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Stained Glass As a Hobby

Updated on November 11, 2013

Is Stained Glass an expensive hobby?

Like many crafts or businessess you will probably find that people who are actively engaged in it will have a workshop full of tools and equipment and in the case of stained glass, whole shelves of glass waiting to be turned into exquisite works of art. But if you ask them you will find that many if not most of them started with next to no equipment. Maybe they were on a tight budget and most of us can sympathise with that. Or perhaps they weren’t even aware of all the marvellous tools and gadgets that were available to help in producing stained glass panels or windows, because they were self taught and managed as best they could with limited knowledge. I’m positive you will find stained glass craftsmen/women or artists that started in their business or hobby when many of today’s tools and gadgets were simply not even heard of. They’ll probably also tell you that you still don’t need most of them.

My first stained glass soldering tools
My first stained glass soldering tools

Stained Glass and Lead Came.

So what do you need to start with stained glass as a hobby? First thing would be glass right? Well not necessarily, first you should be aware of the two main types of “stained glass”. The oldest and traditional method of turning stained glass into windows or panels or lampshades is by using lead came, hence the term leaded windows or leaded lights. Lead came is a channel made of lead, not surprisingly. It may have an open channel on both sides into which glass pieces can be inserted or it may have a channel only on one side so this sort of lead came will be used to form edges or borders to your window or panel. The lead came has to be cut to size and then once laid out on the work bench, with all the glass and lead strips in place the lead pieces are soldered together to hold everything in place.

Copper Foil

Copper foil or the “Tiffany method” as it is sometimes known is the other method used to make objects with stained glass. Narrow strips of thin copper foil are used to wrap the edges of the glass pieces for this reason one side of the copper foil is coated with glue. The foil is then rubbed down hard onto the glass “burnished”. All the pieces are laid out on the pattern atop the workbench and as with the lead came, soldered together. Unlike with lead cane not just the joints are soldered but the whole of the copper foil which is visible is soldered to give the piece sufficient strength.

Minimum tool requirements.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Leaded windows or panels can be much larger than copper foil before the need extra reinforcing. Copper foil enables one to make smaller more delicate pieces such as jewellery boxes, kaleidoscopes or Tiffany lampshades.

For both methods the minimum tools required are a quality glass cutter and a soldering iron which is designed for the job, not the sort used for electrical repairs. A diamond file or carborundum stone is invaluable to smooth the edges of the cut pieces of glass and remove the small “blades” which are dangerously sharp. Fancy electric grinders can come later. You will obviously have to find a stained glass supplier for your glass and equipment, if there is one near where you live you can buy quite small pieces of glass even off cuts while you are still learning. As you can see from the picture above I started with an old copper soldering iron which I found in the shed when we moved house and a blow lamp to heat it. As they say, where there's a will there's a way.

If you're still worried about things like the cost of stained glass, and learning to cut it (some of it is a little tricky)  you could maybe try making a terrarium, using horticultural glass (for greenhouse) It's often quite low in price.

Have a go.

If you have ever thought about stained glass as a hobby and been put off, think again. It needn’t be expensive and who knows, you may love it. If you don't feel up to the whole deal of cutting stained glass to patterns and so on, you could try starting with some ready cut stained glass kits. You may also find you're really good at it, if so you may be able to sell some of your work. At least you’ll have some very special gifts to give to your friends and family.


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