How Stained Glass Works

Making Stained Glass

There are a number of important steps in the process of making stained glass designs that focus on both artistic and structural goals. Creating a work of stained glass requires attention to detail. It also requires a plan, specialized tools and space.

To recreate the illumination that will make a stained glass creation come­ to life, stained glass artists employ a light table. They also use areas for cutting and assembly. A glass worker's studio will usually offer lots of natural light to work with and have sturdy storage for completed glass pieces and for colored glass used as raw material.

No tool is more important than the glass cutter, and choosing the best cutter is often a matter of personal preference.

Carbon steel glass cutters have replaceable tips and short handles that make it easier to make accurate cuts. Diamond glass cutters are a little trickier to use, but have no problem cutting even very hard glass. To make round cuts, a circle cutter is often used. It works by rotating a cutting arm in a circle around a suction cup that holds the tool firmly on the piece of glass. A glass artist will probably keep a variety of cutters on hand for different projects.

Glass artists also use a number of other tools, like pliers and a grozing iron to remove small burrs and jagged pieces from cuts, and pattern shears that help cut accurate glass pieces that will fit into the design. These shears take the guesswork out of cutting the perfect sized piece of glass.

After cutting a piece of glass, the stained glass artist will refin­e and smooth the edges with a number of abrasives and brushes. First, the edges of the glass must be polished with a silicone carbide block, diamond sanding paper or an electric grinder. Then the piece is brushed clean.

After cutting and sanding, the glass pieces are laid and evaluated for accuracy and color. The pieces are then reassembled using copper foil or lead cames, H-shaped strips of lead that hold the glass in place, going together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This latticework of metal is soldered together, and then putty is added to keep the glass from shifting.

To complete the process, the stained glass, if it's in the shape of a window, must be installed. It's fitted to a frame, usually made of wood or aluminum, sealed and then set into a window opening. For additional support, crossbars are sometimes set in place to keep the window from sagging. Stained glass can get heavy, so for large pieces, copper wire is often soldered to the cames and then wrapped around the supports.

For lots more information on stained glass, other art forms and related topics, see the links laid out for you below.

­Related Articles­

More Great Links


  • Buzzle. "How to Make Stained Glass." Undated. 10/19/2008
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Stained Glass in Medieval Europe." Undated. 10/15/08
  • Morris, Elizabeth. "Stained and Decorative Glass." Quintet Publishing Ltd. 2000.10/18/2008
  • Oldest Sacred Sites in the World. Undated. 10/20/08
  • Stained Glass Association of America. "History of Stained Glass."
  • The Getty. "Images in Light: Newly Acquired Stained Glass." 2003-2004.10/15/08
  • The Stained Glass Museum. "A Brief History of Stained Glass." Undated. 10/15/08
  • University of Wisconsin - Art History " Steps Involved in Stained Glass Restoration." Undated.10/15/08.
  • University of Wisconsin - Art History "Contemporary Issues in Stained Glass." Undated. 10/15/08
  • University of Wisconsin - Art History "Introductory History of Stained Glass." Undated. 10/15/08
  • Valldeperez, Pere. "Stained Glass." Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 2001.10/20/2008
  • Vogel, Neal A and Rolf Achilles. "Prervation Briefs." U. S. Department of the Interior. Undated. 10/15/08