3 Methods For Cutting Glass Shapes

Increase Your Cutting Options

You’ve got your stained glass pattern and you’re wondering how to approach cutting glass shapes. Is it best to use a template? And if so, do you stick the template on or do you trace around it? What about the “English method” that you’ve heard of but don’t quite understand?

There’s always more than one way to do the same thing in stained glass, and cutting glass shapes is no exception. The good news is that you can start with the one that suits you best and as you build up your skills and confidence you can add the others.

Before you know it you’ll be ready to cut any shape in any glass.


If you’re struggling with accurate cutting there are many easy-to-learn techniques that will help you get better.

If you don’t have a local class my short Conquering Curves course has taught lots of people the skills to cut shapes accurately. And we all know how important neatly fitting shapes are!
The course is self-paced and online so you can learn these cutting techniques even if you are unable to get to a class. You can find out more about it here Conquering Curves.


1. Cutting Stained Glass Shapes – Tracing Method

Carefully drawing around each template shape on to the stained glass before cutting just inside the traced line.

tracing around orange glass circle
Video still: Tracing around template shape for cutting stained glass

When best to use the Tracing Method?

  • Works with either light cathedral (transparent) or opaque stained glass that you can’t see through.
  • If you’re using it with dark cathedral glass you’ll have to use a pen that will show up on the dark colour. Those gold Sharpie permanent pens are good for this (affiliate). The marks are waterproof and you can remove them with paint thinner – odourless!
  • If you’re using glass that’s very irregular it’s sometimes hard to trace as accurately as you need to cut stained glass shapes for a perfect fit.
cutting orange circle
Keep your shapes the right size by cutting on the inside of the black line

The technique is very simple:

I’m assuming that you can already cut glass. If you can’t here’s my glass cutting tutorial for you.

  1. Cut out all the individual shapes in your pattern from stock paper (thin card). You can do this either with regular scissors or with foil pattern cutting shears.
  2. Make sure that these template shapes are 1/32″ (1mm) smaller all the way around than the shapes on your pattern. This is to allow for the thickness of the foil when you wrap it around the glass.
    You can see more detailed instructions for cutting your pattern here.
  3. Put the templates on the pattern all at the same time to check their accuracy.
  4. Hold your template shapes absolutely still on the glass – taking care to get the grain direction going the correct way – and draw around it with a fine permanent pen (Sharpie)
  5. Then cut – and this is very important – on the inside of the black line.
    If you don’t do this, your glass shapes won’t have that 1/32″ (1mm) gap in between them that you need to get your stained glass project to fit together. It will all get bigger and bigger and bigger!
  6. Repeat for each of the stained glass shapes.
perfect orange glass circle
Video still: Your stained glass shape should end up the exact same size as the template

Summing Up

Lots of people find this method the easiest and most versatile but it can add time because you have to cut all the template shapes out first.

It can also lead to some accuracy problems as the templates can move when being traced or the pen is too thick.

2. Cutting Stained Glass Shapes – Templates Method

Sticking the templates on with glue before using their edge as a guide for cutting glass shapes.

sticking template on blue glass
Video still: Sticking template on to glass with glue

When best to use this cutting glass shapes method?

  • Works for any type or darkness of glass
  • Not good if you’re wanting to be quick as this is the slowest method of cutting glass shapes
cutting blue glass with template
Keep the cutter wheel as close to the template as you can when cutting

This is what you do:

  1. Cut out your templates from stock paper or thin card exactly the same as numbers 1-3 above.
  2. Using rubber cement (Copydex in the UK) or a glue stick, stick a template on your chosen piece of glass.
  3. Wait for the glue to adhere if necessary.
  4. Now make the score with the cutter wheel snug up against the template. If the wheel slips onto the template simply stop and replace it back to where it slipped off.
  5. Continue around the whole shape in this manner.
  6. If necessary, you can grind the edges a couple of times before the template gets wet and soggy.
  7. Repeat for every shape.
  8. Remove template only when you’re happy that the shapes all fit together.
blue glass cut accurately to template
Video still: Glass cut accurately to template with only cutter and grozing pliers!

Summing Up

This method of cutting glass shapes is reliable and consistently produces very accurate results. It can also be used on all types of glass which is a big plus.

