Glass Grinding Guidelines

This is part of a series of posts about tips I've learned while working on my projects; hopefully they will be helpful to those just starting out.  These lists aren't meant to cover everything, and if you have additional tips, please share in the comments!

Last time, I talked about glass cutting; the next step after all your pieces are cut it the grinding.  This topic should be relevant whether your interest is in stained glass, fused glass, or just in using stained glass sheets in your mosaic projects.  

My Essential Glass Grinding Tools

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Of course, the number 1 essential tool here is a grinder.  I'm sure many grinders out there work great, so I'm not suggesting one over another, but the only grinder I've owned is my Gryphon Gryphette grinder, and it is great!  It's small, but I haven't found that it's too small for any of my projects, and it's perfect for my small workspace.

You can buy an optional face shield that will mount over the work area; I don't have it, but I always wear safety glasses.  In fact, I store them as shown in the picture; on top of the grinder - that way I never forget to put them on.  It's super important to wear them, as little shards can fly around, especially for certain textured glass, and especially when you have a new bit.  I like my eyes so I never grind without my safety glasses!

I clean out the water reservoir of my grinder every 4 or 5 projects.  It always amazes me the amount of glass dust that collects in there.

 

The grinder is the main tool you need, but it needs new bits sometimes.  I use these bits for my grinder, and they last a good long time.  You also need good old H2O to fill the water reservoir (you can see my old Nalgene bottle in the background here.  Our slop sink is in an inconveient spot, so I use it for my water needs while working.  And last, you need little bits of sponge to insert behind the grinder bit to keep everything wet while you're working.

So that's it for the tools; on to the grinding tips:

1.  Order Matters!

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My first tip is in the order of the pieces you choose to grind. You're always going to have to do some touching-up to make all of the individual pieces fit together well, but the main pieces of your design will need to have specific shapes in order for the panel to come out the way you want.  So, I always start with the "essential" pieces to grind first, and get those to look exactly how I want.  Then, I grind the ones that are part of the background - and if they don't fit perfectly in their spots, I can always remove a little here or there and it doesn't matter since it was just a background piece anyway.

For example, check out the piece to the right, which had just gone through the grinding stage when this photo was taken.  I ground the sun, boat, and frog first, then made the background yellow/orange, blue, and green fit around those main areas of the design.

 
Would it be faster to cut away or grind out that inner curve?

Would it be faster to cut away or grind out that inner curve?

2.  Minimize Grinding

This is probably more of a cutting tip, but one thing I find to really speed up how quickly I can make a project, as well as minimizing cost (grinder bits are pricey!), is to really make sure I've cut away as much glass as I can before I grind.  I want to make sure I only have to do a quick pass with the grinder to remove those sharp edges, and MAYBE do a little extra work on a tricky inner curve.  

But poking around on YouTube, I found videos that tell you not to even try cutting away the glass on an inner curve, and instead to grind out the whole area!  You'll go crazy, it will take forever, and your husband might threaten your life if you don't make that grinder noise stop!  (The last happens often enough to me even with my strategy to maximize cutting and minimize grinding...)  Take the time to get comfortable with glass scoring and breaking, trust me, it will be worth it!

 

 

3.  Change/Move Grinding Bit

Grinding bits wear out, but they do so slowly, so sometimes I don't notice that the area of the bit I'm working with is getting dull until it's doing nothing at all.  I usually put on a new bit so that the bottom part is the grinding surface, then slowly move it down the shaft as it gets dull.

4.  Work With Direction of Rotation

Grinding bits rotate counter-clockwise on the grinder (at least on mine, and google says this is how most of them work).  So, if I am pushing my piece to the left under the spinning bit (against the direction of spin), it will grind away more of the glass than if I push it to the right, with the direction of spin.  This is useful to know, because if you have a big chunk of glass to grind out, then going against the spin will have more of an effect than going with the spin.  And then do the opposite when you're mostly done but just want to take that final smoothing pass.

