A beginners guide to stained glass tools

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Despite the fact that I love tools, and I'll always try and buy whatever I need for the job at hand, it didn’t take me long to build up a working stained glass toolset when I first started. As a consequence I always figured stained glass has a remarkably low barrier to entry - the few tools required to make a panel (which have pretty much remained unchanged for at least the last 50 years) are simple and relatively inexpensive.

When I teach my workshops, the students use tools of the same quality as my own - if you went on a woodworking class, after all, you wouldn’t expect to use blunt chisels. In many cases the tools actually are my own – owning six gas soldering irons is beyond even my tool-purchase justification powers…. Students are typically fascinated by the tools I provide, simple to understand and use, but tricky to master. Inevitably, as we tidy up and the end of a workshop, I’m asked what a beginner needs to purchase to carry on making stained glass as a hobby. My stock answer is that they only need to pick up a few tools to get started, but I’d never sat down and considered what I actually consider essential, and use on a daily basis. Guess what? As I listed my primary tools one by one, I realised I use more stuff than I thought…

So here’s my list. With these tools, you have everything required to make a panel, and, furthermore, everything on the list would be used on almost every panel you make. There are other things you can buy (e.g. lead shears, dust extractors) that make things easier, and items on the list that make things easier you can do without (e.g. lead vice), which I’ve included in parentheses. As ever, your mileage may vary. Finally, I’ve split the tools into the different stages of making a panel – some will be used at a number of stages, others only once.

I only teach leaded stained glass work, and I haven’t included obvious things like a workbench and newspaper for cleanup, and that I use a gas iron for all my work. Over the next few months, I’ll revisit this list and discuss some of the tools on the list. If there’s anything you’d like me to talk about first, give me a shout. The most commonly asked questions tend to be about soldering irons and grinders, so I’ll probably address those two initially.  

DESIGNING

  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Ruler
  • Pens
  • (Inspiration)

CUTTING GLASS

  • Pliers – Running
  • Pliers – Grozing
  • Glass Cutter
  • Grinder or Tile file

LEADING

  • Battens
  • Lead knife
  • Fid/All Nova tool
  • Horseshoe nails
  • (Hammer)
  • (Lead vice)
  • (Lead dykes)

SOLDERING

  • Soldering iron
  • Stand
  • Small sponge
  • Wire Brush
  • Tin lid
  • (Rosin)

CEMENTING

  • Cementing brush
  • Cleaning brush
  • Polishing brush
  • (Willpower!)

SAFETY

  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bench brush

MATERIALS

  • Glass
  • Lead
  • Solder
  • Tallow/Flux
  • Cement
  • Whiting
  • Propane (for gas iron if required)
TeachingGordon Watt