Cutting Out a Stained Glass Shape

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 49,016
    Stained Glass Artist Phillip McKee demonstrates how to cut out a stained glass shape.

    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.

    Hi, I am Phillip McKee of McKee Stained Glass. Right now, we are going to learn how to cut an entire piece or pattern piece out of our sheet of glass. On the website, there is a link that you can click on to download this set of pieces. These are shapes that you can use to help your practice, the different types of cuts be they straight lines, outside curves or inside curves and the combination curve. Start them on piece one and move to piece six. Once you have mastered all of these shapes, you are ready to move on and work on an actual pattern. Right now, we are going to look on shape six, the fish. The fish is the most difficult pattern for many students. To do the fish, place your sheet of clear practice glass over the top of the fish. We are actually going to trace the fish onto your glass instead of cutting out the pattern.

    When we trace patterns onto glass, we are using what is known as the English method, instead of the Pattern Cutting method, which is what we will use later on. Trace your pattern and I am sure you can see one potential problem with this method. If your glass is too dark or even opalescent or opaque, you will not be able to see the pattern underneath. The first cut you are going to do has nothing to actually do with this actual piece. Whenever we are working in stained glass with a pattern piece, the first cut we do is a liberation cut. By that I mean a cut slightly further away from the pattern piece that removes it from the rest of the sheet of glass. We do this so that, if something goes wrong and a break occurs that goes wild, it does not go through the rest of your glass and ruin a rather expensive commodity.

    We can be certain that we also will have enough room for another pattern piece, should we need it. So, let us liberate this fish, when you are doing your liberation cut, never cut directly on the pattern piece, always cut a little bit away. This will allow for a safety factor, in case something goes wrong. Score our glass and we break it with the running pliers. Now, if we have trouble with this fish, we still have more glass to make another fish. Once you have your pattern piece liberated, now it is time to determine the order of the cuts that you will make. You can not just start willy-nilly wherever you feel like. Always cut the most difficult cuts first, since inside curves are the most difficult cut in stained glass, you will want to start on an inside curve.

    Once you are done with the inside curves, then you move to the outside curves, only after all curves have been cut, do you cut any straight lines. In this case, we have what is known as a compound curve, we have an inside curve that becomes an outside curve, to cut these properly, break them up into two curves. Let us start with this side right here, I am going to draw on how I want to cut my final score. Going to continue this out to an edge and then find a break point where it converts from an inside to an outside curve and at that moment, we will continue out. In this manner, we ensure that we can get our nice inside curve without trying to make the glass change a direction yet again and do an outside curve at the same time. Let us score this inside curve. Now I am going to introduce to yet another tool.

    If it is not normally a part of a standard glass beginner kit, however it is an excellent tool to purchase once you become proficient in the standard methods for breaking curves. That tool is The Safety Break, by Morton. When we use a Safety Break, we take the small dot with a peg, put it on our grid work surface. Line our glass up on top of the button, with the button at the center of the curve. Put this perpendicular to the curve and press down. Essentially what we have done is convert the floor, the table, your body and your arms along with the safety break into one giant running plier that allows you to begin your break at the center of the piece, rather than at an edge.

    When we break this into two different sections that are moving that way, we no longer need to do the additional cut. Now let us move on to the other inside curve, once again, we apply our Morton Safety Break and we remove the rest of the fish. The safety break also works well with outside curves and we do our second outside curve and finally we do the straight tail. Now, we have cut out a fish. The sharper corners at the junction between the inside and the outside curve can be ground away. Next, we will learn how to grind this fish down into size and shape, so that it is nice and smooth and ready for use in a pattern.