Owner’s Manual for Stained Glass
So, I’ve built a stained glass something for you and it’s gone to live at your house. Here’s how to take care of your stained glass piece of art.
Treat your glass with respect. Remember – no matter how much it’s supported or how strong it looks – this piece is made out of a breakable material and is fragile. Some types of glass have natural “imperfections” which means that there will be certain places in the glass that are thinner and/or more susceptible to stress breaks.
Our hanging pieces come with a suitable ribbon, chain or cord for hanging purposes. We think it wise to check these hanging materials for wear or damage from time to time, particularly if they are being hung outdoors (Jute cord in particular tends to deteriorate quite rapidly outside), or in areas where the piece is in motion a lot which may wear the hanging material. To shorten or lengthen a piece of chain, use 2 needle nose pliers to twist the link open instead of pulling the link open – pulling can weaken the metal and cause the chain to break.
I’m a little obsessive when it comes to attaching the hangers on pieces and tend to go overboard with their size and strength. (After all that work, wouldn’t it be a shame to have the piece fall and smash just because the wire used to form the hanger wasn’t strong enough?) I recommend that you hang your piece securely from a sturdy hook that has been screwed into a secure material, like a wall stud or wooden window frame – something that isn’t going to fall down and go “boom” once it has a piece of weighty glass hanging from it. I am not a huge fan of suction cup hangers attached to windows unless it’s a quality suction cup hanger with a really small piece hanging from it in a no-traffic area. (Again, after all that work, wouldn’t it be a shame to have the piece fall and smash just because the suction cup used to hang it unstuck?)
You may want to protect the surface the piece may be resting against or resting on, whether it be your living room wall or a window or your dining room table. Most of our larger pieces come with bumpers or pads on the bottom edges to protect against scratching if the piece moves because of a slammed door or window, or a person accidentally bumping into it. Once you’ve hung or placed your piece, check to see if more “padding” is necessary.
Large pieces – particularly leaded ones – need to be hung completely straight so that gravity doesn’t distort the piece over time. I reinforce pieces to industry standards, but a straight hanging insures that the integrity of your piece will remain steadfast.
Hanging a panel to fit an opening exactly:
If I’ve crafted a custom piece for you to hang in a window, you’ll notice that the stained glass piece is actually a teeny bit smaller than the exact opening of the space in which you want to hang it. Spacers are provided for your piece so that it sits just a wee bit away from the outside window frame, allowing air to circulate and discourage condensation. There are several different ways to install pieces of this kind, and when you place a custom order, I’ll recommend a particular way that will be the best for your particular piece and space.
The glass piece you have purchased has been cleaned, then completely protected with a waxy sealer that is applied in its liquid form, is left to dry, and is then buffed and polished with a soft, dry rag.
Aside from a gentle dusting, your piece may never need to be cleaned. If something gets spilled on it or dirties it in some way, clean the piece as thoroughly and as gently as you can with a soft, damp – not wet – cloth. Dab it as dry as you can get it – more important if the damp cloth was made that way with hard water – then let it air dry till it is thoroughly dry. I don’t recommend using window cleaners or other chemical cleaners on any piece of stained glass, since they may damage the putty, lead, solder, glass and integrity of the piece. Always use the most gentle way of cleaning first and see if that is sufficient.
If you want to get really fancy, leaded glass pieces can be cleaned with whiting, which is available at glass supply stores and some hardware stores. Sprinkle the whiting sparingly and spread it gently over the whole surface of the piece. Let it sit for a few minutes, then clean it off with a soft rag or brush, preferably outside or while wearing a mask since the whiting is just chalky dust and will give you a nice little coughing jag if you inhale it. Get the whiting out of the corners and crevices by employing a soft brush, like a toothbrush. We tend to think that this method really isn’t necessary, and that a leaded piece will come just as clean with a damp cloth as described in the paragraph above.
