Stained Glass Tools for Beginners: a Complete Guide

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Stained Glass Tools for Beginners: a Complete Guide

Welcome to the vibrant and captivating world of stained glass artistry! If you're a beginner with an eager spirit and a creative spark, you're in the right place. One of the most crucial steps in your artistic journey is finding the right tools to bring your stained glass visions to life. You may be wondering "What do I need to start making stained glass?" but don't worry, I've got you covered! In this post, I'll walk you through the essential stained glass tools for beginners. So, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and get ready to dive into the enchanting realm of stained glass artistry!

Glass Cutting Tools for Stained Glass

Now, let's start with the very first step: cutting glass and breaking it.

I'll introduce you to the indispensable glass cutters that will become your trusted companions. From understanding the different types of cutters to knowing how to select the right one for your needs, I've got all the tips and tricks to set you on the right path. We'll also explore the magical world of running pliers and breaking pliers, essential tools that help you break the glass along the score line with precision and finesse. With these tools at your fingertips, you'll be transforming sheet glass into pieces you will use to make stunning works of art!

1. Glass Cutters: Understanding the Different Types and How to Choose

There isn't any one size fits all tool for cutting glass, so it's not as simple as me saying that you need to have cutter x. I will say that my preferred and most recommended brand would be a Toyo glass cutter. They make solid, reputable cutters and a number of years ago came out with the "tap wheel" technology on their cutters, and it's a game changer! If you can go to a studio and try out the following styles of Toyo glass cutters, you'll have a better idea of which one is best for you. But here is what I would start with:

A. Brass Toyo Glass Cutter -

I used this cutter exclusively for the first ten years of creating stained glass. It’s a solid tool with an interchangeable head so you can easily replace it when the cutting wheel needs to be changed. Keep in mind this won’t be too often. I used mine almost every day for at least 4 years and it still has the original cutting wheel which is now well over 10 years old.

Toyo Brass Glass Cutter
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B. Custom Grip Toyo Glass Cutter - 

I bought this one in 2015 and it has replaced my brass cutter as the only one I use now. This cutter takes a bit to get used to as the grip is quite different than the traditional pencil style cutter. But once you get use to it, it is the most comfortable cutter to hold. It feels like an extension to my own hand and causes no discomfort or stress in my hand, arm or wrist. This Toyo glass cutter can be filled with oil, although I don’t use this feature, it can still score perfectly cut after cut. If the Toyo head on this one lasts as well as on my brass cutter, it won’t need replacing for a quite a few years.

Toyo Custom-Grip Supercutter
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C. Pistol Grip Toyo Glass Cutter - 

There are many people who enjoy working with this tool, which is why I've included it in the list. Personally, the pistol grip cutter is not a good fit for me therefore, I don't use it myself as it feels like I have to hyper extend my wrist to work with it. However, there are many people out there who love it and if you get the pistol grip Toyo glass cutter, you'll have a good quality tool that will last you a very long time.

Toyo Pistol Grip With Tap Wheel
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2. Pliers: Assisting in Breaking the Glass Along the Score Line

After scoring the glass with your cutter, you'll need to break the pieces apart. To do this, we use specially designed pliers. Although we can separate the glass using our hands, in some instances, you will still require pliers for all other breaks.

A. Running Pliers:

I love my Leponitt running pliers. They feel solid and sturdy and allow for just the right amount of leverage whether in need of heavy or light pressure. The set screw is easy to adjust and when the rubber tips wear down, replacement tips are available. I'm sure most brands of running pliers will do just fine as long as you stick to metal ones. The plastic styles aren't worth your time or money.
Leponitt 8 inch Running Pliers
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If you have a little more money to spend on running pliers, you'll want to consider investing in a pair of Silberschnitt running pliers. These are the cream of the crop and something I still have on my wish list. The way these pliers are made, they allow crafters to cut and break more complicated cuts much easier. Resulting in less waste from bad breaks and also saving time by allow you to make less cuts. Plus, they have a deeper throat to allow then to reach further into the piece of glass.

