Step by Step Beginner's Guide to Making Your First Stained Glass Piece.
This easy step by step guide will guide you to making your first
stained glass piece!
Tools you will
Carbide glass cutter
Aluminum push pins
Foil pattern shears
Lead pattern shears
Flux and brush
Lead cutters or lead knife
Soldering iron (see
Cork backed ruler
Black fine tip Sharpie
Sponge or rag
Rubber cement or 2 sided tape
Pattern paper set
Stained glass can be a dangerous craft. You are dealing with sharp
object, tools, hot irons and chemicals. Care should be taken about
where you do this and how you do this. The kitchen is never a good
choice. Glass chips and chemicals can never be cleaned up enough to
make the kitchen safe. A well ventilated, well lit area where you can
leave your project undisturbed is ideal. A pleasant atmosphere is more
condusive to good work. You should never eat or drink while working on
glass and always wash your hands when finished. Keep the chemicals away
from your tools and from children as some are corrosive and toxic.
Safety glasses are a must. You only have one set of eyes and accidents
happen in a second.
After you a decide on where to work, you need a good strong work table
or bench. To do your actual cutting and soldering, I like to use
ceiling tile because it is inexpensive, light weight and portable. It
easily accepts push pins and you can join several together for large
projects. When I work on lead projects, I like to use plywood and
horseshoe nails because they hold better. There are times when you have
to encourage the glass to fit in the lead channel with your glazing
hammer and the nails in plywood hold better. A glass cutting surface
from Morton works well. The plastic panel has small cells that catch
and hold glass slivers that result from cutting. When using ceiling
tile or any flat surface it is important to keep the surface clean of
chips. A small bench brush used regularly will keep these chips from
scratching or breaking the glass as you work.
Once you have decided on a project you may have to resize it. This can
be done in several ways:
Many copiers can enlarge your design. Obviously you are limited by the
output size of the paper. You can copy larger designs on a standard
copier by cutting the original in 4 pieces , enlarging each and
then pasting the 4 enlarged pieces back together.
A product called Rapid Resizer is helpful for enlarging patterns.
It is limited in that you cannot alter the image other than the size.
You cannot manipulate lines or add anything to the original, but
for the price, it does a fairly good job.
Another product called Glasseye 2000 is a step up and is a much more
powerful tool. You can scan in line drawings or pictures and change
lines, change position of things, resize and really customize the
design. This product is more expensive and takes considerable more time
to master but is well worth the time and effort and has become the
Once you have the design ready, the next thing to do is trace the
design onto pattern paper. When making a panel itís easy to try to rush
through some of the steps but remember each step affects the next step
and the next step. If you do a poor job on the pattern, a perfect job
of cutting will not look great because the pattern may be off. If you
do a poor job of cutting, no amount of soldering skill may be able to
fix large gaps. Some people say ďmy soldering is horribleĒ but when I
look at their work I tell them their cutting is horrible and their
soldering would look better if they didnít have such large gaps or the
foil was put on accurately.
You need a paper set consisting of your original on top, a sheet of
carbon paper (face down), a sheet of plain paper, another carbon and a
sheet of manila paper. Manila pattern paper is used because it is stiff
and will hold up better when grinding. Some people like to use mylar, a
plastic sheeting, because it is more rigid, holds up even better when
grinding and can be reused. It is more expensive and a little harder to
cut with the foil shears but some think its worth it. Staple
these together and trace over the entire design being careful to
stay on the lines as accurately as possible. When finished recheck that
you have not missed any lines because once you have unstapled, it is
impossible to get the sheets exactly aligned again. Also before
you separate the sheets, itís a good idea to number the pieces and
indicate colors and grain or direction on each piece. When you are sure
you have copied all lines and marked everything, separate the sheets.
You can keep the original for later use. The sheet of paper which now
has the design on it will be used to layout and solder your panel and
the manila sheet will be cut up.
the stencil pattern pieces
Pattern shears are used for this job. They are 3 bladed scissors
that remove a sliver (1/32 ď for foil , 1/16 ď for lead) of paper from
between each piece. This space allows room for the foil or lead heart
between each piece. For foil, the gap allows space for some
solder to run through to the other side. You donít want the pieces of
glass to butt tightly against each other. A small space between each
piece of glass will allow some solder to go thru to the other side and
when joined with the solder bead on the back, will make a much stronger
Some just put the glass on the pattern and look through it and cut the
piece, but if the glass is very dark or opalescent (non transparent),
this is not possible. For that reason we cut up the manila sheet
so we have a shape that can be glued on the glass and cut around. Then
you can take that to the grinder and grind exactly to the pattern. The
pattern shears take some getting use to. Short strokes work best. Cut
deep in the blades with short half inch strokes.
