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Creating a piece of stained glass typically requires some very specific tools to cut and attach the pieces of glass. Glass cutters are probably the most essential tool, and can make the difference in a clean cut or jagged, broken edges. The devices range from hand-held models to machine style saws. Other stained glass tools include foil tape, soldering equipment, and glass grinders. These tools are often selected individually, based on precision and quality, but for beginners, some of these supplies can be purchased as entire kits.
The most common types of hand-held glass cutters are pistol grip and pencil style. Both generally require the use of cutting oil, a type of oil that lubricates the cutting wheel. Some cutters have oil reservoirs inside, which distribute the oil as it scores the glass. Lubricating the wheel usually creates more even scoring, which should result in a cleaner cut. Both pistol grip and pencil cutters work basically the same way, and are usually chosen based on hand comfort.
Glass saws are stained glass tools commonly used in thicker types of glass. They look very much like a typical table saw, but use diamond coated blades designed specifically for use on glass. Blades can be of ring, band or wire design, depending on the need for precision. Wire style blades are generally considered the most precise.
Once the glass is cut, stained glass tools designed to smooth the edges are usually used. Generally, the first step involves the use of a glass grinder, which grinds down any uneven or ragged protrusions. Then, a tool called a buffer is used to smooth down the edges. Both buffers and grinders are usually hand-held stained glass tools.
When the pieces are cleaned and ready to join, the next step usually involves wrapping each piece in foil tape. Though this can be accomplished by hand, most stained glass artists use a tool called a table foiler. Table foilers are designed to dispense foil evenly and quickly, and eliminate the need to hold the coiled foil in the hand. This frees up both hands to work in the wrapping process.
Soldering tools are used in the final stages of stained glass creation. Foil wrapped pieces of glass are joined together by melting the copper foil surround each piece. As the foil melts, the two pieces are molded together. Drying and hardening of the copper foil should result in secure attachment of the cut pieces of glass.
If you are just starting out with stained glass I would caution you that it can take a while before you get the hang of scoring glass.
If you aren't taking lessons, then buy a cheap piece of clear glass and practice on that for a while until you get the hang of it.
I did a lesson with my mother a few years ago and some of the people in the class got the hang of it really quickly and others didn't. My mother was one of the ones who didn't and she was really discouraged by it.
But she almost had it, she just gave up after a couple of hours. I think anyone can pick this up, there's just a certain knack to snapping the glass. If you practice with cheap glass for a while first, so that you don't ruin the more expensive stained glass supplies, you'll be fine and you hopefully won't get discouraged.
@pleonasm - You've touched on the reason I think most people should rely on a stained glass pattern for their first attempt at the craft. One of the biggest things to trip people up in the design is not really understanding what is possible when they are shaping the glass.
I took some classes a few years ago and I still really enjoy it as a hobby. Glass is so beautiful anyway it doesn't take much to display that beauty.
Anyway, I think that after a while you don't mind the soldering so much. I find it quite satisfying. But, I'm still extra careful with the glass cutting. You need to make sure that the glass particles aren't getting into your lungs or eyes and that you aren't going to cut yourself.
Although it seems like almost every person who works with stained glass ends up cutting themselves sooner or later.
Glass cutting tools are actually not nearly as intimidating as I thought they would be. Particularly hand held glass cutters. They actually don't even look capable of cutting anything.
They don't really. They score the glass which you then have to snap along the fissure.
That's the reason you can't have certain shapes of stained glass. Because glass will only break along certain kinds of lines. If it is a complicated shape, it won't snap properly. In that case, it's better to form the shape out of several other more simple shapes. Which is why stained glass is always made up of lots of different pieces, even when they don't need to change the color.
I found the soldering much
more scary than the glass itself, as I've never used a tool like that before. The glass cutter itself wasn't much more difficult than using scissors.
It's a really fun hobby, at any rate, and I would recommend anyone with an interest to take an introductory class.
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