Adventures in Dangerous Art
I'm learning the art (or is it a craft?) of stained glass. At this weblog, I record progress, note useful links, and document flesh wounds.


The Art League
Where I took a lead class and a 3D construction class.

Weisser Glass Studio
Where I buy supplies, and where I took a foil class.

Virginia Stained Glass Co.
Where I buy supplies if I happen to be in Springfield and if they happen to have what I want.

Great prices on supplies, a lively and helpful Glass Chat message board, and excellent Technical Tips on stained glass tools and techniques.

Glass Galleries Links List
A list of Glass Chat users who've uploaded photos of their work.

The StoreFinder: Stained Glass Store Front
Lots of articles. Tutorials
Even more articles. Particularly recommended: "Anatomy of a design" and "Wood frames."
Courtesy of Google Groups.

Nancy's Beginner Tips and Tricks
Scoring, breaking, soldering, finishing, and more.

Splinter Removal Tips

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Someone out there is using XML for something... right?

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It's a glass cutter.
Wednesday, January 01, 2003: Glass Monkey
I would love to have spent serious time this week cutting up pieces of glass, but there has been paying work doing other things, and bleeding from one's fingertips does not pay the bills.

I did get a lot of glass cutting done Saturday, before starting work on my other project Sunday morning. Saturday I cut seventeen pieces of the clear sparkle glass, and the next day on a break from work, cut the remaining three needed for the next two transoms. I'd run a little high on sparkle glass consumption building the first transom, and was worried I would run out. Now I think I might be okay, but that could change if I break stuff in construction, which was the source of a lot of my waste breakage with the first transom.

Another respite from work tonight had me cutting the long, tricky green S-shapes. I need four total; tonight I did two that came out beautifully, then got cocky and broke the next two I tried. At that point it was time to get back to winning the bread, so I gave up, and it's just as well. I really need to be careful with the green glass; if I end up needing to buy more it's going to be a great big expensive sheet, because I'm pretty sure no one will sell me three inches by a foot and a half of glass. One or two people had suggested that I rework my transom pattern to make each swoopy S-shape two shorter joined pieces, but being stubborn, I refused to consider it. Wonder if I'll regret it later.

When I have cut the last two green S-shapes, I'll have left to cut only ten little bitty pieces of red and orange, which will be a cakewalk in comparison to the more complex, larger shapes of clear sparkle and green. After that, I'll have no choice but to clean out my grinder, which has a shallow reservoir of water directly beneath its removable plastic work surface that serves to contain the unhealthy-for-your-lungs glass dust the grinder produces, which is starting to get full:

You'd want your goggles and your face mask to come any closer. Maybe a smock too---see all the dried goo that's collected on the cardboard box I keep the grinder in, for just that reason?

I've never cleaned mine out, but at my glass class last quarter, they locked the grinders up every night, so they needed to be cleaned at the end of each class, and I helped once or twice. I'm here to tell you it's ugly. It's definitely time for mine to be done; the goo in the reservoir is starting to get into the sponge that sits against the grinding head, hardening it and interfering with its life's purpose of water-cooling the head.

I hope there's an old paint scraper or putty knife I can have somewhere in the basement. I'll have to figure out how to dispose of the glass-dust sludge, too. If you pour it down the drains it will eventually harden into a rock-solid plumbing nightmare; if you scrape it into the trash it will quickly dry into a respiration nightmare. Only one thing for it: I'll have to go get some takeout hot-and-sour soup, so I can have the container as a sealable, disposable sludge repository.

Between the glass dust and the lead came, it's really a wonder they don't make you take out a city permit to do this stuff. Makes me wonder what sorts of dangerous activities are going on in the neighbors' basements.
Posted by Michelle at 09:19 PM | Comments (0)
Sunday, January 05, 2003: Teamwork!
The last few days have seen a virtual whirlwind of transom-building activity here at the house.

Pieces of two transoms.

