Stained glass is a beautiful and decorative form of glass that has been used to raise the profile of buildings and art-work. Mainly used in windows of churches or important buildings, this form of glass has always been used in a flat panel and as a window, although modern usage of stained glass has become more varied. Today, we find a lot of artists and sculptors using stained glass on their pieces, adding a different medium to create something beautiful and vibrant.
Stained glass has been around for about a thousand years now and the process of producing these stained pieces of glass has not changed much, except for the introduction of machines in the manufacturing process as well as the quality of the raw materials that are used in it. The most common use, in earlier times, was the arrangement of glass to form patterns or pictures, pieces of which were held together by strips of lead and with the entire thing mounted onto a massive frame. The process of creating the glass, today, can be carried out in your own home, with the right materials and at varying levels of difficulty.
The Process of Making Stained Glass
The stained glass manufacturing process is based around the normal way of manufacturing glass where silica is heated along with a combination of potash, soda and lead to bring the boiling temperature down. Once the melting point has been reduced, you add lime to the mix to strengthen the molecular structure once again, and bring the glass into a more stable form. Until this point, the process of manufacturing glass is the same for both the regular clear and stained glass varieties.
To make stained glass, you need to add chemicals that produce colour and this is where metal oxide powders come into the picture. Copper oxide is used to produce a bluish green colour while cobalt gives your glass blue colour. When you add gold, you get red and violet glass, depending on how much of it you add, although the cost of adding gold has led to the discovery of copper as a reddening agent, producing a brighter shade of red rather than the wine-red that gold produces.
These oxides are added to the glass while it is still in the clay pot, inside the furnace, and that is the reason why stained glass is also known as pot-metal glass at times. You can shape your molten glass in any format once this part is complete. Cylinder glass is a process that uses a blow pipe to gather the glass and then blow air into it to give it shape. Metal tools, soaked in water, and gravity are the main shaping agents and if the glass gets cooler during the shaping process, it is heated up once again. This was one of the main techniques used to create stained glass where the glass inside the cylinder, once at the right size, would be quickly shoved into an oven, heated, flattened and then removed to cool.
Crown glass was the other technique that was used, however instead of using a cylinder, the glass was blown into and then spun quickly to use centrifugal force to shape the molten bubble. This technique is not used as often today because the centre of the glass, where the pipe is connected to it, always remains slightly thicker and, therefore, doesn't allow for a clear view through. The modern techniques have come to include rolled glass which is basically similar to making pastry. You heat the glass, pour the molten glass onto a metal sheet, pass a roller over it to flatten it out and finish it off by annealing it.
Making Stained Glass at Home
Most of these processes require adequate space and equipment for you to work towards creating stained glass. That means, you will need a lot of experience as well, because handling the equipment and molten glass requires a lot of care and expertise. To practice stained glass making at home, you need to improvise a little if you do not have the budget or the expertise to set up and work on your own glass workshop.
To work out of your garage, you need some glass-breaking pliers, some pencil-grip oil cutters, a 100W soldering iron and an inland grinder. Use your oil cutter to score the glass in the shape that you want. If you do not have a uniform shape on the glass, then you need to tap it around the scored lines and hold the smaller piece. Don't tap too hard and be patient because it will come through. If you have made uniform lines, then it's easier to break the glass off and move forward. Just hold the line along the edge of a table, lift the shorter piece of the glass up and lower it firmly to break it off.
When breaking off thin strips, remember to use the pliers to be safe. When tapping the glass out, remember to tap it from behind the score, not in front of it. As you go along the length of the line, you will see it getting brighter, which is basically a sign that the scored line is getting broken up from the inside. Once you have all the pieces you want, in the shapes that you want, you need to start colouring it and simple glass paints are good enough for the job. You can find these at any office stationary or art store, and most of them are water or solvent based paints that are easy to use.
Once you've cut and coloured the glass up into the shapes you want, you need to grind the edges to make sure they are smooth. Sharp edges can cause injury so make sure you are carefully smoothening the edges. This will also allow you to stick the glass back together, easily. The soldering process is used to create the frame on which the glass will be mounted. Place the glass pieces between those frames and add soldered metal on the edges to hold them in place. Use the soldering tool to cover the entire frame with the metal and make sure that everything looks neat and clean.
Finish your project with some cleaning and polishing using a neutral solution and your stained glass project is complete and ready to go!