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Learning To Work With Stained Glass

Learn to relax by creating stained glass

As with all forms of art, the beauty of stained glass is defined by the sensations it arouses. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the art of stained glass is its' ultra-versatility. It's durable, yet fragile. It's challenging, yet yielding to the experienced hands of the stained glass artist.

I discovered the art of stained glass some seven years ago when my girlfriend and I decided to take a series of evening classes at a local stained glass retail store. She and I took six classes and I have been hooked on it ever since.

If you're in need of a relaxing way to soothe away the stresses of everyday life, I highly recommend working with stained glass as great way to "download" and at the same time learn and enjoy a new hobby.

It is actually a form of self-meditation. The steps you follow to arrive at your finished work of art will teach you self-discipline, and provide a tremendous sense of artistic achievement. And if you're like me, you simply won't be able to get enough of it! That's when you'll have a desire to expand and start doing projects for others.

But be careful, because once word gets out that you're into stained glass, all of your relatives will be the first to ask you to create something for them. Actually, it isn't so bad at first because they make excellent "test cases" and you'll want to experiment. 

So where do you begin? I suggest visiting your local stained glass retail store. Although not all towns have one (here is a superb business opportunity for you) a quick look in the yellow pages should reveal a location or two. You can also perform an Internet search for local stained glass retailers.

Begin by asking about the availability of classes. Most retailers offer them because it's a good source of increased business for them. The cost of those classes should be relatively low for the same reason. Also check with your local community colleges. My instructor also taught night classes at one. 

Tip: Bring a friend with you. It will double the fun and you'll be able to compare notes.

The class will probably provide you with the basic stained glass beginners kit, which will contain all the tools you'll need to get started. Here is a basic list:

  • A glass cutter - there are a variety of types and you should choose the one that your most comfortable with. I have tried a wide variety myself, but in the end I settled for the basic non-oil filled type.
  • A breaker, which is similar to a pair of pliers. It is used to snap off the glass after it has been scored.
  • A specially designed pair of scissors which is used to cut out your pattern.
  • A quality soldering iron to join the cut pieces of glass together. Expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.
Of course there are other items that you'll need along the way, but they will probably be made available to you during your classes.

These items will include a grinder ,which is used to grind down the excess glass that wasn't removed by the cutting process and to polish off the edges of the cut glass.

This last part is extremely important because of the foiling process that takes place after the glass is ground down. Foiling is a process where copper foil is placed around the edges of the ground stained glass. The foil is sticky on one side which makes it adhere to the glass. The copper foil provides a surface for the solder to adhere too. 

A quick word on foiling: Most of us are familiar with the traditional form of stained glass that is found in churches. These stained glass creations use lead between the glass pieces.

Copper foiling is an excellent alternative to using lead, and is without a doubt the first place a new stained glass student will begin. Only after you have mastered the "foil" should you proceed to the "came". After all, foiling is a much easier process for the beginner. I still prefer foiling over the came method.

There is a bit more to the art of creating stained glass than what I have described up to this point, but the basic steps listed below will give you a basic outline of what to expect:
  1. Plan your design. Will it be for a skylight, a window, or some other work of art? The possibilities are limitless so let your imagination take over.
  2. Sketch out your stained glass design or purchase a pattern from your stained glass retailer.
  3. Using the special scissors mentioned earlier, cut out the individual pieces from your pattern.
  4. Apply the cut pattern pieces to the glass that will need to be cut.
  5. Score and break each piece using the glasscutter.
  6. Grind off the excess glass.
  7. "Foil" each piece of glass.
  8. Solder all of the pieces together.
  9. Clean your work.
  10. Display your stained glass masterpiece!
You'll soon come to recognize your own favorite step in the process of creating stained glass works, and it varies from person to person.

For some, it is in the designing stages which provide the challenge of coming up with your own unique design. For myself, I love the cutting of the glass. There is a final, exciting moment of truth that comes right after you have scored the glass with the glass cutter; this is the part where I always hold my breath.

As you force the stained glass to run (I'll explain that process in another article), you'll start to see the glass crack along the scored line just as you hoped it would. If all goes as planned, the glass breaks just like you had intended. Occasionally it won't, but that's ok. Don't worry, glass is fairly inexpensive and you'll get it right the next time!

About the author:

N. Volpe gained plenty of expertise by designing and crafting stained glass works for family members and friends. You can sample some of his works at www.nfvproducts.com. Click on the Stained Glass Link.

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