The Making of Mr. Biv

Summer’s here, so I have some time to indulge myself in a hobby of mine: designing and constructing art glass windows. This post explains the steps involved in making one.

1. Come up with a nice design (called a “cartoon”). This isn’t as easy as it sounds. When you’re cutting a piece of glass, you can’t make a 90 degree turn. Every cut has to go from one side of the sheet of glass to another (or gently curve around to the same side). When I’m working on a design for a window, I’m always telling myself, “Less is more, less is more.” Let the colors and textures of the various glass pieces speak for themselves. For this window, I had a bunch of triangular bevels, and I wanted to include some of them, so here’s the cartoon I settled on:

Design

Here’s a detail:

Design Detail

You can see that I have numbered the cartoon, so that I won’t lose track of where each piece goes as I cut it. This particular window will have 44 pieces in it, and it will measure 18″ by 38″.

2. Cut the glass. “Cutting” the glass is a little misleading, because I actually score the glass with a carbide wheel, and then snap it. Wherever the score is, that’s where the glass will break. I like to make windows that are mostly clear glass so you can see outside, while the few colored pieces really stand out in contrast. I’m calling this window Roy G. Biv -take a look at the colors I’m using:

3 Cut Glass

Here’s a detailed view:

4 Glass Detail

I decided to put a stained-glass piece next to each beveled piece. Hopefully that will draw attention to the bevels. I love incorporating bevels in a design, because they act as prisms – dividing sunlight into the spectrum as it hits the floor or a wall. The pieces are slightly smaller than the spaces on the cartoon to allow for the lead that will be between them.

Here are the primary tools I use for this step: a pistol-grip carbide steel cutter, and breaker/grozier pliers. I also have a glass grinder, but with a design this simple (all straight edges) I didn’t need to use it. The pliers are used as an extension of my hand – they grip the glass while I’m breaking it. I also use them to “chew” off any rough edges.

Tools

3. Fabricate the window. This is my favorite step. The window is framed by pieces of zinc, and I use nippers to trim strips of lead (called “came”) to fit the cartoon. The came I used for this window is 1/4″ wide, but it comes in all kinds of different widths. It has channels on each side for the glass to fit into. Here’s a cross-section:

cross section

I start in one corner, and work my way up to the opposite one. As I put the glass and lead together, I use flat-sided horseshoe nails to hold everything in place. Here’s a picture of the window that is partially fabricated:

6 Partial Fabrication1

Here’s a detail:

7 Partial Fabrication Detail

And here’s the window completely fabricated, and ready to for soldering:

9 Complete Fabrication

And here’s a detail:

10 Complete Fabrication Detail

4. Solder the joints. Everywhere two or more pieces of came meet, they must be soldered.  The 50% lead/50% tin solder I use is the “glue” that holds everything together. Since the solder is lead-based, it’s really important to do this step in a well-ventilated area. And, of course, eye-protection should be worn at all times. Here’s a look at some soldered joints:

11 Soldered Detail

5. Glaze the window. This is my least favorite step, but it’s very important. I take some glazing compound (e.g. DAP 33) and mix in some black acrylic paint to tint it gray. Then I push it into the channels of the lead surrounding each piece. I use a bamboo skewer to remove the excess. After a few days it will harden and strengthen the entire window.

12 Glazing

6. Clean it up. I put a lot of time and energy into my windows, so I want them to look their best. To clean them, I first rub them down with a cotton rag. Next, I take a handful of sawdust and rub each piece of glass. The sawdust absorbs oils, excess glazing compound, and any flux left over from the soldering. Finally, I use Windex and paper towels to give it a final cleaning.

7. Hang it up, sit back, and enjoy the view!

14 Finished Window

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