So, you know those glass…

So, you know those glass collages I make? I've been frustrated for a while by various aspects of them -- the fact that often the glue used to attach the transparent pages is not as invisible as it claims, for example. It makes it look sloppier to me, less professional. There are other small issues, and it seemed like some of them might be solvable if I were actually soldering the pieces together, rather than just using glue or foil tape. And I've always loved stained glass -- it's one of my favorite art forms, and if any artist can just capture me, make me sit staring at their work for hours, it's Chagall. So finally last week I got up my nerve and started messing around with glass.

Not that I'm actually making stained glass, myself. No, I'm working with clear glass (about $1/pane), bought stained glass ($10/pane), and glass I painted with glass paints (maybe $2/pane, factoring in the cost of the paint and glass). I'm breaking apart the pieces and finding that while it's not so hard to break glass, it's not so easy to get the break precisely correct, every time. (The instruction book, which is pretty good, Zaccaria's Stained Glass Crafting says to allow for 25% wastage, but 50% is a more accurate assessment, at least at this stage of the learning process.) I figured for my first piece, it wasn't so important to be precise, but I found that in fact, it is -- or at least more precise than I was. :-) There are massive gaps in my piece, which I'm sort of able to fill in with solder, but one end is definitely short, and all that solder looks a little goofy. (The coppery parts are the areas that haven't been soldered together yet. If you don't want the soldered bits to look silver, there are varnishes you can buy to brush over the solder, apparently.)

Can you tell what it's supposed to be a picture of? :-)

I've learned a few other things in the process:

a) the soldering iron is not as scary as it looks -- it doesn't get that hot, it turns itself off if you stop pressing the grip, and it's really easy to use

b) cutting the glass isn't as hard or scary as it looks either, although you should definitely wear some kind of protective eyewear, just in case, because occasionally you don't get a clean break, and shards do go flying about a bit

c) the 50 lead/50 tin solder they sell in the art store isn't available at Home Depot, because all plumbing solder needs to be lead-free -- the lead-free solder doesn't pull as easily as the 50/50 stuff, but it's workable if need be, and I suspect it's cheaper. I'll have to compare a bit more

d) brushing with flux really does help the solder adhere to the copper foil tape, especially with the lead-free solder

e) the whole process is rather painstaking and time-consuming (just like bookmaking, actually), and the more careful and anal you are, the better your results will be, dangit

f) it's fairly tiring too -- breaking the glass takes force, and soldering is tiring for me, at any rate. So I do it in small stages

g) it's a whole lot of fun, and I get a real thrill just handling the colored glass

The piece I'm making is half clear, half painted glass, so the materials (including copper foil tape and solder for adhesion) cost maybe $10 total? That's pretty low for art materials, so once you invest in a soldering iron (I can't remember how much that cost, but not too much, I think), it's a reasonable expense/benefit ratio. Using actual stained glass would cost more.

What I'd really love is to eventually learn how to make my own stained glass, but I think that's going to have to wait for a more financially sound time in my life. This will do nicely for now. I'm hoping to make a few more flat pieces for WisCon, and try writing poetry on them in stained glass paint (with a brush, freehand, eep!) -- if that works, I might even go on to trying a box or a Tiffany-style lampshade. If my energy and enthusiasm hold out, that is. :-)

5 thoughts on “So, you know those glass…”

  1. I just finished soldering the front of that piece, so there’s some time info too — right now, soldering a 8×10 takes me about an hour. Not bad, and I imagine I’ll get faster. Of course, I still have to do the sides and the back.

  2. This is something I’ve done a bit, but any useful advice I could pass to you, you have already mostly figured out on your own 🙂 Yes, the lead-free solder you get at Home Depot or the like is generally going to be MUCH cheaper (and buyable in larger quantities, unless your art/craft store is really good) than what you get at the art store. And yes, flux really is a necessity. But too much flux is as bad as not enough. Took me a while to get the quantities right. Just a thin brush layer is all.

    How are you scoring glass? I used a large METAL ruler as the guide for my scores and found I got a lot more clean breaks. The other thing you want sometimes, apart from the eye protection, is a glove or cloth for your snapping hand because if you’re grasping glass at the edge, sometimes the edge slices your hand whether you think it will or not. But I bet you figured that out too!

    Two tricks I stole from my jewelry-making class: if you can find sandpaper or a grinding stone in the proper grit for grinding glass, you will be able to soften any cutting mistakes without needing a bench grinder, so long as they’re not too big. You can take an entire edge down by several millimeters by hand if you have the right grinding medium. The other thing I learned is that Liquid Paper stops small amounts of solder from flowing past it. (My jewelry teacher: “What’s so magic about LP? Nothing. It’s dirt, from the solder’s point of view. This is why I tell you to clean your metal before soldering. Solder just doesn’t work on dirt. It just happens to be dirt that you can put exactly where you want it.”)

    Lastly, I deduce from the picture that you are using tempered glass (window glass), which is okay as long as you’re not trying to melt/blow glass. But it does not act the same way as most stained glass or any non-tempered glass; it doesn’t expand or contract or melt the same way. Just so you know to be alert.

    Looks like a lot of fun! I need to get back into that. I have a whole workshop I’m not using nearly enough because I can’t think of anything to DO with it.

  3. I’ve figured out some other things — that I don’t need as much solder as I thought I did — I’m getting the hang of the whole ‘pulling the solder’ thing. It’s fun working with molten stuff. 🙂

    I haven’t tried using a guide for scoring — I was just doing it freehand. I’ll do have a metal ruler, so I’ll try that next time. I have a pair of nippers which help a lot with breaking the smaller glass pieces evenly. I do think I’ll go back and pick up a grindstone — they showed me one at the art store, but it was $10, and I wasn’t sure I needed it. So now I know.

    Good tip re: white out — though I’m not sure it’s relevant to stained glass-making? The solder doesn’t stick to the glass, so it’s only able to attach to the parts it’s supposed to, no?

  4. Well, I only thought of it if there are parts of the copper you don’t want solder going, but now that I consider it, it’s not so useful to you. Ah well.

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