5. Perfection is the Last Step!

Last tip - as you are grinding each piece and fitting them together, don't worry if it's not perfect.  I'll do my first pass at grinding, and often still have a bunch of pieces that aren't fitting nicely.  Once I've given each piece one go at the grinder, I'll look over the whole thing and figure out where I still need to trim away some glass.  By waiting until the end, I find that I can make sure I'm trimming those background pieces and not the ones where the shapes are more critical.

Those are my top 5 grinding tips!  The final step after I finish grinding a piece is to see if it fits in the bigger glass puzzle; before I do that, I always dry it off so it doesn't get my pattern paper all wet and blotchy.  And I keep a Sharpie close by; if I end up needing to trim a piece down in multiple spots or don't want to lose my place, I'll mark the problem area with the Sharpie, do another grinding pass, and usually the water in the grinder is enough to clean up that Sharpie line.

Beginnings - My First Glass Projects

There was a very specific reason I decided to learn stained glass, and I get to see it every day.  I had been enjoying making mosaics for a few years, and stained glass looked to be much more complicated and to require many more tools and more space.  (Turns out it isn't as complicated as I thought- and I have another post planned to talk about required tools and supplies.)

my mosaic entryway

my mosaic entryway

My husband and I had moved into our Baltimore City rowhouse (complete with a mosaic entry floor I made), and had a plain glass transom above both the front and backdoor.  Many rowhouses in the city have a colorful stained glass transom with the house number in the glass above the door, and we wanted our house to have one too.

 

Off to Glass School

My husband suggested that I should take a class to learn how to make a transom with our house number for us - so a few months after moving in, I did.  I found an introductory copper foil class at The Glass Key, which met one evening a week for 6 weeks.  We completed a basic project in that time and gained the skills needed to do more projects.  

As part of the class, I bought a basic toolkit and bought my grinder the night we learned to grind.  I loved the class!  We had "homework" each week to complete the step we had just learned so we could move on as a group together the next week. Now I'm the type of student who always does her homework, plus I was motivated to learn so I could work on my transom project.  I'm not sure why all the other students were there, but let's just say they weren't as conscientious...  the second week, I was made fun of by the others since I was the only one who completed the assignment!  Sigh.  

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Here it is, my very first ever project, in all it's uneven-lines,, badly-cut, bumpy-lumpy-solder glory.  This was our practice piece, and at each step, we'd make a mess out of this sad little square before continuing on to our 'real' project.

 

Here are the two 'real' projects I completed during the class.  These patterns were both pretty easy for a beginner:

 
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I don't really know what to DO with these projects now; they're not pretty enough to hang up (tons of flaws when you see them up close, the Koi one even has a broken piece where I let the hot soldering iron sit too long, and the heat caused a crack), but I don't want to get rid of them, so they sit in the basement wrapped up under my work table.  I learned a ton making them though and had the confidence to continue on to my...

Transom Project

I couldn't decide what our transom design should be.  I looked online at pictures of others that I liked, and ultimately drew a simple geometric design that I hoped wouldn't be too hard for my third real project.  

I thought it wouldn't be hard, but it turns out I didn't plan it very well- my design involved having to cut half-circles into several pieces of glass, and this was not easy for a beginner!  I kept breaking the glass in bad spots and having to start over again.  I ended up ruining enough of the clear pieces that I had to go back to the store for more glass. ..  but eventually,  through a combination of careful cutting and more grinding than anyone should ever do, I got them done.  However, the clear glass I was using was textured, and the texture had a orientation.   But since I had to repeat so many of these pieces, somewhere along the way I screwed up and turned one 90 degrees.   But I didn't notice until I was almost done, so it is still in there!  You can't tell unless you get up close though.

The very last step was to install my framed piece in the transom.  But I must have gotten a measurement wrong, and it was just barely too big!  My husband ended up sanding down the zinc frame on the bottom where it would be least visible, and got it installed.

This is the actual picture; its hard to get a pic from the front.

...and here's the flipped pic; this is how it looks from the front of the house.

...and here's the flipped pic; this is how it looks from the front of the house.

