Introduction: Steel Heart and Fused Glass Sculpture

About: Just a guy looking to make cool things

This was my Valentine's gift to my wife. It was a year in the making. A welding class at the College of Marin. A metal fabrication class the following semester. Glass fusing class at the Stained Glass of Marin. Lots of trial and errors. And a bit of good luck.

The instructions that follow are more like discovery notes and suggestions rather than a recipe. The sculpture was made on the fly with purchased and scrap material. The process and dimensions are at best general rather exact.

Step 1: Parts and Tools


Steel Heart

  • 13 ga cold rolled mild steel x 36cm wide x 28cm high
  • 8 ga (1/8") cold rolled mild steel x 20.7mm wide x 100cm long
  • Presto Black PC-9 Birchwood Patina (8oz $9)

I bought this as scrap material at Van Bebber Brothers, Inc in Petaluma, CA. I think I bought about 20 or 40lbs of various scrap pieces for $10 or less. PC-9 was purchased at Douglas and Sturgess in Richmond, CA.

Fused Glass

  • Yellow, Red Striker Transparent Streaky, 10" x 10" x 3mm ($17)
  • Yellow 2" x 2" x 3mm sheet
  • White 2" x 2" x 3mm sheet
  • 1/2 oz Sienna Opalescent Frit, Medium ($1.50)
  • 1/2 oz Brown Opalescent Frit, Medium ($1.50)
  • 1/2 oz Canary Yellow Opalescent Frit, Medium ($1.50)
  • 1/2 oz Garnet Red Transparent Frit, Medium ($1.50)

All glass is by Bullseye and it is COE 90. I bought all of it from Stained Glass of Marin in Novato, CA and Ceramics and Glass in Santa Rosa, CA.

Base and Post

I bought the wood beam from a discount pile at Heritage Salvage in Petaluma, CA. The black pipe parts I got from Lowe's Home Improvement.


  • 2m 5v USB 5050 RGB LED strip with remote control ($6). It has 60 LEDs and a waterproof layer. The waterproof layer is a short-circuit precaution since it will be sitting on the steel. I bought mine on eBay. Buying these strips are hit and miss. I've bought others which simply do not work. Make sure it runs on the power adapter.
  • 5v 2a USB power adapter. This is one typically used for high end, energy hog cell phones.
  • 12" x 14" x 1/8" sheet of Satinice white acrylic ($13). This is used to diffuse the LEDs inside the heart.
  • 28 awg wire x 2ft in red, green, blue, white
  • Aluminum foil
  • E6000 glue

Back of Heart

  • 12" x 14" thin sheet rigid plastic. I used LED light panel sheet because that's what I had laying around. All that matters is that it is very thin and fairly rigid. It must deform inwards to the heart.
  • 12" x 14" black felt


  • Band saw capable of cutting metal
  • Plasma cutter
  • Die grinder
  • Bench grinder
  • GMAW (MIG) welder
  • OFW (oxy acetylene torch)
  • Glass cutter
  • Grozer
  • Mosaic glass cutter
  • Glass grinder
  • Glastac glass fusing glue
  • Glass kiln
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Soldering iron
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue

The big tools such as the metal cutting band saw, plasma cutter, MIG welder and welding torch were available at the College of Marin. The glass kiln was available at the Stained Glass of Marin. I can't say enough about having local access to supplies, tools, instruction and expertise for more advanced disciplines, particularly the expertise.

Step 2: The Steel Heart

Heart Frame

The frame is basically two lengths of thin steel flat rods, each 18cm in length, symmetrically formed into a heart shape, and then welded at the top and bottom. After I welded it, it twisted a bit. I torched it to a cherry red and hammered it to get it to lay flat. In order to get the heart to be symmetrical after it was welded, I drew the outline of one side and used it to gauge the other side. Where it was off, I used a hammer. I don't have any pictures of any of this process since this was all done in class. Taking pictures in a hot shop with a lot of welding and hammering and grinding going on by noobies is a tad bit dangerous.

Once the shape has been worked out, use a die grinder on the weld joints to make them look smooth.

Steel Inserts

The shape of the inserts were created on the fly. I drew a variety of different waves and curves and angles. I just chose the one that looked balanced and believed I could fit glass into the resulting negative space. The easiest way to come up with the insert shapes is by drawing the heart on a large piece of paper, design the inserts, cut them out, and then place them in the heart frame. If you squint, you'll see the positive and negative space potential.