I finished cutting all 34 pieces of the two remaining transoms, and did clean out my nasty mess of a grinder. The only grinding I have left to do as of now is to clean up one of the long green S-shapes, plus use the small head on my grinder to make small notches in four pieces, where the orange sections of the flower shapes cut upwards into the clear glass above. I did break one of the evil panhandley pieces on the grinder, even as I was trying hard not to do that very thing. So I'll have to recut it. Watch me procrastinate---if there's anything that will make me hate this project before it's done, it's those four extremely vexing pieces.

Don putties his wooden frame for transom number one.

Meanwhile, Don made yet another pile of sawdust in the basement in order to come up with the production version of his transom frame today. He fit it onto the transom, screwed it all together, protected the glass with painters' tape, puttied the seams, and sanded it down.

Transom number one, having its frame painted. Dig my workshop---excuse me, our workshop---the grinder, the toolbox, full-color 'artist's renderings' of the transoms, the crocus panel, the all-important space heater.

Tonight, after the putty had dried, I took the transom back downstairs and started painting it. The first side will dry overnight and I'll do the other tomorrow. It might take a few coats before I'm totally happy with it, but this transom could be hung up within the next couple of days. Excitement so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
Posted by Michelle at 12:56 AM | Comments (0)
Sunday, January 05, 2003: 8 Photos
Tonight was a very good night.

The transom mounted by its hinges and metal arms, I get the honor of pulling the painters' tape from the glass.

Aaaand, there goes the tape.

And then there was a transom, and it was good.

Kicking ass and taking names. I built the glass panel but it would never have become a proper and mounted transom without Don's elite woodworking and hardware skillz. He's awfully clever, that way.

I believe I'm going to spend a lot of time just gazing at my transom over the next few days. I'm very curious to see how it looks in daylight tomorrow... and whether it will cast a nuclear-cabbage-shaped ghost of red and orange and green light on the hallway wall behind it.
Posted by Michelle at 11:09 PM | Comments (7)
Monday, January 06, 2003: One More

I'm done posting photos of the first installed transom now... really. Just wanted to see how good a photo I could come up with using daylight and my old brick of a Kodak, not nearly so much fun as my new Casio but capable of somewhat crisper photos. Here you can see the "rough rolled" texture in the green glass---the red and orange are exactly the same, but it's harder to capture in such small pieces.

I've got no plans or obligations today---well, I did tell Don I'd try to get the sawdust situation here in the house under control---so I think I'll do what little grinding remains for the second and third transoms, and maybe even start leading.

Don's birthday is January 19th, and I've been quietly hoping to have all the transoms built by then. It's up to him whether they're installed that quickly, of course, but I bet he'd be tickled just to have the other two panels in hand. Don't tell him though---it's our secret.

Lastly, it occurs to me that I have been lax lately in the documentation of flesh wounds. It's not for lack of bleeding---there were a couple of very minor but disproportionately messy incidents over the last week that have left one of my workboards and a couple of my hand tools with, um, let's just say that now you know where to find DNA samples for me, should you ever need them. Also, since I did all the grinding for transoms two and three in a couple of long sessions last week, I developed these perfectly straight, dry-looking slits or cracks along the undersides of my thumbs, an inch or so long, where I use them to push cut glass into the head of the grinder. Those never bled, however, so I assumed they looked a lot uglier than they were. Until I heated up some edamame over the weekend, doused it in kosher salt, and started eating---ouch, ouch, OUCH. I love edamame too much to have done the smart thing and quit (literally) rubbing salt in my wounds. So I just gobbled my soybeans as quickly as possible, thumbs athrob, and resolved to examine anew the funny little thimble-like things some glass shops sell for the prevention of just this problem---til now I've sort of snickered at them, but I'm not laughing now, no sir.
Posted by Michelle at 11:04 AM | Comments (5)
Thursday, January 09, 2003: Mass Production on a Very Small Scale
It's been another busy week, but I still find time to sneak down to the basement and do stained glass a little bit at a time.

Transoms two and three under construction.

I've started leading the second and third transoms. So far so good. Have managed not to break anything yet.

