Applying Patina to Your Stained Glass Piece

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 55,532
    Stained Glass Artist Phillip McKee demonstrates how to apply patina to your stained glass piece.

    Phillip McKee

    As an artist, I work in the medium of stained glass. I have always had an interest in stained glass. From early childhood I was enchanted by the Middle Ages and especially the medieval church. Seeing the beauty of the windows was always a joy to me. It was with great joy that I studied Medieval History first at Yale University and later at Harvard. I even held a research fellowship at Princeton in 1993. Even though I studied economic and diplomatic history instead of Art History, I still managed to work my artistic interests into my work at every possible opportunity.

    But after all of that education, I chose to become a firefighter. Needless to say, this was not greeted with much enthusiasm by my family. However a firefighter's work schedule gave me the free time I needed and I was able to pursue my other passion -- glass art!

    Since 9-11, stained glass has become an even greater part of my life as I went through rehabilitation for injuries suffered at the Pentagon. Glass has provided me with a creative outlet that I have sorely needed during this most difficult time in my life and in the life of our country. It has also given me a new place in life now that I am physically disabled and no longer able to continue as a firefighter.

    I am also pleased to announce the publication of my book Make It or Break It; Stained Glass For Beginners as a CD E-Book by CWS Press. It is an innovative CD-ROM that allows for page-flipping and browsing just like a book but it can also be searched like a regular electronic document. The CD also comes with a free trial version of GlassEye 2000 and over 340 patterns in GlassEye format.

    And I am now the senior Stained Glass Art Instructor for the Arlington County Adult Arts Education Program at the Fairlington Arts Center. If you live in Northern Virginia this is a wonderful way for you to be able to study stained glass under my tutelage while remaining close to home! In addition I offer private lessons in my home studio.

    But I did recently return to my academic roots. In June 2004, I exhibited several pieces as a part of the "Visions & Experiences" Exhibit at the Yale University School of Art Gallery. If you did not have a chance to visit the exhibit while it was occurring, I have created a Virtual Tour. It is an executable file which can be downloaded and viewed on your computer.

    Hello, my name is Phillip McKee of McKee Stained Glass. Right now we are going to clean the flux off of our soldered project and apply patina. The flux that we use is a mild acid, so it is important to clean it off completely when working on your stained glass project, before you apply any patina or polish. You can do this in several ways, older petroleum based or zinc chloride fluxes required flux remover. Flux remover still makes removal of flux much easier. Water based fluxes can also be removed with standard cleaners and water. One simple way to remove a water based flux is to use a strong spray cleaner and a good towel. This allows you to clean it off and clean the glass at the same time. While you are doing this, your iron should be turned off, so that it is cooling, never leave an on iron for any length of time as it can damage your tip.

    Move to the other side and clean it as well. Notice that for this step, I am not working directly on my Homasote board; instead I am working on top of my work surface. I am doing that because Homasote can absorb water based chemicals. If we have flux or patina on our Homasote, it can leach out on other projects. Now that we have cleaned our project, it is time to begin applying the patina. Your first step is to take a copper scruffy. They also have named brand versions of these, but a standard copper scruffy will do just fine. Make sure that it is solid copper and not copper plated also. Do not use steel wool or any of the other metallic wools as they can leave fine metal particles on your piece which can be sharp and hurt you later and can also interfere with the proper application of patina.

    Take your scruffy and scratch the surface of your patina. It may seem counter-intuitive to do this, but by increasing the surface area with a chemical patina to adhere to, we improve the density and hence the color. Once we have scratch marks, all along our solder beads, it is now time to begin applying patina. Always shake your bottle of patina well before use. The patina is a chemical that is in solution. By shaking it, you make sure that you have a good patch of patina at the top of the bottle. Also make sure that you are using the right color patina and for the right product. Patina comes available for solder, lead and zinc. If you use the wrong patina on the wrong metal, you will have less than desirable results. Never work straight from the bottle, instead pour sample out in a disposable cup.

    Work from that sample, when you are done, any leftovers need to be discarded. Never put used patina back in the bottle or contaminate the bottle. If you introduce contaminants, you can cause all of the patina chemicals to dissipate out of solution and ruin the entire bottle. I like to apply patina using Q-Tips, cotton swabs are an excellent means of applying the patina because they let you work at a safe distance. You do not get the patina on your hands. It can also be advisable especially if you have a cut, to use nitro or latex gloves. Dip the Q-Tip into the patina and get it nice and soaked, then begin rubbing that on the solder, it will instantly begin taking the color of the patina. In this case, we are turning that silver solder black.

    Once you color the tip of your cotton swab, flip it over and dip the next side. This is now useless, it can not be used again. If you happen to get patina in a cut, do not worry, it is not harmful if washed off promptly, it will however stink, take your used cotton swab and throw it away and continue on the rest of the piece, ensuring that you get good coverage on all parts of the solder. Do not be afraid to apply a small amount of pressure while you are putting on the patina. It will assist in color application, when you have done one side, flip it over and begin the process again on the other. Patina, especially black patina helps hide problems in your solder because it creates a uniform surface that does not reflect a gleam or a shine, black patina makes solder lines and heat lines less visible. Any accidental peaks or valleys or even bubbles become much harder to see. In addition, black solder lines are what the public has come to expect when seeing stained glass. It is the natural look for leaded glass that is often seen in churches. So, it is a very good idea to emulate that look when working in copper foil. It is not necessary to apply the patina to the tinned edges, since they will be covered by our frame. When you are done with that side, you can come back to the first, clean it off, patting it dry with a clean towel and now pat dry the other side. Do not be too vigorous when drying it off because you may accidentally rub off some of the patina. If you are comfortable with the color of the patina at this point, you can move on to framing. If however you desire a darker look, then simply apply additional coats, between each coat, scratch the solder, but scratch it much more lightly than you did the first time. Then follow all of the steps we have just seen again, with each successive application of patina, you will get a darker and more uniform color. Now, it is time to frame this piece.