Monday, February 18, 2013

The Art of Stained Glass

by Nancy of DesignsStainedGlass

I have always admired the beauty of stained glass, the beautiful colors, and the wonderful textures. I never thought it was something that I could make in my own home. I’d like to share with you some of the steps that are involved in making a simple stained glass panel.

First you need to start with a pattern. There are many available on-line, at the library, or if you are feeling creative you can design your own pattern.

Once you find the pattern that you would like to use, the next step is to purchase the glass. Glass is sold by the square foot or by the pound. Choose the colors and textures that you like and you feel will complement each other in the pattern you are working with.

For most patterns you will need two copies – one you will use to trace your pieces on the glass and the other will be for placement. I number each piece in the pattern which makes it easier to identify each one after they have been cut.  To transfer the pattern to the glass, if it is transparent, you can lay the glass on top of the pattern and trace it with a special marking pen. If your glass is opaque and you cannot see the pattern through the glass, then you need to cut out your pieces from your second copy of the pattern, place them on top of the glass and trace around the edges. After each piece has been copied onto all the glass it is time to cut.

There are different types of cutting tools. I prefer a brass handled carbide cutter. With this style you place the tip on the glass and pull the cutter towards you. Starting at one end of a drawn line on your glass, position the cutter and pull it towards you. You can hear the scratching cutting noise – this is a good score. Do not go over the line again – only one cut is all you need. The next step will be to use breaking pliers or running pliers to separate the piece from the sheet of glass. Align the pliers with the scored line and carefully pull down on the pliers and the glass will break off. After you have scored and cut all around the lines of one piece it is time to use the glass grinder.

An electric glass grinder has a diamond bit and a tray of water underneath. It pumps water up to a sponge that keeps the glass dust down and the glass cool so it doesn’t break. You need to grind around all of the edges of each piece.  After each piece is done, place it on top of the first copy of the pattern – very much like making a puzzle. You also need to keep your pattern from moving and make sure it is squared. There are squaring bars and pegs to use to secure the pattern on to a work board.

The next step is to apply copper foil onto each piece. I take out one piece at a time and clean it to remove any powder from the grinder. The copper foil comes in various widths, depending on how thick your glass is and how you want your piece to look will depend on what size foil you use. The foil has one smooth side and one sticky side. The sticky side is wrapped around each piece of glass making sure it overhangs each side of the glass equally. Then you use a burnishing tool to smooth and press it against the glass all around the edges, top and bottom. Return that one piece to the work board and repeat this process until each piece of your pattern has been done. You may find that you need to grind a few more pieces in order for them to have a nice tight fit against each other.

Next and most important is the soldering. This is the one step that takes a lot of practice and patience. Using flux, which is a cleaner that prepares the copper foil to accept the solder, apply it with a brush onto the copper foil. With your soldering iron and solder you will join each piece by melting the solder into the joints and on top of all the copper foil. Reapplying the flux, adding more solder to build up a nice smooth line.

Turn your piece over and repeat this process – again this takes a lot of practice to get the back side looking as smooth as the front side.

Framing your piece will be the next step. It can be placed into a window, wood frame, or lead or zinc channel. For most of my panels I use zinc channel.  After measuring and cutting the channel it is soldered into place around the edges of the panel. Hooks and chain for hanging are attached at this time.

Almost done – but it needs to be cleaned. Washing is very important and there are different chemicals that can be used.  Some artists use special glass cleaning solvent others use dish washing liquid. I have a secret for cleaning my panels.  After cleaning and drying the panel, you have a choice to leave the solder lines in their natural silver state, rubbing them with steel wool to give them a pewter look, or apply black or copper patina. This is done with a brush and then washed off.  Apply stained glass wax and buff it until it shines.

Hang it in your favorite window, stand back and enjoy its beauty for many years.


RobinsFlight said...

Thanks so much for this interesting look into how you make your amazing stained glass creations!

sewsouk said...

You make it sound so easy but I know it's not! Thank you for such a clear insight into your beautiful craft. The way you choose your glass and colours to create your fabulous pieces is something I don't think many could do- you are such a skilled artist.

FabricGreetings said...

What a great explanation. Thanks for making it so simple to understand.

Unknown said...

I love stained glass! Your's is so beautiful! I'm not sure it is as easy as you make it sound though!

Lynn said...

Thank you! I didn't know what was involved in making a stained glass piece before reading your article. I admire your work very much.

Aloha Letterpress said...

What a wonderful informative article about this process!
Thank you for sharing.