The Hobby Collector - Stained Glass

A colorful stained glass panel on a light-up table

Did you know that you, yes you, sitting wherever you’re sitting right now, can make your own stained glass art? You can even make it at home if we pick up a few tools. It’s really quite easy and rewarding, as I learned just a few years ago.

Living by myself in a new city, I realized I needed to get out of the house - and learning something new seemed to be a good way to do that. It so happened that an art studio not far from my apartment was hosting a stained glass workshop. I had experience with woodworking, ceramics, hot and cold metal working, heck - even leatherworking, but I always had the belief that glass was out of the picture. Some fragile, temperamental thing not to be trifled with. So the idea that I could learn to tame this medium was exciting to me.

The workshop was conducted on a weekly basis, with each session progressing further through the process of crafting ones own hanging stained glass piece. Now I’ve never been one for keeping pace with instruction, much less following them, so I quickly went off at an expedited pace with the blessing of the instructor. I ended up having enough time to make two pieces, the first of which will be included in photos below. The second piece, my crowning achievement, was a pressed flower encased in hanging glass, which I made for my better half.

The process is pretty straight forward - at least for a small piece. Don’t go expecting to build the Sainte-Chapellein a week though. For today, we will cover a basic tutorial:

Step 1: Tools

A clear container with a variety of glass-work tools

The tools needed for basic stained glass work aren’t anything fancy. To start, we really just need a stencil or plan (not pictured), glass, a marker, glass cutter, and two types of pliers: running pliersand grozer/breaker pliers. Oh! And safety equipment. Remember, safety first! Running pliers, with their rubber-coated tips, are used to put pressure on a scored piece of glass to initiate a clean break. These work great for straight scores, but not so much for curved pieces. For those, we need grozer/breaker pliers. Grozer pliers are like running pliers country cousin - they aren’t as tidy, but they still get the job done. When using them, we have to make alot of small, careful breaks along curves to get a rough shape of what we’ve outlined.

Step 2: Cutting and Breaking

After we’ve traced the shapes we want to cut, we then score them with the glass cutter. This process can feel a bit foreign because the cutter will occasionally get caught on the imperfections in the glass and feel as if we’re trying to cut a bottle with a steak knife. Crunchy. If we’re really fancy, we can use a cutter’s mate, which is an arm-like jig that lets we cut all kinds of funky shapes with ease. Once we’ve made our scores, we then break out our trusty pliers to make the break or breaks we need to get our desired shape.

Step 3: Smoothing

A glass grinding router

Now that we’ve got some sharp, janky pieces of glass, we need to make sure they all fit together into the puzzle that we’ve designed. To do this, we need to smooth all those jagged edges using a grinder. The grinder is essentially a fast moving stationary router (see above photo). There’s alot of measuring and checking required in this step to make sure everything is the perfect size and shape to fit together. If we overcut, the piece won’t fit and the process starts all over again.

Step 4: Foiling

Colorful glass pieces with edges wrapped in copper foil

Now that all of our glass pieces are cut, trimmed, and smoothened we can see the whole thing starting to take shape. In order to get all of the individual pieces to stick together, we need to join them with solder. But solder won’t stick to glass, so we first need to wrap all of the edges of the glass in copper foil. The foil is finicky and sticky making it not the easiest to work with. I spent too much time sticking and unsticking the damn stuff to make sure it was evenly positioned on each side. I’ll be honest, detail work has never been my forte.

Step 5: Soldering

Colorful glass pieces joined together with shiny, silver-colored solder

Look at that bead. Shoutout to my hot work metalworkers out there - ain’t nothing quite like a good bead. Anyway, now that we have our edges foiled we need to add solder! It’s a hot, smelly process but it’s also so satisfying. The the unaware, solder is a soft metal alloy often made from tin and lead. To melt it, we use a soldering iron which is essentially a really hot metal pen. When you touch the soldering iron to the solder, it will almost instantly become liquid and bead up wherever it lands. When soldering the glass pieces together, we want to aim this combination of solder and iron so that it builds a nice, clean line along our copper foil. Sometimes however, the solder is not solid enough to bond components. In cases like these, we want to use soldering flux. Flux is a chemical agent which helps to lower the surface tension of whatever we put it on, while also preventing oxidation, in order to form a stronger bond between our pieces and the solder. So once we apply some flux, we’re off to the races. Slowly but surely, all of the pieces get soldered together until we’ve got one solid pane. How exciting!

Step 6: Framing and Patina

All that’s left is to frame our pane! To do this we take thin, pliable U-shaped metal channel and carefully wrap the edges of the pane. After this, we solder the corners together to get a firm fit. In my case, I also needed to add some hangers, so I soldered those on as well. I wanted to give my piece a bolder look, so I then brushed on a chemical patina finish onto the solder and frame. You may be familiar with patina when it comes to copper, such as how the Statue of Liberty is green. Unlike the natural patina process, chemical patina doesn’t work through oxidation. Instead it works through a chemical reaction which turns the solder black. Chemical patinas often contain acids, among other things. So make sure to wear your PPE. You have been wearing your PPE this whole time, right?

Step 7: Marvel at Your Creation

Congratulations! You just made something out of stained glass! Now take it over to the light table and check it out. Look at those colors! I can’t wait to see it in the window.


I hope you enjoyed this more technical, step-based approach to The Hobby Collector. I’m not sure if I’ll keep the format, but it was alot fun recounting the time and love that went into this process If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out via email. See you next time!

Originally posted on Scribbles
Cross-posted via EchoFeed