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.
Sunday, November 05, 2006: A Thousand Words

So, when we moved from the house in DC over two years ago, my AA battery charger somehow made the trip minus its power cord. As a result, usage of my "good" (i.e.: old, but capable of exquisite quality) digital camera fell off sharply. That's the one that can focus in on something from a few inches away. That's the closeup camera.

Maybe a year ago, I was standing in line at a Rite Aid a couple of miles away with a new battery charger in my hands. I had stopped in to buy cold medicine or something, and happened to see a battery charger, and decided to impulse-purchase it. But I'd forgotten the reason I rarely go to that particular Rite Aid---it's so goddamned slow---on this particular day I got so tired of waiting that I eventually dumped my battery charger and toilet paper or whatever, and sashayed out the door. I recently heard that the sordid little mini-shopping center where the Rite Aid is located may be torn down in favor of some glass-walled high-rise monstrosity; it's only with the smallest pang of conscience that I say good riddance.

I've been meaning for days to write a new entry about where things stand with the dogwood windows, but it needed pictures, and the little camera wasn't up to the job, despite its possessing the virtue of a convenient charging cradle. So the other night I went out to buy batteries at my friendly neighborhood corporate megalith drugstore, and lo and behold, they too now carry battery chargers. (They didn't used to. I'd looked.) Brought one home, charged up a pile of AAs, and dusted off the good camera for the first time in months.

That is how it came to cost me twenty-two dollars to find out that my good camera is dead. So I'll have to talk you through the glass update.

Once I had a draft production pattern all printed out at 100% and laid out on the workboard, it really hit me how small some of the pieces were. One round piece which repeats throughout the pattern is just 10mm wide; another repeating round is 15. So I had to ask myself whether I'd be able to bend lead around such a small piece smoothly enough that my circles would look like circles and not, you know, misshapen vaguely round messes.

I cut some test pieces of glass, and also bought some glass jewels in a few different sizes to test out as well---I've been thinking I'd like to use some basic faceted jewels rather than cut glass for the round pieces---and started trying to wrap lead around them. I started out working with a 15mm jewel. Turns out, even at 1/8" lead (which is in theory so skinny it's easy to bend), it's tough. The lead doesn't want to bend around in a nice uniform circle. Remember the episode of Six Feet Under where Claire complained that her art professor had her drawing freehand circles all day long? I could see how such an assignment would be frustrating and dull, but I could also see how such an assignment would be valuable because a nice *clean* freehand circle is really hard. Go ahead and try it now. Do your best. Whatever you come up with, it won't be a proper circle, and whatever you come up with, that's about how my 1/8" lead wanted to bend around my 15mm jewel.

It was a little easier with a 20mm jewel, and actually I managed to get very nearly a perfect circle with a 25mm jewel. So I thought, fine, I'll just scale up both of the circle elements in my design. Rock on, right?

Except the design looks all wrong when I do that. It throws off the proportions of everything else. Like so:

The original proportions are on the left; on the right the four circles at the edges are scaled up from 15mm to 25mm, and the circle in the center is scaled up a little bit too. I don't know quite how much because as soon as I saw how my pattern got uglied up when I scaled up the edge circles, I sort of threw up my hands and stopped working with the pattern then and there.

That was days ago, and that's where it stands now. I don't quite know what to do. I liked my original proportions very much. I can't make the windows in my living room any bigger, obviously. I could try to do a window consisting of 3 vertically stacked, larger versions of my pattern, but I like the more intricate 2x5 better. And I already bought glass according to measurements on the 2x5s, so I don't want to stray too far from those. Maybe I could do these windows in a copper foil-lead hybrid rather than in lead only? Foiling my small circles would eliminate the need to bend lead around them, but uch, I don't even like foil work, I surely haven't ever tried to combine the two methods; I don't think I want to go there. I don't know. I'll figure it out. But until I do, I can't build a thing.