I laid the designs on a sheet of 13ga cold rolled steel, outlined them with a soapstone marker, and then cut them out. I used two different ways to cut them out because I wanted to practice using a variety of tools. The first was with a plasma cutter. The plasma cutter literally feels like cutting butter with a hot knife. It moves very fast and is unforgiving. It took some practice on scrap metal before I felt confident I could cut out some of the inserts.

The second way I used a band saw designed to cut metal. This was slow and loud and physically and mentally exhausting. Moving the metal ever so slowly along the curves required heightened attention. I didn't want to break the blade and I didn't want to cut the positive.

The last part was to grind and smooth the edges so that the inserts fit perfectly where they touched the heart. I used a combination of a bench grinder and a die grinder. Although I didn't get it perfectly, I did get it good enough.

Welding In the Inserts

The design of the inserts already accounted for their position in the heart. All that had to be done was to clamp them into position and weld them into place. I placed a piece of scrap on the front side of the insert to set the insert back just a bit. Then I welded the insert to the frame. The welds are just a bit bigger and stronger than a tack weld.

The last image shows the final welded heart with the inserts. I had already applied a ferric nitrate metal finish when I took the picture. As the instructable will show, that's is not the finish I ended up with.

Welding the Pipe Fitting

In order to know where the pipe fitting will be placed and its orientation, the desired aesthetic height of the heart needs to be figured out. And to do this, the base has to be cut and a straight pipe length has to be chosen. I assembled the pipe hardware, placed it on the base, and marked on the backside of a metal insert where I wanted the 45 deg street elbow was to be located. Because of the angles, the pipe hardware has to be tightened as if it were permanent. The female part of the 45 deg street elbow lays flat on the metal insert. I picked an insert and a position where the connected straight pipe would end up in the middle of the heart. I built a wooden block that held the heart at the desired height. I then tacked the pipe fitting onto the insert, disassembled the pipe mount, and then welded all around the fitting.


The first patina I used was a ferric nitrate solution applied hot. It was and it looked nice. But after seeing the glass inserts next to the heart, I decided to go black. I used Birchwood Patina PC-9 Presto Black. It is applied cold. I used the spray instead of the gel. I must have put on 3 coats. Between each coat I removed the filmy residue created by the PC-9. After it was all done, I did a light sanding with some steel wool.

Lastly, I applied patina to the screws that hold the pipe fitting flange to the base.

Next Time

Next time I would make the frame deeper. When back lighting, it needs more diffusion space. I would probably go 1" - 1 1/5" deep.

Step 3: The Fused Glass Inserts

The shapes of the inserts were driven by the negative spaces in the heart. I simply traced out the shapes onto paper, cut them out, and then traced them onto glass. I used a glass cutter to cut out the shapes. The edges were grounded to fit nicely in the negative space. Then I decorated them using frit and some chips. Again, no detail pictures of this process since I was in class. The last picture shows the frit design glued down to the base layer and placed on the kiln shelf ready to be fired. The glue is there just to hold the frit in place so that it does not fall off while the pieces are moved. It will burn on in the kiln. The pieces were tack fused. Tack fusing melts the glass just enough so that all of the frit is bonded to the base layer but still leaves the texture of the top layer.

Next Time

Next time I would use more transparent glass. The base glass was a mixture of opaque and translucent sections. Depending on where the insert was cut from, light might be able to transmit through or not. Almost all the frit was opaque. And because there is a lot of depth to the frit, the light just does not transmit through.

Step 4: The Base

I tried a few different ideas for the base. I tried all black pipe. I tried new wood from Home Depot. What I went with was what is in the pictures, some old scrap recycled wood I got from a salvage store.

I don't have advanced wood working tools to properly cut a block from this board. But because imperfection was part of the design, I just used a reciprocating saw. I cut a 11" wide x 5" deep block. I sand rounded all of the edges and sanded out the rotted pits. I then stained it with a dark walnut.

Next Time

If I had to do this again, I would make the block 6 - 6 1/2" deep. This would remove the tendency to fall forwards if bumped, like by a cat.

