First, there are a couple of great sources to find your soldering tools and supplies. My favorite so far is the Glass Supplies store on etsy.com. Robin is a brilliant resource as she is a previous stained glass store owner, and is incredibly helpful. I believe she also owns an ebay store called "Cornerstone Stained Glass Supplies". Her prices are fair, her service is fantastic, her shipping is fast, and her attitude is out of this world. I highly, 100% recomend her. (April'10 Update: I still love Robin. I do not receive any compensation or kickback from referring you to her. My suggestions and advice are solid.)
Second, I also highly reccomend the gals over at Simply Swank. They have gorgeous pieces on their website galleries and are a pure joy to watch and talk to. Lisa has written a great book titled "Simple Soldered Jewelry & Accessories" which is chock full of great information, tips, and ideas. Both Michelle and Lisa have put together an instructional DVD titled "Simply Soldered". It's great to watch if you're not able to physically watch someone solder in front of you - and they've even thrown in a bit of humor. Brilliantly, they've put together a basic soldering kit "Simply Solder Creative Art Kit" which is perfect for anyone who wants to try soldering, but isn't sure they want the investment. The kit has everything you absolutely have to have, and includes instructions for a few projects (the pieces you need for your projects are also included in the kit - Awesome!). (April'10 Update: Although this kit is all-inclusive, the products contained are not of quality. I purchased the kit and tried on several occasions to work with it. I tried using their iron with their products, their iron with the products I already own, and with the iron I now use with their products. None of which had satisfactory results for me - except for the glass. It was fine.)
Another source, though they are not customer service savvy, nor are they knowledgeable (and if Robin isn't for some absolutely bizarre reason able to overnight speed ship the items you absolutely have to own TODAY), your local Hobby Lobby will have the very basic supplies - though they may hot be of the same caliber as Robin's (can you tell I really love Robin and her service?). Micheals and Joanns do not carry glass soldering supplies. You can also find a few items in your local home supply store (ie Lowes) or computer supply store (ie Frys) but you'll need to be very careful as those items are designed for plumbers, electricians, or computer workers - not for hobbyists or jewelry makers.
Alrighty, now that we have the sources out of the way, let's talk basic supplies...
To get started soldering, the basic supplies you will need to have are (and Robin has them all in her etsy store):
- Copper Tape - there are many, MANY widths available, and MANY different backs. I started out with regular copper backed copper adhesive tape.
- Soldering Iron - Don't waste your money on one that costs less than $30, you'll regret it in the end if you end up loving soldering as much as I have learned to. (April'10 Update: I've tried 12 different irons. My favorite is the same one that Sally Jean recommends and discusses in her book - the Weller 100. It has a robins egg blue handle and print loaded tip. The tip sizes I use most is the 3/16th size and it is sold seperately. The tip that comes with the iron is very wide, 1/2", and is VERY difficult to use with small or charm/jewelry soldering.)
- Temperature Controller/Rheostat - In case your iron doesn’t have a gauge. Your iron temperature is what determines the fluidity of your solder. (April'10 Update: If you get the Weller 100, this is not necessary. However, it is nice to have so that you know when your iron is on - there's a red light- and works well as an extension cord)
- Soldering Iron Stand - This really isn't optional – believe me just do it. Your body, and furnture will forever thank you for buying one. It will alleviate the iron rolling or you accidently dropping it onto your legs or onto your beautiful furniture.
- Flux - I prefer gel, but regular works just as well. Just don’t get the paste. It's too messy and is a real pain to try and clean up. Gel and liquid flux are normally clear. (April'10 Update - My favorite flux, and the one I personally have the best luck with is Classic 100 Gel Flux by Glastar.)
- Cheap-o paintbrush - A kids one will work fine – it’s for your flux. Qtips also work, but I think a small brush is better.
- Glass - Again, there are a lot of varieties available. Robin has some great sizes precut for you. I sometimes prefer to use microscope glass because it is so thin.(yes the actual glass just cut down to the size I need). Robin's glass is thicker, and is more durable = less likely to fracture or shatter (especially when learning).
- Hemostat or other metal clamps - Don't waste your money on plastic clamps you can find all over the place and don't waste your money on the ones at Home Depot. They're generally VERY VERY strong and will break your glass in an instant. Tip: If it's hard to open, it's going to be hard on your glass. I've also seen and heard of others using clothes pins. I'm sure they'll work out fine. I tend to worry about things being flammable when I am learning. Wood = flamable. Solder = very VERY hot. Wood + Solder = potential flamable issue for me. (April'10 Update: I use clothespins. Yes, the may get burn marks, but just slightly. And, they're cheap!)
- Solder - The most important thing is to make absolutely sure you're using lead free solder. Otherwise you risk lead poisoning and you’ll have to work outside to avoid the fumes. There are LOTS of different kinds. I love the look I can achieve by using Canfields Silver Gleem Solder (and Sally Jean reccomends it too). But, while I'm learning/practicing I'm totally down with Canfield DGS w/silver solder. (April'10 Update: I use Canfield DGS 99% of the time.)
- Jump Rings - if you’re planning to make charms or ornaments you'll need them.
Other items which will prove to be helpful to have handy are:
- Floor Tile - A local store uses a silpat mat in their soldering class but I BY FAR prefer tile. Solder doesn't stick to tile. The silpats they used had some melted solder (duh... solder melts at 930 degrees!). I'd rather be safe than sorry. AND... the Silpats are expensive ($50). Tiles are either free (if they're left over from remodeling projects. Local gals - lemme know if you need a tile) or very inexpensive at your local home supply store. If you're giving a second guess to this, imagine what a mess (or a disaster) hot molten solder will leave on your craft table or on your grandmothers dining room table. See... I'm telling you - you're going to WANT this.
- Sal Ammoniac Block - This will help clean your soldering iron tip when it gets loaded with oxidation (from solder, flux, and adhesive) and will help keep it clean to use while soldering. Your solder won't stick to an oxidized soldering tip. I was REALLY frustrated until I learned about this block!
- Adhesive Copper Sheets - This is great to have when you don't want to solder two pieces of glass together. Instead you can use one piece of glass (normally on the front) and a piece of the copper sheet on the back. This allows you to solder the whole back piece and not just the sides.
There are all kinds of other items you can add to your arsenal of soldering supplies and fun things to play with, the items above are just the basics.
Soldering itself is pretty basic, but does take practice to get the hang of it. It's one of those things that you can watch someone do a million times and they can make it look easy. Once you sit down to do it yourself, it's seems like a huge challenge.
If you're interested, leave a message, and I'll go into the very basics of soldering. I recommend checking with your local beading store to see if they offer soldering classes. I know that they do in my area. I've had a few requests to teach them locally, and eventually I might. I've tossed around the idea of doing here in my home (which would totally work out) but haven't made any commitments yet.