More Ways to Finish The Edges
On Copper Foiled Panels

Now that you've constructed your copper foiled panel, you'll need to finish the edges. There are a number of ways to do it. A lot of people like to use lead or zinc, but there are alternatives that give the edges a more decorative look, and at the same time give the panel additional strength.

Of course, just beading the edges is quite sufficient for suncatchers and panels that are a total size (width x height) of 2 square feet or smaller. You can learn about edge beading Here.

Use Copper Wire To Finish The Edges

Putting copper wire around the edge of a panel is easier if you have someone to help you. However, it can be done alone, which is how I have to do it 75% of the time. I'm usually too impatient to wait for the man of the house to be available to help me.

The wire will not substantially strengthen a large panel, but it will give strength and durability to smaller items such as suncatchers. You'll often find a suncatcher pattern that has projecting pieces or hinge joints, such as wings, that would fall off if they weren't reinforced with wire around the entire perimeter of the suncatcher.

On any piece, large or small, the wire gives you the ability to put the hanging loops anywhere you want, rather than having to put them at a joint. If you put hanging loops anywhere except a joint, without wire around the perimeter, the foil will pull loose after the piece has been hanging for a period of time.

With 2 people, you prop the panel up on edge. One person helps to unroll the wire and holds it in place, in the center of the outside edge, while the other person solders it. It's not as simple as I make it sound. You have to go slowly and do a little at a time to make sure the wire is centered. Be sure you both wear protective gloves (cotton gloves, not rubber or nitrile) to protect your fingers from the hot wire. Believe me, it does get hot.

Here's how to do it alone:

edge beaded and ready for wire

Edge bead the panel on the front and back, but don't do the outside edge. Lay the panel flat on your workbench. Flux the outside edge of the panel and flux a length of #14 or #16 gauge copper wire that has been pulled out from the roll, but not cut off. Make sure the wire is straight.

wire started

Wear gloves when you are doing this, as the wire conducts heat and gets hot for quite a distance. Place the end of the wire flat against the middle of the outside edge of the panel. Touch it firmly with your soldering iron. It should stay in place, but if it doesn't, hold it down with the tip of a small screwdriver until the solder cools.

push wire into solder
continue working around the panel

Continue placing the wire down the center of the outside edge of the panel. Push it into the solder that has run over the edge as a result of the edge beading you did on the front and back surfaces. Keep working around the panel until you get back to where you started.

hold with screwdriver

hold with screwdriver

When you get back to the starting point, cut the wire so the two ends join up. Hold them in place, with a screwdriver, while you solder them. Don't move the screwdriver until the solder is set, otherwise the ends will pop loose.

wire border finished

Once the wire is in place, you will go around and do edge beading over the wire. This isn't quite as easy as edge beading without a wire. It takes some time and patience. This particular panel gave me some headaches, where as the next panel in the set went along smoothly and quickly. The photograph shows some lumps, which I smoothed out before I finished the panel.

There were places where the solder ran from one side to the other rather than beading up over the wire. It took a lot of patience to finish the edges and get the bead built up. I added a little solder, then let it completely cool before I added more. I had to do that 4 times before it rounded up into a nice bead. Too much solder, to start with, was what caused the problem.

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How To Make Jump Rings
or Hanging Rings

When you finish, the edges will be nicely rounded and ready to attach wire rings for hanging. Some people call them jump rings, some just call them rings, and others call them loops. Whatever you call them, here's how to make them yourself. They are expensive to buy when you consider how much a roll of copper wire costs compared to the cost of buying ready made rings.

Use 14, 16 or 18 gauge copper wire depending on how large the rings will be and the weight of the piece they are going on. You wouldn't want to hang a two-foot square panel with rings made from 22 gauge wire. Those rings would become ovals very quickly.

The larger the gauge numbers, the smaller the wire diameter. This seemingly counter-intuitive numbering system is derived from the fact that the gauge number is related to the number of drawing operations that must be used to produce a given gauge of wire; very fine wire (for example, 24 gauge) requires far more passes through the drawing dies than does 4 gauge wire.

wrap wire around something round

Wrap the copper wire around something round and of the diameter you want your rings to be. I use the barrel of marking pens, dowels, pencils, whatever I have laying around the is suitable. Wrap the wire around 15 or 20 times. You might as well make plenty of rings. They can be stored in a plastic bag for later use.

cutting the rings
wire rings

When you have wrapped enough times, pull the wire coil off. Using wire cutters, cut right up the middle of the wire coil. Each snip will produce a ring. That's all there is to it.

tin the rings

Tin the rings. To do this, hold a ring with needle nose pliers, apply flux, then apply a very thin coating of solder.

check where the 2 ends join

Lay your panel flat, with whichever edge the rings will attach to hanging over the work bench. You will need to apply the rings at a join, not in the middle of an expanse of foil, unless you have put copper wire around the edge first. You will see what happens on an expanse of foil, that does not have copper wire around the edge, by going here. The weight of the glass causes the glass to pull loose from the foil if there isn't something for the loops to attach to, like a join or a wire wrapped edge.

check where the 2 ends join
check where the 2 ends join

Holding a ring with needle nose pliers, place the split, where the two ends of the ring join, against the edge of the panel. If you have that split anywhere else, the rings can open up, from the weight of the panel, with disastrous results.

