guide to Soldering Irons for Stained Glass
After cutting your glass and grinding it smooth you need to assemble it with solder. Soldering iron’s main purpose is to apply concentrated heat to the medium and solder to bond two pieces of medium together. Whether the medium you are bonding is lead, copper, or brass they require a heat source, but brass for instance can sometime require a heavy duty iron. I’ll quickly go over the important attributes and details so you can choose what will work best for you to start creating your own beautiful pieces.
Stained Glass Soldering Iron: How Should They Perform
- WATTS: The wattage of a soldering iron is an indicator of how powerful it is. However, it is not an indicator of performance, and more power doesn’t always mean better. It is one aspect of how quickly the iron will get up to temperature, but heat retention and recovery are also affected by other components.
The most common stained glass soldering iron watts is between 65-300 watts. Low power being 65 watt, medium or all purpose power range being around 100-150 watts. Heavy duty is 200 watts and over.
- ELEMENT: There are two types of elements used in soldering irons, a Nichrome wire element and a ceramic element. The Nichrome wire element is a resistance wire that conducts heat through electrical resistance. The ceramic element heats based on the same principle but has different characteristics.
Nichrome Elements used in soldering irons are usually bigger and heat up a larger metal body. This larger body conducts heat to the tip. The large body means the Nichrome equipped iron can store more heat and the tip temperature will drop more slowly. In practical terms this style should supply more sustained heat enabling longer sustained use in theory.
Ceramic Elements used in soldering irons are typically smaller and heat up the ceramic body much closer to the tip. The ceramic body conducts heat to the tip. This translates to much faster heating times but less sustained heat. Losing too much heat will the lessen the ability to liquefy the solder over time when continuously feeding it. Again, in theory but not always in practice.
You are probably wondering which is better but that is a trick question. For smaller units and light to medium uses the difference should not really impact most people. This becomes more a matter of preference but again, take into account the type of soldering you will do; long continuous runs requiring sustained heat like that offered by the wire element, or short and quick beads which ceramic elements handle nicely. That said, for the larger heavy duty jobs, you will almost always need the larger wire element units as heating up larger parts will require that built up capacity.
- TEMP CONTROLLER: Though marketed as a temperature controller, these units actually only regulate the wattage sent to the element. Usually the temperature at the tip will constantly vary which is not great while working.
Soldering Irons: Other Things To Consider
- TYPE/STYLE: Handle type soldering irons are available in two different styles or configurations. The pencil style which should be pretty self-explanatory, is just a straight unit from handle to tip. The hatchet style is bent up to 90 degrees where the handle and element meet giving the unit an “L” shape. This re-positions the center of gravity closer to the hand offering ergonomic feel and working angle.
- TIPS: There are many different tips available for irons. There is a chisel tip, an angle chisel, conical, and point tips. All of which available in varying sizes. The chisel tip is the most commonly used for stained glass soldering.
- ACCESSORIES: When purchasing your soldering iron for stained glass work, it is good to have a few accessories on hand. A cleaning sponge or a brass coil is a must to keep you tips clean. An iron stand is also a must have to keep the it accessible and shield the hot parts from accidental burns.
The Best Stained Glass Soldering Iron – Top 5 Reviews
Weller soldering irons are well know throughout the stained glass world for good reason. They are widely used as they are reliable, last years, and can handle a wide variety of uses making it the perfect soldering iron for stained glass work. The nichrome wound element provides ample heat capacity for most projects and can sustain enough heat through long runs to keep solder flowing.
Wire wound elements usually take longer to get up to temperature compared to ceramic, but this Weller 100w soldering iron has enough wattage that you wont be waiting long to for it to heat up. Another great thing is the W100PG is temperature regulated so you can be sure that it will melt the solder but no the lead came used in stained glass.
The tips are interchangeable and easy to change at that which is great for those who go back and forth between tips. Weller’s W10PG is also well balanced in the hand and doesn’t feel cumbersome or overly heavy after using it for long stretches.
If you are just starting out in the stain glass art or are a professional, you just can’t beat the Weller W100PG. It is not often you find products that are durable and at a price that you can actually consider this a cheap stained glass soldering iron. Pair it with a great soldering iron station and you will not be disappointed.
