Introduction: Stained Glass Box

How to make and personalize a stained glass box!

Step 1: Tools & Materials

  • Glass (any type of glass will work, however you generally want all of your pieces to have roughly the same thickness. I find that buying glass from a store that sells window panes is a good way to get fairly cheap clear glass or even mirror. I buy glass that is 1/8 inches thick because its less expensive and easier to cut, but still sturdy.)
  • Copper foil (I usually get foil that is 7/32 inches wide and has a black back. The black back is so that when you place the foil around clear glass, there is no copper showing through, however this is optional.)
  • Solder (60:40, tin:lead)
  • Copper wire (for the hinge)
  • Flux & brush (this allows the solder to spread along the copper foil more easily)
  • Etching paste & squeegee (this gives the glass a frosted look)
  • Contact paper (sticky on one side but easily removable; used to create a stencil for glass etching; this can be bought at places like ACE Hardware)
  • Soldering iron (I have the 'Weller W1140a Stained Glass Soldering Iron' and it works great)
  • Fid (plastic tool about 7 inches long that is used to push/rub the copper foil onto the glass; the side of a plastic pen can also be used as a replacement)
  • Glass cutter (I use an oil cutter because it cuts glass better while requiring little effort)
  • Right angle ruler (can be replaced with a regular ruler)
  • Wire cutters
  • Wet sponge (to clean the soldering iron)
  • Exacto knife (for cutting the stencil)
  • Safety goggles

I buy most of my supplies at The Stained Glass Garden in Berkeley, Ca ( however they do not have very much online. If there is a store that specializes in stained glass near you, they will definitely have everything you need. If not, this site works well for online shopping, (the method you are using is the copper foil method and the flux is listed under chemicals).

Step 2: Cutting the Glass

Odds are, the glass you have is not exactly the size you want it to be, therefore you will have to cut it. The easiest way to do that is to use an oil glass cutter. To use an oil cutter, first unscrew the end of the handle and pour the cutting oil into the handle.

To cut straight lines, you can use any straight edge (ex: a ruler) to keep the oil cutter from slipping off track. I usually use a right angle ruler because it not only serves as a guide for cutting, but it also has a ridge to rest the glass against. This ridge guarantees that your cut will be at a right angle to the edge that is resting against it.

If you have a right angle ruler and are cutting at a right angle to an edge, push the edge up against the ridge of the right angle ruler, with the mark still aligned with the long edge of the ruler.

First mark where on the glass you are going to cut. This can be done in sharpie, which can be rubbed off fairly easily. Once you have the mark, align the ruler so that the blade of the oil cutter is along the mark. Push down on the ruler with one hand to keep it in place, and with the other, push down on the glass with the oil cutter. You should feel the tip of the oil cutter push up into the handle. In one fluid movement, run the blade along the mark while still maintaining the pressure on the glass. This will score the glass. Do not run over the same scratch mark twice or it will ruin the blade of the cutter. Because the blade will slip off the edge of the glass at the end of the mark, make sure to cut away from your body. It is also advisable to make these cuts on a work surface that can get scratched up.

To actually cut the glass, you are going to break the piece in two by cracking the glass along the score mark. As a safety precaution, wear safety glasses whenever breaking glass. I recommend placing the glass score mark along a crisp ledge such as the edge of a table. Place the glass so that the mark is facing upwards. You can then place one hand on the part of the glass on the table, and with the other hand push down on the glass that's hanging off the edge. Make sure that you have a firm grip on the part of the glass that is being broken off so that is does not fall on the ground and break. The glass should then snap cleanly in two. Even though the cut is clean, the edges of the glass are still sharp so make sure not to cut yourself.

Step 3: Adding the Copper Foil

There are a couple of methods for stained glass, however I find that the copper foil method is the easiest, especially for smaller projects like boxes. The foil is used as a way to forge a connection between the solder and the glass. The solder won't stick to the glass, however it will stick to the foil, which has a sticky backing that binds it to the glass.

The copper foil goes around the perimeter of the glass. The foil should be a bit wider then the edge of the glass, and can therefore be folded over into the front and back of the glass. The foil is backed so that the adhesive side remains sticky. I recommend wrapping the foil around the perimeter of the piece of glass before you remove the backing so that you know how long the piece needs to be.

