Wednesday, September 29, 2010

And now I'll let the Husband speak

So, I was painting and playing and putting ideas together and there was this big stack of 1" x 3" wafers of glass coated in some intense jewel tones, glittering and sparkling with duo-tone colours. And the husband was sitting across the table from me; soldering iron in hand with wires and circuit boards, resistors and all sorts of electronic gew gaws spread around, building stomp boxes for his bass.

And this is where the idea to work together started. The rest of this post is about the Husband's role in the process and because it's all about the work he's putting in I figured it should be in his words; Reader's meet the Husband:

I guess it started as my sweetie said idea about glass pieces bound together with soldered-copper. When she asked me if I could solder them, I said (of course)...sure. Of course, I had no idea how difficult or different copper foil soldering would be from electronics soldering.

Soldering itself is a bit of an art form. I got into basic electronics a few years ago, and I'm probably still not as good as I should be (even after 50 or so projects). That's why I push myself to do as many as possible; to get myself better. Soldering electronics or art pieces isn't something that can be necessarily taught. It just takes lots of practice to get the perfect bead.

The main difference between electronics and the sun catchers that we are working on is the type of solder used. When I'm working on my electronics I use a 63/37 mix of tin and lead. For the sun catchers, I use a tin/copper or tin/silver copper solder, otherwise known as "lead free". Lead is not necessarily good for the environment, or me for that matter (maybe that's what's wrong with me), but lead-free solder is a royal PITA to work with. Actually solder in general is a royal PITA to work with.

The trick with soldering is adhesion, and that depends on two factors: the getting the right temperature and keeping your surface clean, clean, clean.... If you do not have either, then the solder does not flow and becomes an ugly blob called a "cold solder joint"; more of an electronics term, I know, but seems to apply to doing art pieces as well. The metal (or copper) and the solder have to be at the right temperature to flow properly. Either way, blobs are not good and look ugly. What you want is the solder to melt onto your copper foil in a smooth liquid finish called a bead.

My biggest challenge with doing our project was getting the solder (PITA) to stick to the copper. At first we experimented with different sizes of lead free solder. When we started, the glass supply store where we got our stuff sold us this plumber-sized stuff which was essentially useless. It was quite thick and I could never get it hot enough. After doing a little digging, I switched to a 1.0mm lead free solder (bought at my local electronics store), and that was easier to work with. I have more control of the bead I'm producing and it gets to the right temperature quickly.

The other part is the "clean, clean, clean" part. Metal, specifically copper becomes oxidized with exposure to air. "Flux" (a chemical cleaning agent that facilitates soldering) is used to clean the joint before soldering to remove the oxidation. At first we used liquid "acid" flux which we bought at the previously mentioned glass arts store. In Electronics, the solder is typically impregnated with flux, and it is usually "rosin" based as opposed to acid. Over time, I found the acid liquid flux hard to work with, it was messy and because I had to apply it as I was soldering it lengthened the process. Through trial and error I ended up switching to the impregnated flux, and I found it made a better (cleaner) solder joint which was much quicker.

The copper banding that we use for our project tends to oxidize very quickly, so we started to rough up the copper using scotch-pad it as well. Another PITA, but necessary for everything to look good. I'm reminded of a post on a electronics forum with respect to why a member's pedal wasn't working. The obviously-experienced response was; "well, it could be one of three things"

1. Bad or cold solder joint
2. Bad or cold solder joint
3. Bad or cold solder joint

Meaning your solder wasn't the right temperature to connect or there was no connection made with the solder. I guess my biggest challenge (once the equipment and supplies were sorted) was just getting a nice bead without "lumps". In electronics, you just need a nice little "volcano" where the component meets the circuit board. With a sun catcher, I am actually working on a much bigger surface and I want it to look nice as well!

All in all, it's lots of fun (like I need an excuse to solder) and it's great to be doing something together with the love of my life (and no, I'm not talking about my bass).

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