Introduction: Stained Glass Moravian Star Ornament

About: I live in suburban Pennsylvania with my wife and puppy. I pass the time building robots, photographing microbes and directing live TV. I enjoy learning any new skill that helps me Make! I enjoy even more passi…

I taught myself stained glass a few years ago. After becoming familiar with soldering techniques and making a few two dimensional panels and windows, I sought to create an interesting three dimensional project. These twelve point stars not only include an element of geometry, but have a truly elegant and emotional presence.

This Instructable will show you how I made a 5-inch tall star ornament. You may want to learn basic stained glass skills before attempting this project.

Step 1: Let's Talk Safety.

Stained glass is the craft of controlling the shattering of glass. You will be handling very sharp objects in this project. PLEASE take great care to protect your hands and eyes. Clean your work station regularly to eliminate glass dust and tiny shards.

Gently wash your hands after working and refrain from rubbing your eyes. Do not leave food or drink too close to your work area as small chips of glass, flux or lead solder may contaminate your food.

When soldering, use a fume extracting fan or dust mask to protect your lungs from fumes.

And lastly, always remember to have fun. The time spent in working with glass has been truly meditative and stress relieving for me. I hope you find it does the same for you.

Step 2: Gather Some Glass Tools.

Tools I used (in order of appearance):

-Thin Sharpie

-Flux Brush

-Running Piers

-Glass Cutter

-Plastic Fid (Burnishing Tool)

-Carpenter's Square

-Glass Cutting Oil

-Soldering Flux

-60/40 Solder (60% Tin, 40% Lead)

-100 Watt Soldering Iron (Weller W100P) and Low Power Soldering Iron (Weller WES51).

-20 Gauge Bare Crafting Copper Wire

-7/32-inch Silver Backed Copper Foil Tape

-Cork Backed Metal Ruler

-Glass, (Use any color or colors you like. I used this nice iridescent textured kind.)

SIDE NOTE: With the low power soldering iron, I used a Flat Soldering Tip. If you wish to use a soldering iron you may already own for electronics work (as I do mine), you may want to purchase a dedicated tip for lead solder only.

Step 3: Make Your First Cuts.

Chances are, the piece of glass you find will not be perfectly square. Use the carpenter's square to find or mark and cut a good right angle. If your glass has a textured slide, flip it over and do all the marking and cutting on the smooth side.

The star I made has two different size glass points. The two top and bottom points are slightly longer than the ten remaining side points. This gives it a nice elongated look. You dont have to do this, but if you like it, you will need to cut two strips of glass. A 1 1/2-inch wide and a 2-inch wide strip.

SIDE NOTE: A 6-inch long strip of glass will give you eleven triangles. If you want all points the same size, cut an 8-inch strip for fourteen triangles. You only need twelve, but it's nice to work in extras in case any break unexpectedly. If you are using two different size points, the length of strip from which you cut your bigger points will only have to be 2-inches long to give you three points (needing only two).

Use the cork backed ruler for a nice straight cut. Notice the edge of the ruler is off line slightly. This compensates for the width of the glass cutter and allows the cutting wheel to cut right on the line.

Dip the tip of the glass cutter in the cutting oil. You can test your ruler placement by gliding your glass cutter over your glass without pressure. See where your oil lays on the glass? That is where it will cut. Cut the glass by applying firm and even pressure along the entire length of the glass, edge to edge.

Use your running pliers to snap the glass on the score you just made. Line the mark on the top of the pliers with the score and gently squeeze until the glass breaks along the cut.

Step 4: Cut the Points.

Using the ruler, mark points every 1-inch along the strip of the glass you just cut. Flip the ruler to the other side and mark points at every 1/2 inch. The space between these points will be the bases of the triangles that make up the points of the star. If you choose to make two different size points, do this to the other glass strip as well. The bases to all triangles should be the same size.

Connect the dots in a zig-zag pattern across the strip(s) to make the outline of the triangle points. The diagram above should make this process clearer.

Just like before, use your cork backed ruler, glass cutter and cutting oil to score each line, edge to edge. You may want to cut only one triangle at a time. Making more than one score on glass before breaking it may weaken the glass and make it shatter in undesirable ways.

Break each triangle out with your running pliers. Notice my glass triangles are not perfectly broken on the corners of their base. This is OK. You will be hiding these small imperfections on the inside of the star and under foil and solder.

Step 5: Foil and Burnish.

Once all the glass pieces are cut, take the opportunity to clean off excess cutting oil, dirt and Sharpee lines. Soak the glass pieces in warm water and dish soap and carefully wipe them dry. This will help with our next step.

Wrap the entire edge of each piece of glass in the 7/32" copper foil tape. Take great care to make sure to place the glass edge in the middle of the tape. Overlap a small amount of tape at the end.

Pinch the corners of the foil together and fold them back so they lay flat, like wrapping a gift. Use the fid to smooth out, or "burnish" the foil on all sides. This makes a strong bond between the foil tape and the glass. It also provides a smooth surface for the solder to stick to.

