What Exactly Is Stained Glass?

Many people assume stained glass is merely glass with color. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Anyone who shops for local glassmaking supplies in Monterey County, CA soon discovers the process that makes stained glass unique from the everyday glass you encounter in bare windows, bottles and jars. In fact, stained glass is more durable as well as beautiful. Here is an overview of the materials that are used to make stained glass.

Creating color

The color in stained glass is part of the manufacturing process. It’s not merely dyed red, yellow or cobalt blue.

Clear glass is made from silica sand and clarifying chemicals. It forms under a particular melting temperature until it gains the needed strength. Colors develop when metal oxides or powders are added to molten glass. So, stained glass is a mix of silica sand, clarifying agents and these metal oxides.

Colors arise from different metal types. For example, popular “cobalt blue” develops from adding a cobalt metal oxide. Copper creates blue and green, and sulfur makes yellow. Red was once the rarest and most expensive, because it originates from gold. It remains treasured today, but you do not find it frequently in antique pieces, as it was mostly inaccessible. Now, other formulas create red stained glass without demanding gold.

Other combinations include chrome, which creates emerald green. Tin results in white glass. Iron oxides produce greens and browns.

Iridized and dichroic glass contain thin coatings that create a sheen. Iridized glasses have a rainbow effect, while dichroic glass develops texture from the original color. Adding this sheen is more expensive, but many people consider the results well worth the cost.

The role of lead

You’ve likely heard of leaded stained glass, and this is how it works. The lead joins the pieces of stained glass together to create a pattern. Some projects use glass instead of lead, but you can also find copper foil performing this role.

Professional glassmakers typically use lead. It is expensive and difficult to form, but in skilled hands, it creates a uniform result. Hobbyists prefer copper foil because it is easier to use. You do not have the same margins of error with copper foil as with lead.

To create stained glass, we first design a pattern. The pattern may arise from computer software, but some artists still prefer sketching. Then, we create colored glass and make pieces for the pattern. The cutting process is extremely detailed and requires many tools, from cutters and pliers to diamond grit grinders.

Once the pieces form, we form the lead around them to make the pattern. If you are using copper foil, you do the same thing, except with greater ease. Once done, it’s time to glaze. Exterior windows and doors are triple glazed to enhance protection from the elements.

Smiths’ Stained Glass hopes you found this explanation of stained glass interesting. If you would like to try a project yourself, we offer local glassmaking supplies for beginners and advanced artists alike in Monterey County, CA. Check out our classes to see what else you could learn!