Tools to Get Started in Stained Glass

Tools to Get Started in Stained Glass

If you want to get into making stained glass for yourself, I have my list of must-haves with links to buy them below! This is a list of supplies to do the Tiffany Method of stained glass (copper foil and solder), not the lead came method.

Everything I make is lead free, so I'm going to give you a list of what I use making lead-free stained glass, but I will include an alternative item if you prefer using lead.

I get this questions a lot and I wanted to add a note here about why I choose to do everything lead-free.  I'm not anti-lead by any means, but for my situation it makes the most sense for me not to use it.  I don't have a work space where I would be able keep lead completely isolated from my family's living area.  Lead is not the only dangerous aspect of making stained glass, there are harsh chemicals like flux and patina that you need to be careful with, and glass shards can get everywhere as well.  Because of this I do have spaces where I can keep those things away from my family, but lead can contaminate a lot more things without you even realizing it, and I don't trust myself to be as careful as I would need to be.  If you want to get into stained glass, or you already are doing stained glass I would highly recommend listening to this podcast (specifically from 40:00 to 59:00) where Megan McElfresh really gets in to what precautions you need to take when working with lead.  

*Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small percent from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. That being said, this list is made with integrity and I would not recommend anything that I do not stand behind and use myself.

Absolute basics:

This is what you will need to get started.  It includes the absolute basics for making stained glass.  This list totals around $300.  Below this list I have more in-depth explanations of everything I use.

    PPE (Personal Protective Equipment):

    Items you will need from around the house:

    • Sharpie marker to smooth down your copper foil
    • Box cutter or Exacto knife to trim your copper foil
    • Old toothbrush or other small brush to apply flux
    • Sponge to clean your soldering tip
    • Dish soap and old toothbrush to clean you piece after soldering
    • Cloth for polishing

    If you're starting from scratch I would also recommend checking out starter kits from Anything In Stained Glass, or Delphi Glass.

    In-depth Explanations:

    The list above is extremely basic, and I'd like to give more in-depth explanations of everything I actually use when creating a stained glass piece.  So here we go....

    Pattern Creating:

    I use an ipad with the apple pencil and the Procreate app to make all my patterns.  I used to use photoshop and adobe illustrator for making patterns, but I have absolutely loved procreate and haven't looked back.  It took me a minute to figure out how to use it, but I think it's a lot more user friendly than adobe illustrator or photoshop.

    Pattern to Glass:

    I usually use white contact paper to stick my patterns onto my glass.  I do this by cutting 8.5" x 11" sheets out of the contact paper printing my patterns on to them.  I then number each piece of my pattern, and take a photo for future reference.  If I'm using glass that has a grain in it, I draw an arrow on the pattern so I know where to stick it on the glass with the grain.  Then I cut the pattern out and stick it on my glass.  I like this method when making more intricate pieces because it keeps the pieces all more precise so they fit better in the end.  If I'm making a simpler piece I will just trace my patter onto my glass using metallic paint markers.  The paint markers stay on the glass better while you're grinding, and the metallic shows up on all colors and opacities of glass.

    Cutting Your Glass:

    Work Area:  I like using a waffle grid under my glass while I'm cutting so that I don't have to brush off my surface each time I lay down a new sheet of glass. But you have to be careful with them because sometimes a stray shard will poke above the surface of the grid and cut you or scratch your glass so don't place all your trust in it ;) you just need to check it each time you put a new sheet down. 

    Tools: I use a pencil grip glass scoring tool, but there are pistol grip ones as well.  When using your glass scoring tool you need to use scoring oil on the blade of your tool to help it sink in to the glass and give it a clean score line.  When breaking glass there are three different tools you can use.  Grozer pliers are mostly used to grab on to the glass and break it using your hand movement.  These are used for breaking smaller pieces.  Running pliers are pliers with a long curved shape to put pressure on each side of your score line to help break larger pieces of glass.  Silberschnitt's pliers are a more expensive pair of pliers that are really handy for cutting curves into glass. 

    **Safety - You will need to wear safety glasses while scoring and breaking glass, and if you don't want any cuts, you can wear cut resistant gloves.

    Grinding Your Glass:

    Grinders: I wouldn't say a grinder is 100% necessary for doing stained glass, but I would highly recommend getting one.  I started out with a small simple grinder and it worked great. I mostly moved up to the more expensive option (The Grinder by Techniglass) because of the built in light and extra shielding from gunk.  As far as the actual grinding goes, I don't think there's much of a difference.  If you're determined not to use a grinder at first, I would recommend a grinding stone to get rid of small bumps. 

    Grinding Bits: My favorite grinding bits at the moment are Techniglass's gel bits.  The fine grit grinds the glass pretty quickly without leaving any chips in your glass which I think is a huge win.  If you decide to try these bits, be aware, you can't tighten the little screw too tightly or it will crack your bit.  I also love my 1/4 and 1/8 inch bits for grinding out finer details in the glass. 