Solder it both front and back, making sure it is well attached to the panel. Make sure you hold it with the pliers while you are soldering. The ring will fall off if you don't hold it in place until the solder cools. You think "oh it won't fall off if I quickly touch it here". Oh yes it will, trust me on this one! If you're going to "fix it up", hang on to it with pliers.

Once the rings are attached, the panel is ready for clean-up, patina (if you want) and polish. You can then attach chain or, if it's a small panel or a suncatcher, I like to use Tigertail. Tigertail jewelry wire is constructed of very fine stainless steel wires braided together and then coated with nylon. It is flexible, very strong and hardly noticeable when hanging in a window. You attach it using crimp beads. Both tigertail and crimp beads can be found at craft stores and places that sell jewelry supplies.

There was a time when I used fishing line to hang panels and suncatchers. I never had a problem with it, but I have read information that says it will deteriorate in the sunlight over time. I did find that it yellowed after hanging in a window after a year or so. Another thing that always bothered me, it didn't look very professional. So...I stopped using it. After searching for an alternative, I discovered tigertail, and I've been using it ever since.

Finish The Edges With Twisted Wire

Edge finished with twisted wire

Twisted wire gives the panel a nice decorative border and it gives the panel a lot of strength. It is a nice way to finish the edges. It is easier to apply then a single wire, but another set of hands can still be helpful.

You apply it the same way as a single wire, except you edge bead all three edge surfaces of the panel before you apply the it. Push the wire into the solder around the middle of the outside edge of the panel. Once the wire is in place, run your soldering iron over the wire to tin it, but be careful so you don't get too much solder on it which would cover up the twisted effect.

There are two ways to twist wire:

1. Using 2 strands of 16 or 18 gauge wire, put one end in a vise and the other end in a drill (where the bit usually goes). Make sure the wire is secure in the drill, then run the drill slowly. It doesn't take long to get a lot of twisted wire this way.


The Morton Twister

Use the Morton wire twister. It's a very handy little devise.

Again, you use 2 strands of wire. I actually take a very long piece of wire and fold it in half. The Twister has a loop on one end. Slide an end of wire through the loop and pull the twister up to the fold in the wire. Wrap the other ends over a hook or a nail that's been bent upwards. Then you start turning the handle. The wire twists perfectly. They are reasonably priced, and I would recommend getting one if you are going to be twisting a lot of wire.

Twisted wire frame

Here's another way to use twisted wire. Form it in any shape you want, solder the two ends together and build a free form hanging inside the wire. It's a fun way to use up scrap glass and make something very unique. The piece in the picture is something I started several years ago and never completed. It will eventually be a seascape.

Finish The Edges With Ball Chain

Finish the edges with ball chain

Ball chain is another decorative way to finish the edges. Be sure you buy brass or copper ball chain. Steel or aluminum will not solder. Apply the ball chain the same way you apply twisted wire.

Finish The Edges With Lead or Zinc

Finish the edges with zinc or lead

You can always finish the edges with lead or zinc. It's not my favorite way to finish edges unless I'm doing a very large panel that will be free hanging. If you're putting the panel in a frame, there is no need to use zinc or lead, The frame will give the panel all the support it needs.

Don't run a bead all the way to the edge
solder seam to lead

If you are using lead or zinc to finish the edges, don't bead the seams all the way to the edge of the panel. The bead could prohibit the lead or zinc from sliding on to the panel. Once you have the zinc or lead on the panel, finish running the bead to the edge of the panel and attach the seam to the lead or zinc.

If you are going to finish the edges with zinc or lead, there is another way to wrap the outside pieces of glass with foil. Just put foil on the 3 inside edges, leaving the outside edge bare (no foil on it). That way, the foil won't show underneath the lead or zinc.

When you finish the edges with lead or zinc, you can build the panel with the lead or zinc in place (like you build a lead panel), or you can apply it after the panel is done.

Finish The Edges With A Frame

Finish the edges with a frame

The last way to finish the edges is to put the panel in a frame. To make your panel ready for the frame, just tin the 3 edge surfaces. The frame will give the panel it's strength. If you feel you need to do more than tin, edge beading will be sufficient. The only place I would put lead or zinc around the panel, to finish the edges, before putting it in a frame, is if the panel was going in an entry door frame or a cabinet door. The lead or zinc would protect the edges of the panel from the installation tools, hammers,nails, brads, etc.

That pretty much covers ways to finish the edges of a copper foil panel.

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This page was last updated on March 24, 2016