Finally I was able to get down to the actual building of the stained glass piece. The drawing had been completed and copies had been made of the cartoon so I could cut out the patterns which I would use to cut the glass. I also made a pattern which provides a guide for laying out the individual pieces of glass when cut and ground to size.
The best way to describe this is to look at the pattern as the “template” or blueprint for the pieces of glass that will form the final piece. It is just like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.
After applying contact paper to cover one of the copies of the cartoon and placing it on the board that I use as a jig to assemble the glass, I am ready to cut the zinc that will be used as the outside frame. The reason for covering the copy of the cartoon with contact paper is that after grinding the glass, water and sediment from the glass can ruin the pattern in short order. I learned this the hard way.
This also will protect the cartoon when soldering the panel up during final assembly.
I then began cutting the zinc that will be used for the frame. Like woodworking, this part, although simple, has to be accurate and square. If the frame varies at all, you will fight the fitting and assembly every of the way to the final completion.
The margin for error is less forgiving with glass than wood. The main reason for this is the nature of glass in lead. The lead, known as Lead Came, forms channels that have to fit exactly, or there will be gaps that will show through the cartoon and look like a “hole”. These holes stand out like a carpenter’s sore thumb, or worse yet, the glass will fall out.
One of the unique properties of Lead Came is, as a metal it is the only metal that will expand over the life of it but will not contract. This poses some very challenging design considerations. Lead comes in six foot sections and various withes. Lead has to be stretched prior to use. This process of pulling and stretching the lead roughly two inches causes the lead to become rigid and puts tensile strength into the lead.
The end result is a piece of lead that can be formed and cut to fit the glass.
The nature of stained glass work parallels a lot of woodworking. That is, accuracy is very important and the margin of error very small. However, stained glass with its fragile and ridged properties it is less forgiving. Overall, I find this to be one of the biggest challenges; constantly keeping tolerances within acceptable limits.
For example, whom amongst us hasn’t had to get the “wood stretcher” out and make a repair. There are far more ways to repair “oops” in woodworking than in stained glass.
No such luck with glass. Once glass is cut its cut. Glass is unforgiving and fragile.
One other major difference in working with glass is the total unpredictability of what it will do or what will happen when it is scored broken into smaller individual pieces that become part of your cartoon.
To begin with, every piece of glass is tempered differently. To add insult to injury there are several textures, natural flaws, man made designs and intentions added to the glass to achieve the desired result. Every piece of glass is one of a kind; the “hues”, patterns, colors and appearance will vary slightly.
I have learned to “buy enough” to allow for at least a 25 percent breakage factor plus extra, so if called upon, I still have the original run available to make repairs at a later date.
Due to the volume of glass I do, it has forced me to have a good recording system and ample storage for the extra glass. Over time, this can become very expensive, thus if possible I try choosing glass that is readily available and where small variations won’t matter.
Compared to the investment required for woodworking, the tools used in stained glass making are really very inexpensive. Of course like any craft one can spend a large sum on money for things like kilns, special equipment, and inventory. As a general rule, one would be well equipped for an expenditure of less than two hundred dollars. With the tools that this money would buy, one could pretty much build anything. Although, certainly, the lead came, solder, flux, and of course the glass itself can add several hundred dollars to the cost very quickly.
My tool investment is relatively small but I have a substantial investment in inventory. Certainly, a well lit comfortable work area or shop is desirable.
For the most part, the tools I use today are the same as those used hundreds of years ago. Some things just don’t change nor can be improved upon.
One of the questions I frequently get is, “Do you have a band saw that you use to cut the glass?”
The short answer to this is, no. The truth is, I have two band saws; for the most part they are worthless.
They are not only cumbersome, slow, and of very limited use and mobility when cutting curves or elaborate designs, but they are time consuming to set up and expensive to maintain.
The diamond blades are outrageous in their cost.
By nature, it is hard to keep the blade aligned in these saws. They are in constant need of adjustment and attention. The machine sellers would tell you different, but most of the old master crafts people I know feel the same way about them as I do.
Never-the-less, I have to admit that when it comes to complicated cuts with only a very limited amount of a particular glass or especially on any repair jobs where the glass is no longer available, then the band saw really does minimize your changes of breakage.
However, over all it won’t save you much labor. After one becomes proficient with this craft one can work extremely fast by hand. With experience ones accuracy improves.
This argument is the same one we hear in the woodworking fraternity when it comes to hand verse power tools. The main difference is, in glass work, rarely is mass production a desired result.
