Stained Glass Tools You Need
Deciding which tools to buy when you're starting out in stained glass can be extremely overwhelming. When shopping for stained glass tools, you might find yourself asking “Do I really need this?” and, “If I do, which one’s better?”
To help give you an upper hand in narrowing down the field, I'm going to explain what you need to have vs. what's nice to have. I'll also cover what my favourite brands are for each tool and even some of my favourite materials.
The following lists contain the Stained Glass Tools you NEED to create that particular style of glass
So now that you know what you need to get started, I'll go into details about which stained glass tools I've used, which are my favourites and even include brand suggestions on some materials I like too.
Brass Cutter by Toyo - 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 over 10 years old.
Toyo Custom Grip Tap 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 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.
Circle Cutter - I’ve tried a few circle cutters including the one for the Morton system, Inland and Glasstar. Keep in mind that the Inland and Glasstar come as a strip cutter and circle cutter combined but my favourite of these for cutting circles is the Glasstar. You don’t use your own cutter with this one as it has cutter heads mounted to it. I find it works quite well for scoring and it’s the easiest of these three to hold down in the center while spinning the arm around to create the score. I have seen and heard many great reviews about the Silberschnitt Pro circle cutter and plan to give this one a try in the future, but for now my personal favourite based on what I've used, is the Glasstar.
Strip Cutter - My favourite one to use in this category is my Morton System. It’s a whole lot more than a strip cutter, but it’s the only way I cut strips. I find it challenging to keep the Inland and GlasStar models gliding evenly along a straight edge and so I end up with them pivoting slightly which results in strips that aren’t very straight. With the Morton system, making perfect repeatable width pieces is not an issue and each one comes out straight. (See my trick to measuring while accounting for the space from the side of the cutter head to the center of the cutting wheel here.)
All Around Cutting System - Morton- This is my favourite all around cutting system. I use it as a cutting surface to catch all the little debris even when I’m not using one of it’s cutting features. It has a metal arm which creates the perfect straight edge to cut against and because it’s metal it doesn’t compress or collect dings like wooden yard sticks do. It can be left in the center position for 90 degree cuts and it also pivots and locks in place to allow me to cut whatever angle I want. It has a circle cutter assembly tool that attaches to it as well. Although it works quite well for cutting circles, I much prefer my go to circle cutter instead.
Running Pliers - I love my Leponitt 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.
Grozing Pliers - Leponitt is my favourite again. 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.
Morton Safety Break - There was a lot of chatter about this tool in early 2017, so I thought I would jump on the band wagon and check it out. The first time I used it, I was shocked at how little I had to press to break the score! Takes such a light hand to make straight breaks. Then I tried the little button that’s included for breaking an inside curve. Normally I would nip away at inside curves by scoring little moon shaped pieces and pulling them out one by one with my grozing pliers. This simple little tool takes all that slow and pain-staking work away. I’m still amazed at what I can break using this little gadget. (Full review coming soon.)
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 machine. 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. (Psst! There's a post in the works to show you different ideas to contain the water mess associated with grinding.)
Foil dispenser - The handiest gadget for keeping my copper foil organized. It holds 7 rolls of varying widths of foils and keeps them from unraveling.
Edco - I have tried many brands of foil and the only one I trust now, is Edco. I ‘ve tried other brands and had issues with the foil not sticking well and some lifted from the heat of soldering. I’ve also tried some that crumpled easily if it was moved side to side when laying it down. The Edco foil has a substantial but smooth feel. It goes on nicely and doesn’t tear too easily. It stretches nicely around inside curves and adheres very well. I can even leave it out of any packaging for the course of it’s life in my dispenser (anywhere from 1-6 months) without any adverse effects.
New Wave Foil - This stuff is amazing for adding a little character and interest to a piece. Not recommended to use all over your project though as there is truth about having too much of a good thing. Less is more here! It adheres well and adds those extra little details to make your work stand out.
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.
Morton Layout Block System - These metal rails and metal push pins are a great investment. When I first started stained glass, I used regular push pins and I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally touched one with the hot soldering iron and had that horrible burnt plastic smell that seemed to stay up my nose all day. It’s horrible! When I first saw the Morton Layout Block System, I was prepared to buy it just for the metal push pins. Soon after, I realized the rails were also a wonderful addition to my tools. These can be laid out in whatever size is needed and helps you keep the outer edges of small pieces straight. I still use these on a regular basis.
Huion LED Light Pad 22.4”W x 14.6”H x 0.3”D
I’ve fought with a few homemade light boxes for years. One was a big old heavy beast that took up too much space to be left out but was too heavy for me to move and the other was smaller and more portable but didn’t have enough surface space for painting on glass. Enter the Huion Led light pad!
This gadget has changed my world! No joke...it is one of the best investments I’ve made to upgrade equipment in the studio. Granted, if you aren’t painting on glass, you can probably find less expensive ways to go about lighting your glass and checking your colours, or you could even look at one of the smaller LED light pads to save a few dollars.
This light pad is lightweight, easy to use, easy to store and doesn’t add height to your workbench the same way a 4 inch deep light box would. The only thing I would caution is to place a piece of window glass over the screen area as it is soft and easily scratched by moving pieces of glass around on the surface. This will protect the screen and allow you to enjoy your new toy tool without any of damaging it from sharp glass.
Stained Glass Tools
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!
If you have any preferred stained glass tools, please share them in the comments below and be sure to tell us 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.