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 ┬áthe 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.