Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What stained Glass is - and isn't

I find that about half of the people I tell about my stained glass hobby have no idea the amount of work that is involved.  I admit I get a little defensive about it.

Stained glass art is not buying a plastic kit at Walmart and painting it like a paint-by-numbers kit.  Stained glass art is not buying pre-cut pieces and soldering or gluing them together.

For me, creating stained glass art is a 8 step process.
  1. Create a design.  I use Glass Eye to create a stained glass design from a photograph or my imagination.
  2. Choose the glass.  Glass comes in sheets, with really sharp edges, in a myriad of colors and patterns. The wrong glass can ruin a design.  The right glass can elevate a simple design to exquisite heights. 
  3. Cut the glass.  Cutting glass out of a sheet is not like cutting patterns out of cloth.  There is a lot of glass waste when cutting pieces without straight edges. Truthfully, glass isn't cut.  It is scored, then carefully broken.
  4. Foil or lead the glass edges.  Glass is connected by either edging the pieces with copper foil and running a line of solder along that edge.  Or it is wrapped in lead came with channels that hold two pieces of glass.  Only the ends of the lead need to be soldered. 
  5. Solder.  Either solder wherever the lead came meets, or solder the entire length of the foil. Chemical flux is applied to the foil or came to permit the solder to adhere.Both sides of the project have to be soldered.
  6. Putty.  If lead came has been used, the entire length of the lead needs to be filled in with glass putty so the glass won't shift.  I generally use zinc came for the frame and that needs to be puttied.  The putty is pretty greasy, so powdered whiting is rubbed over the glass to remove the grease.
  7. Patina.  Solder in its natural form is silver.  Most commonly, people think of black lines in stained glass.  This is achieved with a chemical patina.  A different chemical composition is required for lead came or solder, and zinc came.  There are also bronze and copper patinas.  
  8. Polish.  I like to apply a coating of wax on the glass.  It goes on liquid and dries to a sheen like car wax.  This emphasizes the sheen of the glass, highlights the solder, and cleans any excess patina or flux from the glass.
It takes many, many hours to complete a glass panel.  For me, the way a glass panel changes color in different lighting makes it worth all the effort.

Step by step photos of one glass panel I created.  
Projects I've created

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