Friday, May 29, 2009


Another one done; this job wasn't easy. We had brilliant sunshine last week and although it doesn't look it from the pictures the stainless is really shiny. So you get the sun from above and then the sun from below bouncing back at you. I think the inside of my nose got sunburned.

A few things about this roof:
First: this is the worst its ever going to look. There is a light varnish on the material that we remove from the perimeter of each sheet before soldering; thats why some look hazy. The weather will remove the rest in about a month.
Second: after about two years the roof will develop a uniform light gray patina and the solder lines (which stick out sorely) will all but disappear. After the patina develops all the little dents and tool marks will also disappear. If you want a roof like this for your house come visit me at

The tool in the top picture is a soldering iron, an electric soldering iron. I have always used propane or acetylene irons; never again. This iron is from American Beauty Soldering Tools
I had seen electric irons in a few places on the web, I always figured they were too weak. Think about it, what would be better than a loud, white hot, roaring flame blasting out of the handle holding the iron; I was wrong.

My new electric soldering iron is my new favorite tool.
First off its silent; my propane iron is so loud I that I cant hear myself think. Imagine working in your office with a running motorcycle parked next to your desk.

Second, it holds heat unbelievably well, I can fully solder three panels without having to pause to let the iron heat back up. With its constant and even heat I am able to make more consistent seams with faster production times. With my propane iron I was able to fully solder around forty panels in an eight hour period, with the American Beauty 550W electric iron I was averaging around sixty panels in the same eight hours. This tool paid for itself before lunchtime on the second day.

Third, it is a breeze to set up, all I need up on the roof is a heavy gauge extension cord. Just plug it in, set up your work area and in five minutes the iron is up to operating temperature. With propane or acetylene I need the tank, the hose, the ignitor, something to hold the tank and a nearby fire extinguisher. With the electric iron I don't have to worry about running out of gas, which always seems to happen at 5:45pm on the last two feet of seam to be soldered, that means coming back the next day and that costs money.

A special thanks to Mr. Virgil Brooks, he is the engineer at American Beauty Tools and has been a great resource. I have a prototype iron of his that I'm going to test out next month; can't wait to see what it can do.
American Beauty Soldering Tools 1-800-550-2510

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Great material; lousy installer

We are about to start a flat seam stainless steel roof on Thursday. The roof we are removing (pictured middle and bottom) to make way for new roof is also a flat seam stainless steel roof; its only seven years old and it has a fatal leak. 
We didn't install the roof; but I have tried a bunch of times to fix it and it just wouldn't work. This roof is made up of 16" X 22" panels of stainless steel; each edge is turned up 3/4" to make interlocking tiles. After the tiles are laid out the seams where each panel meets are hammered down flat. The seams are fluxed and then soldered (look at the copper flat seam roof on upper right); this method has been in use for about 600 years and is very durable if done properly. There is no reason why this roof won't keep the building dry for the next 90 years if done properly.

You cant rush this work; it takes lots of time and in 600 years no one has found a faster way. 

Look at the photos, notice anything odd? Ok, why would a stainless steel roof have rust on it? Wait, why does some of the metal look like it has gold paint on it? If you solder these panels then why do I see black tar and gray caulk?

The previous contractor used a few different types of metal on this one; we have stainless steel (dark gray), terne metal or tin (gold looking), and plain old galvanized steel (rust stained).
The mismatched metals are all in places that would be installed toward the end of the job; he probably ran short of stainless which is really expensive and grabbed any old metal he had laying around. There is approximately 1260 linear feet of soldered seams on this roof and just about half of them  are cracked. 
There are lessons to be learned here; but I'm tired and I have 1260 linear feet of soldering to do tomorrow.