After a cleaning that is more than just a dusting, we suggest reapplying a sealer to make sure that your glass piece is once again protected. Glass sealer/polish is available at stained glass supply stores, but is kind of expensive. Some folks say that a good quality spray furniture polish or car wax that contains carnauba wax will work just as well when used according to the manufacturers’ directions.
Note: If part of your piece includes a copper overlay or a wire structure on top of glass, clean and dust it delicately. Pointy overlay edges and wire ends easily get caught on dusting rags etc. and could get damaged or come right off the piece. Copper overlay pieces that come off due to an over-aggressive cleaning can be reattached with a small amount of silicone glue, or my new love: clear Gorilla glue. Wire pieces that become bent can usually be straightened by you with needle nose pliers. Wire pieces that are broken will require soldering to reattach them to the piece.
Hanging or displaying glass art outside
Stained glass displayed in your garden, yard, or field is pretty spectacular. Most pieces can tolerate “normal” weather. “Abnormal” weather is not kind to glass. Just use your common sense as to whether or not a glass piece should be brought out of the hurricane/tornado. It is possible that extreme heat might cause certain kinds of glass to crack, but we avoid using those kinds of glass in projects meant to be placed outside anyway. Winter is also not kind to glass. A piece made out of copper foil and properly sealed can be left outside in winter if need be, if it’s protected – like a panel hanging under the eaves of the house where it won’t get wet or buffeted by heavy winds or freezing rain. When a piece of glass art gets wet and the water that gets into crevasses (like lead came or metal borders or frames) freezes, it expands and can put pressure on the glass and crack it. Not so nice, but not an issue if you live in Florida. We recommend that glass that is displayed outside during spring, summer and fall is cleaned with a damp cloth, has any “tarnish” buffed off, and is re-polished before being put away for the winter – ready to be put out again in the spring. (see “Cleaning” above)
Weird things you might notice:
From time to time, 24 hours is not long enough for the sealer that has been applied to your finished piece to dry completely, especially if it was applied heavily in crevices and corners. So, if you notice an off-white, hazy substance appearing on your glass or lead or solder, don’t panic – it’s probably just some of the sealer that wasn’t dried completely and is now dry and ready to be gently rubbed off with a soft cloth or soft brush (Old toothbrushes work well. That’s what I use in the studio most of the time.).
We are relentless in cleaning the piece before it is sealed. However, from time to time, solder or lead will oxidize and leave a whitish substance on its surface. Again, no panic is necessary. Gently wipe with a brush or a non-abrasive plastic pot scrubber to remove the “tarnish”. (Never put abrasive stuff to your glass piece. If you can’t get the “tarnish” off, contact us.) You may want to re-seal the piece so that it’s protected again after the “tarnish” has been removed. Glass sealer is available at stained glass supply stores, but it’s expensive. A good quality spray furniture polish or car wax that contains carnauba wax will work just as well. Some folks use a silver polish such as Nevr-Dull. Use according to manufacturers’ directions.
*If something weird is happening to your glass piece and you don’t want to play around with it, just contact me and I’ll help you solve the problem.
Touching your glass piece:
Most glass pieces are put together with solder that contains lead, and a lot of pieces use lead came in their construction. Even though each piece is sealed when it’s finished, I suggest that you wash your hands with soap and warm water after touching any glass piece. Clients can ask to have pieces constructed with lead-free solder and we will happily do so.
The patina that you see on some solder lines and joints should stay the same colour, but might deepen – not darken – with age, just getting better as time goes on.
Stained glass lampshades are heavy, so we urge you to use extra care when moving a shade around in the process of attaching it to your table lamp base or floor lamp, or hanging it over your table.
A floor or table lamp shade should have an adequately strong harp/nipple/saddle arrangement, made specifically for stained glass shades. Mystery-metal arrangements are just not sturdy enough to do the job adequately.
The bases of the lamps should be sturdy as well so that the lamp is not top heavy. Do not swing from hanging lamps!
Last, but not least: If you have a question about any glass piece that is not addressed here, please go to the contact page and let us know about it. We’d be happy to help you find a solution.