Copper Wire and Fused Glass Butterfly




Introduction: Copper Wire and Fused Glass Butterfly

About: Just a guy looking to make cool things

I have been taking welding and metal fabrication classes at the College of Marin. At the same time I've also been taking fused glass classes at Stained Glass of Marin. After learning a variety of techniques and working on numerous homogeneous projects, I thought I'd start to try to meld the two mediums together. The Copper Wire and Fused Glass Butterfly was my first attempt at doing this.

The primary goal was to learn how the two materials can be brought together both physically and aesthetically. I wasn't even sure if I could get the two materials to attach to each other without compromising the design.

Working with the #10 copper wire was probably the hardest part of this project. I had to hand coil the butterfly body shaping the thorax ever so carefully. Since copper work hardens fairly quickly, I had to anneal the wire many times so that I could control by hand the diameters of the coils.

Step 1: Supplies and Tools


  • fusing glass: I used what the glass studio keeps in stock, Bullseye fusing glass. Since I had the monarch butterfly in mind, I chose those colors.
  • coarse frit: Little bits of crushed glass.
  • fusing glue: Since I worked on the wings over the course of days and weeks between the studio and my home, being able to glue down the pieces was important.
  • #10 solid copper wire: I picked up 20ft from Home Depot. I don't know exactly how much I used for the body. I had a lot of waste due to various experiments. I do have about 5ft left.
  • solder: I first used standard copper pipe solder I picked up from Home Depot. For some reason, it was difficult to control. So I switched to Stay-Brite solder which the welding class provided.
  • e6000: The glass studio suggested that I use this glue to attach the glass to the copper wire.


Step 2: Glass Butterfly Wings

It takes time to build the wings. The hardest and most time consuming activities were cutting the design and grinding the glass. Patience is definitely needed.

Draw template onto glass

I pulled an image from the Internet, enlarged it as big as I could and used it as my template. The first templates were that of the entire wings. I traced them onto black glass. Next, I cut out the cells from the template, traced them onto pumpkin glass. Because each cell and its position are unique, I labeled each cell.

Cut glass

Basically, I cut along the template lines with the glass cutter. There are a lot of curves, so I got it wrong a few times. But that just added character to the piece.

Grind and smooth glass

Because I didn't always cut along the line or cut a nice curve, I had to grind the pieces to smooth out the lines. This took quite a bit of time because there were so many pieces.

Add coarse frit

Instead of cutting little bits of glass to create the cells in the outer margins, I just used very coarse frit. It seemed to work very well.

Positioning the glass

I didn't know this at the time, but after the wings are fired everything shrinks just a bit. So it turned out that the cells that were touching before the fire ended up separating a bit. This created nice veins in the wings.

Glue down parts

I glued everything down as well as I could. This made it much easier to transport the wings from home to the studio.

Tack Fuse

I asked the studio to task fuse the wings. I wanted a bit of definition and depth to the wings. And if I didn't like it, I could have done a 2nd fire to full fuse the wings. But I ended up liking the result of the tack fuse.

Step 3: Copper Wire Butterfly Body


I wanted to be able to shape metal to take on the form of a butterfly's body. This meant having a bulge for the thorax and a taper for the abdomen. I chose copper wire since I knew I could work with shaping it. I thought of using copper pipe but enlarging and shrinking the pipe seemed too difficult.

I also wanted a head but to form it from the #10 copper wire was too difficult and it was impossible to find a copper sphere the size of a marble. I just opted go without a head.

I performed a few experiments with different diameter rods and I settled on one that was 1/2". I annealed the copper wire, used a vice grip to clamp it to the rod, and then coiled the wire around the rod.

When copper is annealed, it become very malleable. It can be worked using just hands. It work hardens fairly fast, so the wire may need to be annealed multiple times. To anneal copper, heat it until it's cherry red and cool it in water.

To get the shape of the thorax, I carefully unwound the coil to create a bulge. Surprisingly, this worked out fairly well. To create the abdomen, I did the opposite by creating ever so tighter coils going down to the end. Winding and rewinding the coil tends to change the angle of the winds. Moving very slowly and deliberately seemed to be the best approach.


For the legs, I just cut two lengths of copper wire and wrapped it perpendicular to the body half way down the body. I tried to create a tight fitting "U" shape around the contour of the body. Once it seemed tight, I soldered the legs onto the body. This took a few tries because the solder would run out from under the legs, not creating a solid bond between the legs and the body. The legs were attached to the topside of the body.

Wing Supports

For the wing supports, I did the same thing for the wings as I did for the legs except that I curved the wire so that the glass wings could rest on the wire. Once I had a proper "U" shape, I soldered them on. The wing supports were attached to the bottom side of the body.

Step 4: Attaching the Wings

The wing supports were shaped to support the wings and to lay as flat as possible to the underside of the wings. This took considerable amount of bending. Fortunately the wire was still malleable from the soldering.

Once I got the shape I wanted, I glued the wire down onto the wing using e6000. I used a liberal amount of glue. I clamped the wire down onto the wing until the glue dried.

Step 5: Final Steps

The final steps were just adjusting the wing positions and creating bends in the legs.

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    5 years ago

    I have been wanting to learn both of these skills. Maybe I should look into taking a class. It worked for you. The butterfly is beautiful.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks. I definitely recommend taking classes. A co-worker suggested a community college for welding. After trying to get in an overfilled after work time slot for 3 semesters, I finally got in. The background of the students ran the gamut from those seeking certification and vocation to artists and hobbyists to the retired, kids right out of high school, and both men and women. The best thing about a community college is that for very little money, relatively, one learns to weld on someone else's equipment and tools and consumes their materials. I learned oxy-fuel, mig, tig, stick, soldering, brazing, and plasma cutting and safety. I also took a metal fab class from the same instructor which brought in metal forming and shaping. In both classes he allowed us to bring in projects to work on. That was awesome because he taught the rest of the class how to handle the various nuances each project had. As for the fused glass classes, the instructor was just as awesome. She owns the studio, does commission work, and teaches kids to retirees. We learned various cuts, various glass types and how they mix or don't mix, how to add metals, how to create stringers and beads, how to create forms and do slumping, how some of the science works, and more. Since it's a private business, it is a bit more expensive with respect to the class time. After taking a few classes and deciding to do more complicated glass projects, I invested in some of the basic tools so I can do a good amount of work at home and then be ready to basically just grind and fire in class.


    Reply 5 years ago

    My father was an art teacher at a local high school but I never had him teach me while I had the chance. Now it is too late. Some things I can teach myself but not this. My son is going to teach me to solder and then I think I will move on to a class.


    5 years ago

    I would say you seem to have mastered both techniques very well. Very nice project and such a creative design to accomplish. Bravo!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks. I definitely learned a lot.