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My method of making stained glass panels

I make 90% of stained glass panels with the copper-foil technique. The reasons for this may be explained as follows.

  1. I like the soft & hand-drawn-like leaded lines of copper-foil method.
  2. The size of individual piece may be very small and super details can be made if necessary.
  3. In Japan, stained glass panels are rarely used to be exposed directly to outside weather. In most cases, a clear hardened glass is positioned next to the stained glass on the side facing outside. The reason of using a separate clear glass is the security and the fire-prevention law in Japan. Therefore, the stained glass can be kept in good condition for a long time and there is no need for rebuilding every 15 to 30 years which may be the case for lead-came panels exposed directly to dirty outside atmosphere. (Can you imagine rebuilding copper-foiled panels every 15 years?)
  4. Copper-foiled panels can be reinforced sufficiently without extruding reinforcing members. It is better not to use extruding reinforcing members so that they can be seen from both sides. A window panel can be seen best from inside at day time and from outside at night time when the inside room is lit. The largest stained glass I made in copper-foil technique is 2 m x 8 m (6 ft x 24 ft) split into 16 panels. The largest single stained glass panel I made in copper-foil technique is 80 cm x 160 cm (2.6 ft x 5.3 ft) which was reinforced intensively, but all reinforcing materials were inbedded in leaded lines, no extrusion at all on the surface.
  5. The last reason and may be the largest reason is "I am not very good at handling cames".

Method of making stained glass panels

  1. First of all, the design shall be made in a most convenient scale (Photo-1). If it is a commission work, get OK from the client and/or the architect. I often make small samples using the actual glasses so that the client and/or the architect can get more clear image of the work. The wax-up technique can not be used for copper-foil method.
  2. Calculate the size of brass frame and the stained glass itself to be built-in in the frame. Make up the full-scale paper pattern for each panel. (Photo-2). I make copper-foiled stained glass panels on plywood panels the surface of which is covered with 5 mm thick balsa sheets. (Photo-3) Pins can be stuck on balsa sheets smoothly and they stay put. In my opinion, the balsa is the best material for sticking pins.
  3. Copy the paper pattern and place it on the balsa sheets with pins. I now have a copy machine which can adjust in 1/1000 graduation so I can make an exact copy of the paper pattern. Old types of copy machine could not get the 100% copy correctly. They were produced slightly larger than the original and special techniques were necessary. These special techniques are no longer necessary. If your copy machine can not get an exact 100% copy, find a shop who can. If the pattern size is larger than the maximum size of your copy machine, copy them in tiles and stick them together. Then, cut the individual pieces from the paper pattern. Never cut them before making a copy! I have done this several times! (Photo-4)
  4. Cut each glass piece according to the paper pattern, apply copper-foil, and position correctly on the copy paper with pins. Then, plan the reinforcing method using copper wires and brass reinforcing strips, such as by Venture Tape. (Photo-5)
  5. Solder the front side temporarily, that is, just fill the gaps between glass with solder without building up of solder lines. (Photo-6) Only one side is soldered and the panel is very weak in this stage. However, it is necessary to turn it over to solder the other side. And, the panel is likely to be baked (stuck) onto the balsa sheets due to the heat of soldering. Slide a very thin (1mm, 1/25 inch) plastic sheet between the copy paper and the balsa sheets to separate the soldered glass with paper from the balsa.
  6. Place a thick fabric sheet, such as a cut-out piece of old carpet, over the soldered stained glass. (Photo-7) Then, place another plywood panel over the fabric sheet. (Photo-8) Turn over everything together, that is, the plywood panel with balsa, copy paper, soldered glass, fabric sheet, and the plywood panel. If the glass is large, get a someone to help you when turning over or tie them together with strings. Then, remove the plywood panel with balsa. (Photo-9)
  7. Remove the copy paper (Photo-10) and solder the other side. Make the final build-up of solder lines. (Photo-11)
  8. The glass is still very weak and place the fabric sheet and plywood panel again to turn it over in the same way as above. (Photo-12)
  9. Build up solder lines on the front side. (Photo-13)
  10. Prepare a plywood which has the same dimension as the brass frame of the stained glass panel (this is the most important point in my technique). The dimension shall be exactly same as the outer dimension of the stained-glass frame. Place it on the soldered glass and turn it over again in the same way as above. (Photo-14)
  11. Cut out brass frame members correctly and drill holes for reinforcing copper wires. Set them on the plywood panel with clamps with the soldered glass inside. Align the outside edge of the frame member to the edge of plywood panel. (Photo-15) You can see an end of reinforcing copper wire and a drilled hole in the frame member in the photo. (Photo-16) Make sure that the end of reinforcing copper wire is sticking out of the hole in the frame member. (Photo-17)
  12. Solder the brass frame members together and solder each end of reinforcing wire to the frame member. (Photo-18) I have received many mails complaining that it is not very clear here. So, I will try to explain with more pictures: Cut out a plywood to the exact size of the size of frame. And, cut the frame members accurately. I use shaped-brass-member with H-shape in cross section. (Photo-001) Place the stained glass panel with copper wires inbedded into lead lines at the center of plywood board (with back side of panel facing up). (Photo-002) Mark each position of copper wire for drilling hole. (Photo-003). Mark all the way round. (Photo-004) Then, drill holes and use sand paper to prepare brass surface where good solder bite is necessary. (Photo-005) Position the frame members with clamps (with back side of member facing up, if it has side) on the plywood board which had been cut accurately (if the board is cut accurately, you just set each member to the edge of board without measuring any dimensions). (Photo-006) I use small clamps, (Photo-007) , cut-out square tubes for corners (Photo-008), to secure the corners before soldering (Photo-009). You can see that the copper wire end is coming out of the drilled hole (Photo-010) which shall be soldered to the frame member (Photo-011). Solder each corner of the frame. (Photo-012) Then, solder the lead line on the back of the panel to the frame member. It is not easy and requires some skill with your soldering iron. (Photo-013) Finally, cut out excess copper wire and file down the excess solder also (Photo-014). The cross sectional view of the whole system. (panelfix.jpg)
  13. Now, the stained-glass frame is strong enough to be handled on its own. You can pick it up with both hands, but, pay attention to the position of holding when the stained glass is large.
  14. Wash away soldering paste with solvent (I use paint thinner) and a scrubbing brush. (Photo-19) (However, it is difficult to use paint thinner in the studio in Tokyo because of smell and we omitt this process at the moment.) Wash it thoroughly with detergent and cleansing powder. (Photo-20) This is the most important process to get good black patina.
  15. Now, it is ready to apply patina. I use diluted water solution of cupric sulfate. I keep a bottle of saturated solution of cupric sulfate. (Keep adding the cupric sulfate powder and shaking the bottle well until some remains on the bottom of the bottle.) Then, I dilute it 5 times with water every time I use.Well, this is the try and error process and keep trying until you can get it right. (Photo-21)
  16. Make sure that the lead lines are evenly patinaed. (Photo-22) The one on the left is patinaed and the one on the right is not. (Photo-23)
  17. Wash off the solution of cupric sulfate with running water. Then, I keep the finished panel in a bath of detergent water for at least 3 days to remove remaining cupric sulfate completely so that that unwanted white stains or spots shall not be generated on the lead lines later. (Photo-24)
  18. Finally, set it in the window. (Photo-25)

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