One factor to consider is, labor in glass work is accepted and understood to be a large part of the cost. In woodworking labor costs need to be held more in line with the overall project size and value.
Similarly to a lot of woodworking, I cut out and use patterns. If I have a cartoon with several pieces and a lot of curves or varied cuts, I immediately cut out a pattern from my original drawing and use it to trace the pattern onto the glass. Once that is complete, I cut the piece out using the hand glass cutter.
The next several hours consisted of the same routine of copying the pattern onto the glass and rough cutting the glass to size which later will be ground to final tolerance and fitting. Most often these days I skip the “tracing step” and use the cartoon pattern and cut my glass “live” with my glass cutter with out drawing or tracing the cartoon piece.
Of course this took a lot of practice to get to this stage. I wouldn’t necessary recommend this to others with out ample experience. The price of glass makes this almost prohibitive anyways. However it really can speed up the project eliminating a complete step.
There are several ways to do stained glass fitting and over time every one develops their own preferred methods. I like to rough cut all of my pieces first then come back and do a final grind and fit to the lead came as I assemble the cartoon. I have found this to be the most efficient way to progress the project and help break the monotony of the repetitive tasks involve.
Without a doubt, learning the stained glass craft has taught me patience. By nature I am a restless and impatient person. I tend to be very production oriented. There is no such thing when doing stained glass work. It can be very tedious and requires a lot of attention to detail.
I took a lesson directly from nature. That is she is a very patience person. Let things evolve as they are or will be with out pushing them and they well turn out just fine.
I find that both stained glass and woodworking are very complementary to one another in teaching new skills that can be used in either craft for their betterment.
Like any craft, the more you do or practice and learn about the craft, the better one becomes. Stained glass is no exception.
Anyone can do stained glass; I am a living example of this as I am with woodworking. All either requires is an investment of time and a willingness to learn the craft using whatever means and tools are available.
It really is that simple.
This project to commemorate Mark certainly could be done by any number of others. I am humbled to be able to share in a small part of this project.
Due to the holidays and little or no distractions because of this time of the year and having extra time off from work I was able to make a lot of progress on the project.
I was very aware of the task at hand and quite frankly feeling very inadequate and a bit overwhelmed. Doing the best I could, I simply wanted to produce a tribute worthy of Mark’s memory. Although I was somewhat concerned that I would fall short of this goal I moved forward. My passion and commitment to do my best poured from my heart.
I couldn’t allow myself to become overwhelmed with the task at hand and relied on the constant encouragement of those around me and the fellow Lumberjocks who were part of this project.
I don’t claim to be an ‘artist” and have not had any formal training in art. Therefore, I feel very inadequate whenever I create any project. This feeling is prevalent regardless whether it is woodworking, remodeling or a stained glass project.
One thing that comforts me somewhat is when I talk to real “artists”, is I am surprised how many of these “artists” have confessed having the same feelings of “inadequacy”. I admit, I also am a perfectionist and my own worst critic. However I don’t feel so alone when I hear they also suffer from anxiety and feeling rather insecure about there work.
No doubt, some of my feeling of inadequacy comes from the self-consciousness I feel about having only one functional hand. This was the result of a serious construction accident I had culminating in several surgeries but never really rectifying the condition of my hand. Although I no longer allow myself to feel self pity, this embarrassment is still deep-routed in my psyche. Never-the-less, I have made great strides overcoming a number of obstacles over time. I have accepted this will be a life long journey. I simply try taking it one step, one day and one project at a time.
One thing I can say is that I have never given up. Despite arthritis pain, a build up of scare tissue, and hyper sensitivity to the hand, I have found the strength to keep doing what I love. I plan on doing so until I can’t possibly continue. I practice my crafts like there may be no tomorrow, because that is reality – we have no assurance of tomorrow. I don’t want to someday find myself looking back with regrets about what might have been had I…
I had been working virtually non stop for over 14 hours. I was exhausted and ready to quit for the day.
Karson had called me and asked if I could send a picture to him of the dove that I had drawn and was going to be used as the center piece to this project.
I cut the dove out and added a note and gladly sent him a picture not completely sure what his intention was for this request. I was sure what ever it was it would be awesome.
I had serious doubts about how the project would be received now that I was nearing the end if the rough fit and was ready to start the final fit and assembly.
I quit for the day.
Doubts lingered, I really needed sleep but was worried how the project would be received when I mailed the progress pictures.
I would know soon enough, for now I needed sleep.