Learn How To Copper Foil

Enchanted Forest

The copper foil technique, for stained glass work, appears to have become very popular, at least in the USA. For whatever reason, many instructors only teach foiling, leaving out the lead technique altogether. As a result, the majority of you use foil, and many of you have questions. This tutorial is here to answer those questions and help you perfect your foiling skills.

Using copper foil, to create stained glass pieces,

was developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany over 100 years ago. He started by using sheet copper, cutting it into strips. The strips were wrapped around the glass and the joining ends were soldered together to keep it from springing off the glass.

Can you imagine the work involved just to wrap one piece of glass?? Today, we can buy foil in a variety of widths, and it has adhesive on the back to keep it in place. Thank goodness for that!










Getting Started



To get started you will need:

1. A pattern
2. Glass
3. 7/32" and 1/4" Copper foil
4. 60/40 Solder
5. Flux, flux brush or Q-tips
6. A surface to construct your work on.
7. Jig material
8. A fid or small wall paper roller
9. Orange sticks or thin dowels
10. Exacto knife, scalpel, or anything with a sharp razor type blade
11. Marking pen
12. Rubbing alcohol
13. Paper towels
14. Grinder
15. Push pins
16. Masking tape
17. Carborundum stone (not necessary, but very handy)


After you have decided on a pattern, the next step is to chose your glass. Once you have the glass it's time to decide whether you want to make pattern pieces or to trace cut your glass.

Double Click on the following pictures to enlarge them.



copying the pattern onto poster board

I prefer pattern pieces for copper foil work, due to the necessity for absolute accuracy in order for the pieces to fit together properly. If you have rather large pieces, trace cutting is fine, but, in my opinion, it isn't accurate enough (at least not for the hobbyist) when you have very small, intricate pieces.




Work Surfaces and Jigs



If your copper foil project has to be made to precise dimensions, or it's just something you want to keep square, construct it in a jig. If it's free form and doesn't have any exact dimensions to conform to, you can just use push pins to hold the glass in place while you are assembling the piece.

jig

Ceiling tiles make great, disposable, work surfaces for copper foil projects. I like using the Morton Layout Block System for my jigs. They are strips of aluminum L's that are attached around the edge of the cartoon with push pins. The pins stick well in ceiling tiles.

Of course, you can always use a wooden board and wood strips (held in place with nails) to make your jig. You can also use the Morton Layout Blocks with a wood board, holding them in place with nails. If you use the push pins (that come with the layout blocks) in a wood surface, the heads come off when you try to pull them out with the claws of a hammer. I know that from first-hand experience!


Foam board is another option for a work surface, but it doesn't hold up well as a permanent work surface for multiple uses. When I use it, I take a large sheet of foam board, cut it in half and tape the 2 pieces together. That makes a thicker surface for the push pins to stick into.

Whatever you use to construct your panel on, tape the pattern to it before you start construction. That way the paper will be straight, without any wrinkles or folds, and it won't move around while you are getting the jig nailed down.

foam board, layout blocks and push pins

Here's an oval I'm working on. It is one of three custom pieces for a gentleman who just wants random pieces of glass that will throw lots of color when the sun shines through them.

It is being built on foam board, and held in place with 4 Morton Layout Blocks and push pins. The cartoon is an oval, with no pattern drawn on it. I have used scrap glass and randomly placed it on the oval, then cut it to shapes that flow in a pleasing manner. This oval is the only one that has given me trouble (as you will see when we get farther along in this tutorial).



Pieces Taped Together



Since I didn't have a cartoon to lay it out on, here's the technique I used to keep the pieces together and to see how the glass looks as I'm cutting it.











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Copper Foil FAQ eBook
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To Grind or Not To Grind



Many instructors teach you to grind all edges of every piece of glass before you use copper foil. Their theory is that the foil won't stick to a freshly cut edge. I have proven, over and over, that the theory isn't true.

In my experience, and that of my students, you do not have to grind unless your cutting isn't accurate, or there is a big flare that you need to get rid of. You do want to smooth off the edges to prevent cuts, but that can be done quickly, as you cut, using a carborundum stone.

Carborundum stones are available at most hardware stores. Even WalMart carries them in the hunting and fishing department. Get a small stone, not the huge block used to sharpen kitchen knifes.