To place the foil around the edge of the glass, start by pealing off part of the backing. I recommend starting in the middle of a short edge as that will make it easier to ensure that the foil is being put on straight without having to remove too much of the backing. Also make sure that the glass is in the middle of the foil.

Once the foil has been wrapped around the perimeter of the glass, press down the excess foil onto the surface of the glass. This will create a thin frame around both faces of the glass. After pressing it down with your fingers, use the fid to rub down the foil. This will ensure that there is a good seal between the foil and the glass so that the foil does not come off.

Make sure to put foil around everything you want to solder, mainly the four sides, the base and the lid of the box.

Step 4: Soldering

Make sure that you are in a well ventilated room when you solder, or wearing a respirator. Also, because the solder has lead in it, do not eat of the box, or let kids lick it. To start the process of soldering, place the glass pieces where you want them.

For the base of this box, I created a rectangle out of various pieces of glass. To do this, put copper foil around each piece, lay them out and apply flux along the copper foil (photo 2). Next place the end of the solder (unwind the coil of solder for easier access) to the tip of the hot soldering iron. Run the soldering iron along the copper foil while still touching the end of the solder coil to the tip of the soldering iron (photo 3). Try to move the soldering iron in one fluid motion to keep the solder evenly spread. At the same time, steadily feeding solder to the iron by touching the tip of the iron with the solder. Make sure to cover all of the copper foil with solder. This will mean flipping over the base to apply solder to the back as well.

I usually start by soldering together one side of the box to the base. When placing the four sides, I would recommend putting one set of opposite sides inside the other (photo 6). This will make soldering the base, as well as the sides, easier. Before soldering the base and sides together, apply solder to the sides so that there is no copper foil visible. Because solder can be reheated, it is better to make sure that the coat of solder is reasonably thick so that it is easier to solder the sides to other things.

First solder one of the sides to the base. I find that it is easier to solder the side on top of the base. When doing this, it is helpful to have a right angle to rest the side against. I use two long pieces of wood nailed to a wooden base at a right angle, however anything with a right angle will work just the same (ex: a cardboard box). This creates a nice corner that can be used to align the base and sides of the box.

Place the side to be soldered on top of the base. Use the same process as before to apply solder along the connection between the base and the side (photo 7). The excess solder on the sides, when reheated as you apply additional solder, will help hold the side in place. Once the first side is attached, place the next side adjacent to the first (photo 8). Make sure it fits correctly and then solder it, first to the base and then attach it to the first side. After attaching the second side, solder around the outside edges of the box as well to ensure that it is completely secure. Repeat this process on the third and fourth side. For putting in place the last side, it is often helpful to tack it in place before soldering along all of the edges (photo 11).

For the lid of the box, cover the copper foil with solder.

The soldering iron sometimes get dirty or covered in excess solder which can be removed by wiping the soldering iron on the wet sponge, which can be done while the soldering iron is still hot. The soldering iron is very hot, so do not touch the metal part of the soldering iron while it is on. Also because solder can be reheated, if you make a mistake, you can always reheat the solder and separate the glass pieces.

Step 5: Adding the Hinge

For this step, the pictures will most likely be more helpful than my written descriptions.

To create the hinge, cut a piece of wire about 2 inches longer than the length of the box. Hold the wire so that there is an even amount of excess on each end. Fold the wire so that there is a slight bulge coming off of the end of box (for reference on how to fold the wire, see the second photo).

Next create the two loops that the wire will be fed through. Wind the wire around something, preferably something oval shaped such as a nail (or even the narrow part of a key). Leave about half an inch on one end, then wind the wire twice around the nail to create two coils. Cut the wire so that there is about half an inch of loose end (photo 3). Once you have this loop, pinch the ends together at the base of the loop with pliers (photo 4).

If you want to coat the loops and the wire in solder, do that now. I chose to do this for aesthetic effect. If you do do this, make sure that you do not apply too much solder to the loops or they will close up. If this happens, simply lift up the loop by its base and hold the soldering iron to the clogged center until the excess solder drips off or is redistributed.

