Quality of My Work

As the old adage states, “An educated consumer is the best consumer.” I've done enough repair work for people who've bought inexpertly made pieces that then require premature repairs that I'm hoping this steers you towards a studio that will make something both creative and high quality.

Questions to Ask

Do they draw their own designs? Many crafters tend to lean on designs pulled directly from stained glass pattern books, and in a lot of cases these pieces are not supposed to be manufactured for commercial use. Someone that's spent a lot of time designing stained glass will also have a better working knowledge of what is possible in the medium, therefore they will likely design something that will last for years.

Do they design things that are in tune with how glass tends to break? Avoid pieces with sharp interior angles on a single piece of glass (Picture an L-shape or something similar cut out of one piece of glass). A sharp interior angle is impossible to cut by hand since glass breaks on a straight line. This type of cut indicates that a glass bandsaw has been used, as it cannot be cut by hand with modern glass. Utilizing this shape in a design is a hallmark of the amateur, as this shape weakens the piece and it will inevitably break.

Do they only work in copper foil? Or do they work in lead as well? Copper foil work is generally the only method taught by many hobby shops, and while it's perfectly fine for certain projects (lamps, small panels, small hanging things in windows,) lead is a better method for larger windows that will experience much more expansion and contraction. If you're shopping around, I would personally lean towards a studio that uses both methods, or, at the very least, can explain with coherence why they intend to build your window with one method versus the other.

Can you see a piece being built or in progress? Here's what to look for in a copper foil piece: Copper foil is quite literally, like scotch tape. It doesn't have a lot of shear strength on its own. The tape is wrapped around the edge of each piece of glass, and if there's a misalignment where the wrap meets itself, that's a sign of a studio whose goal isn't well-made things (or a studio's inexperience). Any solder bead on a copper foil piece should be nice and round, without a valley in the center of two pieces. Sometimes there's a lot of variance in copper foil lines, and while this can be done for visual effect, it can also happen because the glass cutting was imprecise.

On a leaded piece, the lead intersections should meet cleanly with no gaps. Solder joints should have a nice "T" or "X" shape, and shouldn't look lumpy and malformed. Painted lines (if there are any) should meet up cleanly through the leadlines, and lead intersections should line up as well like in the butterfly photo to the left.

If it's lead, it should be weatherproofed, and if a company doesn't weatherproof their leaded windows, walk away. Even for purely internal windows, the weatherproofing serves to give the window "good posture" by keeping everything in the same vertical plane. Most companies make their own weatherproofing putty and although the ingredients vary, I'd recommended to avoid any piece that utilizes Portland cement in their putty matrix. It doesn't allow for expansion and contraction, and it’s nearly impossible to repair a piece puttied with Portland cement.
As an FYI - each region of the US tends to refer to putty as something different. The terms mud, putty, and cement seem to be the most common, even though cement is really a misnomer because no true cement should ever be an ingredient in putty.

What about painted work? If the piece has a painted design or lettering directly on the glass, ask what sort of paints they use. A quality studio will only use specially formulated paints or traditional glass paints, which get fired into the glass at temperatures over 1000-degrees Fahrenheit.

When in doubt, ask. I've been doing this for many years, and if a client was curious enough to ask about an old world craft and skill that I love and try to perpetuate in a skilled and well-built manner... Well that would be a pretty good day. And if by some extended stroke of luck I had the good fortune to never have to repair another poorly made piece, I would definitely call that a win.