Using Carborundum Stone



Hold the stone at right angles to the edge of the glass and give a quick swipe along all edges (front and back). That's enough to dull the edges and knock off any small flares.







I'm not anti-grinders at all. They're wonderful, useful tools. I use one when it's necessary, but I don't waste my time, as well as wearing down that expensive diamond coated wheel, by grinding every piece of glass that I cut. My advice, to you, is to learn to cut more accurately. That, in itself, will save you time and energy in all of your stained glass work.



Cut All Or Just One At A Time?



It's up to you whether you cut all of the glass first then foil it, or cut one piece at a time and foil as you go. I do it both ways, depending on how big the project is. If it is a very big window, I usually cut one piece or just a few pieces at a time. That way if adjustments are needed, I can make them as I go. It saves having to re-cut a lot of glass. Also, for me, it makes the job less tedious. Looking at the cartoon and knowing I have 653 pieces to go before I can start foiling makes me want to abandon the project right then and there!

The larger the panel, the more likely you'll have to adjust a few pieces, especially if there are intricate cuts. Oh yes, I know I just preached about accurate cutting! However, when you are cutting small, odd shaped pieces, something is bound not to fit right, no matter how accurately you cut.






Types of Copper Foil



The four brands that I know of are Edco (my all time favorite), Venture, Brighten, and Great American. I can't tell you anything about the last two as I've never used them.

All of my experience is with Edco and Venture. I love Edco foil. It's soft and pliable. It adheres well to the glass, and stretches around inside curves with very few if any splits. I've never had any problems with it.

Venture is not as flexible as Edco and I find that it splits easier on inside curves. However, it comes in a larger variety of sizes, including sheet foil, used for overlays.

There is a definite division of loyalty between the two brands, just like there is between GM and Ford owners! I'll leave your choice totally up to you. Which ever brand of foil you use, I'm sure your finished project will be a masterpiece.

Width and Backing Color
of Copper Foil



Copper foil comes in quite a few different widths...1/8", 5/32", 5/16", 3/8", 3/16", 7/32", 1/4", and 1/2".

1/8" is great for nuggets. If your foil is too wide, you lose a majority of the nugget. This size isn't readily available, but if you can get a roll, do so. It will last a long time.

3/16" is used for items like bevels, jewels, extra thin glass and sometimes small pieces.

5/32" is a nice size to use on thinner glass. Also on small suncatchers where you don't want to see more solder than glass. Just make sure you can some foil on both sides of the glass.

7/32" is most common used. It allows a small lip of foil to edge the glass...usually less than 1/16" in most cases, but it could be less.

1/4" is mostly used for heavy textured glass, thicker glass, wrapping 2 pieces of glass together, and where a wider solder bead is desired.

Copper foil comes with different colors to the sticky (back) side, with names like black back, silver back, etc.

When using glass that you can see through, choose a foil with the same color backing as the patina you intend to use. For example: Use black back foil for black patina. Silver back is great for mirrors, as the silver does not show in the reflection in the mirror as a black or copper back would. The same applies to transparent glass if you don't want to use patina. Silver back foil won't show through the glass.

Venture copper foil comes in copper back, black back, silver back, silver both sides, brass foil (actually brass, not copper), and New Wave which comes in black back and silver back as well as copper. New Wave is usually used for decorative edges on boxes, picture frames, or anywhere you want something other than a plain foiled edge. It could also be used within a panel where a scalloped edge would look appropriate, for instance the edge of a woman's skirt or maybe the edge of birds wings or clouds. Use you imagination with this scalloped foil.

New Wave Foil




Edco copper foil comes in silver back, black back, and copper back. The following information is from the manufacturer: Edco foil has the strongest adhesive in the industry and longest shelf life. It is made from a "dead soft Copper" that adheres closely to your glass. It is specially formulated to withstand every chemical normally used in stained glass work. If kept in a closed plastic bag, it will remain as good as new, even several years later.

Now we can get down to the nitty gritty of the copper foil technique. Click on the links below, to continue with this tutorial.

Apply the Foil

Soldering Foil

Edge Beading

More Ways To Finish The Edges

Cleaning, Patina and Polishing

Repair of Broken or Damaged Foiled Projects


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This page was last updated on March 24, 2016