The art of stained glass can be an exciting hobby. Stained glass can be used to create beautiful items that you can keep for yourself or give as gifts to those you care about. However, stained glass is a complex art that requires years of practice to master. If you’re just starting out, you’ll need time, patience, and the right tools.
Traditional stained glass pieces are created using lead. However, for the beginner, this may be a little too complex. It might be better to use the copper tape method for constructing your stained glass pieces. Copper tape is easier to work with and gives beautiful results. If you’re worried about your project having adequate strength, consider using leaded edging.
Keep in mind that most of the tools and supplies listed are not safe for children. You should only work with stained glass in a well-ventilated area free of children and pets. Also be very careful when handling glass. Broken tiles are sharp and glass chips are equally dangerous.
Tools for Your Project
Regardless of construction technique, you will need certain tools and supplies to get started. Most craft and hobby stores will have what you’re looking for. If not, looked for a stained glass supply store. You can even order supplies online if you have to. When you do find a supplier, make a comprehensive list to avoid multiple trips to the same store. Some of the items you might include on that list are:
- Glass in a variety of colors
- Glasscutter (as sharp as you can find)
- Copper tape (available in rolls)
- Soldering iron
- Plastic boning tool
- Backing board
- Pushpins (longer is generally better)
- Painter’s tape
Creating a Pattern for Your Project
In order to create beautiful stained glass projects, you should have a pattern firmly in your mind before beginning. This pattern can be anything you can imagine. However, if you’re just a beginner, you might want to consider a pattern that has large blocks of color. A pattern with a great many small areas is much harder and should be left until you have gained some experience. Also be wary of selecting a pattern with uneven edges. These are difficult for even experienced craftsmen. Instead, look for a pattern that is entirely round or oval.
Draw your pattern on a piece of paper to scale. If you’re hoping to assemble your stained glass project on the paper, use a fine tipped pen, preferably black. This will show through most glass and allow you to position each piece correctly. If you have a large project with many different pieces, consider marking each part of your project with a number. You can then use your painter’s tape to label individual glass pieces, making it easier to reassemble your project when you are ready to solder everything in place.
Cutting and Grinding Your Glass Pieces
Take each individual piece of glass and lay it out on your pattern. Use a fine tipped pen and mark the glass precisely. Take your time because glass it delicate and difficult to repair. If you break too many pieces or cut them incorrectly, you’ll have to make another trip to the craft supply store. Remember that even an expert will make some mistakes, so always have extra glass on hand.
Use your glasscutter to gently score the glass exactly where you marked, but be careful to make only a single score. While supporting the piece of glass you intend to keep, gently tap the surrounding area until it snaps off. With your snips, remove any excess glass. Do not use your hands or you may cut yourself. Repeat with the remaining glass pieces until you have all the pieces required to complete your work.
It is often tempting to look at your glass pieces and assume they’re smooth enough for assembly. They’re not, no matter how careful you were when cutting your glass pieces. And if they’re not smooth, they will not adhere to your copper tape. To make sure you have perfectly smooth glass, use your water-cooled electric grinder. Grind each individual piece until smooth to the touch. Place finished pieces onto your backing board for assembly. You might want to practice on a few scrap pieces first, just to get the hang of using a grinder.
Assembling Your Project
You are now ready to assemble your pattern. Adhere the copper tape to the edges of all your glass pieces. Cut out the pieces you need and the boning tool to smooth the tape. Make sure there are no air bubbles or your tape will peel off. Smooth any excess tape around the edges of the glass. When each piece is ready, place it in the correct location on the backing board and secure it using your pushpins.
Begin soldering your glass pieces together. Heat your soldering iron and use just the smallest bit of flux to secure each of your elements together. Don’t solder the pushpins. When your pieces are secure, you can remove the pushpins and solder the length of each seam. Allow the solder to set completely before moving on.
It may take some time to get used to the soldering iron, just as it did with the grinder. Practice on spare glass and expect that the excessive heat will crack the first few pieces. After a while, you’ll get the hang of it.
When all seams have been soldered and the solder is set, you’ll have to turn the piece to solder the back. To do this, you must turn the project over. Do this gently by lifting just one corner. If you have allowed ample time for the solder to set, your project should turn over easily enough. Solder the back of the project in the same manner as the front.
When set, you must edge the entire project with copper tape. This is done in the same way as the individual pieces were edged. However, you should probably use a thicker tape than before, depending on the size of your completed project. Finally, solder well enough to cover the copper tape.
If you don’t like the color of the solder lines, apply a suitable patina. Depending on the patina used, it will either darken or brighten the solder lines, improving the look of your piece. Keep in mind that this is an optional process. You do not need to apply patina to your project if you are satisfied with the look and feel of the solder lines.
Once the solder is set and the patina is dry, your project is complete. Hang it where it will catch the light, changing the location if you are not happy with it. After you’ve completed your first project, you can move on to more complex stained glass projects. With a little practice, you can create lampshades, window hangings, decorative centerpieces, and even complex shapes such as 3D images. I even have a pentacle made of stained glass. Practice a bit, and you'll be able to create anything you like.