You can see from the photo that one of these two transoms is shorter than the other. It's to the bathroom door, which is right next to the guest room/office door, where we installed the first transom earlier this week. I'm going to hope that the slight size difference doesn't become noticeable due to the corresponding difference in the geometry of the transoms. Fingers crossed.

Beetlejuice was on TV last night. I used to just adore that movie. I was twelve when it came out, and I wanted to be Winona Ryder's Lydia when I grew up. So Don and I watched part of it. When Catherine O'Hara shrieked from behind the claw-like sculpture pinning her to a wall, "This is my art, and it is dangerous! Do you think I want to die like this?" Don gave me an elbow and a grin. Nice! I hereby declare "Do you think I want to die like this?" the unofficial Adventures in Dangerous Art tagline.
Posted by Michelle at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)
Friday, January 10, 2003: Leet Skillz
Second transom leaded.

I spent a large chunk of today working on transom number two, and got it all leaded. I'm really pleased with it. I broke absolutely nothing in the leading process---a first for me---and this transom has far fewer flaws of symmetry than the first one did. Not that the first one was horribly uneven or anything, but this one's really nice and symmetrical.

I still end up with small gaps where lead lines should join, and it's a pain. Most of it's due to all the interlocking pieces of this design in particular, I think... there a lot of putting pieces in and then taking them back out later in order to fit in others, and things tend to shift by fractions of inches when doing all that. So what were perfect lead joints may not be so perfect anymore by the time I've finished shuffling glass in and out of the construction. But I know how to fix the gaps, later, during the soldering process, so it's not a problem, only a bother.

I predict in the very near future another sawdust infestation of the entire house. Amazing how you can confine the woodworking tools to one small corner of the basement yet still end up with sawdust all the way up to the attic inside an afternoon. I blame the cats.
Posted by Michelle at 04:48 PM | Comments (2)
Tuesday, January 14, 2003: I Am Jack's Complete Lack of Buyer's Remorse
I discovered a few days ago that I would be one measly $3.50 length of lead short of what is necessary to finish the last transom. Today, in order to procure the measly length, I undertook the half-hour-or-so drive to Kensington. While waiting patiently at Weisser for my lead to be pulled, I noticed they had all these foot-square pieces of a swirly iridescent blue lying in stacks on the worktables, and great sheets of the stuff leaning against the vertical glass bins lining the walls. I paced around and eyed the glass, pretending not to. It became inevitable that I would take some home at the point I decided to go ahead and ask what the glass was.

They said it was a Spectrum glass. I/339-6S, to be exact, which is their Dark Blue/White, Wispy... except iridized. Spectrum's website doesn't give color chips for the iridescent variations, going on about how tough it is to photograph it properly.

I tried my hand at it, and believe I did okay. You really need two pictures to get a good idea, though:

pretty like an oil slick!

This is how the glass looks in reflected light. Here you can see the shiny iridescence that coats the glass's surface.

yet surprisingly blue

Putting the glass against a window in order to view the light it transmits, you can see that the base color of this glass is a transparent cobalt blue, which is finely swirled with opaque white.

Super, super cool. The person behind the counter at Weisser said they were just getting it in, and if I'd come in half an hour earlier, I would have missed it. Even though I have no idea what I'm going to do with this pretty blue glass, I'm glad I happened in when I did.
Posted by Michelle at 04:40 PM | Comments (16)
Saturday, January 18, 2003: Antici.....
Another busy week. I find now I take glass breaks as if they were smoke breaks: ten hurried and guilt-ridden minutes at a time, in between billing like hell.

You can accomplish a lot of leading ten minutes at a time, though.

This photo was taken of transom number three on Wednesday around noon, and my original plans for it were to crow about how nice and tight my lead joints have turned out underneath the flower/cabbage for this last transom:

My leading is seriously slicker than hell on this transom. The dining room is going to get the best one out of the three, I think.

And this photo shows how far it had come by last night (Thursday night):

Two pieces left to lead in transom number three.

