Learning From Challenging Projects

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Learning From Challenging Projects

Have you ever noticed how pushing yourself to take on a new challenge in a project can result in the willingness to try more new things? 

It's as though ​the problem solving process in trying new things allows our creativity to multiply​ and then the thrill we get from completing the task, sets us ​up to want to do more.​

It can be something big or small, the main concept of a project or just one small aspect of it. In the case of what I'm sharing with you today, it was one aspect of a repair to a stained glass window that I never would have tried had it not been for the shape of the window I received.

​​Learning From Challenging Projects

​​​Every stained glass repair I tackle is different from all the ones I've done before, and sometimes they present a good challenge too. 

This particular panel repair gave me the opportunity to challenge myself with the task of finishing the project with zinc, in a shape I had never done before. But before we put the cart before the horse, ​let's walk through the project and discuss some of the issues I had with window.

You can follow along with the explanations of each step along the way.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, I recommend products and services I’ve used or know well and may receive a commission if you purchase them using my link (at no additional cost to you.)

​Assessing the Damage

​In the photos above and below, you can see how this large 4 foot x 2 foot panel was in need of some major ​repair. ​The client told me it was badly broken during a move.

I was rather shocked that a piece this size ​was finished with a strip of lead around the edges and was never finished with a solid came or even a wood frame around the piece. 

Many of the glass pieces in the border were broken and a few of them were missing entirely. The lead was broken through in places and the parts that weren't, ​were very unstable.  

​Notice the twisted copper wire hooks in the photo above? With no reinforcement anywhere in this panel, I was surprised that the sheer weight of the window panel hadn't caused​ any damage to itself over the years. Especially considering it hung freely inside a window and wasn't resting in a window frame.

A number of pieces withing the main part of the design were also cracked and needed replacing.

​Dismantling the Window

​The first step in this repair was to remove the lead came from around the ​panel and to remove the outer border of glass. Although the edging was finished with lead came, the ​rest of the piece was ​was made using the copper foil method. This meant that there would be a lot of time spent soldering to​ remove the glass and remaining copper foil from the broken pieces​. 

Since ​I couldn't get a match to the glass in the border, a new glass was chosen that was similar in colour with a little less white in it. And, it was smooth instead of textured.

This now meant that ​ALL of the border pieces of glass needed to be removed!

​The photo below shows how the copper foil from the border has to be removed carefully. Heat is applied to a section about a inch wide to melt the solder and while it's still hot, a gentle pull from the pliers allows the old foil to be removed without damaging the foil on the inner piece of glass.

​Once the border glass was all removed, the broken pieces on the interior of the design were also removed.

These ones were a little more tricky as they were curvy and ​were soldered all the way around the pieces instead of just 3 sides like those on the border. (I'm working on a​ video to show you how I remove pieces in a repair like this.)

​Cutting the New Pieces of Glass

​After all of the broken pieces were removed, a template was made from the openings to cut new pieces of glass to fit in each space. ​The client wasn't concerned with having exact matches in the glass texture but was looking for the colours to blend with the rest of the window.

The photo below shows three spaces where ​some inner pieces of the panel needed to be replaced.

​A new border was cut and placed around the panel.

It's always encouraging to see a repair project starting to come back together!

​The ​templates made from the openings were then used to cut out the replacement pieces of glass for inside the design.  Once cut and ground to fit, all of the new pieces ​of glass were foiled ​to​ prepare for soldering.

​Struggle with getting a good fit? Read this article: A Good Fit for Stained Glass.


​See the pile of solder bits on the floor in the photo above? This was ​the solder that was melted off the panel to remove the border. By keeping my floor waxed, I can let the solder drip onto the floor and easily peel it up after.

And guess what? It was all re-used in soldering the panel when I put it back together!

​One thing you'll notice when you do repairs, is that when you place the new piece of glass in the opening, it will sink lower than the panel. Because the panel had solder seems on the under​ side, ​the glass is all raised by the height of the bump made by the solder on the backside of the window. It just takes something​ thin to raise the new piece of glass ever so slightly.

I like to use cardboard from cereal boxes and the waffle paper that some ​stores use to wrap glass with. It only takes a piece or two to lift the glass enough for it to be flush with the rest of the panel.

​Once everything is perfectly lined up, it all gets soldered together on the front and the back of the panel and then it's time to put the final edging on.

​​Getting Ready for the Zinc Came

If you recall, the panel had a thin lead came border on it when it arrived at my studio for repair. I much prefer to finish my work with zinc when it's not being framed into something solid like a window opening or a wooden frame. I decided to go with the 1/2 inch zinc came for the edging.

​I had only ever bent the came into circles or used it straight but never a rectangle with rounded corners!

I admit, I was kind of concerned as to whether or not I could bend it precisely enough to fit the window panel properly.

​Since the came​ is only available in six foot lengths and I would need two pieces to go all the way around the panel, I had to decide where the joints would go. Since I would hang the piece from the left and right sides, and the window was quite heavy (we're talking 8 square feet of glass and solder,) the top and bottom proved to be the best option for the two joints in the zinc.

​In the photo above, there is a black line that was marked on the glass with a permanent marker, indicating the center of the panel at both the top and bottom edges. ​

​I placed the end of the zinc on that mark and rolled in around the curved corner marking the zinc with a pencil where the curve started and ended.