Use a good carbide wheel cutter. They cost more but are more
comfortable to use, will last longer, reduce frustration and result in
less wasted glass. The pistol grip seems to be the most popular but the
stick type can be used just as effectively. There is not one right way
to hold the cutter. The best way is the way that works for you. Try
several types before you buy. Try cutting some scrap glass.
You donít really cut the glass. You are scoring the surface and then
breaking the glass. It doesnít take much pressure on the wheel (about 8
pounds) Hold the cutter perpendicular to the glass, and press
firmly. It is important to hold the cutter straight. If the
wheel leans to the left or right, you will not get an accurate break.
It should be a controlled score. Use your opposite hand to steady the
cutter if that is helpful. Always start at the edge of the glass and
score to the other side of the glass. Donít go over a score - this will
damage the cutter. You can stop in the middle of a score but donít pick
up the wheel. If you do, you wonít be able to set it back on the
glass exactly where you lifted and you will either go over the score
again or leave a gap which could cause the score to run off course. You
should hear a tearing sound when you score but with some glass you
wonít hear anything.
Straight cuts are fairly easy. Cutting curves can be more challenging
but remember that glass always seeks the path of least resistance. A
circle or any sharp curve is cut with a series of gentle arcs. Outside
curves are easier because if the score runs off course, it will run
into the scrap area. An inside curve , if it goes off course will
usually go off into your finished piece and be ruined. On an inside
curve, make small arcing scores and munch them out with the grozers.
Once you have scored the glass, break it off using the
running pliers or breaker/grozers. Running pliers are set at the end of
a long score and apply an anvil type pressure on both sides of the
score to force it to run. There is an adjusting screw that should be
set so the jaws close just a little smaller that the thickness of the
glass. They have plastic covers on the jaws to protect the glass. Make
sure you have the line on the pliers up and in line with the score. A
pulsing pressure is better than squeezing really hard. Sometimes the
score will break easier from the finish end rather than the starting
end. Remember time and pressure will break anything so apply pressure
The breaker/grozer pliers are used when the piece of glass is to small
for the running pliers. Put the jaws close to the score and pull down
and away like you are opening up the score. Tappng the glass after
scoring is not recommended because this can lead to small fissures in
When you are ready to cut your project pieces, gather all the pieces
that will be cut from the same sheet of glass. The next step can be
done several ways. Some like to glue the manila pattern shapes on the
glass with rubber cement or 2 sided tape. This works good because the
pattern is attached to the glass for grinding. The down side is some
people have trouble cutting against the manila paper. The edge of the
manila can be fuzzy from the shears and when you cut you canít get
close to the edge of the pattern.
When scoring the glass it is better to stand so you can be over the
work and apply an even force. It doesnít matter if you score away from
you or toward you. The glass has no grain like wood so it should cut
the same in any direction.
Cut all the pieces of the same glass at once. Itís a good
idea to arrange all the pieces on the glass to see the most economical
arrangement. Before you glue them on, cut the glass into smaller pieces
because if you glue them all on, chances are your first score will go
off course and you will have to reglue everything. Leave a half inch of
glass around each piece. Score as close to the the pattern as you can
or you will have a lot of grinding to do. After cutting, go to the
grinder and clean the part down to the pattern. Be careful not to grind
the paper. Remove the pattern from the glass and check it against the
An alternative to gluing the pattern pieces on is to lay the pattern on
the glass and trace around it with a sharpie. Remove the pattern and
cut the glass. Be sure to cut on the inside of the line because
remember all the ink showing is off the pattern so your cut piece
should not have any of the line remaining on the glass. The down side
of this method is the pattern is not on the glass when you go to grind.
As soon as your grinder wets the glass, the line washes away. This can
be overcome by rubbing some Vaseline on the sharpie line to waterproof
it before grinding. Be sure to dry the glass before checking it on your
pattern or your pattern will be all wrinkled. I grind all the edges of
the pieces of glass even if they are cut accurately because grinding
removes sharp edges and roughs up the glass so the foil will really
stick. First grind lightly all the way around the piece to dull the
sharp edge, then go back and do any shaping necessary. Check the piece
with your layout pattern and mark the number on the glass. Donít use
the grinder as a crutch. Accurate cutting will save a lot of grinding
time. The grinder should only be to fine tune your parts.
a copper foil panel
After all your glass is cut, the next step is to wrap each piece of
glass with adhesive backed foil tape. The tape is adhesive on one side
and comes in different widths and backings. The width you use
determines how much foil folds over the edge resulting in the width of
the solder line. The same width foil on a thin piece of glass will
result in a wider solder line than that foil on a thick glass because
of the amount of foil left to fold over. 7/32 foil is a good middle of
the road width for most beginners. It works with most thicknesses of
glass. As you get more proficient at foiling you can use a narrower
foil which will give you a finer solder line.