After I completed this project, I went on to make another transom window for our backdoor, and a variety of other panels for gifts or just for fun.  

Backdoor Transom

Backdoor Transom

It's been 6 years since that first class, and I've acquired a bunch of new tools, have tons of ideas for future projects, and most excitingly, I am going to get into fusing and slumping soon!

Just last week, I found a used kiln on Craigslist and brought her home!  I named her EsmereldaI need some supplies and we need to rearrange some things in the basement for her, but she'll soon be helping me out with a bunch of new and exciting projects.  As an aside, she led to this conversation w/my husband:

K:   You named your kiln?

Me:  Of course, wouldn't you?

K:  Um, no.  The lathe is just called "the lathe".  

Share your first project or why you decided to learn stained glass in the comments!

My Top 4 Glass Cutting Tips

This is part of a series of posts about tips I've learned while working on my projects; hopefully they will be helpful to those just starting out.  These lists aren't meant to cover everything, and if you have additional tips, please share in the comments!

This topic should be relevant whether your interest is in stained glass, fused glass, or just in using stained glass sheets in your mosaic projects.  

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First, lets start out with the tools you need. It's not much!  I have found that I can do everything I need with the three tools in the picture.  One of these days, I will get one of those fancy schmancy glass saws (and don't worry, I will blog ALL about it!), but for now, I am doing everything the old-fashioned way.  I am using a grip cutter, running pliers, and breaker/grozer pliers.  Those three tools together will cost about $40.

Glass Cutting Tip 1:  A Waffle Grid is Essential

In addition to the tools, I also find that a waffle grid like that in the above picture is super-helpful for keeping glass shards <mostly> contained and to help avoid injuries.  I didn't have one at first, and find it to be useful for two reasons.  First, the shards fall into the grid, so you're not as likely to end up with them under your skin, on the floor, or underneath the glass you're scoring (and then scratching the bottom or worse, causing your glass to break).  

Second, a lot of times, you need to make a long straight score in a piece of glass.  If I can see through the glass, I line up where I need to make the cut over one of the lines in the waffle grid - giving me a line to follow.  

Glass Cutting Tip 2:  Take Your Time 

Go slow and don't try to do too much in one cut, unless it is a straight line.  This doesn't come naturally if you're impatient like me, so I've had to learn this lesson a few times.  If you're cutting any kind of curve, make sure that any one score isn't too complex.

My first "real" project - those half-circles I had to cut into the clear pieces were a pain!

My first "real" project - those half-circles I had to cut into the clear pieces were a pain!

This also goes back to your design-- don't make the same mistake I did and draw a first design that involves cutting half-circles into your glass!  It's definitely possible to be able to do that with the tools I have, but it's tough and requires a LOT of patience to slowly score more gradual curves and chip away the glass, a piece at a time - and wasn't easy for a beginner. That glass saw will open up lots of new possibilities, but I have found that with a combination of careful design and patient cutting, I have been able to accomplish almost everything I want.

Glass Cutting Tip 3:  Beware of Curves

Too many sharp inner curves in one piece of glass has been a recipe for disaster for me.  I always do a final pass over the drawing to look at each individual piece, after all the lines are in place to double check for anything that would be un-cuttable.  Even after doing this, I'll sometimes still find a hidden scary curve when cutting out the pattern.  This happened with my alien panel, I'd originally had the sides of the face drawn as one piece instead of two.  This one worked just as well with cutting each of them in half, so I did.

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To the right is a photo of the lemon rind from the lemonade panel - I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make this cut or not, and had a backup plan of splitting the rind into two pieces if needed.  But by slowly scoring and chipping away at the glass, it worked out!

(BTW, pay no attention to the red smudge in that pic; every project needs a little of my DNA in it to personalize it...)

 

Glass Cutting Tip 4:  Curves Part Deux

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Lastly, if you're cutting an inner curve that will end in a point, I find that it usually works better for me if I cut the curve first, while there's still some extra glass hanging out on the other side of the point.  This is hard to explain, so see the pic at the right.

