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Ten Essential Tools For Stained Glass & Leadlighting Work


Leadlighting and stained glass work can be enjoyed by almost everyone, and it is often asked of me "What kind of tools do I need to get started in stained glass?" With this in mind I give you my top ten essential tools for the job. They are:

The Glazing Hammer.
The Glass Cutter.
The Side Cutter or Lead Dyke.
The Grozing Pliers.
The Leading Knife.
The Soldering Iron.
The French Curve.
The Horseshoe or ‘Cut’ Nail.
The Flat-topped Bench.
The Grouting Brush.

Armed with a few essential tools, a good imagination, and an eye for art and form, plus a great deal of practice and perseverance, anyone, male or female, can aspire to become a sought after Lead lighter. Over time, experience will surely demonstrate, as no amount of reading the text books will, all the possibilities and probabilities met with by other folk who have practised the art and craft of the Glass Worker.

The achievement of the ‘artist’ is perhaps universally applauded, still for some, best practice continues to be difficult to attain. Yet the art has a very long history and continues to be much admired, even loved. Being born colour-blind must surely be a major deterrent for any aspiring artist, however, colour-blindness affects only around eight per cent (8%) of the male population and considerably less than half that of the female population, so given that one has a good sense of style and a useful knowledge of both glass and earlier norms, the door is open for the majority to be able to ‘give it a go’.

Many opportunities present for repairs to existing panels but oftentimes purchasing the same glass new is not possible, as it is simply no longer made. Thus it might be suggested that, if sought after to complete special commissions, a small surplus of any difficult to obtain glass should be retained in stock to cater for any broken sections that may arrive on your bench for repair, at a later time. Sometimes it is possible to acquire old glass by patronising Second-hand and Recycling yards who may well have glass in doors or windows that are a suitable match for your purpose. You would naturally expect to have to purchase the sale item, in its entirety, and not just take the glass, but if the job is important enough there is often much satisfaction to be gained by seeking and finding the hard to find, in this way!

So, let's consider what I believe to be our particular essential tools:

The Glazing Hammer: It is suggested that it be a three head hammer with interchangeable heads of rubber, plastic and metal. Such a tool is essential to ensure a tightly fitting panel, and indeed, the close fitting component parts contribute greatly to the structural integrity of the completed unit. A special advantage is that tight panels will not rattle to the loudest sounds of the neighbour’s grand piano played by the precocious youngster or even mobile ‘doof doof’ blasters.

The Glass Cutter: Readily available, of course, from
your local hardware store, Experience of ‘hands on’ operation
and heaps of practice is the only path to proficiency. Your work will benefit from both a steady hand and a strong wrist!

The Side-cutters or Lead Dyke: I would suggest that the best cutters are ‘FAN OUT’ brand, especially designed for the Glass Worker, and you will find that they give a superior finish of cut in both lead and brass. They represent one of the more expensive of your essential tools and should be carefully cared for and certainly not used for cutting iron or steel reinforcing strips that are needed in extra large panels. For these you are obliged to resort to the humble hacksaw.

The Grozing Pliers: Simply an essential tool when trimming wayward or ineffectively cut glass edges. ‘FAN OUT’ brand is again recommended with their specially designed curved jaws. It is not unreasonable to suggest, quite strongly in fact, that a box of ‘band aids’ be in close proximity, to cater for the inevitable, though hopefully infrequent, slicing of an artery or even just the first half millimetre of your epidermis! There will be blood!

The Leading Knife: Available from lead light suppliers with specially designed strike-plate for tapping items into the correct position on the work bench. Essentially a multi -purpose tool for cutting, aligning, and hammering of construction nails, and more. Tap, tap and it’s done.

The Soldering Iron: An 8o Watt iron is recommended for gaining proficiency before upgrading to 100 or 120 Watt; temperature controlled units are even better. It should be of good quality so that you may expect reasonable longevity from the tool. This item is so obviously necessary that it is a good investment for the professional to have a spare on hand, for use when ‘old faithful’ fails his duties. This would certainly avoid an irritating, and no doubt badly timed, trip to the hardware store for a replacement. Purchase some extra Flux and Solder at the same time - don’t worry, these both have an unlimited shelf-life, but, of course, you’ll have to find them.

The French Curve: Readily available from any good Arts Supplier: this flexible plastic strip is providential when creating templates for the larger flowing curve and when striving for the greatest possible accuracy, which, presumably, is at all times!

The Horseshoe or Cut Nail: A flat-sided and constantly used item to set up the squaring of the panel size and to secure the pieces of glass as they are added to the work in progress. Keep a plentiful supply on hand to make some good use of that old, unused ashtray!

The Flat-topped Bench: Your bench does not have to be of Master Cabinetmaker quality but it must be of the correct height for the individual, and of course, it should be flat. It may be frightfully sad, but you can hardly expect to become a successful Lead Lighter if you find it necessary to remain constantly seated, so take heed!

The Grout Cleaning Brush: This brush, preferably of stiff natural bristles, can be either hand held or electric operated; probably, you should acquire both. A good brushing provides a patination to the lead and simultaneously cleans the glass of any unwanted accretions from spiders or flies.

Your end result will be a professionally finished product, which should delight yourself as well as any perceptive, and therefore prospective, customer. Now all you require is to be adequately compensated for your hours and hours of effort!

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One Response to Ten Essential Tools For Stained Glass & Leadlighting Work

  1. Arthur Enslen on April 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Most important thing to be kept in mind when working with soldering iron is not to touch the tip of the iron as it is extremely hot. Soldering material used for the purpose is an alloy of tin and lead and is called flux. Before you put solder over the required area, heat up the surface to be soldered by touching the tip of the hot iron. Application of the solder is called “tinning”since percentage of tin is more in the flux. However, flux can be of various types depending upon the things to be soldered.

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