The Hakko FX601 is ceramic element soldering iron which is great for two things. It is very light since it lacks a large metal element, and heats up extremely fast. This is the best option for Hakko stained glass soldering irons because it has ample power to heat the tip back up to temp quickly if it cools to much but it wont get too hot that it will melt the lead came.
This soldering iron only has 67 watts but it pretty comparable to a 100 watt soldering iron that has a wire element instead of a ceramic element. While adjustable temperature soldering irons usually do not hold a consistent temperature, the FX601 maintains a +-10 degrees range and isn’t really an issue. The heat recovery is also really fast which is great if you find yourself cleaning the tip often.
This is really best soldering iron for small to medium stained glass projects, although it can really handle most things. Just keep in mind for larger projects that may require large solder pools and larger framing you may run out of heat during sustained soldering.
If your needs require an soldering iron that heats quickly, or is light weight than this is the one. If your are having trouble deciding between the Weller 100 watt and the Hakko, it really comes down to preference. Each have an equal trade off, one heating faster and the other holding heat longer, which again, think about how you use soldering irons for your stained glass projects.
If you aren’t familiar with American Beauty and their line of soldering irons you aren’t the only one. This manufacturer is more known among industrial workers and skilled tradesman but some larger stained glass shops are familiar as that is how I first heard of them. The company has been around for decades and I know folks who swear they have American Beauty soldering irons that are just as old.
This is a brand that is well known for quality as well as regarded for being made in America. They have excellent customer service as well and handle repairs promptly. Of course this all comes at cost premium and you will pay much more for their line of irons. That said, this particular soldering iron with a hatchet handle is very ergonomic and is really great if you need to solder odd angles or just prefer holding it this way.
Users also comment on the paragon iron-clad lead-free soldering tip for performance and lasting a very long time. The modular construction also allows for easily swapping out parts. The American Beauty 100 watt ergo is very heavy duty and will last a very long time. It is also available in even higher wattage configurations if you need something for larger jobs.
If you have tried Weller and Hakko but you still aren’t satisfied the American Beauty line of soldering irons is worth the look. They also offer a wide range of units with hundreds of watts of power which is good for artists who prefer using the same manufacturer as they can predict the performance across models.
A soldering iron that has no problem keeping up with production and finishing ahead of schedule, American Beauty offers quality irons that regarded as well made and heavy duty. These units are so well made you can sometimes find them used many years old needing little maintenance to get them operating like new.
This 200 watt soldering iron has enough heat capacity to solder large thick pieces of metal. Stained glass projects that are mounted into larger metal frames would benefit greatly from this unit. Owners of the heavy duty American Beauty soldering irons typically leave them on all day, day in and day out and the units continue to operate and perform perfectly without breaking down.
If you are hard on your irons and work on large jobs requiring constant heat and large heat capacity, this would serve you well. It is important to note that these units are custom made with quality parts so some repairs may need to be handled by the manufacturer but they do have great service.
Hexacon is another great and very reliable soldering iron manufacturer that has been around for a very long time, that you may not have heard about. Their reputation is mostly know among industrial companies but the stained glass community has caught on to how great these soldering irons are, especially those doing large projects working with thicker metals.
Like American Beauty, Hexacon soldering irons are a heavy duty workhorse made with a heavy duty plug-tip and designed for continuous operation with fast heat recovery. The case is machined from nickel-plated alloy steel and will store a large amount of heat capacity. The protective front nut will absorb the impact and shock that would otherwise damage the element whenever the hot iron is dropped.
At 250 watts and available with even more wattage, if you find yourself working with brass or any other thicker metals in your stained glass operation you should certainly consider a unit like this. The cost of a heavy duty Hexagon soldering iron is certainly something to consider but the speed and efficiency you will achieve with one on a large job will prove it worth it.
Best Soldering Iron For Stained Glass Comparison
|Weller W100PG||100||Wire Wound||700° F||Pencil||$|
|Hakko FX601||67||Ceramic||1000° F||Pencil||$|
|American Beauty 100w hatchet Handle||100||Wire Wound||855° F||Hatchet||$$|
|American Beauty Heavy Duty 200w||200||Wire Wound||1000° F||Pencil & Hatchet||$$$|
|Hexacon SI-P250 250w||250||Wire Wound||1000° F||Pencil & Hatchet||$$$|
I hope you found the list and guide useful. Be sure and let us know what your experience has been with any of these or any other model you have tried!