A little rough around the edges – my first experience working with stained glass



In April this year I started a 10 week course at Swarthmore Education Centre in Leeds. They do a variety of courses. It’s an evening course that ran every Thursday evening from 18:30 until 20:30. My friend had told me she was interested in doing the pottery. I had a look at the courses available and noticed they did stained glass. I thought that sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a go.

The first day Andy our tutor showed us around the workshop we’d be working in so we could familiarise ourselves with where the tools were and where to find the glass. You have to pay extra for the materials but it doesn’t come to much.

We then learnt how to cut glass, and which tool we found easier to use to cut the glass. We learnt how to cut a circle then how to cut inner curves which had to be done in little pieces so as not to shatter the glass.


Me being me didn’t want to do the normal stained glass window. I’d had a look on Pinterest and found this design which I really wanted to try as it gave some depth as you put the glass into layers. Andy was fine with me giving it a go. Firstly, I had to freehand a line drawing on A4 paper of my piece to look like the picture.


Then I had to choose my glass. Most of it I found from scraps left from other students in the boxes. If they were only small pieces you didn’t have to pay. I bought one sheet which was the see-through one with green and black veining fused into the glass. Of course it cost more but I think it looked the best to make it look more like the abstract leaf design I was going for. It’s £14 for an A4 sheet.

Then it was the difficult bit of cutting into the shapes below. It wasn’t easy but I only had two breakages. The tools you need are, grozing pliers (these are like pliers but one side is curved and one side is flat to help break off the glass from where you have made your mark), running pliers (for use when you are cutting a straight line as these pliers are flat both sides), cutting tool (they come in various shapes for which ever you find easier to work with) I preferred this design as you could use the end to knock the glass from underneath lightly if it was being difficult. With any cutting tool you have to make sure it is well lubricated with oil so that it runs well across the glass. Most of the cutters had a well inside it to add the oil but was also good to add a bit to the blade as well.

Once cut we then used the glass sander to get rid of any sharp or bumpy edges. Now this is where you will get covered in pieces of glass. Making sure you wear protective glasses at all times is a must but definitely whilst using the sander. I had so much on my clothes and in my hair. When I washed my face on a night I once cut my forehead as I hadn’t checked for glass before doing so oops, I checked after that. Always keep plasters nearby, and make sure you brush down whilst cutting the glass as there was many a time I would brush my hand across the work bench and end up with a piece of glass in my hand. Note to self, keep work space tidy and brush down often.


After all the sanding and all the pieces were similar to the shape of my design I then used copper tape to stick to the edges of my glass. This helps the solder to stick to the glass and make it a stronger bond.


Once this was done it then needed pinning in place using map pins on a felt board (sorry I don’t have an image of that). Then you coat the edges, using a paint brush, in a clear liquid called flux. Then it’s soldering time. We used long sticks of lead solder with a soldering iron to then melt onto the copper tape. You start where the joins are so it stays in place and then you cover all the copper tape in solder. For the wire loop, we used the inside of some electric cable and took out the copper wire from it. Then we cut it to size and made it into a loo, then using the same method as above we soldered it on holding it in place with pliers.


Once the solder had been smoothed out of any lumps (I didn’t find that bit easy) it was then looking at what effect you want. You can’t keep solder silver as it will oxidize over time. You have a choice or putting on a patina to turn it black or copper. I went for the copper effect. I used copper patina, it gives this effect that you see below. It’s quite fun to watch the reaction of the solder change from silver to copper. I know, I know, I need to get out more.


I finished this piece in 5 weeks, so it gave me time to do another little project before the end of the course.



Not sure why I seem to have a leaf theme going on in this course, but I did. I then went back on Pinterest and looked at pictures of leaves in stained glass and did the same as above and drew them out and then used some of the glass I still had left from my last project to use on this one. This time I went a bit more autumnal.


As you can see from the below picture you can see what I mean by the use of the map pins. They made my thumbs go numb after pinning so much but it does work. You just need to be careful of hitting the plastic of the map pins with the soldering iron, a lovely pungent smell comes off them. You’ll hear someone shout from the room ‘who’s burning map pins again’. Usually it was me. I think wooden ones would work better, probably nicer smelling.


I ended up finishing this project at my parents house (my dad’s workshop). I found a branch and some copper wire to hang my mobile. The copper isn’t very strong as it’s for jewellery rather than stained glass leaves but it gives you an idea of what I’m going for. I wanted it to look like falling autumn leaves.


I hope this has helped give you some guidance and maybe some inspiration on any stained glass projects you’d like to do. I’d advise not doing it around pets or children and probably outside or in a workshop when sanding or cutting the glass. Easier to clean up after too.
Have fun and let me know if you have made anything or are about to take on a similar project, I’d like to know. I’m hopefully going to go back next year and take on a bigger piece and maybe tackle a stained glass window. The ones I saw in my class looked amazing.

2 Replies to “A little rough around the edges – my first experience working with stained glass”

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