by JO FROHBIETER MUELLER
Making stained, leaded glass items is a snap ... and
selling them is even easier. I know because, until six
months ago, my husband and I had never even touched a piece
of stained glass. And now ... now we have thirteen windows,
several lamps, an assortment of suncatchers, and many other
items to our credit. And, even when we quote "uptown"
prices for our "out in the sticks" work, Wayne and I are
amazed at the number of folks who seem eager to purchase
our stained glass handiwork.
WE GOT INTO THE CRAFT BY ACCIDENT
Actually, we never intended to make this a full or even a
part-time business (we still don't), since my husband and I
are both employed and we both already have far too many
homestead, gardening, writing, and other projects started
as it is. Like so many others (as we've since learned), all
we really wanted to do a half year ago was buy a
stained glass window for our home.
But that was easier said than done. No matter how hard we
looked, we couldn't seem to find a single available stained
glass window. "Aha! " we told each other, "We'll run an ad
in the newspaper. That'll turn up something." So we took
out the ad ... and drew a complete blank. Not a single soul
"Well, to heck with buying a window, then," we
said. "We'll just get a stained glass how-to book and
make our own."
And, as we soon proved to our own surprise, that was almost
easier done than said. The following brief rundown of what
we now know about making and selling stained glass work is
certainly not an exhaustive treatise on the subject. But it
is more than enough information to get you started in the
TYPES AND SOURCES OF GLASS
Some stained glass pieces are assembled from stock that is
cut to shape, while others are formed from unfaceted glass
nuggets formed somewhat like drop cookies (that is, with
rounded surfaces and flat bottoms). The slight curvature of
the glass in these globs causes light to reflect, making
the drops particularly useful in suncatchers (small,
decorative, multi-colored designs that are hung up in
windows). These large glass "beads" can be bought at craft
stores ... but I've found that their prices can range all
the way from lit for the 1/20 and 3/4" nuggets (50 for the
1-1/2" size) to 30c for a single globule. It pays to shop
Although large sheets of colored glass cost a bundle,
smaller chunks-which work fine for most projects-can be
bought from stained glass companies or art glass studios
for a nominal sum. These sources usually sell broken glass
by the pound and allow you to dig through their scrap pile
to find the best pieces ... remember, though, to wear
leather gloves while you rummage in the heap so you won't
Colored glass is scored with a Fletcher No. 6 or 7 glass
cutter, your basic working tool ... which costs only about
Besides the cutter, you'll need an inexpensive soldering
iron and one or two pairs of pliers. A 40- to 80-watt iron
works best. If you happen to have one with a higher
wattage, however, you can use it if you either unplug the
utensil when it gets too hot, or put a rheostat in the line
to control its temperature. As a last resort, you could
even get by with a woodburning iron, but this requires a
finer solder than is normally used.
SOLDER AND FLUX
When you go out to buy solder, pick up the 60/40 type ...
which means 60% tin and 40% lead. This combination of
metals melts quickly, yet produces a strong bond. (50/50
will be your second choice when the first is unavailable.)
A one-pound spool will get you started, and should cost
While you're at the hardware store, purchase a four-ounce
bottle of liquid flux (about $1.50), too. It is
absolutely essential that you brush this fluid onto the
lead that you'll be mounting your pieces of glass in just
before you solder each joint (otherwise the solder
won't adhere properly). There are several kinds of flux,
but you should buy either oleic acid or zinc and ammonium
The only other supply you'll need is lead came, which comes
in various sizes and shapes and which is used to surround
the edges of each piece of glass-with the lead joints
soldered together-as the assembly grows.
Since your beginning stained glass pieces will probably be
rather small, the first came you buy should be no larger
than 1/8" . . . preferably 3/32" (which is easier to handle
and looks especially good on the smaller items).
Wherever you buy your supplies of glass, ask for a six-foot
length (about $1.00) each of 1/8- or 3/16-inch "H"- and
1/8- or 3/16-inch "U"-shape channeled lead came and the
dealer will know exactly what you mean. The "H"-shaped
strip is used as a common border whenever two pieces of
glass are butted together, and the "U" channel will be run
around the outer edges of the whole project (Fig. 1).
HOW TO CUT GLASS
There was a short but very complete article on cutting
glass in MOTHER NO. 38 (see pages 9495). Get the issue and
look it up. In the meantime, here are some additional tips.
Before you begin, lay a piece of heavy cloth (I use a hunk
of old velvet) on your worktable to cushion the glass and
catch any splinters that might scatter. Then hold the
cutter between your first and second fingers with your
thumb positioned along its back (Fig. 2).
Now press down against the glass (not too hard)
and pull the tool toward your body without hesitation.
Don't hunch down over the table because this tends to
inhibit the natural flow of movement that you'll need when
you cut. As the little wheel rolls toward you, you'll hear
a crackle-like sound.