Tomorrow is going to be all about being very very productive with things other than glass, so that I can spend Sunday catering to the whims of the birthday boy. I'm not sure yet whether birthday whims will include my doing any transom-building, but the next time I have an unstructured hour or two, I will finish leading and then get to soldering.

Because I live in a godforsaken clime of bitter chill and tiresome snow---the sort of place people live if they haven't the good fortune to live in the South---I have some logistical concern about puttying these transom panels. Last time there was puttying to be done, the weather cooperated by warming up enough to let me work on the front porch without losing any fingers. Now I don't think the temperature is supposed to get up above freezing until Monday afternoon, and puttying makes far too nasty a mess to do it inside. Might have to head out to the shed-garage with my space heater. On the very small plus side, the garage may be the one and only covered shelter on the planet where I am free to do glass and smoke.
Posted by Michelle at 12:31 AM | Comments (1)
Monday, January 20, 2003: Double Your Fun
Finished leading the second and third transoms last night and today, and got them soldered today as well. Didn't get to the really messy work before it was too dark to work outside, so I'll be out on the porch making a mess with putty and whiting in the bitter cold later in the week, I guess.

Hot water and flux remover and ammonia and Dawn and a scrub brush.

I'm seeing a currrrve...

The transom for the dining room has a gargantuan, hideous solder blob at the base of the flower/cabbage shape, on the side of the panel which will face into the hall. It's horrific. It looks like a growth. I tried to fix it but it wasn't happening. It will bug me for pretty much ever, but oh well.

In other news, the first transom does indeed cast a faint ghost-shadow of itself on the hallway wall, when the overhead light in the office is on:

The two small slices of orange glass transmit the brightest light
Posted by Michelle at 06:12 PM | Comments (0)
Thursday, January 23, 2003: We Interrupt This Program, Part II in a Series
An older man was handing out these buttons; I got the last one in his bag. Yay!Mark Morford rants at

[A]ny attempt to outlaw a woman's spiritually and karmically-empowered right to terminate her own reproductive cycle, any attempt to control it with guilt and punishment and murderous ultra-right-wing Christian firebombs, simply results more harm to women, more of the infamous, potentially deadly back-alley abortions featuring the ubiquitous coat hanger -- still in use, you can be assured, in many repressed states. This is not even a debate. This is what happens when you try to cram a personal religious-based ideology down everyone's karma. Just ask the Taliban.

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. I spent a couple of hours in front of the Supreme Court building, waving a sign and making noise. Here are 69 reasons why. If those 69 reasons scare you, too, you might consider making a donation to Planned Parenthood or NARAL Pro-Choice America, or signing NOW's Save Roe petition to send an email to your state senators.

Thanks to the friends who came out with me in the face-numbing cold to the rallies yesterday, and thanks to Momma Bastard for the deliciously ranty link.

What a lie
You don't care if women die
Posted by Michelle at 10:14 AM | Comments (4)
Tuesday, January 28, 2003: Procrastination Street
It's been cold. Damn cold. Too cold, for example, to expect my cute little space heater to warm the detached shed so that I can work in there. (The space heater is plastic, which is a dead giveaway that there's only so much heat you're going to get out of it.) I keep wondering what I have done to deserve this. Probably there's something.

I finally decided on Sunday that a few degrees above freezing was the best I would get for a while, and bundled myself up to go out on the porch and putty some transoms. It wasn't until I got all my supplies (putty, putty brush, rubber gloves, newspaper, whiting, whiting brush, face mask, little table, transom panels) onto the porch that I realized that the putty objects to the cold weather too: it was dry and crumbly with the cold. So I admitted defeat, dragged everything back inside, and puttied in the basement, hoping that the Shop-Vac would be an appropriate match for flying nuggets of sticky black clay-like goo.

When I took my lead class at The Art League last fall, one of the items in the toolkit I was given was a plastic fid. It was one of two things in the toolkit (a copper-wire toothbrush was the other) that our instructor never actually told us what to do with. I discovered on Sunday that the fid is handy for pushing putty underneath the face of lead cames. Much more effective than using my fingernails---which in theory should have been protected by my rubber gloves but instead broke right through them, so I appeared to have auto-mechanic nails for a while there.