Step 5: The Backlighting

The Diffusion Panel

The RGB LEDs that I bought need a diffusion panel. I tried white felt, diffusion fabric, LED panel sheet, and Satinice. I finally went with 1/8" Satinice. It is rigid, diffuses light, cuts pretty effortlessly with a jigsaw, and easily sanded.

I used the heart itself as the cut out template; simply laid it on the sheet and drew around it. Accounting for the thickness of the frame, I cut out the shape using a metal cutting blade on the jigsaw and cut it just a hair larger than the inside dimension of the heart. I then sanded it down to fit perfectly inside the heart.

A hole was needed to accommodate the pipe fitting which connects to the backside of the heart. I drilled numerous tiny holes and then used the jigsaw to cut from hole to hole very slowly. This prevented cracking the panel due to the very tight circle. The last bits to cut out were the notches to accommodate the weld joints.

Adhering Glass Inserts Onto Diffusion Panel

When the time was right, I glued the diffusion panel down to the backside of the metal inserts. I used E6000 glue for its strength and transparency. I used multiple clamps to hold the panel down to the inserts until the glue dried.

The LED Strips

The RGB LEDs were lined along the inside of the heart frame and on the backside of the diffusion panel above the metal inserts. The idea is that the light emits from the strip, bounces off the reflective material and through the diffusion panel and glass inserts. Last minute, I decided to add one strip to illuminate upwards through the diffusion panel and glass insert. I did this to accentuate one of the glass inserts over the others.

In order to properly position the LED strips, they had to be cut down to size and then reconnected using various lengths of wire. This was delicate work that was pretty time consuming. The most important things to remember were:

  1. Make sure the lengths of wire are not too short but not too long
  2. Remove the sticky tape around the solder pads
  3. Reconnect the strips going in a forward direction. The energy flows through the strip in one direction
  4. Make sure the leads are properly matched up
  5. Tape up any exposed parts
  6. Test the light as each new segment is reattached

The LED strip I bought had a sticky back. I used it when I could. For some places, I used a touch of hot glue. But for the strips on the backside of the panel, I simply used transparent packing tape. This worked very well.

The Back Panel

The back panel is the side opposite of the diffusion panel. It has the reflective material. I used simple aluminum foil as the reflective surface. It is glued to a thin rigid sheet of plastic. I used spray glue to hold the foil to the plastic. Lastly, I attached black felt to the plastic. I cut it larger than the plastic so I could fold it over the plastic edge and hot glue it down.

I attached the back panel to the backside of the heart with hot glue. Since the lighting inside the heart is not changeable, I felt it is OK to attach the back panel more permanently.

Next Time

Next time I would consider a different way to mount the LEDs. If the heart were deeper, maybe the LEDs could be laid out in rows on the inside of the back panel where the LEDs could illuminate straightforward. Then maybe the diffusion panel could be thinner to provide more transparency as long as there are no LED hot spots. Or, I might use fairy LEDs, doubling the amount and just randomly adhering them inside the heart cavity.

One other thing I might consider next time is to not use a diffusion panel at all. Instead, I might tack fuse the glass inserts onto a backing glass that is either transparent or translucent. This is much more involved since the backing glass would have to be cut to the shape of the heart. Cost-wise, it might be the same.

Step 6: The Wiring and Assembly

Feeding the Wire

In order to have a clean appearance, I wanted the power wire to be hidden inside the pipe and out the backside of the base. Both sides of the wire have a wide component, a USB type A male adapter and an LED driver. I unsoldered the LED driver, making sure I remembered where red and black attached. I drilled a hole down from the top of the base angling towards the back. I then drilled a hole from the back of the base to meet the one from the top. I fed the wire through hole, resoldered the LED driver back on, and taped everything back up. Pretty simple.

Pipe Assembly

This part is nothing more than screwing in the pipe into the fittings. In order to make sure it is secure, I torqued it pretty good. I didn't have to use any Loctite or teflon tape.

Attaching the Infrared

I got pretty lucky with this LED strip. The infrared sensor is on the LED driver which is close to the LED strip. I have others where it is closer to the USB adapter. Having it close to the strip means that I can have it just behind the heart. I positioned the sensor just below the bottom of the heart and hot glued it to the backside. It is pretty small and at the bottom making it not obvious as to where it is.

Epilog Challenge 9

Participated in the
Epilog Challenge 9