 

I first started working on the inner curve, then removed the glass to the right of the point.  Scroll thru the pix below to see the order of my steps.

That's it for today - if I think of more essential cutting tips, I'll add another post.  If you've got anything to add, please share in the comments!

This post contains affiliate links, and if you make a purchase by clicking on affiliate links, I will receive a small commission.  All links will be for products that I have personally used and recommend, and profits will go towards maintaining and improving this site.

Creating Stained Glass Masterpiece from a Photograph

The last post covered some design tips; today, I want to post about turning a photograph into a stained glass panel.  This same technique would work for a mosaic or another craft too - it's all about turning a photo into a simple line drawing that you can work from.

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For this project, I'm going to work with this photo that I took this on vacation in Greece, on the island of Kos.  We were on a guided tour, and stopped in Zia to see the town and have lemonade.  The photo is of my glass of lemonade, with the Aegean Sea and Turkey in the background.  I love the colors in this picture, and it always reminds me of such a great day; I have been wanting to turn this photo into a glass project for a while!

Step 1:  Transform Photo into Line Drawing

Here's my black-and-white, borrrrrring picture! &nbsp;time to turn that into shiny colorful glass !!

Here's my black-and-white, borrrrrring picture!  time to turn that into shiny colorful glass !!

In your photo editor of choice (I used Picasa), turn the photo into a line drawing - it is the "Pencil Sketch" option in Picasa. Here's my transformed photo:  

 

Step 2:  Trace Significant Features of Your Photo 

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Now, print out that line drawing, and trace the significant features onto a new sheet of paper. I used my light box, shown in the photo to make the tracing easier.  If you don't have a light box, just outline the significant features of your photo with a Sharpie and then you should be able to trace it without the backlighting.

Here's where you get to take some creative license!  Want to move a background element to a different position?  Add a lemon slice on the rim of that glass of lemonade?  (I see a mint leaf on the bottom of that glass, but I wasn't about to attempt turning that into glass - it might end up looking unappetizing! But I still thought it needed a little something-something, so I added a lemon slice!)  Go crazy here!  Pencils have erasers for a reason, you can always 'undo' your changes. 

 

So here is the design I turned my photo into, after some trial and error (this is the final copy, and doesn't show all the eraser marks!).  I moved the glass to the left, deleted Turkey (sorry, Turkey...) from the background, changed/simplified the colors, added my lemon slice, etc.  Now it is an 88-piece stained glass panel.

 

 

Step 3: Choose Glass Colors and Make Your Panel!

For this image, it was really easy for me to choose colors - given the photo, I knew I wanted bright yellow lemonade, a sunny sky, and a red tabletop.  

So, here it is, turned into glass (cut and ground, not yet foiled and soldered).  What do you think?  What would you have done differently?  Would you have changed some of the coloring, kept the background islands, added a flower vase??  The possibilities are endless!  I think it would be awesome if one of my readers reinterpreted this photo for themselves - if you give it a try, please post a pic or link in the comments!

 

And here is the finished piece!  This one went pretty fast, from photo to framed piece ready to hang.

This post contains affiliate links, and if you make a purchase by clicking on affiliate links, I will receive a small commission.  All links will be for products that I have personally used and recommend, and profits will go towards maintaining and improving this site.

My Top 3 Stained Glass Design Tips

I'm starting a series of posts about tips about how to make stained glass that I've learned while working on my projects; hopefully they will be helpful to those just starting out.  These lists aren't meant to cover everything, and if you have additional tips, please share in the comments!

Today's entry will focus on designing your piece - there are a few things you can do upfront while you're laying out your design, to make things easier in the cutting step to follow.

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Of course, you can always find a pattern in a design book, and I definitely recommend that as a way to get started - but I've always been more interested in creating my own designs.  For me, my first two pieces, done in a class, were from patterns, but my first 'real' panel was a stained glass transom for our house - so it needed to be a custom size and work in our house number.  