Posted by Michelle at 06:21 PM | Comments (3)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006: Spinning in Circles

I'd about decided that I was going to have to suck it up and do the dogwood windows in a combination of lead and foil in order to stay true to the nice proportions I'd designed---my little circles were just too little to be very lead-friendly. It was not without a generous helping of pout-and-whine that I made this decision. It seemed like I'd want to foil about half of each 200-piece-plus window, and if anyone ever tries to tell you that copper-foil stained glass work isn't tedious, they're lying, I say: lying.

So I went ahead and drew a final production pattern. Blue lines for lead, red lines for copper.

And then someone offered a thin ray of hope. A gentleman named Tod Beall who haunts most of the stained glass forums on the web, as far as I can tell, made a fiendishly clever suggestion via the Glass Chat board:

    You CAN lead those little circles and the 1/8" round [H lead] is perfect for it. Find a round object close to the size of the circles, maybe the body of a marker, or 1/2" dowel. Wrap the lead around this object several times (the number of circles plus several extras) in a tight spiral or coil. Handle with care; I often cut the lead while still on the form using an Xacto backsaw, but you could use lead dykes also. Start with one full circle (loose the straighter end and just cut from curved portions), cut it free and see if it fits your glass. Adjust and trim excess if necessary. If it's too short, cut the next one a little longer. This is an old trick and it works very well. Of course, it's always easier to shorten one that's too long....


Or that's what it sounds like anyway. I haven't tried it yet. I think I will tonight. Don was trying to decide whether to go to a Krav Maga class or a work-related happy hour (his customer these days is the happy-houringest federal government agency in Washington). But I might've trumped both options. My successful deployment of feminine wiles consisted of suggesting that we could spend the evening in the basement together, me playing with my stained glass, him playing with his latest woodworking project. Who could resist, I ask you? No husband of mine, is who.

In parallel to trying to figure out how to actually build what I've designed, I've also been trying to figure out how to create water-resistant, reusable pattern pieces. Remember that the glass grinders used to smooth and tweak the edges of cut glass are water-cooled; if you use the paper-pattern method of glass cutting (rather than the lightbox-and-tracing method, whose practitioners smugly trumpet their superior technique but which doesn't work nearly so well for someone with unsteady hands, e.g. me) you'll end up soaking your cutting pattern pieces, and ruining them if they're plain paper. For all the time it will have taken to draw and cut such a complex pattern, I'm not up for doing it twice---I wanted to be able to peel my pattern pieces off of Window #1 as it was assembled, and use 'em again for Window #2. Options abound here: draw on clear vinyl, or have a sign-making shop with a cutter-plotter produce pre-cut vinyl pattern pieces from your design, etc. I opted to pick up some clear Mylar from Michael's with which to "laminate" my pattern pieces, using spray adhesive. Took some experimentation to come up with a process which didn't result in chemical obliteration of my Sharpie lines by the spray: the secret is to spray the Sharpied pattern piece with the adhesive and let it sit for a few minutes to partially dry before affixing the Mylar.

Here's something else about Mylar: one piece is clear, but 25 clear sheets (as in the package I bought) are an almost-perfect mirror. Aaaand, if you bend the Mylar around, it becomes a funhouse mirror. Behold the result of my inability to resist shiny objects:

My head is amoeba-shaped. Awesome.

Also procured last night at Michael's: five new Sharpie markers in colors I didn't have before. Riches beyond my wildest dreams: markers make me unaccountably, gleefully happy.

Posted by Michelle at 05:18 PM | Comments (2)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006: Zzzzzzzzz... what?

All right. It's time to give in and try to install a CAPTCHA for commenters here. The comment spammers are out of control. Uh, if this site is busted and ugly like the Republican Party next time you visit, you know why.

Update 11:20 PM: Okay, it's actually not a CAPTCHA, but I hope it'll prove an easier way to have the same effect... henceforth, for you to comment on this blog, you'll have to answer a little question designed to prove that you're a human, and not a spam robot. Please email Karl Rove sightings to my first name at this domain. Thanks to Stefan for the idea.

Posted by Michelle at 10:32 PM | Comments (4)
Friday, November 17, 2006: Tod Beall Is My Hero

That tip on how to handle leading very small circles?