Using my came bender, I started working the zinc back and forth until the perfect curve was formed to fit the panel. This was repeated for the other three corners as well. 

It was ​quite nerve racking but it worked out ​very well!

Then, I used my Dremel with a reinforced cutoff wheel to cut the zinc ​to​ length.

​Adding ​Came to the Window

​The zinc came was added to the edge of the panel and horseshoe nails were used to hold​ it snug​ for soldering.

​Tip: The ​top of my work bench is made from plywood and is perfect for doing this sort of layup. There's no worrying about putting nails right into it and I can easily replace it whenever I choose!

​Everything was soldered together with the two seams in the zinc being soldered on the front, back and outer edge.

The piece was then cleaned with a sponge using ​Classic NeutraClean​ mixed with water and the zinc with steel wool. Then the piece was dried before applying patina.

Black patina by Novacan was used for the soldered portions of the project, and the ​Novacan black patina for zinc used on the came.

The Finished Piece

​The project turned out beautifully and I love the heavier defined edge that the zinc frame ​​​gives it. Personally, I feel it ​provides more balance to the piece visually and it definitely gives much more stability, structurally speaking.

The border glass is a bit brighter than what was on it before and it actually helps the flowers appear more vibrant and gives the whole piece a ​lively lift.

Handy hangers were used to add the hooks on the outer edges of the zinc for the piece to be hung by it's owner.

​All in all, this ​repair was a great project to work on and I tackled a new challenge successfully; bending zinc into a rectangle with rounded corners. Yippee!

​What's the Moral of this Story?

There's always a certain amount of discomfort and unease when trying something new but don't be afraid to challenge yourself, it's how ​we grow!

I still struggle ​a bit with procrastination on some projects. It's ​usually because things are going so well, that I start to fear that the "new thing" I have to do will mess up all my other efforts. But, then I remember that it's all part of the adventure of working with glass and I can become an explorer of all these facets and make​ my own discoveries​.

That's when I normally realize that the adventure of ​discovery is part of the thrill for me and it's always stronger than my fear of making mistakes.

And so, I move forward with the task at hand and always have new ideas for things to try​ BECAUSE of ​the new task I performed or skill I acquired.

​What's something you've tried with a glass project that really helped you grow?​ Or maybe you have a project that you procrastinated on ​for fear of doing something wrong? I'd love to hear about it. Please share it in the comments below.

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About the Author

Samantha's a passionate creative with varied artistic interests which she loves to incorporate into her glasswork. Working in both stained glass and fused glass, her goal is to help you be creative and think outside the box while teaching skills to make glass crafting easier.

Samantha Calder

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  1. Excellent article, wonderful pictures and step by step instructions outlining the repair with time proven tips and your 100% right PATIENCE PATIENCE PATIENCE.
    As I was reading I found myself nodding and remembering my own repair challenges, one very similar to your own.
    I had promised the repair to a friends daughter whose inferior massed produced panel had fallen. It took me much to long to muster the courage to tackle what I dreaded was going to be massive undertaking … I wasn’t wrong.
    To date I marvel at how someone managed to foil and solder so many ill cut, jagged, unground pieces of glass in one foiled panel.
    I surmised if the few pieces I had to replace were not the only poorly prepared pieces in the panel in order to repair this panel I had two choices. Indeed deconstruct the entire panel (over 100 pieces) and start from scratch regrinding and replacing as needed or replace the few broken inside pieces and boarder with my skill set.
    As this was an unpaid repair I decided to save myself a lot of time and stress and go with the latter … except in the end a considerable amount of stress and time was still involved.
    As I had hoped the daughter was ecstatic to be reunited with her beloved panel.
    She didn’t notice the jarring uneven border was replaced with perfectly aligned new glass.
    She didn’t notice the newly fitted pieces replacing the broken ones (or the others that weren’t broken but had to be replaced to match colours with the new ones).
    She didn’t notice the reinforcing I inserted or that I had removed, ground and refoiled the pieces that were pulling apart because of the weight of the entire piece and poor choice of framing it in lead.
    She didn’t notice I had filled all the gaps and re-soldered the entire panel thereby smoothing out most of the imperfections.
    She didn’t notice the brand new shiny and secure zinc frame and properly installed new hangers.
    She didn’t notice any of that … what she did see was the stained glass ‘picture’ she had fallen in love when given to her by her father and was heart broken when it fell was once again whole. It was perfect to her untrained eye…
    Looking back I’m humbled not just to have completed a difficult repair but to have restored someone’s precious and fragile memories. At the time I should have taken that as a win but in my eyes, however, in order to live with what I considered an incomplete repair I think I must have scrubbed it from my memory because it wasn’t until I read your article that all the dread, frustration, hopeless and a myriad of other feeling came flooding back!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Pam. It sounds like you went above and beyond to repair that panel for your friend’s daughter. It’s truly remarkable that we can dedicate ourselves to repairing and even creating something so painstakingly for our passion of having something done “right,” when someone else observing from their own perspective (not a glass craftsman) can see only their emotional attachment to the piece and truly love it for what it is. It’s eye-opening! And, you are quite right in saying that it is humbling to “restore someone’s precious and fragile memories” and as a craftsman, I think it’s important to remember how much we’ve grown ourselves and have learned from our frustration and all of these experiences. For some of us, it’s so much more than just a hobby.

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