Silberschnitt Running Pliers
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B. Grozing Pliers:

Grozing pliers are one of those tools that take a fair amount of getting used to. The initial response of most of my students is that they don't like using them until they figure them out and realize how useful and necessary they are.  Available in the regular width and narrow width tip for those tight little curves. Having both widths of pliers available makes it easy to handle any tiny breaks that need to be dealt with carefully. Curious? Watch a video of how to use these pliers.
Top Tools Breaker/ Grozers
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6" Grozier Pliers with Narrow Tips
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Grinding and Shaping Tools: Smooth Edges and Perfect Shapes

Once you've cut your glass pieces, it's time to refine and shape them so that they fit perfectly. Enter the grinder, a marvelous tool that will become your best friend in smoothing rough edges and creating perfectly shaped glass pieces. Grinding the edges also prepares the glass for great foil adhesion which we'll get to in the next step.

We'll delve into the world of grinding bits, explaining the different types and their specific uses. You'll discover the key to achieving different results depending on what you need. that flawless finish you've always dreamed of. And don't worry, I'll also provide you with tips to ensure a worry-free grinding experience.

  • A. Grinder: Smoothing Rough Edges and Shaping Glass Pieces

    • GlasStar Super Star II - 

      • The first grinder I ever bought and it’s still my favourite. The Super Star II is a solid machine that runs and runs. Although I no longer use the attachment on the grid surface for holding a piece of glass above the work surface to prevent chips from flying up, I still love this stained glass grinder. The protective glass would always seem to vibrate off the stand and I felt I was spending more time wiping it down so I could see through it or re-positioning it. So I eventually just stopped putting a piece of glass in it! The grinder bits slide on and off easily and the on/off switch is easily accessible. There are also replacement grids for when the work surface wears. I use a cafeteria tray underneath my grinders to catch any little spills that happen.
  • B. Grinding bits: Types and their specific uses for different glass surfaces

  • C. Grinding Bits: Types and Their Specific Uses for Different Glass Surfaces

    • Glass topper for grinder
    • Mr Splash
    • Cookies
    • Rubber finger tips

Soldering Tools: Joining Pieces With Precision

Now comes the moment of joining your glass pieces together. Say hello to the soldering iron, the mighty tool that will bring your artwork to life. We'll guide you in selecting the perfect soldering iron for beginners, ensuring you have the ideal temperature control and ergonomic design to make your solder lines impeccable. We'll also explore the role of flux and solder in the soldering process, demystifying their importance. Plus, we'll introduce you to the helpful hands and soldering stands that provide stability and control, making your soldering adventures a breeze.

  • A. Soldering Iron & Stand: Selecting the Right Soldering Iron for Beginners

    • Weller 100 - 

      • The first iron I used was a Weller100. These irons are like work horses and don’t give up easily. Using the standard tip, soldering a large copper foil panel is no trouble at all. The iron stays hot and can keep up to my fast pace when soldering. Still my favourite for large copper foil projects. Replacement tips are available in different sizes to control the amount of heat output.
    • Hakko FX601 -

      • Don’t let this versatile little tool fool you. I bought one of these in the fall of 2016 after using the Weller100 exclusively for 11 years. I was quite shocked at how small and light this tool is and how well it keeps up with me. I’ve had time to test it out with lead, doing medium sized copper foil panels and also for repairs. It's awesome for jewelry! Using the variable temperature control, this iron works well for all of these projects. Although I’m in the habit of grabbing my Weller100, I’m also in love the versatility of the Hakko FX601.
    • Iron Stand  

      • Be sure to purchase an iron stand when you buy your iron. The irons sometimes include a tiny, almost non-existant piece of metal for resting your iron on. I advise against using them and instead get a solid, heavy base stand that will prevents burns to surfaces and yourself. There is no one specific brand to tell you about for this, just get one that has a good bit of weight. It doesn't matter how careful you are, you will bump it from time to time and the weight in the base will help stabilize it.
  • B. Flux and Solder: Understanding Their Roles in the Soldering Process