Completely awesome. Screw the copper foil... we're back to Plan A, which is All Lead All The Time.

Glory hallelujah.

The color-coding on my production pattern will still be useful. Instead of describing copper lines and foil lines, it'll now be red = 1/8" H round lead, blue = 3/8" H round lead. I have about a ton of 3/8", will have to buy more 1/8". Also a new 1/8" grinder bit, to carve out the little nicks on the ends of the dogwood petals: I have one, but it's missing a tiny little screw that holds it in place, and so it's wobbly to the point of wanting to launch itself off the grinder and across the room mid-operation. Also 26 15mm round faceted red jewels. Some women buy shoes...

Posted by Michelle at 11:27 AM | Comments (1)
Sunday, November 19, 2006: Squint And Pretend

I've "laminated" my workboard pattern using the Mylar sheets I bought. This will make it resistant to smudging and running that would otherwise be the result of laying wet-from-the-grinder pieces of glass on top of it during construction. It also made the pattern stiff enough that I could stand it in one of my casement windows to do a size check.

Nifty. Um, although, this photo does nicely illustrate the way the decorative internal grids between the panes of the thermopane windows will show through my stained glass, rather awkwardly I expect. I had seen that coming, and at first thought maybe I'd see about getting an estimate on having the windows replaced or even just the grids removed, as the windows are actually in top condition. Then I figured the cost would probably be ridiculous just for the sake of showing off my stained glass, so I tried to ignore it. But looking at this photo... maybe there's no harm in just getting an estimate.

I bought a pile of 1/8" H round lead came yesterday, ordered a bunch of red 15mm round faceted glass jewels, and the nice folks at Weisser Glass steered me away from purchasing a replacement grinder head to fix my missing-screw-wobble problem---turns out they sell a "Glastar grinder accessory kit" of small pieces that cost me a quarter of what a new head would have cost. Now my grinder head cannot become a high-speed projectile, no matter how much it may desire to do so.

Next up: cutting up pattern pieces. Woo.

Posted by Michelle at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 22, 2006: Jewels Ahoy

My jewels came. They're faceted, and so they're sparkly, and so they're unreasonably fun to play with. But they're also really tough to get a decent picture of with my one functioning camera.

Also in the photo is a little triangle of red glass left over from the crocus panel. I'll need to cut a whole pile of teeny little half-circles, half the size of my jewels, for the places in my design where red circles are cut off by the zinc frame. It's not that you can't cut the glass jewels---you can---it's that at their thickest points, they're a lot thicker than regular glass; they won't slide into the channel of the zinc framing. So I'll be using some leftover red cathedral glass in those places; the color match isn't 100% exact but those pieces will be so small that the mismatch will only be noticeable if you're looking.

I also made some phone calls today to find out about replacing my IGU's. That's window-biz jargon (which I learned about twenty minutes ago) that stands for "insulated glass unit." You may recall, my existing IGUs are of recent vintage and in fine working order, but they have that pesky "decorative" grid between the two panes of glass that would end up showing through my stained glass panels and bugging me 'til the end of time. After some dead ends along the lines of "we have a 5-window minimum" and "we don't work in Silver Spring," I got in touch with a nice lady named Jennifer at Rockville's Bel Pre Glassworks, a company with a glass cutter incorporated into their logo, which made me smile because I'm a nerd. Jennifer was far more patient and helpful than I had any right to expect, given the scope of my itty-bitty two-window project. To order new IGUs, which I or my handy husband would need to install ourselves, she ballparked me a price of just under sixty-eight dollars a window for tempered safety glass, or just over forty-five for annealed glass, per. That's way less than I was afraid of; some prices I saw online for complete, DIY casement windows (including frames and sashes and other stuff I don't need) were in the $175 per window range and that wasn't going to fly. But if I can banish my grids for ninety bucks? Might just.