The downside is that it is very time-consuming. But then having ill-fitting shapes wastes both time AND glass!

3. Cutting Glass Shapes – The English Method

Placing the glass directly on top of the pattern and looking down through the glass to cut the shapes freehand.

cutting glass shapes on lightbox
Video still: Cutting freehand on a light box

When best to use this?

  • Works well for light transparent (cathedral) glass that isn’t too textured
  • If you have a light box it works well with dark cathedral glass too
  • You can’t use this technique for opaque glass that you can’t see through
blue glass cutting on light box
Make sure you are directly over the glass and can easily see the line you’re cutting to

How to do it:

  1. If you are using dark transparent glass place your pattern on the light box. If you can see through the glass you can do this on your work bench instead of a light box
  2. Put the glass on top of the pattern
  3. Making sure that you are directly above the pattern and can easily see where you’re going, make the scoreline
  4. Don’t rush, go slow and steady. It’s not a race!
  5. Be careful to cut on the inside of the black pattern line to ensure that your shapes are the correct size
  6. Repeat for each cut
  7. Groze or grind the edges as necessary to tidy up
blue shape accurately cut on light box
Finished shape on pattern. Note that the black line is still visible, showing the shape is a perfect fit

Lightboxes for Stained Glass

Vaughan Dibble, one of my online students, kindly sent this idea for a home made light box.

Summing Up

It’s a great way of cutting transparent glass quickly as there’s no extra steps – no cutting templates, no tracing around them and no sticking them on.

But there are some drawbacks.

It takes a lot of practice to become accurate at this method so results can be a little disappointing when you first give it a go.

It is only good for transparent glass which rules out all the opaques – a lot of glass!

Conclusion

If you do persevere and learn all 3 techniques you will have the best thing for a stained glass artist – options.

Your question won’t be ‘can I cut that shape‘ anymore, it will be ‘which is the best method to use to cut that shape?’. And you’ll have the confidence to cut them all.

There are lots more tutorials showing you How To Cut Stained Glass here.

Return to Everything Stained Glass Home Page.

30 thoughts on “3 Methods For Cutting Glass Shapes”

  1. I was taught to cut one pattern piece at a time from freezer paper (waxy on one side) with waxy side up (lasts longer with the water) and glued down with a glue stick. If the glass is textured you trace on the paper side and then glue on the back of the glass with waxy side out so it is reverse. It’s probably a little slower but I start in the middle and work my way out so the pieces fit exactly together. You are tracing against the other pieces already cut and foiled. I suppose it takes longer. I would like to try something faster. Do you recommend the foil scissors that cut the 1/16″ when you cut on the drawn line?

    Reply
    • Thanks for your useful recommendations for waxy paper Michelle. Very interesting and I can see how that would work well.
      The foil shears are okay if you go slowly, bit by bit, rather than taking up a lot of paper at once. I’m not sure how they’d work with your waxy paper.
      You could try adapting a box cutter to the correct width, as per this page: https://everythingstainedglass.com/stained-glass-how-to
      Scroll down to Make a Double-Bladed Knife for Cutting Templates to find the instructions.
      Thanks again 🙂

      Reply
  2. I love reading people’s responses! Admitting mistakes helps others and really is a blessing for those of us in the same boat!

    Reply
    • I totally agree Billye. Everyone’s comments are so helpful and are adding up to such a useful and encouraging resource 🙂

      Reply
  3. I make my pattern and color it, then have b/w copies made at the stationers. ONE of these is then laminated and I cut my pieces out with the proper shears, then glue the pictures on to my glass with glue stick. (the other copy becomes my “cartoon” under the edge frame; the colored “master” is left on the wall to be sure I am cutting the right colors.) I can position many pieces on a single section of glass and cut away the excess in an order that minimizes the loss of glass. Grinding does not ruin the plasticized pattern pieces as fast. I leave these pattern pieces on until I clean them off, scrub the glue off, and renumber my pieces, saving the pieces of the pattern in case of a necessary recut. Foiling then happens on clean accurate pieces. MY biggest problem in a complex piece is the necessary gaps to allow for foil, once foiled, still compound the size of the whole panel and I must sometimes recut/grind to allow room. Still unsure why that would be when I use the gap shears throughout. nothing is ever easy!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your detailed explanation Margo. I have a really nice image of you in your workshop with your lovely workflow, all organised and relaxing!
      I laughed when I got to the end; the making process always throws up challenges, sometimes unexplained, that keep us on our toes 🙂 The fitting of the pieces together – why do they always shift and need a little grind?? One of life’s mysteries…

      Reply
  4. To keep sharpie lines on your glass while grinding, you can put a small amount of chap stick on the lines, and they won’t wash off! Very small amount… very thin application… you don’t want to gum up your grinding head.