  • C. Helping Hands and Soldering Stands: Aiding in Stability and Control

Other Essential Tools: Adding the Finishing Touches

To complete your stained glass masterpiece, there are a few more tools to acquaint yourself with. We'll cover the choice between copper foil and lead came techniques, introducing you to the wonders of foil or lead came. And let's not forget the final touches—flux brushes, soldering flux, and patina. These essential additions will enhance the beauty and longevity of your finished piece.

  • A. Foil or Lead Came: Choosing Between Copper Foil and Lead Came Techniques

    • Foil 

      • Copper foil tape

      • Fid

    • Lead

      • Lead dykes or knife

      • Whiting/Putty

      • Nails

  • B. Flux Brushes, Soldering Flux, Patina, and Wax: Enhancing the Finished Piece

  • C. Lightbox:

Safety Tips and Considerations: A Priority for Every Artist 

As we embark on this creative journey, safety is paramount. We'll provide you with invaluable safety tips, from wearing the right protective gear such as safety glasses and gloves to ensuring proper ventilation in your workspace. We'll also address any concerns when working with lead came or other potentially toxic materials. Your well-being matters, and we want you to create in a safe and comfortable environment.

  • A. Importance of safety gear, such as safety glasses and gloves 
    • Gloves
    • Glasses
  • B. Proper ventilation in the workspace 
    • Fume trap
  • C. Precautions when working with lead came or toxic materials
    • No eating
    • Keep drinks covered
    • No smoking
    • Heavy metal soap

Building Your Starter Tool Kit: Where to Begin Now that you're equipped with knowledge about the essential stained glass tools, it's time to build your own starter kit. We'll recommend budget-friendly options and share insider tips on where to find quality tools that won't break the bank. Additionally, we'll provide you with maintenance and care tips

  • A. Recommendations for a beginner's tool kit 
  • B. Budget-friendly options and where to find quality tools 
  • C. Tips for maintaining and caring for your tools

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that every individual will enjoy working with different stained glass tools for different reasons. If you can play with some to try them out and discover which feels better and more natural to work with before buying, you'll be able to make your purchase based on your own first hand knowledge. The most expensive doesn't always mean it's the best for YOU!

As we come to the end of our guide to essential stained glass tools for beginners, take a moment to reflect on the significance of choosing the right tools. Just like an artist needs the right brushes and paints, a stained glass enthusiast needs the appropriate tools to bring their creative visions to life. By investing in high-quality tools that suit your needs and skill level, you set yourself up for success and a smoother artistic journey. Remember, the tools you use can greatly impact the quality of your artwork, so choose wisely and make the most out of your stained glass endeavors. Although budgets are a necessary thing sometimes, choosing a tool based solely on price - be it cheap or expensive - can lead to frustration when it doesn't work as you intended. I hope that my experience with these tools helps you shop with ease.

Now that you have a firm grasp on the essential tools and knowledge needed to start your stained glass journey, it's time to embark on this artistic adventure with confidence and passion. Don't be afraid to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. Stained glass artistry is a beautiful blend of skill, creativity, and patience. Embrace the process, allow your imagination to soar, and let your passion guide you to new artistic heights. Remember, every artist starts somewhere, and this is your moment to shine. So, gather your tools, let your creativity flow, and revel in the joy of bringing your stained glass visions to life. Happy creating!

If you have any preferred stained glass tools, please share them in the comments below and be sure to tell everyone why you love using them.

Subscribe to receive a printable version of the basic tools you need to get started. It includes some supply suggestions as well as some of the tools found in this post.

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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. Samantha has been a great assistance to me in moving from glass on glass mosaics to stained glass pieces.

  2. I suggest that goggles for eye protection are an essential tool to add to the list especially for grozing and grinding.

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