    Work Area: Glass grinding makes a bit of a mess and there are a few different solutions to this problem.  Some people use a fish terrarium or large Tupperware box on its side with the grinder inside it to contain the mess. I like to use two ringless binders propped up around the grinder with a small towel underneath.  Glass grinding is also extremely hard on your hands.  I like to wear a pair of nitrile gloves with a pair of cut resistant gloves over them when I'm grinding my glass.  This might seem overkill, but I hate how much the glass gunk dries out my hands, and the cut resistant gloves are not water proof, so they let that stuff in.

    **Safety - You will need to wear safety glasses during this step, and the cut resistant gloves will keep the glass from cutting your hands up as well.

    Foiling your Glass:

    Thickness: When copper foiling your glass, you need to keep two things in mind; one is how thick you want your foil to be, and the other is what backing you want on your foil.  It can be a bit easier to work with thicker tape (7/32) when you start out. It is thick enough to work on almost all glass, it covers up chips in your glass and it's easier to foil your pieces in.  I usually use thinner tape on my pieces (3/16) because I prefer the look of the thinner solder lines, but I always keep thicker tape (7/32) on hand for when I'm using thicker glass.  

    Backing: The next thing you need to think about is what finish you want your solder to have.  If you are going to keep it silver and not add any patina you will want to use silver backed foil.  If you are going to add black patina to the solder you will want to use black backed foil, and if you are going to use copper patina you will want to use copper backed foil.

    Brand: I prefer Edco brand copper foil because it is a much softer copper and allows you to tape around inside curves without the tape tearing.  Venture tape is a good second option.  I highly recommend not using StudioPro brand tape, it will peal up and ruin your project, it's not worth saving a few dollars. 

    Tools: You will want some nice scissors to cut your tape.  You will also need something to burnish your foil with.  In the past I have used a sharpie marker and it works just fine, however I do prefer using a plastic fid, it just seems to work a little better for me.  You will also want an Exacto knife or box cutter on hand for trimming your copper foil when there is a tail left from the over lap, or if you want to get a little more creative with your foiling. I keep all my different types of foil in a handy foil dispenser.


    Solder and Flux: Like I've mentioned before, I make everything lead-free, so I use Canfield's lead-free pewter finish solder and gel flux specifically for lead-free solder, but if you want to use lead, I think most 60/40 lead solders work great.  I will link Canfield's 60/40 solder and a gel flux for lead solder.  In order to apply flux to your solder lines you will need some sort of brush, I like these brushes, but honestly I think an old toothbrush could even work if you're on a budget.   

    Iron: I absolutely love my Hakko FX601-02 soldering iron.  I started with a Weller soldering iron and the Hakko has made a world of difference for me.  The temperature control allows you to set the iron to a more appropriate temperature for your project, and it warms up in under a minute.  It is also lighter weight than other irons which your wrist will thank you for. 

    Cleaning your Tip: You will need to keep your tip clean while soldering, and there are two options for that, a wet sponge or a wire tip cleaner.  The wet sponge can cool your tip down and doesn't seem to keep the tip clean for very long, I definitely prefer the wire tip cleaner, and this one has a stand with it to place your iron in when you're not using it.  But if you're working on a budget, you can try the sponge first.  If you are going the lead-free route you will definitely need a sal ammoniac block to clean your tip and keep it tinned.  Lead free solder is notorious for ruining tips, but I haven't had much of a problem with that because I use my sal ammoniac block regularly to clean my tip.  

    Work Area: I like to work on a heat resistant Homasote board because I can easily push pins into it, and it doesn't burn. I also like using a layout block system to keep everything straight and square while tacking my project into place. 

    Jump rings & Wire Work: I like to use pre-tinned copper wire to make my jump rings and for any other wire work.  I use wire nippers to cut it to size, and flat nose pliers to hold it in place while soldering. 

    **Safety: Ventilation while soldering is important because of the smoke produced from the flux.  I solder next to an open window with a small fan pulling the air out of the window.  I also have a small fume extractor at my soldering station.  If I'm going to be soldering for more than a few minutes I will also wear a respirator mask.  The flux you use while soldering can be harmful on your skin so make sure you're always wearing waterproof gloves.  I like these nitrile gloves.  If you are using lead solder you will want to do some research into handling lead safely.  This podcast gives some great insight into what precautions you need to take.


    Why: There are two main reasons to properly clean your project. One is that flux becomes acidic when left on a project and can cause a crust to form on your solder if not cleaned properly.  The other is that patina will not take well on your solder unless it is thoroughly cleaned.  I am pretty extensive with my cleaning process because lead-free solder is especially finicky with patina and getting it super clean seems to help. 

    How: So here's my extensive cleaning process... First I clean it in the sink with Dawn dish soap and a toothbrush, thoroughly scrubbing each solder line with soap and rinsing with warm water.  Next I spray the whole thing down with Kwik Clean Flux Remover and once again scrub each solder line with a toothbrush and wipe it off with my Scott Shop Towels.  After that I use a wet Melamine Sponge (magic eraser) to scrub all the solder lines, then I use 0000 steel wool to scrub all the solder lines.  Lastly, I quickly clean the steel wool off using either the flux remover or a wet melamine sponge and dry it off with a Scott Shop Towel.  Now the project is ready for patina!  If you're not using patina you should be able to stop after the dish soap step. 

