Learn how to make stained glass for profit, includes types and sources of glass, basic tools, solder and lead and how to cut glass.
How to make stained glass for profit from stained glass art projects.
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.
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 answered.
"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 craft.
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 little for the 1/20 and 3/4 inch nuggets (50 for the 1-1/2 inch size) to 30¢ for a single globule. It pays to shop around!
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 cut yourself.
Colored glass is scored with a Fletcher No. 6 or 7 glass cutter, your basic working tool . . . which costs only about $1.10!
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.
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 around $5.00.
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 chloride.
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 inch . . . preferably 3/32 inch (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.
There was a short but very complete article on cutting glass in MOTHER NO. 38 (see pages 94-95). 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.
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.
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 apple, bug, or pea pod suncatchers.
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!
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 craft shop!
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.
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 absolutely "catchy" that city people (who love to make such "discoveries") will just have to drive out and browse around.
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 75¢ 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, Massachusetts, 02339.
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