Working in Stained Glass: Part 3 – Soldering

Other than grinding the glass pieces, soldering is the messiest part of working in stained glass. Soldering involves both chemicals and high temperatures, so I have a separate part of my workbench dedicated to this part of the process.
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Because of the fumes that are released during soldering, I have a fan that sucks the fumes away from my workbench and vents them outside. That’s the silver tube in the upper part of the photo.

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The first step when I’m soldering is to apply a chemical flux to the copper foil. This causes a chemical reaction that allows the solder to bond to the foil and spread smoothly along the seams.

I use a 100 watt Weller soldering iron, which is a fairly standard iron that a lot of stained glass artists use. Working with lead-free solder, I’ve found that using a high temperature tip makes a big difference. I use an 800 degree tip, which is more than twice as hot as your standard oven temperature!

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The first thing I do when I’m soldering is to tack solder the pieces together to make sure they fit properly. That way, if I do need to recut or regrind a piece, I won’t have to completely undo all my soldering, which generally means taking off all the foil and starting over.

In the upper left, is the brass sponge that I use to clean my soldering iron tip as I’m soldering. Because of the high heat, soldering irons tend to build up a layer of black gunk (dirt and impurities that burn up during the process) that need to be cleaned off regularly. Using water and a regular sponge is often recommended for cleaning iron tips, but I found the water to be quite damaging, switching to the brass sponge has made a huge difference.

Photo 11The final soldering step is to finish all the seams and coat all the copper foil with solder. I want my seams to look as smooth as possible, so usually spend some extra time to smooth out the solder.

The final step to complete the piece is to clean it. Cleaning is probably the most important step to ensure that the seams of the piece look as good as possible. I use a 3 step process for cleaning, first I wash all the seams with a mixture of ammonia and water. Secondly, I rinse off the ammonia using dish soap and water and finally, I polish the seams using a clear car wax.


Just like that, they are all shined up and ready to go!

Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.



Working in Stained Glass – Part 2: Grinding and Foiling

This is my second post on the process of working in stained glass. Click here to read Part 1.

Once all the glass pieces have been cut, I use a grinder to smooth out the edges and correct any minor cutting errors. A glass grinder has a bit that is coated in diamond dust and a water reservoir that keeps the bit and glass from getting hot. Grinding is very, very messy as little pieces of glass get everywhere and it’s probably my least favorite part of the process.


Once all the edges are ground, I rinse the glass to get rid of any bits of glass or felt pen marks and then it’s time to foil the pieces. All of my stained glass pieces are made using the copper foil technique. This technique, which was made popular by Louis Comfort Tiffany, uses pieces of very thin copper tape to cover the edges of each pieces of glass. The copper tape that I use has an adhesive on the back, in Tiffany’s time, they used beeswax to attach the copper to the glass.


Copper foil comes in a variety of widths. I use 1/4″ wide foil for most pieces and 1/2″ for pieces where I am plating two pieces of glass together. Once the foil has been wrapped around the edge of the pieces of glass, I burnish the foil so that there are no air pockets and that the foil is well adhered to the glass.

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The copper foil acts as an interface between the glass and the solder (which we will get to in Part 3) and gives the solder a substrate to stick to. Next step: soldering the pieces together!

Working in Stained Glass – Part 1: Cutting Glass


I often get questions about working in glass. This is the first part of a more in-depth look at the steps that go into creating a stained glass project.

When I purchase my glass it comes in large sheets, like the ones pictured on the left, which are 2 feet (60 cm) square. Glass can come in sheets up to 4 feet by 8 feet, but that’s generally too large for me to handle. Even with the 2 foot square pieces, the first thing I usually do is cut them down to 1 foot (30 cm) square pieces for easier handling. Almost all the glass I use is made by Spectrum Glass, which I love because  the colors are beautiful even when the glass isn’t held directly to the light.1editIMG_4212


Because I tend to create smaller pieces, I prefer to work on multiple projects at once, so I will cut the pieces for 20-40 projects at once. I usually will pull out all the colors that I want to use so that I can cut as efficiently as possible.



Cutting glass is actually a misnomer. “Cutting” glass actually involves scoring the glass with a carbide cutter and then breaking the glass along the scored line. I use a glass cutter that has a built-in reservoir that can hold a lubricant. This means that the carbide cutting wheel lasts much, much longer than an ordinary cutter.


