How to Make Stained Glass Windows: Transforming Sunrays

Learn the craft of making stained glass windows in this beginner's guide including a supply list and tips on making designs, cutting glass, and soldering.

| October/November 1992

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    Stained glass artisan William Scudell solders a leaded, stained-glass window.
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    The first rule of good stained-glass design is "keep it simple."

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Waking up to warm sunlight streaming in through your window is one of life's great pleasures. But it's nothing compared to sunlight streaming through stained glass, transforming sunrays into rich and various colors. These days, you can buy an average-size stained-glass window for about $250, not including the installation fee. Or, if you're someone who enjoys making projects with your hands—and you have the time to spare—you can learn how to make stained glass windows of your own for about $75 to $100. The cost will lessen significantly the next time you make one because most supplies must only be purchased once. You will also have the benefit of selecting your own design and color. Below is a checklist of necessary supplies, followed by places that you buy those that are harder to find.

  • one pound of glass in various colors
  • 3/4" plywood
  • fine-point, permanent marking pen
  • glass cutter (stained glass supplier)
  • light oil or turpentine
  • special glass file
  • grozing pliers (stained glass supplier)
  • glass file
  • china marker (grease pencil)
  • 2 quarter-round wooden molding strips or two spare feet of plywood
  • six foot lengths of 3/16" or 1/4" channeled lead strips (cames) in "H" shape and/or "U" shape
  • diagonal cutting pliers (wire cutters)
  • farrier's (horseshoe) nails (stained glass supplier or local equestrian shop)
  • one-pound roll of 50/50 (50 percent tin; 50 percent lead) solid-wire solder (local plumbing supply shop)
  • one small can of paste flux (local plumbing supply shop)
  • small, stiff wire brush
  • 50- to 120-watt soldering iron or soldering gun with a chisel tip (stained glass supplier)
  • small copper loops for hanging
  • glazing compound (hardware stores)
  • knife or ice pick
  • whiting (powdered calcium carbonate or plaster of paris)
  • scrub brush
  • soap and water

Getting Started Making Stained Glass Windows

Find a roomy work area such as a table or bench in your garage or an unused part of the house. A sheet of 3/4" plywood placed across two sawhorses makes an ideal workbench and can be rapidly disassembled if necessary. If there are small children in the family, make a special effort to keep your work area off-limits; broken glass pieces and strips of lead are extremely dangerous to curious kids.

Making Stained Glass Designs

Begin a stained-glass project by making a black-and-white line drawing of the pattern. The design books on the market often use patterns too complex for first efforts; instead, create your own, sticking to simple shapes, straight lines, and gentle curves. Limit the project size by keeping both the length and the width between 10 to 18 inches, and only making 15 to 25 glass pieces at a time.

Drawing your design on graph paper helps keep it square and in proportion, and your pattern shape should comply with the following guidelines: 1) Never draw a "lead line" (one that will hold your shards together) that stops in space. These lines must be connected to other lead lines, 2) Never design a right or acute angle without adding at least one lead line from that apex (ended point) of the angle, and 3) Always divide large pieces of background glass into small shapes, and avoid having tight curves that jut into such shapes.

Upon completing and sketching your design in full size, go over the lead lines with your marking pen. This pen should draw a line about 1/16" wide, just the right size for your "lead allowance" (the space which will be taken up by the leading). It's important to incorporate this allowance into the pattern: If you don't, the glass panel may distort as you place the lead strips between its pieces.

Cutting the Glass

Glass cutting is a simple skill which, for some reason, many people believe is cloaked in mystery. When purchasing a glass cutter, follow the recommendation of a stained-glass supplier, who may let you experiment with a few different types before buying one. A visit to a local commercial glass store or framing shop will usually yield a box of free scrap glass, which is perfect for practice cutting. Just lay a pad of newspapers on your work surface before you start.

10/28/2014 11:50:26 AM

Nice information on “how to make stained glass windows” from plywood. Various creative ideas can be used to turn a simple wooden ply into a decorative one. Thanks.


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