Next thread the loops through the wire and solder each end of the wire to the sides of the lid (photo 7). Make sure that throughout this process, the wire is able to move within the loops.

Once the wire is attached to the lid, align the lid with the base of the box. Place the end of each of the loops along the corner of the box and solder them in place (photo 8). I would recommend using the pliers to shape the two wires that make up the end of the loop so that they will lie flat against the corner of the box.

To hold the lid more securely in place, you can also solder the middle section of the wire to the lid of the box, however this is not necessary.

Step 6: Glass Etching

Whatever the etching paste is exposed to will turn frosty so stencils are a good way to control what stays clear. However you can also paint on the etching paste as long as you leave a layer thick enough (about 1/16 of an inch). While applying the etching paste with a brush does work, I would recommend using a stencil because it is more controlled.

With this design I only wanted to letters to frost, so I cut out a piece of contact paper that was a little larger than my piece of glass. I then drew out my design (with the sticky part of the contact paper facing down) and cut it out with an exacto knife.

When making a stencil with contact paper, it isn't actually necessary for all of the parts to be connected. Because contact paper is sticky, individual parts can be laid down. However when I made my stencil, I made sure that it all stayed together as one piece. Either way works, just make sure that the parts of the stencil stay stuck to the glass.

Once I was done, I peeled off the backing so that the sticky side was exposed, and I placed the stencil on my glass. I then pressed it down with the squeegee, making sure that there were no air bubbles.

Next I poured etching paste onto the surface and spread it out evenly with the squeegee. If you get paste on your skin, wash it with soap and water right away, or use gloves when applying the paste. Once all of the exposed areas were covered, I let the paste sit for 20 minutes (this time depends on the instructions on the bottle, however I usually leave it for 5-10 extra minutes just to be safe). After the allotted amount of time, remove the etching paste and wash of the surface with water. The etching paste that I use is reusable, so after taking off the paste, I put it back into the container. However most etching paste is not reusable, so I would recommend wiping it off with a paper towel which you can then throw out. Also make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using the paste.

Make sure to rinse the glass so that there is not excess paste left on the surface, both before and after removing the stencil. I find that it is easiest to remove the stencil as I am washing off the excess paste.

Step 7: Finished!

Step 8: More Glass Fun!

Now that you know how to solder, you can make all sorts of glass things. Here are some examples of things that I've made.

Here are my answers to the Make-To-Learn contest

1. What did you make?
I was in an IB Studio Art class for two years. In this class, you create your own projects that revolve around a central theme or question. I was fascinated by connections and how objects relate to their surroundings, as well as what defines an object. In looking at this, I wanted to make art that reflected the importance of connected. I have always loved stained glass and thought that this process is all about the way smaller pieces relate to form a larger artwork. I then created a mosaic stained glass box (photo 5) from various pieces of glass, mirror as well as some beach glass I had found. I used copper foil, solder, and a soldering iron to solder together all of the pieces.

2. How did you make it?
This (photo 5) was actually my first time doing stained glass so the process was completely new to me. My friend's mom, who has done a lot of stained glass work, actually taught me how to solder. Piecing together the sides was like putting together a puzzle that kept changing. I was not great at cutting glass, and a lot of the cuts I wanted to make were very small and therefore more difficult because I could not crack the glass with my hands. Because of this, the design changed a lot. What's nice about stained glass though is that it can all be taken apart and remade.

3. Where did you make it?
When I first learned how to do stained glass, I was in my friend's mom's workshop. I now do stained glass in my own garage. Knowing how to solder has also helped with other projects. I made an LED chandelier which I was able to wire up using my knowledge of soldering. I have made many boxes, mainly as birthday presents for my friends.

4. What did you learn?
I think my biggest challenge was moving the solder around on the copper foil and making it smooth. Most of what I've learned about soldering was from experience and having to redo certain parts of my projects. I am proudest of being able to dismantle a project and start over and reassemble the parts. I usually try to stick to what I have done, rather than change the design or start over, so working with a process such as stained glass is a change from what I usually do.

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