Introduction: Laser Cut and Epoxy Inlaid Stained Glass
We invited Xyla Foxlin to Narwhal Labs to use our makerspace to make a project! Xyla is an Ohio based Aviatrix, and chose to make an epoxy inlaid stained glass panel of the "Spirit of Columbus". The Spirit of Columbus is a Cessna 180 piloted by Geraldine Fredritz Mock - the first woman to circumnavigate the world during a series of solo flights over the course of 29 days in 1964. The Spirit of Columbus can now be found on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.
Video premiering at 10:30 Eastern on youtube! Click the video above and watch with us, and chat live with Narwhal Labs and Xyla!
- Vector-Capable illustration software such as Inkscape, Adobe Draw, or Adobe Illustrator
- Laser Cutter - at least 40 Watt CO2 or 5 Watt Diode
- We used a Thunder Laser Nova 35 100W - thanks Thunder Laser!
- This could also be cut manually with a scroll saw!
- This could also be made with mica pigments such as black diamond, or alcohol inks!
Step 1: Design and Cut Your Graphic
Using a piece of vector-based design software, you'll need to design your stained glass. Designing with vectors makes it easy to scale your design and move it to the laser. Xyla used Adobe Draw on an iPad - but you could use Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape - which is free and open source to design on any computer. It's important that each part of your design leaves connecting pieces, so removing the piece doesn't result in parts of your stained glass "falling out".
Lasers from different vendors use different software and setup processes, so we're not going into extreme detail here - but we used Lightburn to run out ThunderLaser Nova 35 100W, and cut at 90% power and 10mm/s. We keep a running list of laser settings for our laser on our wiki.
Tip!Hold your piece in place and check that everything cut out before you remove it from the laser. As long as you don't move it, you can always run the laser again to cut through the rest of the way.
Step 2: Seal Your Work Piece
When working with any wood and epoxy for inlay or any other cosmetic work, it's recommended to seal your entire work piece. This prevents air bubbles from bleeding into your epoxy, and pigmented epoxy from bleeding into the wood grain in later steps. With laser work, this has an added benefit of sealing in the charred edges and preventing it from discoloring finishes and epoxy.
Xyla used TotalBoat High Performance Epoxy with slow hardener. Using slow hardener, the viscosity is low enough to allow it to penetrate into your substrate, but is tack-free in just a few hours and fully cured in about a day - and you still have about 30 minutes of working time. TotalBoat Penetrating Epoxy is a great choice as well, but takes several days for a full cure, and we can use high performance epoxy and slow hardener for every step in this project instead of having to buy multiple products. Plus it has plenty of other uses around the shop for other crafts or even just as adhesive.
Tip!Graduated measuring and mixing cups have a handy scale to help you dispense the correct ratios of epoxy. TotalBoat High Performance Epoxy uses a 2:1 ratio. See TotalBoat's video embedded here on using these cups for directions.
Once your epoxy is mixed thoroughly (mix for 3 minutes, no less! Stir calmly and scrape the sides and bottom of the cup periodically), paint it on your substrate using a foam brush. An acid brush can work great for small detail areas.
Step 3: Fill With a Layer of Clear Epoxy
Before we fill with colors, we need to fill our piece with clear epoxy. This compartmentalizes all the areas of your piece to prevent color bleeding in our next steps.
Tape your piece securely around all edges to a polypropylene or melamine sheet - or use packing tape, or tuck tape on the whole underside of the piece.
Use the same High Performance Epoxy with Slow Hardener and fill all of the voids about halfway with it. You can use your stir stick to help nudge the epoxy into tight areas. Carefully and briefly use a heat gun to help pop air bubbles.
After about a day of curing you can release your piece from the sheet, or peel the tape off.
Step 4: Color!
Using the same High Performance Epoxy Resin with Slow Hardener, start coloring it in! It's easiest to mix a larger batch, then split it into smaller cups and add your pigment to them. The TotalTint Kit includes Mixol universal pigments, which are very concentrated. Only use a drop or two to start and adjust from there - remember this is stained glass and light needs to come through it!
You can again use a mixing stick to help nudge the epoxy around, and a heat gun to briefly and carefully pop bubbles. Using small dental syringes to dispense the epoxy can be helpful in tight areas like the "Spirit of Columbus" text in this project.
Step 5: UV Protection
All epoxy is susceptible to UV damage over time. It will yellow and discolor. To protect epoxy from UV damage, it's recommended to seal and protect it with varnish. For its ease of use, fast drying time, and its clear finish Xyla used TotalBoat Halcyon Clear.
Spread it on a little thick with a foam brush. It will self level and most brush strokes will disappear. Be sure to varnish the front and back to prevent long term UV damage.
Step 6: All Finished!
Your project is all finished! Hang it with fishing line, picture wire, or place it on your favorite windowsill. Thanks for following along! We'd love to see your own "stained glass" project!