Stained glass crafting can be lucrative as well as entertaining if you find you have a knack for it.
Stained glass is an art form that has been enjoyed by artisan and onlooker alike for centuries. It’s quite a process, but if you are a crafter with patience and tough skin on your fingers, you too can survive a stained glass project. Matt and I have a very good friend who taught us to truly respect the art of stained glass as he demonstrated the process, step by step. If you’re serious about the art, here’s what you’ll need.
- Safety glasses
- Stained glass
- Fine point permanent marker
- Oil fed carbide glass cutter
- Surface for cutting glass (thin cork over plywood works well)
- Glass “running” pliers
- Water cooled glass grinder
- Adhesive backed copper foil
- Burnishing tool
- 40 – 100 watt soldering iron
- Solder flux
- 60/40 solder
1. OK, ready? Well, first, start with a plan or a design you’d like to replicate. It should be drawn out in full scale. And, as you will be working directly on the plan, copies or blueprints of your design should be made.
2. Next is the placement of textured and colored glass. Just place a piece of glass over the copy of your design, and mark the outline of the edges. When cutting the glass, remember that you are not really “cutting” at all – you are simply scoring a fault line in the surface where, when pressure is applied, the glass should break. This is the part of the project that takes the most practice – press too lightly and you will not get a good score (and the glass won’t break correctly). If you press too hard, the glass could chip. Make sure to score the glass just outside of the outline that you drew. It is very important to remember when cutting glass to think of full through cuts. Carefully snap the glass apart along the score line using the running pliers.
3. Now, with all the pieces available to fill in your design, it’s time to further perfect the fit of each piece. This is where you use the water cooled glass grinder. Grind each piece down to its final size, taking off the little extra that you left as you snapped the pieces to size. Then, dry the pieces and check them for fit on the pattern. If there are any imperfections after you’ve checked the fit, re-grind the piece if necessary.
4. Now, all the edges of the glass pieces need to be sealed with a copper foil. To apply the copper foil, place an edge of the glass against the center of the adhesive side of the foil and continue to place the foil around the perimeter of the glass until you overlap the starting point by approximately 1/8”. Next, use a burnishing tool to rub the foil firmly onto the edges of the glass then carefully press the remaining foil onto the front and back face of the glass and burnish into place. Continue this process for each piece of your design. When you’ve finally finished the foiling on all pieces of glass, it’s time to solder!
5. Make sure before you begin soldering that the pieces are in place and squared up. Start by using a Q-tip or similar item, and brush a light coat of flux on the copper foil seams. With a hot soldering iron, press the tip to a seam and add solder. Be very careful – hot solder is molten lead and can… and does… burn! You will want to work quickly as overheating a joint can cause the glass to crack. If you notice that the solder is bubbling excessively, or the solder line is pitted, you are using too much flux. If so, quickly reheat to smooth the seam. A properly soldered seam has a raised bead of solder along the length of the seam, and it is this bead that gives the project its strength. After soldering one side, carefully turn the project over and solder the other side too. Various patina solutions can then be added to change the silver seams to a dull gray or other color, but these then must be neutralized to prevent corrosion.
6. Continue in this fashion until you have your entire design soldered together!
Whew! Stained glass is a project that probably isn’t a one time thing. Either you’ll be hooked, and create the most gorgeous home décor items and gifts, or you’ll give it up and go back to basket weaving 101. But for those interested, you can get further information by looking into hobby shops in your area that carry stained glass supplies. They may even offer classes. These are also great places to buy the tools you need as well as videos, patterns and how-to books. So, from both Matt and me, good luck and be careful!!!