My glass cutter is the yellow tool in the above photo. I use the pliers to break the glass after I’ve scored it, by tapping along the score line and then snapping the glass with my pliers. Some stained glass artists use a light table to draw their patterns onto the glass, but I’ve always preferred to trace a paper pattern onto the glass, partly because I feel that it gives me more control and partly because I use a number of opaque glasses that wouldn’t work on a light table. Many of the items I make involve straight lines, so I have lots of rulers. The brush keeps my work top free of glass splinters which can scratch the glass (and cut me!).


As I’m cutting, I stack up the different pieces for the different projects into the appropriate piles to await grinding, which is the next step in the process.


I save any leftover pieces that are large enough for other projects.


Pieces that are too small to be reused go into my throw-away bin, although I generally have been able to give them away to people who are doing mosaics.

Part 2 of this series will talk about grinding glass, which is the next step in the process of creating a stained glass project.


Christmas Contest

Enter to win this stained glass pyramid paperweight, including free shipping to anywhere in North America.


To enter, visit my Pinterest page and look for the 12 Days of Christmas boards. Enter your name, email and a theme from one of the boards into this entry form:

You may enter once for each Pinterest Board theme so be sure to visit my Pinterest page regularly between now and December 10 as new Christmas boards featuring DIY craft ideas, recipes, Christmas adventures and gift ideas will be added regularly. Contest draw date is December 10. No purchase required to enter.





One Week to Go – Craft Fair Checklist

There’s a just one week to go until the first craft market of the season – eekkk! I’ve made as many items as I’m going to, now it’s a matter of figuring out what else I need to bring. To that end, here’s my craft fair checklist:

  • Display items – table display (be sure to bring ALL the pieces), shop sign, backdrop and frame, tabletop display racks, tablecloth, lights, extension cords, power bars
  • Sale supplies – cash float (I usually bring $200 in small bills), receipt book, extra price tags, business cards, inventory list, calculator
  • Packing supplies – bags, tissue paper, tape, pens, extra ribbon
  • Cleaning supplies (for both my items and to keep my display clean) – lint roller, glass cleaner, polishing cloth
  • Tools (for making small repairs) – pliers, scissors, wire, screwdriver, duct tape

That’s a long list – now I just have to find everything and get it packed up and ready to go!

For anyone in the Nanaimo area, please stop by the Etsy Made in Canada Market at the Nanaimo Museum from 4-9 pm on Saturday, September 27. There will be appetizers, gift bags for the first 50 visitors and more than 40 amazing vendors. Admission is free!


Design through Completion

I’ve been getting ready to go away this week, as a result I’ve been neglecting this blog. One of the things we’ll be doing on our trip is installing an interior window in my parents’ new house.

I don’t really enjoy making windows (which might be a topic for a future blog) and in fact, I had sworn I would never do another one when my mom asked me to design this one.

Every project starts with a design. Usually, I do my designs by hand, but because this was a geometric pattern, I used photoshop to create perfectly round circles and nice straight lines. mom window design 1V2

Once I have a design, I make two copies of the template, one at life size and a smaller reference pattern. I cut out each piece of the life size template and use that to trace the design onto the appropriate color glass. Some stained glass artists use a light box for this step instead but I’ve always preferred the tracing method.

Once I’ve cut and ground the edges of each piece, I foil them with sticky copper foil. Here are the two end panels (there are three panels in this design) along with my reference pattern.  Each piece in the reference pattern is labelled with a number that corresponds to the type of glass that will be used. I write the pattern number on each piece of glass as well so that they don’t get muddled. Because I couldn’t get all the glass colors I wanted, I had to make some substitutions from the original design – the blue circle on the right was originally supposed to be green.1editIMG_6179


Once all the pieces are foiled and I’m confident that the piece is square and the measurements are right (a challenge when you’re 1000 km from the window in question), I begin to solder the pieces together. I start by tack soldering every corner where three or more pieces meet.



Once I’ve finished with the soldering, the piece gets a good cleaning, first with ammonia, then dish detergent and finally with a spray on car polish.



Here is the final piece, ready to be installed. I will find out in a few days if I measured correctly and if it actually fits into the window that it’s supposed to. Wish me luck!