SIDE NOTE: We are using silver backed foil tape because the glass is transparent. The back of the tape will be visible through the glass. The silver will match the solder that will be applied later. If you choose to use opaque glass, you can use standard copper backed foil tape. If you really wanted to go crazy, you could use black backed foil tape with transparent glass and then apply a black patina to the solder afterward.

Step 6: Tin the Copper Foil.

Apply a generous amount of flux to the foil around each point and tin it with solder.

Allow your soldering iron to heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Apply a small amount of solder to the iron. Glide it gently over the fluxed foil on the glass. Do this to all sides so that the foil is completely ensconced in solder.

Soak and scrub each point in water and soap to remove residual flux, oil, finger prints or dirt.

SIDE NOTE: A confession here... you can see in the second photo in this step what my work station ACTUALLY looks like. The white background in all other steps is purely to make the photos look better.

Step 7: Make the Hanger.

Cut a 4-inch piece of copper wire and wrap it twice around a thin round object. I used a 1/4-inch metal pin punch.

Use needle nose pliers to help shape the arms of the hanger so that they fit the tip of the top glass point.

Use a hammer to flatten the arms so each sits flat against the sides of the triangle. Try using another hammer, anvil or hard metal surface on which to flatten the copper for better control. Copper is very malleable however, hammering it too thin will weaken the wire.

Flux the copper hanger generously and tin the entire thing with solder.

Step 8: Build the Frame.

The frame is the base onto which all the remaining points will be soldered. It consists of four glass pieces: top, bottom, left and right.

If you are using textured glass, you may want to turn like surfaces to the same side however, mixing which side a textured face is situated my have a very nice effect.

From this point on, we will use the low power soldering iron to assemble the rest of the star. You can also put away the flux and cutting oil. Use the carpenter's square to align the corners of the bases of the top piece with one of the smaller side pieces. Apply a small piece of solder to tac the two corners together. Do the same for the bottom and a side piece. Now solder both halves of the frame together.

Use the carpenters square to make two side "half frames" made of two side triangles. At this point you should have a full frame, two half frames and four remaining triangles. (Along with any extra you may have cut for emergencies).

SIDE NOTE: Tac soldering, like tac welding, is applying a small amount of solder just strong enough to hold two pieces of glass together. Once all pieces are assembled, we will go back and apply more solder to each joint to strengthen the entire structure.

Step 9: Build the Sides.

Tac solder one of the half frames to the big frame so it crosses diagonally across the big frame. Make sure the half frame stands perpendicularly to the big frame.

SIDE NOTE: One of the reasons we tac solder at this stage is so that if the half frame and big frame are not perfectly perpendicular, they can be gently bent into position without damaging any previous work. If you need to do this, proceed slowly and make sure you are not pulling foil away from the glass points. You can always provide a small amount of heat from your iron to get your solder to move just a tiny bit more.

Step 10: The Last Points.

Finish the star by soldering on the remaining side pieces. I find it helps to put a small amount of tac solder directly onto the base corners of the triangle points. Attach one base corner to a joint on the big frame and the other base corner to middle of the perpendicular half base over the center of the big base. Do this for the other side as well.

Flip the whole star over like a table and repeat the last two steps.

Step 11: Finishing Touches.

You now have all the points assembled on your star. Go back and apply more solder to each joint to strengthen the structure. Smooth out any burrs or other imperfections of solder that may have occurred while building.

SIDE NOTE: Having a low power soldering iron helps with the clean up step so you dont "over cook" your soldering job. The smaller, thinner iron will also be easier to get into the small spaces inside your star.

Apply the hanger. Since it and the edge of glass are pre-tinned, all you need to do is place the hanger's arms around the point of the top triangle and apply a small amount of heat from the soldering iron. No flux is required.

Step 12: Admire Your Work.

Finish off your star with ribbon or wire from which to hang. The more stars you make, the better you will get at it. Experiment with different colors of glass and sizes of triangles. Just remember that the bases of the triangles need to be the same size, but the heights can be all different sizes if you wish.

These stars make great gifts, tree ornaments, sun catchers or wedding decorations. Make some for fund raising or in memory of someone special.

Please leave comments if you have questions or need help with technique. Please post a photo if you make one! And PLEASE.... Have Fun and Enjoy!!

Step 13: Going Further...

I taught myself stained glass through many fantastic video tutorials on sites like YouTube (demonstrating all the techniques described here and so much more), emailing glass artists (on sites like Etsy) with questions and admiring as many works as I could get close to. There are even several great projects right here at Instructables to get you started! (Just search "stained glass" to find them.) My father provided me with my first stained glass tools and words of wisdom from his years practicing the craft.

But nothing beats just sitting down and cutting away. Making a stained glass ... anything, out of... what ever you have laying around is immensely valuable! Do not fear mistakes. As a maker, I wear cuts and burns on my hands with pride. The time spent learning this art is completely worth how rewarding it can be.

Go. Make!