Stained glass is easier than it seems. Although it does require a special set of tools and equipment, once you have access to these, you'll find that the process of turning your designs into gorgeous stained glass pieces is really quite simple! My brother and I started working in stained glass at our father's side when we were just 8 and 10 yrs old, so I can confidently recommend this to a wide range of ages and skill levels.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
There's a broad range of really fun materials involved in stained glass. Here are a few essentials to get you started. You can always add to your collection as you go along (and trust me, it's hard not to!) It's best to find a specialist stained glass supplier for these materials.
Glass (obv. Hard to do a glass project without glass) - there are SO many kinds of glass available! I used a combination of streaky and textured glass for this project. You'll see the wide world of glass available to you when you visit a stained glass supplier!
Glass Cutter - these also come in a variety of styles. Here you see a tungsten carbide wheel cutter which has an oil reservoir in the handle. I also like using a pistol-grip style cutter with the same features, but in a more ergonomic design.
Cutting Oil - required to prolong the life of your glass cutter and improving the quality of your score on the glass
Pliers - Do not use ordinary house pliers for this! There are two styles of pliers used in stained glass. Grozer pliers are designed for breaking glass and nipping off little edges. Running pliers are designed for snapping long cuts in the glass.
Copper Foil - Some stained glass works use lead came, which is a lead channel that holds pieces of glass together. This is a completely different technique than I am showing you. This technique uses copper foil which has an adhesive on one side to hold the glass pieces together. Copper foil comes in a variety of widths to accommodate different thicknesses of glass. The copper foil is what gets soldered to hold the glass together! Copper foil also comes with silver or copper backing. This is important to keep in mind for the design of your piece. If you are using clear glass, the backing of the foil will be visible. I used silver backed foil because I wanted the finished piece to be silver. There are patinas available to change the finished color of your solder if you like.
Soldering Iron - You'll need a soldering iron that's designed for stained glass, minimum 75 watts. These come with a variety of tips. For most projects, I prefer a wide soldering tip.
Solder - Solder is a mixture of tin and lead. Solder with a higher tin content has a lower melting point and will flow more quickly, with a more silvery finish. Lead free solder is also available.
Flux - Flux is available in liquid or gel form (I find the gel to be more forgiving to work with), and is used to assist the solder flow between the copper taped pieces. Brush every copper foiled surface with flux before soldering every time for best results.
Grinder - if you're just starting out and don't want to make a big investment, you can use a Carborundum stone to file down the sharp edges of your glass after you've made the cuts. If you can get access to one, I recommend an Electric Glass Grinder which makes quick work of the job. It has a water-cooled grinding wheel that can rapidly grind down rough edges and even help achieve shapes that are more difficult to cut.
Safety Glasses - any type will do as long as they completely protect your eyes. When you're cutting and grinding glass, little flecks of it will be flying everywhere! For this reason, I also recommend long sleeves when using an electric grinder.
Safety Gloves - I've never used gloves during this process, but after counting the cuts on my fingers and hands from this last project (well in the double digits), I'm going to give latex gloves a shot for the next one. Let me know if you've ever tried this and what your experiences were!
Lightbox - A lightbox will help you transfer your design from paper to the glass. If you don't have access to one, just cut out the paper pattern and trace it onto the glass.