When I finished puttying the dining-room transom, I took it out into the back yard, and made for the picnic table that Don built last year and that has been good for nothing other than collecting snow just lately. There, I made a hell of a mess with whiting and scrub brush. Synthetic bristles, this time; I found with the first transom that natural bristles don't have the necessary tension to efficiently scrub the excess putty from the glass.

When I was done coating the back yard with white powder of a less-wet and less-picturesque sort than the recent standard, I was done with one more transom. Well---I need to patina the solder joints so they aren't so shiny, especially the giant solder glob I ended up with on this particular transom---but that'll take five minutes. At this point, it's in Don's hands for framing and installation.

I should have gone ahead and puttied the other transom while I was already dressed for messes, but I was cold and cranky, so I didn't. Just as well---it started snowing again shortly thereafter. But I heard a rumor of temperatures into the forties this coming weekend, and if that happens, I'll be breaking out the Hawaiian Tropic, the flip-flops, and the wide-brimmed straw hat in order to finish my work on the last transom.
Posted by Michelle at 12:26 PM | Comments (6)
Tuesday, January 28, 2003: Foil Ahoy
Tonight I signed up for a copper foil stained glass class, Saturday afternoons from early March to early April. I'm too pleased with myself, because I want to eventually make pretty lamps, and pretty lamps are built in foil, not lead, so there you go.

The class is not at The Art League in Alexandria, where I took my lead class, but instead at Weisser Glass Studio in Kensington. I suspect I'll miss Jimmy's style---he told us early on in the lead class that all the glass stores in the area know him as the guy who lets his beginning students do any project they want---still, the people at Weisser have been knowledgeable and helpful every time I've visited and I'm sure they'll give an excellent class. Even if I do have to choose from a pre-approved selection of panels to build.

For those of you in the area who have said to me, "Oh, your glass looks like so much fun, I'd like to try that sometime"---now's your chance. You will need as a prerequisite to the Weisser foil class some glass cutting experience, but if you are a friend you could probably sweet-talk (or bribe?) me into showing you how to make a glass cutter go. Don't think about it too long, though... class enrollment is limited to eight. More info about the class is here (ignore the part about the class not being currently offered).
Posted by Michelle at 07:45 PM | Comments (4)
Thursday, January 30, 2003: Building a Mystery
We have a very pretty lamp with a shade of rose-and-cream glass, that came from Don's parents, if I am not mistaken. I say "we have" but really it's Protein's lamp. That's because for a long time, it sat by the big double window in the living room which overlooks the back yard, so Protein would spend hours watching the flying prey while warming herself underneath the lamp. It's not in Protein's window anymore, but it's still Protein's lamp.

Protein and her lamp, circa April 2001.

I was looking at the lamp last night, and wondering what kind of math I would have to know in order to design something like it.

Lampshade closeup.

It's done in four horizontal sections or rows. Each section, moving from the top of the lamp to the bottom, marks a decline in the angle at which the glass flares outward, until in the bottom section, the glass pieces are perfectly vertical. The mystery, to my math-impaired mind at least, is this: How would you design something like this on paper? It's not like a panel lamp, where you basically build four flat panels and mount them all together at their edges. With a lamp like this, you'd have to plan exactly what all your angles would be ahead of time, and that would determine the dimensions of your individual pieces of glass. Or vice versa, I don't know. Either way, it would have to be carefully planned in order for everything to fit together.

Don and I discussed it before bed last night, and he ended up giving me a remedial trigonometry lesson. Which was edifying but I still come up with a blank when I try to think of how to apply that to three-dimensional objects, and what the process would be to draw up design plans for such an object.

This is bugging me. I hate not knowing stuff. I suppose I'll have to search the web later on to see what I can find, but I'm not sure what I'll search on. "three dimensional non-curvy objects for dummies" perhaps. Or, even better, "buy CAD program to do all the math for me".
Posted by Michelle at 11:08 AM | Comments (11)
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