Monday, September 3, 2012

Stained Glass Front Door Panel Reconstruction - Repair

Our current project is to rejuvenate a lovely 90-year old home's entryway.  The homeowner's paper boy got a bit too enthusiastic and broke one of the panels beside the front door.  Our task was to repair, and reconstruct the broken panel.  Here's a view from inside the home:  (Click on any photo to enlarge).

For security, the homeowner nailed a piece of wood behind the broken panel, shown below.  The glass we are replacing is leaded glass.  I'll be using a different technique, copper foil, but we'll be modifying it with wider copper foil to mimic the original panel.
Below, my husband Eric is using hammer and screwdriver to carefully remove the broken panel.
Now the panel is safely out and he's removing a screw from the original installation.
One of the challenges of repairing older stained glass panels and windows is matching the existing glass.  Long ago, I was told that green is the hardest color to match because the human eye can distinguish more shades of this color than any other.  The reason was due to survival instincts.  Certain green plants could be poisonous, so our forebears learned quickly what to eat, and what to avoid, partly by color.  (Anyway, I digress ...).

Here's Eric holding up three potential choices for the green.  One is the existing glass (the second sample) and the other three were contenders. During my research for a good green match, I contacted two suppliers, one of whom was able to provide what we thought would be a "perfect" match.  After we removed the panel, we decided to try for a "better than perfect" match, and after visiting a third supplier, we were able to find a nice green glue chip glass that we agreed would be the winner.  The color was a better match and the texture of the glue chip will provide the necessary privacy for the front entryway.

We were fortunate that the homeowner was able to retrieve all four pieces of the "petals".  The larger one, below, was snapped off at the point.
Just by chance, I had the perfect piece of opalescent glass in my inventory.  I used one of the larger "petals" as a pattern to cut a new one with a better point.  Below, wearing gloves for protection against the lead, I'm removing the 4th piece of "petal" which was still attached to the lead came.

Below, I've traced the existing petal onto the glass with a thin black Sharpie pen and am preparing to cut it using a pistol-grip cutter.  Curiously enough, I discovered that each of the petals were slightly different shapes.  The original creator of these panels apparently did not use a pattern for his or her creation.  I love the idea of that!
I cleaned up the glass using Goo Gone, to allow the copper foil (later) to adhere properly.
Here I'm grinding the edge of the newly cut larger "petal".  Notice that I'm using rubber finger tips to protect my fingers.  The grinding wheel itself will not cut skin but the glass .. yes.  The rubber finger tips are available in a few sizes at any Staples office supply store.  Invaluable!
Using Eric's measurements, I prepared a template for the pattern.  I folded it in half on both sides to determine the middle.  Then I laid down all four "petals" and traced around them using a lead pencil for accuracy.  When making glass patterns, it is always a good idea to use the thinnest line possible.  It will give better results, and create less trimming issues later.
Here's the pattern making process. I'm tracing it onto an old manila folder, using carbon paper.  I've pinned the layers to a Homasote work surface to be sure that it doesn't shift. Homasote is a building product used to sound-proof walls.  It is inexpensive and readily available at home improvement stores.
A closer view of the pattern-in process, below, which shows the numbering.  Note that I've marked the pattern (and later, the glass) with arrows so that I can properly position them later.
The outer edge of the pattern is cut with plain scissors.  However, the individual pattern pieces must be cut with special scissors which carve out a small space between each piece, as shown below.  This open area is taken up by the copper foil which will follow.
I'm often asked how you cut curves.  Here's how its done, below.  When you have a curve, cut a thin sliver part-way or all the way along the edge.  Then, using groziers (special stained glass pliers), carefully snap off the sliver.  Continue cutting slivers until you reach the line.  Glue chip glass is very agreeable to cut.  Opalescent glass may take a bit more nerve, but the process will work for all glass.  In cases of deep curves, it may be better to use an electric glass cutter rather than attempting it by hand.
And here is the glass, cut and ready for foiling.  Notice that it is enclosed in a "jig" or "fence."  This is to prevent the pieces from shifting as they are worked on.
The most common copper foil size is 7/32".  Since we are mimicking lead lines with this project, I've opted to use 1/4" foil.  Here you can see I'm applying it directly to the center of each piece of glass.
As soon as the foil is applied, it gets pressed onto the glass with a "fid" or flat plastic wand, as shown below.  This assures that no liquids will seep under the glass and ensures a longer life for the panel overall.  Notice the beautiful texture of the glue chip glass.
Below is the panel, copper foiled and ready for soldering.  Notice that I do not foil the outer edges.  It tends to interfere with the addition of the framing, so I omit it.
Below I'm applying flux to the copper foil, to prepare it for soldering with 60/40 (tin/lead) solder.
Below, the panel is released from the jig and the soldering of the front and back is complete.  I always use a protective mask when I'm soldering.  Look for a lead protecting mask at your local hardware store before doing any soldering.  They are available for around $15 each and well worth it.
Next is the cleaning.  Below, I've scrubbed the entire piece with powdered cleanser and rinsed it under tap water.  Notice that I'm wearing gloves.  The flux can be very caustic, as can the powdered cleanser.  Also, the rubber gloves help keep a firm grip on the panel.
Next .. Waxing the piece and installing it!  Stay tuned .. the best is yet to come .. the big reveal!

Visit our website to see more repairs, custom windows, and testimonials from our happy customers.  Thanks!


  1. Thanks for showing these helpful glass art making guides.

  2. Thank you all for your comments! If you are on FaceBook, look me up and become a fan and you can see my work there as well. Enjoy!