Tip 1:  Simplicity of Design

My number one tip is to keep it simple simple simple,  especially at first.  Think coloring book drawing for a small child simple!  The more details, the more pieces and the more complexity.  And the simpler the drawing, the easier it will be to spot those difficult or impossible to cut areas.

Tip 2:  Clip Art is Your Friend

For those that are artistically challenged, like me, here is my secret:  when I have an idea of something I want to create, my first stop is to look at free clip art images online.  I will look for one or two that I can resize and put together to fit my purposes.  This step usually involves printing and photocopying the images at different enlargements and putting them together.  Often I also need to simplify the pictures - removing details and softening lines to make it easier to turn into glass.

Then once I have the arrangement I want, next step is to decide how to turn it into pieces of glass and determine where the solder lines will fall.  This will be different for every image, but try to break up the picture in places where it makes sense.

Tip 3:  Background Lines are Important in your Glass Piece!

For the background of your piece,  consider where the solder lines will be and if they should be straight,  wavy, or organized in some way that will strengthen the design.  
 

Stained Glass Background Example 1

In the picture to the right, I have the lines radiating from Alyssa Alien's head for emphasis.  I did it that way to make her seem more powerful - and conveniently for me, those lines lined up with the best places to work around her antennae and planet :)
 

 

Stained Glass Background Example 2 - Sky and Water

Here's another example - in this one, I decided on wavy lines for most of the sky but straight lines radiating from top of the lighthouse.  In general, I tend to use wavy lines for sky, water, earth backgrounds.

 

Stained Glass Background Example 3 - Symmetry

Finally,  I wanted this circular piece to be totally symmetrical so I made sure the background solder lines would be in the exact same spot for each flower.  

I love symmetrical designs, and having the background also be symmetrical is pleasing to the eye!

 

So in summary -- keep things simple, look for free clip art, and make sure your background flows with the rest of the piece - those are my top 3 tips!  Not so hard at all :)

I'll add more posts about my design process later on - my next post will talk about turning a photograph into a stained glass panel.  For now though, do you have any tips or ideas to share?  Add them in the comments!

That Time I Made 25 Turtles

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A few years ago, I had an idea to make a bunch of small turtles for my coworkers, to commemorate wrapping up a big project.  
 

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I found an example of something close to what I was envisioning on Pinterest, and modified it a little.  I had a bunch of green glass leftover from other projects, so I started out by making one as an example - and once I was happy with the design I turned on some music and set up my turtle assembly line.

Each turtle required 5 pieces of glass (body and 4 legs), so first I cut the shapes out of paper for tracing.  For the heads, I used little glass gems.

 

The way I divided up the steps was as follows:


1.  Tracing:  I cut out one design and traced the outlines of the pieces using a Sharpie on the glass.

2.  Cutting:  I cut all 125 pieces, and made little piles of body parts for assembly.

3. Grinding:  I ground all the glass and used the grinder to scuff the edges of the gems so the foil tape would stick.

4. Foiling:  Definitely needed a podcast to alleviate the boredom of this step.

5. Wire:  I added a wire spiral to the front of each turtle body, so next step was to bend a piece of wire into a spiral,  and make a second smaller piece to use as the hanger on the backs.  So 50 cut and shaped wires.

6. Soldering:  I set up about 8 turtles at a time, fluxed, and tack-soldered them together.   Then I fully soldered them, using a vise to hold them to complete the edges.  I also made 2 drips of solder on the top of each head to represent the eyes.

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I really should have kept track of how long all of this took, but since it was easy to put in 30-60 minutes at a time when I could, I didn't track it.  It didn't feel too tedious though since the steps moved pretty quickly.  Soldering was the exception to this - this seemed to take forever,  especially the edges since I had to keep moving the pieces around in the vise, being sure not to touch the hot area I'd just finished.

But they were done in plenty of time to hand them out, and I tied a little ribbon and name tag to each wire hanger.   Sometimes now I see them on people's desks when I go visit my coworkers from that time- and of course I made an extra one for me to keep for posterity!

Have you ever mass-produced an item for gifts to a group?