Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chinese Stained Glass .. Beware

My next project is to repair a poorly constructed stained glass panel.  I'll be posting about that soon, but in the meantime, I'm sending out a caution regarding Chinese stained glass windows and panels, usually found online.  Beware!

Yes, the designs are intricate, the glass is beautiful, and the price is cheap .. but remember "you get what you pay for."  If any pieces of glass break, you are probably out of luck for a repair. Chinese manufacturers use glass which is available only in China .. and their construction methods and materials make state-side repair almost an impossibility.

A few months ago, a customer described a "sagging" stained glass lamp that was mounted to his ceiling.  He said no glass was cracked, but it was on the verge of falling down.  Here is his photo ..
Beautiful, right?  Yes .. But this Chinese lamp is not what it appears to be. The black lines between the glass are not solder but black silicone caulk~!!  Silicone caulk is very soft and flexible and entirely inappropriate for stained glass lamp construction. To repair it using caulk would not improve the piece, it would only "sag" again within a short period of time. 

Here's another example.  A few weeks ago, someone brought me this gorgeous, but cracked, fire screen:
My potential customer bought this online, from a long-forgotten website, for $350 about 2 years ago.  It was the perfect size for their fireplace, they loved it, but then it fell.  Nine pieces of glass broke, in non-symmetrical places.  My goal is always to make a stained glass piece appear as if it had never been broken.  So the first step for me is to match the glass.

I took samples of the glass and mailed them to my expert glass supplier who can get me just about any color or texture, assuming it is still made, and by a U.S. manufacturer.  He called to say he's seen this glass before, but its unfortunately made only in China and virtually impossible to get. 

The alternate route was to replace the 9 broken pieces, and then intentionally break 5 more, to make the missing pieces symmetrical (and therefore less noticeable) by using different, yet somewhat close, glass.  When I added up the cost of materials and labor, it was simply not worth doing the repair.  

Also, when I attempted to melt some of the solder to remove a full piece, it created a plume of dangerous-looking white smoke!  China does not have an Occupational Health & Safety Administration .. There is no way to know what the composition of their solder is, and even though I always use a lead-safe protective breathing mask, I was not comfortable continuing.

And one more caution, this one from my mentor, a semi-retired stained glass artist in Kentucky .. "Now that China is in the game selling incredibly intricate panels for less than a dollar a square foot, people are coming to glass companies with broken pieces and are having to pay way more than what a panel cost just to replace one piece. Our friend in Louisville showed us a gorgeous panel that a customer had brought in that was about 2' x 3 1/2' that he'd paid $60 for. It had two broken pieces and they were charging him $100 to replace them."

So, if you are a stained glass artist doing a repair, be sure and look for suspicious construction methods, and always ask about the age and history of the piece, including where it was purchased. 

If you are looking for a quality, custom made piece, please consider us.  Take a look at the wide variety of styles on my website .. and then call 201-600-1616.  I'm always happy to answer your questions.  Thank you.

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