Last week, we featured glass artist Bill Reif in our member spotlight. Now, we’ll explore some of his projects and the methods he uses to create them; like the incredible Star Wars R2D2 lampshade he made while in quarantine! This may not be a project for beginners to jump into, but the method he used is a popular one. The Tiffany Method, or copper foil method, is a stained glass technique wherein copper foil tape is soldered together between the pieces of glass to hold them in place.
Different projects call for different thicknesses of copper foil. Why? There are two main reasons: wanting a thicker line of metal or in reaction to the thickness of the glass pieces. The first is mostly an aesthetic choice and definitely plays into the artistic vision. Just remember, it’s fairly easy to complete a project with thicker lines than necessary, but it’s important to ensure that they are not too thin or the piece could be at risk of collapsing. That’s why it’s absolutely vital to get an understanding of what copper foil thicknesses correspond with which stained glass thicknesses before beginning to play with the rest. As with anything, make sure you have the basics down before moving on to the more difficult techniques.
Most stained glass that’s made today is mass-produced in a factory somewhere. This ensures that the product is standard industry-wide, though there are always exceptions. With that in mind, you’re most likely to work with stained glass pieces that are about 1/8” thick. In response, copper foil with a thickness of 7/32” should be sufficient. For glass pieces of varying thicknesses, as is common with older glass, you may have to use more foil in the thicker portions and less foil in the thinner ones. This can make it difficult to keep the lines looking even. Practice on glass pieces with a uniform thickness to get your soldering technique down pat.
Applying the foil is fairly simple, but be sure that the glass pieces being used are clean and free of any oils or other debris that might prevent the foil from adhering correctly. Then you just need to wrap, crimp, and burnish! Wrapping is the placement of the copper foil around the edges of each glass piece. One side of the foil is adhesive, so it’s easy to apply - just arrange it so that the edge of the glass is centered on the foil strip. The crimping, or folding, stage is exactly what it sounds like. Fold the edges of the foil strip down over each side of the glass so that it cups the edge. Burnishing is then taking the extra step to make sure that you press those edges down as smooth and flat as you’re able. This pushes out all of the air bubbles that could be caught underneath.
Once each piece is surrounded by copper foil, the project is ready for soldering. Soldering stained glass requires the solder itself as well as a flux - a flowing agent to help smooth the solder and adhere to the foil. By heating the iron, the solder liquefies and it is possible to ‘paint’ it across each copper foil seam by brushing the iron over it lightly. Being able to avoid clumps comes with time and practice, so there’s no need to worry if there are a few on the project. The piece will also need time to set after the solder is made, which will depend on the thickness of the seams.
In the end, the stained glass piece is left with gorgeous, translucent colored glass pieces held together by lines of metal. As is shown with Bill’s inventive lampshade, there’s no shortage of what can be created once a maker knows what they’re doing. Stained glass is a hugely versatile medium with beautiful results, but it’s far from the only thing that can be done with glass. Come back next week to see the next glass project featured by the Roswell Firelabs Makerspace: mosaic sculpting!
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