Never, never, never, go back over the cut line
since it will damage your tool and chip the glass. Instead,
immediately after the glass is scored, hold it on
either side of the cut line (use pliers to grip the glass
if it's too small to hold with your fingers) or position
the scored mark along the edge of the table ... and snap
the glass in two. You'd be wise to practice on an old
window pane or other expendable piece of glass, and
graduate to colored stock only after you learn to cut and
break with precision.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Now you're ready to tackle a real project. Set up your
worktable (I usually put mine in front of the fireplace
where the stained glass picks up the dancing light of the
blaze) and sketch out a pattern (maybe something simple but
fun like the apple, bug, or pea pod suncatchers shown in
one of the accompanying photos).
Once it's drawn, transfer a carbon copy of the design onto
either poster board or heavy paper and cut out the
individual segments. Next, fill the sections of the outline
with cut glass or selected glass nuggets, and wrap each
piece in lead came. (The came can be snipped to size with
ordinary scissors ... and remember to use the "H" shape on
glass that abuts, and the "U" channel around the outer
edges of the design.)
Now brush flux onto the lead at each joint, and solder. A
little practice and patience will reveal how much solder to
use and how hot the iron should be. You'll find that
sometimes a third hand is just what you need to hold
several pieces of glass in position at once as you solder
... and a little modeling clay- strategically placed-will
do that job just fine. Finally, if the object is a
suncatcher that will be suspended in a window, add a tiny
hanger wire through the lead.
Forget "cute" gimmicky designs if you're thinking of
marketing your work. They get "stale" and "wear out" too
fast. Instead, study the qualities of the glass you work
with before jumping into a project ... and then try to use
those qualities to project a timeless beauty. When you can
do that, I guarantee you'll have more buyers
clamoring for your work than you'll know what to do with!
SELL WHAT YOU MAKE!
You'll be surprised to learn how much money a stained glass
article can bring. For example, a cluster of grapes that
you've assembled for about 35c will easily bring $6.95 in a
But why split the profit? If you live anywhere near
civilization, put out a sign and sell right from your home.
Make the house feel warm and inviting by keeping something
"country" (maybe spiced applesauce or vegetable soup)
brewing on the stove ... and offer your potential customers
a cup of herb tea. Folks are always more inclined to make a
purchase after they've relaxed for a few minutes and
chatted with the "artist" (that's you! ).
And if you're off the beaten path? Try asking a grocer and
other business people in town if you can hang a sign with a
map to your place in their store windows. Offer the
shopkeepers a couple of free stained glass items to go over
the announcements (they'll love 'em ... and the suncatchers
will make your sign just that much more effective), and you
should have little trouble placing the notices.
AND DON'T SELL "CHEAP"!
By now you know that it takes fine taste and artistry to
produce attractive stained glass work ... so don't sell
your items "cheap"! There's definitely a lively demand for
this craft and you're entitled to both a designer's and a
manufacturer's profit (maybe even a retailer's one too!)
when you create attractive stained glass items.
So go after those profits! And then plow all the first ones
right back into more supplies and all the advertising
(which, of course, stresses the handcrafted nature
of your work) you can afford. It won't hurt, either, to
give your stained glass works a name that's so ab solutely
"catchy" - - . that city people (who love to make such
"discoveries") will just have to drive out and
START SMALL, GROW BIG
Limit yourself, in the very beginning, to attractive
suncatchers and other small items that you can turn out on
a regular bread-and-butter basis while you sharpen your
stained glass skills. Then, as you develop more expertise,
you can experiment with windows, ornate lamps, and other
bigger projects. And beware: Once you've mastered the
latter, your customers will start asking for "made to
order" and "custom" objects of all kinds (which, if I have
to tell you, is where the really important money
is in most artistic fields),
A word of caution, however: Don't even pick up that first
piece of colored glass unless you have some extra time on
your hands. Because once you've tried this craft, the odds
are good that you're gonna be hooked for a long, long time
... as my husband and I have found out. See, about six
months ago, we decided we'd like to have a stained glass
window, so ....
If you'd like to learn more about working with stained
glass, check out these references:
1. Stained Glass Crafting by Paul W. Wood
(Sterling, 1971). Large paperback. $4.95
2. How to Work in Stained Glass by Anita &
Seymour Isenberg (Chilton, 1972). Paperback. $5.95
3. Stained Glass Lamps and Terrariums by Luciano
(Hidden House, 1973). Paperback. $4.95
4. Stained Glass Craft by J.A.F. Divine & G.
Blachford (Dover, 1972). Paperback. $1.50
5. Stained Glass Pattern Book: 88 Designs for
Workable Projects by Ed Sibbett, Jr. (Dover, 1976).
Large paperback. $2.00
6. Art Nouveau Stained Glass Coloring Book by Ed
Sibbett, Jr. (Dover, 1977). Large paperback. $2.00
The above books are available from large bookstores and
Nos. 4, 5, and 6 can be ordered from Mother's Bookshelf,
P.O. Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28739. (Please remember
to enclose an additional 75c for postage and handling when
ordering books by mail.)
For the best all around selection of stained glass
materials that I've yet found, request a free catalog from:
Whittemore and Durgin Glass Co.
Hanover, Mass, 02339