Another difference you will see in foil is the backing. There is foil
with a copper back, a black backing and a silver backing. The purpose
of the backing is to match the face of your solder lines. This is only
a concern when the glass is transparent because you can see through it
and can see the back side of the foil. If you were using clear
textured glass and a copper backed foil, when you applied the solder
you would see the copper colored inside of the foil through the glass.
This would not look as neat as desired and any uneven foiling would be
more apparent. So if using transparent glass you would use silver
backed foil to match the natural silver color of solder. If you were
going to patina the solder black, the you would use a black backed foil
and if you used a copper patina you would use copper backed foil. If
the glass for your project is opalescent (non transparent) then you can
use the less expensive copper backed foil although there have been
cases where some white glass gets a copper tone around the edges from
copper backed foil.
There is no right or wrong way to get the foil on. The important thing
is to get it on evenly on both sides. Itís a good idea to wipe or
wash the glass before foiling to remove dirt and grit from the edges so
the foil will adhere.
Try different methods to see what works for you. There are several
tools to help put foil on and some work better than others. Remember
that whatever the foil line looks like, that is what the solder line
will look like. Since the solder will only stick to the foil, if there
are gaps in the foil, there will be gaps in the solder lines. If the
foil is not straight, the solder line will not be straight. It goes
back to one step being affected by the previous steps. If you are not
careful putting on the foil, you may not be able to correct it when
After you get the foil on the edge, then fold it over each side and
burnish it with your burnisher. You want the foil to adhere to
the glass so when you solder, the flux wonít seep under the foil.
When you have all the pieces of glass foiled, lay them on your layout
sheet and secure with aluminum push pins. Make sure that all the foil
looks good before you continue. You can patch any spots where foil is
missing or split. Use pins to secure any pieces that are too loose. If
there are gaps, spread the glass pieces so you split the space over 2
or 3 lead lines to minimize the appearance of one really large gap.
Heat up your soldering iron and have your solder and flux ready. Itís a
good idea to pour some flux in a small container like a glass ashtray
in case you knock it over. I prefer liquid flux because it runs in
between glass pieces for a good bond.
When your iron is hot enough, brush some flux on 2 or 3 lines. Unroel a
foot or more of solder. Some like to tack solder all the pieces first
to hold everything together. Do this by fluxing the foil and putting
the solder under the iron tip and applying a dab of solder at various
spot. Remember the solder will only stick to foil if the foil has been
fluxed. Remove the solder from the iron first. If you remove the iron
and the your roll of solder will stick to the panel.
Next do what is called a flat solder. This fills in the gaps and coats
the foil. As you solder, you will notice some smoke and gasses
escaping from the solder line. This is normal and why you should have
good ventilation. A small fan blowing sideways will help keep fumes
from rising in your face.
After flat soldering, you want to form a nice, rounded bead. The secret
to a nice bead is two things: a steady hand and the right amount of
solder. Solder is easy to add but hard to remove so add it sparingly.
You can always add more. Knowing the right amount of solder takes
practice but when first starting, it is helpful to do the drop method.
Put the solder under the tip and leave ¼ inch drops
of solder every half inch or so from one intersection to another.
Next run your iron steadily from one intersection to another coming out
at an angle. Lean the tip right on the foil as you melt down the solder
line. Remember you are melting, not brushing. Any sweeping motion or
lifting the tip out of the solder will give you a wave mark in the
solder line. After you have some experience, you can add the solder on
the side of the iron tip as you move down the foil line, touching and
removing the solder from the tip as you need it. You can go back and
remelt any solder line but remember the heat could crack the glass.
Pass thru a solder line 2 or 3 times and move somewhere else until that
area cools. When you feel comfortable with
A big problem is buildup of too much solder at the intersections. This
happens when you add solder from different directions and it converges
at the intersection. You can try removing it by touching the iron to it
and then touching the iron to another spot that needs solder. This will
lift solder off but can be time consuming. Another way is to heat
the solder lump and flick it off with your flux brush but this can be
ugly and splash hot solder on the glass which may crack. The best
way is to only add solder as needed. Usually you will frame your panel
with either lead or zinc channel. The edges of your panel must fit into
the groove of this channel so keep the solder 3/8Ē away from the edge.
