Tag Archives: tools

What does it cost to get set up in stained glass?

Using the circle cutter for stained glass
Using the circle cutter for stained glass

We get this question often – at craft fairs, exhibitions and gallery demo days: I fancy having a go – what will it cost me?

The flippant answer is – your soul! It’s an engrossing hobby, can become an all-consuming lifestyle, and some even do it for a living!

But sliding back into reality for a moment, it’s not cheap to get started, which is why a day’s course or spending time with an established glass artist is a good idea: it’s not like buying a pad and some paints!

So, come on Mike, what’s involved?

Well – the fundamental tools you will need for copper-foil (Tiffany method) stained glass are:

A glass cutter – not the £3 job you can buy from a DIY store, a proper oil-filled tungsten-wheeled one. Our preference – Toyo Supercutter, costs about £25.

A good pair of grozing pliers, for nibbling, and a pair of cut runners, or glass snappers. Together these are about £15. We use Glastar snappers.

Next, you’ll need a grinder. We have several Glastar grinders, large and small, for teaching, and the lowest-priced one we’ve found that lasts is the Superstar, at £150 now that VAT has gone up.

You’ll also need  decent soldering iron. There seem to be two that are worth considering, both by Weller, the giant of soldering technology! The 80W ‘starter’ iron is ok for occasional use and costs about £50 with a stand to keep it safe when working. The 100W ‘pro’ tool is about £90.

So those are the main tools you’ll need.

But you’ll also need a work surface, a straight edge, layout strips and pins to hold your design together when soldering, and pens, paper, something to keep your glass in, and a good working light. All this lot could cost you £50 if bought in one go.

Oh, and let’s not forget – the consumables!
Foil is now about £10 a roll, and you’ll need at least a couple of rolls to begin with, and solder is now about £10 for half-a-kilo, which is enough to get started with. And flux and grinding lubricant for your grinder, and cutting oil (or white spirit) will add about £10 on top.

And now – glass!
This is a tricky one. We start our students off on clear ‘horticultural’ glass initially while they learn to score and break glass consistently.

This is cheap, but once you’re confident enough to make something with ‘proper’ coloured glass, you’ll find that sheets about 12″ by 12″ cost from £5 up. The fancier glass costs more, but we always recommend newcomers start with Spectrum glass as it’s affordable and easy to cut. And looks great!

For any sort of interesting design, you’ll need several different sheets, and the off-cuts may not be very usable shapes or sizes.

As a guide, we reckon on about £30 for glass and consumables each for our students on our Vitreus Art one-day class.

If you’re looking at leading, a collection of tools to add to the basics above can be bought for about £25, plus the lead itself.

Check back next time for info on some other tools that are fun to use, like the circle cutter in the picture above.
In the meantime, do leave a comment and let me know which tools you’d recommend to a novice, or which you found hardest to use!

Happy glass making,

P.S. If you’d like to know more about our one-day beginner’s classes, go to:

Or email me via this blog.

Showing, versus telling – the art of demonstrations

I was thinking about my earlier post on the subject of ‘What are you selling?’, and chatting with other artists during this year’s Herts Open Studios.
I’ve concluded that a significant part of the job of selling your ‘brand’ as an artist rather than just selling your time and materials can be achieved by showing people what you do – rather than just telling them.

Jenny and I have always sought out opportunities to demonstrate our stained glass processes as a way to draw prospective purchasers in (and a nice way to ensure time spent at craft fairs or exhibitions is more productive).
The number of conversations while working on a piece that have started ‘I used to do a bit of glass work…’ or ‘So tell me – how do you cut curves in glass?’ that result in a class booking for our beginner’s class or a sale then or later tells me the power of demonstration is not to be underestimated.

Does a demonstration have to be structured to be worth doing?
I’m not certain it does. It’s well worth having pieces of art in different stages of completion, if you can – this allows you to explain what you’re doing at the moment in relation to the finished piece.

We usually have some offcuts of glass we can use to show how a modern oil-filled glass cutter works, and even let someone have a go if they like.
Now this is a real ‘closer’!
Many people will be interested in what you do, and may want to try it but are wary of signing up for a class or buying a set of materials until they know they stand a chance of success!

Even if hands-on sessions aren’t practical, being able to talk with people about the techniques, or maybe the evolution of your work with examples of incomplete work to hand gets your conversation with the potential customer on to a much deeper level very quickly.

We also find that a hook to get that conversation started is invaluable.
At our recent Open Studios exhibition we were making stained glass Christmas decorations; we were able to say to people wandering around that we were getting a head-start on orders from the galleries we work with.

This got an initial response in most cases – isn’t a bit early, isn’t it a bit repetitive making the same thing many times, and so on. A bit of banter and a a bit of ‘these are the ones I’ve finished today’ and we’ve got a conversation started.

We also make sure we have all our tools handy, and we find we can get chatting by referring to tools that are the modern equivalent of ones they may have seen on TV or in their Dad’s workshop.  From that point it’s easy to develop that thread and find out if they’ve seen something in the exhibition they like.

If we’re not formally preparing to demonstrate, we’ll ensure instead that we have work on the go at different stages so we can point to the tools and techniques used at each stage.

To come back to the concept of selling your brand, I remember working at a large craft fair one August Bank Holiday, with a chap watching me cut glass for about half-an-hour. He just stood there and watched as I cut up all the pieces for a new design I had drawn out.

After 30 minutes, he said ‘I’ve never seen anyone cut so precisely as that, especially with people watching.’
I replied ‘That’s because you’re watching – I was being extra careful!’.
We exchanged greetings, he took a brochure and wandered off.
At the end of the day he returned and bought one of Jenny’s pieces (made at a craft fair the previous month!), telling his wife: ‘Now that I’ve seen it done I want to be able to tell people I know a bit about it.’

That’s the power of the demonstration – it moves you away from being the person selling the work, to being the person creating it using skills acquired and refined over many years.
Just make sure you get their email address so you can add them to your mailing list. And email them a photo of the finished piece you were making when they stopped and chatted!