Soft, coloured light filtered through a stained glass window can illuminate any hallway or room and turn it into a sunny afternoon paradise.
People have been using stained glass for centuries – in churches, homes, and greenhouses – and it’s still used today thanks to its ethereal beauty and ability to display complex geometrical patterns or paint marvellous murals.
Getting a pre-fit, ready-made stained glass window can range from a bit pricy to exorbitantly expensive, but luckily they’re not all that tricky to do it yourself. All you’ll need is some workable glass (of course), some common work tools, a glass cutter, and a bit of chutzpah.
So get your crafting gear on, find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed and kids won’t be running around, and let’s get creating!
STEP ONE: PICK A PATTERN
You might think we’re getting ahead of ourselves already by jumping straight into the pattern, but the first step is figuring out precisely what you want to do.
We strongly recommend trying out a few beginners patterns before you try designing anything major that’s going to stand in your house.
Getting a feel for what you precisely want out of your DIY is important, and thinking about it this early on means you’re not going to be likely to overstep your skill (Art Glass can be tricky initially).
Remember that colour patterns are just a guideline. If you want to learn some basics on how to pick out your own colours, check out a colour theory tutorial, or take some inspiration from other works (or nature).
STEP TWO: TOOLS OF THE TRADE
If you have your goals set out, it’s time to get some equipment. You can get these items from a hardware or craft store. You’ll need:
- Enough stained glass for your pattern (of course!) Glass comes in tons of different styles and forms, so keep looking until you find the style perfect for you and your home’s decor.
- A glass cutter:
- Hand cutters are great for templates, as they’re extremely accurate.
- Pistol grip cutters are used for thick glass, and can also double as a helper for people who have a hard time cutting manually.
- Pencil cutters are all about consistency, and are another good choice for a beginner as they’re unlikely to go all wonky.
- Some pliers:
- Grozer pliers are used for breaking bits of unneeded glass off.
- Running pliers are for snipping longer pieces alongside.
- A soldering iron (and some solder).
- A grinder or stone capable of grinding.
- Copper foil to hold the glass in one piece against the surface.
STEP THREE: CONTEMPLATE TEMPLATE
Decided on a template? Great. Here’s what to do from there:
- Print it to the correct size,
- Label and cut out each of the different parts of different colours,
- Place these under your base glass sheets.
- Trace over the design onto the glass directly with a texta, and
- Be sure to mark with different codes for each colour so that nothing goes in the wrong spot!
Leave a little bit of room for the copper foil, since it’ll be going between pieces. This should be just under a centimetre for most projects.
STEP FOUR: GET CUTTING!
Get your glass cutter handy, and position it so that the ‘wheel’ is directly over where you’re cutting or you might risk starting at the wrong spot. If you’re using textured glass, remember to do this on the smooth side.
Start from the outside edge (this is pretty important, since it’s going to break) along the line that you want, scoring firmly enough that it’ll snap neatly when the time comes.
Once you have a piece cordoned off, you’re ready to snap. Either put your specialty pliers in the gap and squeeze with increasing pressure until it snaps, or (assuming you’ve scored correctly) snap it gently with your hands.
Do this for all of your lines. For straight lines, place a ruler alongside it (preferably one with a soft cork backing, but you can place something underneath the ruler too if you don’t have one).
STEP FIVE: GET GRINDING!
You should now have your glass pieces of various colours and shapes all cut out.
Get your grinder and a fresh copy of your template out. Before grinding, place each piece up to the template to get a feel for how much you need to adjust it for fit.
Clean up all edges and unsightly jagged bits. You’re most of the way there now!
STEP SIX: FOILED!
This bit takes a while, and it can be a little tricky to do. The results are worth it, though!
Take some of your copper foil and take off its adhesive backing. Adhere the sticky side firmly (making sure that there’s no bubbles and that it’s securely attached) onto the edge of the cut class.
Make sure to do this as neatly as possible; significant overlap or deviating from the edge will bunch it up, and you’ll be able to see the foil once you’re finished.
STEP SEVEN: SOLDER ON
Using your template, place your piece where they’ll be on the final product. Now get out your soldering iron and solder.
Apply a consistent amount of soldier (it doesn’t have to be much) to the top of every corner where copper foil meets another piece. This is called tacking, and it grips the pieces together enough for the next step.
Now it’s time to fill the seams. Apply a larger amount of solder (we’ll clear it up later) to the top of the copper foil across all of the seams, effectively soldering them together on top with lead lines. Do this for both sides of the glass for more structural integrity (be careful, both of hot solder and your project falling apart!).
If you’re not getting a completely smooth bead, just go over it again with the iron, smoothing it out properly.
Finally, tint the outer edges of your work with a coat of solder even though they don’t join to any others on that edge.
STEP EIGHT: TOUCH UPS
You’re now technically done, but you can still do a couple more things to help it out.
Solder on a hook if you want to hang up your piece. You can do this by soldering a few loops of your copper wire if you’d like.
You can also solder on a new layer around your piece in the form of zinc\lead framing, which will allow you to display it with a little more certainty and give it a strong outline.
It’s also a good idea to clear up any solder left over, and scrub your glass for any dust with a glass cleaner.
After that, voila! Your piece is complete. Hang it as you see fit, you proud glassmaker you.