Apply The Foil To Your Glass

It's time to apply the foil to your glass. By now you have cut some glass, your pattern is taped down to the work surface and a jig is in place. It's time to get out the foil and start wrapping the glass.

If you got to this page first, go to Copper Foil for the first part of this tutorial.


Preparing the Glass

Before you do anything else, if you have cut all of the pieces first, make sure they fit in the jig with the black lines of your cartoon showing between each piece. If they don't fit properly, fix them before you go on.

Double Click on the following pictures to enlarge them.

There are several ways to apply the foil. You can do it by hand or you can use a foiling machine. There are several brands, and each brand works quite differently. To be honest, I don't like any of them and believe me, I've tried quite a few over the years. I think it all boils down to the fact that I learned how to foil by hand, and I've never found a machine that does it as neatly as I can.

These machines are supposed to help apply the foil evenly. They automatically remove the backing, and they crimp and burnish the foil all at the same time. I know people that swear by them, so please, don't take my dislike for them too seriously. In this tutorial, I will show you how to apply the foil by hand. If you want to see what the machines look like, search for them on the internet. At the moment, I believe the Table Foiler is the most popular one. Here's a list of the ones I know about:

Table Foiler
Diegel Foiler
Glastar Hand Foilers
Inland Edgemaster Glass Foiler

Before being cleaned

The edges of your glass need to be clean before you apply the foil. Whether you use a grinder or a carborundum stone, or for the matter nothing, the edges still need to be clean in order for the foil to stick well. This picture show you what the edges look like after they've been gone over with a grinder.

After being cleaned

Wipe the edges with rubbing alcohol. Just a quick wipe over each edge is enough. The alcohol serves two purposes. It cleans the edges and, if you have foil that doesn't seem to stick as well as it should in spots (this happens once in a while), the alcohol makes the foil stick much better.

Choose which width foil you'll be using. 7/32" is the most common width. If you are using several types of glass that vary in thickness, you will want to work with several widths of foil.

I try to keep the outside edges looking the same from piece to piece of glass. If the thickness of the glass varies, around the perimeter of the panel, vary the foil width accordingly. I usually work with 7/32" and 1/4" foil. The main objective here is to not have the foil look like stair steps or saw toothed, from piece to piece, around the perimeter of the panel.

Applying the Foil

Tools For Applying The Foil

Here are the tools you'll need to apply the foil:

*Exacto knife
*Wall paper roller or a fid
*Push pins (if the piece is free form)
*Carborundum stone (optional)
*Orange stick, thin dowel, pencil, or pen

Applying Foil

Peel the paper backing from the foil so that 4 to 6 inches of the adhesive backing is exposed. Hold the glass in your right hand (left hand if you're left handed). With your other hand apply the sticky side of the foil to the edge of the glass making sure the glass is centered on the foil. You want an equal amount of foil to show on both sides of the glass.

Hold the glass so that you can look down at the edge you are working on. I find that holding the glass about 6 to 8 inches away from my body, gives me a good view of both edges of the foil as well as the edge of the glass. As you apply the foil, peel the paper off the back. You will have to rotate the glass, little by little to have a bare edge visible to apply the foil to.

Applying Foil 1
Applying Foil 2

You can start the foil anywhere on the glass except on an outside edge. Starting on an outside edge can cause unwanted problems. The spot where the two ends of the foil overlap can, and usually do, pop apart from the heat of the soldering iron. So...if you start the foil on any of the other 3 sides, you will not have that problem. Of course, internal pieces can be started anywhere. This rule only applies to pieces that form the perimeter of the panel.

Applying Foil 3
Applying Foil 5

You'll probably feel like you're all thumbs when you start. It does take some practice to apply the foil, peel the paper off, press the foil down and still hold on to the glass, but it will become second nature to you in no time.

Applying Foil 6

Press the foil down as you go, so it will stick.

When you have a deep inside curve, ease the foil in the curve little by little. If you ease it in, pressing it down a little bit at a time, you should be able to avoid splitting the foil. Make sure the foil isn't stretched tight in the curve. It will split, for sure, when you start folding it over the edges.

Overlap the foil
Overlapped and pressed down

When you have applied the foil all the way around the piece of glass, overlap the ends by about 1/16 to 1/8 inch. It doesn't have to be much, just enough to say it's overlapped. Cut the foil off with scissors and press the end down to complete the overlap. Make sure the edge of the overlap lines up with the foil underneath. You don't want it to be uneven. If it is uneven, pull the foil off, and inch or two, and try to get it on straight.

Rub the foil firmly down on the glass

After you apply the foil to the outside edge of the glass, take your fid (which can be a proper fid, orange stick, short piece of a doweling, or the barrel of a ball point pen) and rub the foil firmly down all the way around the perimeter of the glass. This is done to make sure it is stuck well on the edge before you proceed to the next step.

Crimping the foil

Once you have applied the foil and rubbed it down, you will fold (crimp) it over the edges. Carefully fold and push the foil flat against the front and back of the glass using your thumb and index finger. If the foil doesn't look even on both sides, remove it and re-foil.

When you come to an inside curve, use your fid and, gently and fairly rapidly, rub back and forth on the edge of the curve. Keep rubbing, and at the same time move the fid downwards, until the foil is folded down. Doing this helps to stretch the foil so it folds (crimps) down without splitting. I find that a short piece of doweling, wooden chopstick or the barrel of a ball point pen works best for this.

Press foil into the corners
Press foil into the corners 2

As you are crimping the foil, don't bunch it up when you get to a corner. Tuck the foil up in the corner before folding down the next side, as shown in the pictures.

Press foil into the corners 3
Press foil into the corners 4

Points stick out
Points being trimmed

At corners where the folded points will stick out beyond the glass (I call them rabbit ears), trim the points with scissors before you press them down.

Points trimmed

Overlap uneven
Overlap trimmed

If the foil is uneven where it overlaps (the piece that sticks out is called a foil tail), trim it off with an exacto knife.


The last step is to burnish the foil which means to press and seal the foil firmly against the glass. You can do this using a fid, orange stick, wooden chopstick, plastic pen barrel or a small wall paper roller (my favorite).

Make sure the foil is firmly stuck to the front, sides, and back of the glass, removing any wrinkles and air bubbles. If it isn't tight, flux can get under it, causing the foil to lift off the glass while you are soldering (not a good thing).

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Assembling the Glass

Assembling in jig
Assembled with push pins

As you apply the foil, assemble the pieces in the jig, or if it's a free form design, hold them in place on the cartoon with push pins. Make sure all of the outside pieces touch the jig. As long as the inside dimensions of you jig are the same measurements you want your finished piece to be, your finished piece will remain square and it will be the correct measurements.

The next step is to Solder your copper foil project

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This page was last updated on March 24, 2016

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