    **Safety: The cleaning process can be messy, and you don't want flux getting anywhere it shouldn't so I try to lay my pieces down on a microfiber towel or Scott Shop Towel when cleaning it.  I also make sure I'm always wearing waterproof protective gloves like the nitrile gloves I wear while soldering.

    Patina and Polishing:

    Patina: Starting with clean solder lines is the trick to getting patina to look nice.  See above for details on how I clean my pieces before applying patina.  I use Novacan's black patina and copper patina.  I haven't tried any other brands of patina, but this brand seems to be the most widespread and popular among glass artists.  I apply the black patina with a toothbrush and the copper patina with a cotton swab.  Patina can react with your glass if you're not careful with it.  I try to keep the patina off the glass as much as I can, or I make sure that I clean it off with water quickly after applying it.  Don't let the patina dry on your glass.  After cleaning the patina off you can polish your piece. 

    Polish - Silver or Copper Finish: This step is important for giving your piece a shiny finished look.  When I'm keeping my piece silver, or I'm using copper patina I will polish it using Clarity's Stained Glass Finishing Compound.  Make sure you shake the bottle first, then coat your entire project in the compound so it all looks wet and cloudy.  Allow the compound to completely dry before touching it, this usually only takes an hour or two.  You will be able to tell it's dry because it will have a matte look to it rather than a wet shiny look.  I like to use a toothbrush to scrub the compound out of all the nooks and crannies of my piece, then I use a microfiber towel to buff everything to a nice shiny finish.  I also like to use toothpicks to really clean out the edge between the solder lines and the glass because it tends to get gunked up through the whole process.

    Polish - Black Finish: When I'm using black patina on my piece I use a different polishing process.  I learned this trick from my friend Kara of Glimpse Glass and I love how it makes my project look.  Once the black patina has been applied and cleaned off I will spray the entire project with Pledge Enhancing Polish until everything is covered.  This polish is harder to determine when it's dry, so I just let it sit overnight to be safe.  In the morning I will take a clean microfiber towel and clean the polish off of the piece and buff everything until it is shiny and no longer leaves smudge marks.  

    Hanging your Piece:

    I like using waxed cotton cord to hang my pieces because it is easily adjustable for customers, I don't have to worry about a chain coming apart, and it blends into the background allowing the stained glass to be the center of the show.  I just use a simple slip knot so it can be adjusted without having to untie and cut the cord.  If you're hanging a project that is bigger than 12 inches, or is exceptionally heavy I would not recommend using waxed cotton cord.  In that case you will want to use something stronger like a jack chain.

    The safest way to hang your piece in a window is to either hang it on the window's hardware like the latch used to lock your window closed (another reason I like the waxed cotton cord, chain cannot slip under the latch when your window is locked), or to put a screw-in wall hook into the wood above your window.  I do not recommend using suction cups, I've made this mistake and had my piece shatter when it fell.  If you're completely set on using suction cups I would at least get some heavy duty ones and make sure you check them often.

    Buying Glass:

    Buying glass can be tricky.  Because most regular craft stores don't carry stained glass, you need to find a stained glass supply store in order to buy it in person.  Where I live, the nearest stained glass supply shop is quite a few hours away so I order all my glass online from either Delphi Glass or Anything In Stained Glass

    Hobby Lobby does carry stained glass sheets but you have to be careful with their glass.  They have a few sheets of good quality glass like Oceanside glass, but a lot of their glass is lower quality which makes it more difficult to cut, and it can have lots of scratches in it as well.  But it's not a bad option for someone just starting out.  

    I also looked around on Amazon to see what they have to offer and this is what I found:

    • Plain Clear Glass - Plain clear glass is nice to practice your glass cutting skills on without ruining an expensive sheet of glass.  (you can also find old frames at a Good Will or Savers and use the glass from them as well)
    • Textured and Iridescent Clear Glass - This brand of glass is not the best quality which means it usually has some scratches in it and it can be a little harder to score, but it could be good to practice on for a beginner.
    • Transparent Colored Glass - I'm not familiar with this brand of glass so I can't vouch for the quality, but once again it would be a good one to practice with while letting you play with colors and textures as well.
    • Transparent Colored Glass (high quality) - This is Oceanside glass which is a great option for transparent (light comes through) colored glass.  It is high quality, easy to score and usually consistent with thickness which makes everything easier. 
    • Opalescent Colored Glass (high quality) - This is also Oceanside glass which is a great option for opalescent (light does not come through) colored glass.  It is high quality, easy to score and usually consistent with thickness which makes everything easier.
    • Wispy Colored Glass (high quality) - This is also Oceanside glass which is a great option for wispy colored glass.  It is high quality, easy to score and usually consistent with thickness which makes everything easier.
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