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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 need

        Carbide glass cutter  

        Cutting oil

        Grozing pliers

        Running pliers


        Aluminum push pins

        Horseshoe nails

        Foil pattern shears

        Lead pattern shears

        Flux and brush

        Lead cutters or lead knife

        Soldering iron (see discussion below)

        Safety glasses

        Cork backed ruler

        Work surface


     Additional supplies

        Black fine tip Sharpie


        Bench brush

        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.  


Work surface


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.


Resizing your pattern


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 industry standard.


Prepare the pattern


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.


Cutting 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 panel


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.


Cutting glass


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 carefully.


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 the glass.


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 pattern sheet.


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.


Assembling 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 soldering.


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 lines.



Assembling 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 channel.                                                                              

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 lead.


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.