Thursday, June 6, 2013

Floral Fire Screen Restoration

At long last, I've completed restoring a gorgeous but badly damaged fire screen.  This was a particularly ambitious project, so I'll give it its due with 50 photos and detailed explanations of the process.  The fire screen is 40" wide and 34" tall and weighs just over 21 pounds.  I fit in a few smaller repairs on other projects, but I spent just over 3 weeks on this project, replacing 38 cracked pieces.  I'm very pleased with the results.  Here's the story .. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Marked with blue and white tape are the cracked pieces slated for replacement.
 This is a sampling of my on-hand glass which I used for the restoration.  Other glass which was not in my inventory was ordered to ensure a reasonable match to the existing colors and textures.  The challenge with any repair is matching the glass.  In this case, I was able to find close, if not exact, matches to each piece.  In a few cases, I was able to remove a larger piece of glass within the piece and use it elsewhere for a smaller repair.
 Below, damage can be readily seen at the top of the screen, with the reinforcement bar visible and many broken pieces.
Here's a close-up of several pieces needing replacement.  When a heavy piece such as this takes a fall, the shock of the landing travels through the glass.  Several pieces which were not visibly cracked at first glance, broke easily when nearby pieces were removed.  This is not an unusual occurrence with pieces which sustain damage in a fall. 
  I started the restoration at the top of the piece by removing the cracked piece completely. Below, I'm tugging off the old copper foil and solder with needle-nose pliers.  When possible, this method is preferable to melting it off with the soldering iron.  It's quicker and does not create harmful fumes.

Since some of the old solder and foil would not readily come loose, I melted it off where it was attached to the supporting rod at the top.  That rod is a structural part of the piece.  Its never a good idea to attempt to remove such a support.  The best thing to do is to repair it and build the new glass back in.
 Now that the area is totally cleaned of old materials, I slid a piece of manila folder underneath and traced a pattern to be used to cut the replacement glass.
 I traced the pattern onto the glass with a fine Sharpie marker and cut it out using a pistol grip glass cutter.  There's oil in the handle which serves to keep the cutting head lubricated.  The oil also helps to separate the glass. Note that I've made some notes on the pattern.
 There are several tools used for cutting and grinding stained glass.  Here I'm using "grozier pliers" to remove a small piece of glass on an inner curve.
 Once the piece is cut, it gets grinded.  Notice I'm wearing rubber finger tips from Staples.  They not only protect my fingers from cuts but they also give a better grip on the glass.
 Then the piece is rinsed off.
 Here I'm placing the new piece into the fire screen.  At this point, copper foil has been applied to the edges of the piece as well as to the interior border where it will be placed.
 Below I'm applying Canfield liquid flux to the copper foil seams.  This is a chemical agent which allows for soldering.
 And here I'm soldering the piece in.  Because this fire screen weighs over 21 pounds, I am working on the front side only at this point.  My first credo on any repair is, "Do no harm".  If I attempted to turn it over after each replacement I would risk further damaging it. 
 The impact of the fall caused the supporting top rod to break away.  Inside that metal border is a black spongy material. Since this piece was made in China, I do not know what it is.  I've found that the best repair for this type of rod is a paper clip.  So here, I've cut apart a large paper clip with wire cutters and taped it to the existing rod with a piece of copper foil. 
 When the piece of glass directly next to the repaired rod is soldered, it will attach itself to the repaired section and thereby restore its strength,
 And here's a view of the first several pieces, replaced and soldered.
 Moving inward, here I'm taking out pieces of the rose with needle nose pliers.  Notice that I have a small piece of cardboard underneath.  Its important to replace pieces on the same plane.  I use corrugated cardboard and sometimes several layers of thinner cardboard so that the new piece rests in the opening at the proper height.
 Here's another piece, ready to go in.
 Here's the other side of the curved reinforcement rod.  I'm removing the old solder and copper foil.
 And again, I've extended and reinforced the broken rod with a large paper clip.  I sank a couple of inches of the paper clip into the black spongy material that's inside that metal bar.
 Here's a side view looking inside the metal bar.  There is an indentation that goes in about 1/2".  Therefore, I cut every side piece with an additional 1/2" or so added to that side so that it fits inside that channel.  This gives the overall piece more strength.
 Unseen below, but the pattern goes inside the metal bar.
 Another piece replaced. 
 Another side piece broken out.
 Piece and inner border have been copper foiled ..
 .. and soldered.
 Moving onto one of the flowers.  Here I've taken out two pieces and marked the patterns so that I know which side of the glass will face out.
 Three pieces cut and ready to be grinded.  Notice that the smallest piece was made from a larger, cracked one.  On any repair, I try to re-purpose the glass.  Its the best way to get a perfect match.
 Two pieces of the rose copper foiled ..
 .. and soldered.
 Moving down to the bottom of the fire screen, here I'm removing old foil and solder.
 The blue glass used in the bottom is a thicker, more dense glass than what was used up top.  This glass below is called Uruboros and it is actually more like stone than glass.  I've found that using a pistol grip cutter is not appropriate for this glass.  It cuts badly and the risk of waste is very high.
 Therefore, I opted to use my Gryphon Omni2 Plus Wire Saw.  Its a beast of a machine, very loud and a bit scary, but it does a wonderful job of slicing through thick glass.
 The cutting blade, which is in constant motion, requires that water be sprayed onto it when it is in use.  This means that the glass also gets waterlogged and any markings will be washed away.  Therefore, I used inexpensive lip balm to coat the markings before cutting.
 The wiggly line shows how nervous the machine makes me .. but it does cut like butter and the small variations are easy to smooth off later.
 Here's the new blue piece in place with another cut out and ready for replacement.
 Cracking out another side piece.
 More cracked glass being removed.  Its always a good idea to wear eye protection during this process.  Cracking glass has a tendency to fly everywhere.
 That piece is removed and another pattern has been made.
 And here that piece has been soldered.
 Shown below, I'm preparing to crack out another piece by cross-hatching it with the pistol grip cutter.
 Here I've replaced several more pieces.
 Voila!  At this point, 38 pieces of glass have been replaced.  Each is marked with a small square of manila folder paper. (Click on it for a closer view).
 Close up shot of repairs made.
 Throughout this process, the fire screen has been laying flat, facing up.  Here I'm removing all the flux and solder residue by spraying on Kwik-Clean Stained Glass Flux and Patina cleaner. 
 Here I'm brushing on Novacan Black Patina.
 When the patina has been washed and the entire piece is dry, I liberally apply Clarity Stained Glass Finishing Compound to the entire side.  Then I rub it over the piece and allow it to dry, then I buff it.  This protects the solder and gives the glass a nice shine.
Now that the front side has been completed, I carefully turned the piece over with the back side facing up.  I then fluxed, soldered, patina-ed and waxed the back as well.  Then I took a closer look at all of the work and made a few minor tweaks to my satisfaction.
 And here is the finished piece!
 This restoration was a long process, but Gail .. I hope you love it!!  Thanks for giving me the opportunity, much appreciated!

 Next up is a lamp repair followed by a custom oval window ..

Please visit my website to see my custom windows and repairs (click here).  And if you are on FaceBook, become a fan and I'll keep you up to date on all my stained glass projects.  Call me any time at 201-600-1616 or email with your questions. Thanks!


  1. I know that repair took a lot of patience and determination. Great job.

  2. Thanks Irene! Sorry for the delay in posting your comment .. I'm always interested in your feedback.
    As far as repairs go, the more challenges they present, the more satisfying they become.