Large lumps of solder at the edges of your panel may make it difficult
to get the channel on.
When the entire panel is soldered, carefully turn the panel over. The
panel is very fragile at this point because the glass is only attached
on one side. As you turn it over, donít lean it on one edge and flip.
This can put pressure on any one piece and cause it to hinge. Slide the
panel off the edge of the table and support it underneath while
you turn it over and slide it back on the table. For really large
panels, you may want to put another board on top of the panel and lift
the 3 pieces (bottom work surface, panel and top board) all as one so
the panel is completely supported. Bead the second side. This
will be easier since the gaps between glass pieces was already filled
on the first side.
After the soldering is finished, you can put a frame on the panel. Turn
the panel back to the front. You can frame the panel in zinc, lead,
brass or copper. Mitering the corners can be challenging. Often I cut
the pieces too short. I prefer to cut the two side channels long and
the top and bottom butting against the sides.(see diagram) Pin
the framing on the panel and solder the corner of the frame. Next
attach any solder lines that meet the frame and complete any solder
a lead panel
After all your glass is cut, put your layout pattern on the plywood
surface. You will need frame pieces for the panel. This framing
can be lead or zinc. Typically, you will use ďUĒ shaped lead or zinc
for the frame. It has one channel. Occasionally, I have used ďHĒ lead
for the frame, giving me some lead to trim off if the panel is
oversize. For the inside of the panel, you will join the pieces of
glass with ďHĒ lead which has two channels. Lead comes in different
widths and can be rounded or flat.
Lead needs to be stretched to straighten it and remove the kinks.
Put one end in a vise and pull the other end with a pliers until it is
straight. Donít pull to hard or you will reduce the size of the
Next tack some wood strips or Morton strips along the bottom and left
side of your layout drawing. Cut two strips of your framing material
slightly longer than the layout pattern and secure the against the
bordering strips using horseshoe nails. Insert the first piece of glass
in the border channel and tap lightly with a soft hammer to make
sure it is in the channel. The exposed edge of the glass should not be
over the line on the pattern. If it is, remove and grind to fit and
reinsert in the lead channel. Before you grind any pieces make sure the
glass is all the way in the channel. It may be hung up in one spot on
the channel but since you canít see under the channel, a good way to
check is to draw a line with a sharpie on the glass along the lead
line. Remove the piece of glass and you can see if the glass was evenly
under the lead.
When the first piece of glass is installed and not over the line on the
pattern, surround the remaining edges of the piece with lead. Using the
lead cutters, cut across the lead strip. You will notice one side of
the lead cut is square and the other side is pointed. You can use this
feature for getting a nice tight fit between pieces of lead. Use points
or flats to get tight fits at intersections. Holding the lead over the
glass, mark the length with a pencil and cut with lead cutters. Install
this piece of lead and hold in place with a horseshoe nail. All the
lead strips must butt tightly against adjoining lead. Continue adding
glass pieces and surrounding them with lead strips checking that each
piece of glass doesnĎt go over its pattern line.
After all the glass is positioned cut two perimeter borders and secure
with nails. Trim the first two border pieces. Clean all joints
with steel wool if necessary. Any large gaps can be filled with scrap
Solder lead is much easier than foil. You just have to solder the
joints together. Hold the solder on the joint and touch the iron. A
small amount of solder is enough as long as the seam is covered. Solder
all the joints and wherever the leads touch the perimeter border.
Carefully turn over the panel. It is less stable than a foil panel
before cementing. Solder the other side.
Cementing is necessary to strengthen the panel. Use a cement
specifically made for stained glass. Use your fingers to force
the cement into the channels. This will fill the gaps and when
hardened make a strong panel. Remove excess cement and sprinkle whiting
on the entire panel. As the whiting absorbs moisture from the cement
use a soft brush to clean excess cement. Use something sharp to outline
lead lines without removing cement from under lead channels. Clean the
lead and glass. Following directions on the cement leave the panel lie
flat for 4 or 5 days.
You will need to attach some type of hangers to the panel. These can be
metal rings or commercially available brass hangers. Whatever you use,
make sure you heat the zinc framing enough so the solder sticks to it
and the hanger wonít come of.
After you have gone over all the solder lines and they pass inspection,
wash the panel thoroughly. Use a good liquid dish washing soap or a
commercially prepared flux remover. Dry the panel. If you are applying
a patina, do so now. Itís good to patina the panel right away before
the solder oxidizes. Just brush it on and wash the panel again.
Then apply a stained glass finishing compound and buff to a shiny
finish. Hang it up and admire your work.