There are two methods for assembling stained glass; lead came and copper foil. The steps for design layout and glass cutting are basically the same. The major difference between the two methods is found in the assembly. The copper foil technique is perfect for beginners as it is easier to get started with and will work with most stained glass projects.
Lead came requires fitting the glass pieces into lead channels called cames, which is then soldered at the joints and cemented. The thick came makes it a sturdier choice for large panels and windows but also requires additional effort.
With copper foil or Tiffany method, the edges of each piece of glass are wrapped in foil then soldered together. The thinness and flexibility of foil is ideal for 3-dimensional pieces, intricate and detailed designs. The method of copper foil stained glass soldering is much easier master and quicker to learn.
It is important to note that the glass pieces must be cut accurately so they fit together very tightly to ensure a strong solder joint. Let’s get to the technique.
Copper Foil Stained Glass Technique
The process of foiling stained glass usually begins after you have made all of your cuts. If you are wondering, making all of your cuts first before foiling or one at a time is certainly a preference but in the end, I think it ultimately saves time and allows you to work through your project in steps. Working through the steps will minimize any errors and having to go back to correct mistakes.
I won’t go into much detail on exactly how to solder as I assume you are already capable if not, you can jump over to this guide to soldering stained glass or refer to it later. That said, I will detail how to solder copper foiled tape to assemble the pieces together.
Step 1: Pre-Assemble the Pattern
After you have made all of the cuts for your pattern it is a good idea to assemble stained glass pieces into the pattern you have chosen to ensure a good fit between each piece. If any of the edges between pieces aren’t fitting together nicely or there is too much space between the pieces you will need to correct this.
Ideally, you do not want any gaps and if there are they should be minimal. Gaps can compromise the strength of the solder joint as well as use more solder than necessary since you will have to fill the gap with solder to connect the two pieces. Another method is to use something like a reinforcement strip.
After you have pre-assembled the pieces to check for fit, you may want to wash the individual glass pieces of your design after they have been cut as well as any irregularities have been ground smooth. You can always skip this step if you feel the pieces aren’t dirty with dust and oil. Another tip is to just wipe the edges with a cloth and rubbing alcohol.
Step 2: Wash the Glass Pieces
To wash the pieces, fill a small basin with water with a couple tablespoons of ammonia then dip the pieces in the solution. After a quick dunk, dry them thoroughly with a clean lint-free towel. Be sure to clean all edges and surfaces of each piece. Be sure to dry the glass completely before moving on.
Step 3: Apply the Foil to the Glass and Burnish It
There are two techniques to foiling stained glass. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately you can choose the method that suits you best. Essentially your options are by hand or with the aid of a foiling machine.
Technique 1: Hand Foiling Stained Glass
Before you get started you can decide to either work with the foiled directly from the roll or cut pre-measured strips to apply to the glass pieces. From there, follow the step-by-step below.
- Start by peeling back a section of the paper to expose the adhesive on the copper foil. Hold the foil strip in your dominant hand and the glass piece in the other.
- Now you can start by attaching the copper foil making sure the glass is centered onto the foil. There should be an equal amount of foil on each side of the glass.
- Holding the glass so you can look down the edge allowing a view of each side of the piece as well as the amount of foil on either side, slowly work the foil onto the edges pulling additional paper backing off as you need.
- After you have wrapped the entire perimeter of the piece, press the foil down firmly onto the glass edges using the fid tool. Next fold the foil down the sides of the glass taking care on curves as they can cause the foil to split. Repeat the burnishing process on the sides.
- Continue the process until all pieces are wrapped in the foil and you have crimped the foil around the glass and firmly pressed the foil on the glass using a fid tool.
This process is obviously more laborious than the foiling machines but with practice, you can become quite efficient. Since you are working directly with the glass pieces sliding along sharp edges, care should be taken don’t cut yourself. When attaching the foil you can use light finger pressure since you will go back over the perimeter with a fid tool to burnish the foil.
Technique 2: Machine Foiling Stained Glass
Foiling machines take a lot of the manual work out of foiling glass and is basically a two-step process. The machine will simultaneously pull the backing off of the foil, center the glass onto the foil, and fold the sides down the edges as you slide the glass edges along the roller.
- Apply foil to each piece by pressing the edge of the glass onto the roller and roll all sides of the glass until all sides have been foiled.
- Use the fid to press the foil firmly onto the glass edges.
- Continue the process until all pieces are wrapped in the foil and you have firmly pressed the foil on the glass using a fid tool.
Quick Tip to Applying Foil
After folding the foil over the sides by hand, you can lay all the pieces on their side and use a small wallpaper roller to burnish the foil onto the glass much quicker than using a fid.
Step 4: Assemble the Glass Pieces
Now that all of your pieces have been wrapped in copper foil you can begin assembling all of them into the stained glass pattern you have chosen. Depending type of pattern you are using, it may best to a jig or frame to hold the pieces into the pattern.
Assembling your pattern on something like this heat resistant work surface is convenient as you can use push pins or layout blocks to secure the perimeter of the pattern. Working as you go or when you have assembled the piece completely you can use masking tape to keep the pieces together providing additional support before soldering.
The masking tape method is also great if you do not have a working surface that allows for the use of a frame or push pins. In this instance you can put the pieces together one by one, taping each piece together as you go. Once you have assembled the pieces you are ready for the next step.
Step 5: Solder the Copper Foiled Stained Glass
Now that you have your pattern assembled you can begin the process of soldering each glass piece together. If you chose to use masking tape in the process, you can apply small beads of solder where each piece of glass connects otherwise you can choose to skip the step. After you have applied a bead of solder to each joint you may remove all of the tapes.
Once you have finished making the small solder beads you can begin filling all joints with solder. You can start anywhere you choose, my preference is to start in the center and work outward.
There are three edges that you will need to apply a solder bead to and this includes soldering the front and back first, and then finally the perimeter or sides of the pattern. Once you have filled all of the seams on each side you can consider assembly done!
Step 6: Clean, Apply Patina, and Polish Foiled Stained Glass
Now that you have completed all of your soldering you can clean your piece and put the finishing touches on it. It is important to wash the glass and newly soldered joints really well if you intend on applying a patina to the solder.
If you do not clean any remaining flux the patina finish will not last as intended and it can develop spots, turn green, or even develop a white film on the soldered edges. After you have cleaned the piece extremely well take care to dry it completely.
Now that your stained glass is clean and dry you can optionally wax and polish the entire piece using something like Mother’s Wax. Waxing the piece will provide the best end result but again, this step is optional. Next you can apply the patina solution liberally something like Novacan black patina with a scrub pad to all of the solder joints. Wipe the excess away and let the piece dry completely.
Once dry, you can wax and polish the entire piece one last time for a nice lustrous finish! Following all of these steps completely you will end up with beautifully
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