Here's the fun part, though: to be absolutely 100% sure that what we order has the right measurements, the best thing to do is going to be to take our IGUs right out of their frames and take 'em up to Rockville to have a pro get all the dimensions. Doesn't look like that'd be hard---just a few screws---but see, it's about to be December out there (in fact, today's weather feels more January to me). And this time of year, you really want to have glass actually in your window frames. If I had the windows out of the frames for as little as an hour, I bet that'd be plenty time enough for it to get very, very cold in my living room. I guess some heavy-gauge contractor-style trash bags and duct tape might suffice for an afternoon, but those windows are on the side of the house facing the retired guy whose self-appointed job it is to police the lawn maintenance and general upkeep of every home on the block, and I think having trash-bag window panes, even temporarily, will send my poor neighbor right over the edge.

I will have to consider the pet containment implications of having a couple of 14 by 32 inch holes in our living room wall, as well. Although I kind of wouldn't mind if one of the cats got out, if it were just long enough for them to realize "the warm's in the house, and the food's in the house: oh crap." Teach 'em a valuable lesson.

Posted by Michelle at 03:07 PM | Comments (1)
Saturday, November 25, 2006: Anal-Retentives Apply Within

A couple of days ago, I began the process of faux-laminating my cutting pattern with Mylar and spray adhesive, and then the actual cutting. It's tedious work, not to mention sticky, and I didn't get too far before telling myself that I really needed to know that the laminated and cut pieces would hold up on the grinder before going so far as to cut out all 230-odd pieces. So I located the first couple of pattern pieces according to building order, and cut some glass accordingly.

Indeed there were a couple small process kinks to work out there, having to do with the need to spray pattern pieces and glass, then let them sit for a couple of minutes to partially air-dry before putting the two together, for maximum stickiness. With previous projects my pattern pieces have been just plain paper, affixed with glue sticks, but the combination of glue stick and Mylar just makes a slippery mess that slides around all over the place on the grinder. And actually, about the same thing happens if you try to slap together a Mylar-ed pattern piece and some glass immediately after applying the spray adhesive. So I got that all worked out, and thought about laminating and cutting the rest of my pattern. And then I told myself that I really needed to know that the repeating design motif of my pattern was truly buildable in lead---it is, as I have mentioned before, of a sufficiently small and picky scale that copper foil would for most people probably be the more natural choice here.

And so I began leading.

If it all sounds like I may be experiencing a certain amount of impatience with regards to laminating and cutting my pattern, there might just be something to that. That's not the fun stuff. Leading is. Still, it's not all excuses and rationalizations here. There's definitely a bit of a learning curve going on as I fight my way through the leading of my first dogwood shape, especially since I'm working in lead with only a 1/8" face width around the flower: that leaves almost zero wiggle room for hiding mistakes. I'll want to lead in one of each of my problematic little circles (the light green dogwood centers and the red faceted jewels) before I consider myself to have walked through a successful and complete proof-of-concept, but it got late, and I have no idea how well the noise of my glass grinder may carry. Our neighbors live frightfully close; I may have mentioned before how I am sometimes awakened early in the morning by the sound of the neighbor lady sweet-talking her mildly neurotic Labrador retriever.

Must address the camera situation soon. While doing a bit of web research to try to be able to quantify in precise technical terminology what I love about the big old broken camera and what I hate about the tiny less-old working camera, I discovered that the T.L.-O.W.C. has what's called a "fixed focus" lens, which is supposed to be result in more-or-less in-focus photos "from one meter to infinity." Aaaaand, there's my problem. For purposes of this here little weblog, having to take photos from a meter away is pretty much unacceptable. So whenever I break down and begin shopping for a new camera (ideally with a large pile of cash dropped by the gods from the sky for that exact purpose?), I will know to avoid that. It's a shame, though, in a way---I also learned that the fixed focus is a big part of why the little camera (Casio Exilim, second-generation) is so beautifully fast. The camera ex machina, thus, will necessarily have to be a slow(er) one. It's a lot like the primary rule of reasonable expectations that is much quoted by web developers and probably folks in many, many other professions: of Good, Fast, and Cheap, a client/consumer may ask for, and in fact receive, precisely two.

Posted by Michelle at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 26, 2006: Proof-of-Concept

You know what this pattern is?

Totally doable.

Posted by Michelle at 03:38 PM | Comments (3)
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