    Reply
  5. While out and about I happened to find some artboard-mounted posters that a shop had thrown out and I took them home. (I’ve since found that I can buy this artboard at my local digital printers or get free offcuts from them.) They’re about 3mm thick and easy to cut with an art knife/scalpel. I find them excellent for templates to trace around with a marker pen and far easier to hold in place than thin card. More importantly, because they are rigid, I can also insert them into my lead cames as I go, to check that each piece is going to fit – or make any final adjustments – before I cut it in glass.

    Reply
    • Oh what an ingenious tip Leila. I know exactly the type of board you’re talking about… I’ve never thought of that application for it though, thanks!

      Reply
  6. I have been struggling for years with arthritis in my hands and need to use the saw for most cuts. Have had the same problem as others trying to keep the line from washing off. I have stumbled on a method that works great. My wife is an avid quilter and uses a Brother Scan and Cut for cutting some of her quilt squares. I ordered some 12 inch vinyl squares and now make my glass patterns on her Scan and cut directly to the vinyl sheets. These vinyl pieces stick to the glass while cutting and I have never had one wash off. They are perfect for cutting right up to the line. This has made my stained glass hobby more enjoyable.

    Reply
  7. I would strongly suggest that one removes the glued-on pattern pieces immediately after one thinks they are ground properly. Sometimes glass can break or crack but is held together by the glued-on template. Glass can also break in such a way as to have “chips” or undercut areas on the edges, especially with a heavily textured glass or a fractures and streamers type glass. When you remove the glued on backing you can assess the edges of your shape to make sure they are good. You can always number the shape and the corresponding pattern area with a sharpie to keep track of where it belongs.

    Reply
    • Good point Janey and one worth remembering. Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it. Numbering is good! Especially when you start making really complex pieces. It can become a nightmare otherwise.

      Reply
    • Hello, Im new to this whole glass thing my first project was a frog, what a nightmare… so im starting with a simple big peice pic this time …Your pic and tips were very helpful…Is it true you shouldnt cut the line more then once with the wheeel.. because its not as easy as it looks i found out so i would score it a few times..lol not knowing…boy what a mess 2 hrs and i got one piece that was really not that good…poor frog..he didnt make it….lol

      Wish me luck, thanks again for your helpful 3 ways to cut..

      Reply
  8. Thanks Milly. thanks to the HUB for telling me to go to your site for the saw. I had an idea that I would still be doing the hand cutting otherwise I’ll get very rusty with my cutting. I’ve gotten better the past months being here in lock down due to the virus. I should have asked before getting the saw, but I know it will come in handy with some of the cuts that have driven me crazy. Love every bit of advice I read from you Thank you so much for doing this. Cheers and stay safe and healthy. Nancy

    Reply
    • You’re very welcome Nancy, it’s kind of you to say so. I’m glad that lockdown has had some positive effects at least!

      Reply
  9. There is another way to do it that I us. I trace the piece of the pattern that i want to cut using tracing paper. I then find the are of glass I want to use and put a piece of carbon paper down and retrace the pattern I have on tracing paper on to the glass. You can use carbon paper from any office store and I use seewing carbon paper for my dark colors. Works great for me.

    Reply
  10. Your cutting directions are so great & detailed, it’s as if I was right there watching you! However, I am just starting to use glass, not foil/soldering but in doing glass mosaics. All I have done is taken a class on “glass on glass” mosaics. Unfortunately, I did not know the basics regarding cutting etc. My 1st project is truly the work of a beginner, LOL

    Are the cutting techniques basically the same when using glass for mosaics? What is the best glue & type of grout to use?
    I appreciate any advice, tips & input you have on doing glass mosaics
    Thanks for your wonderful online instructions!
    Mary Ann Weisong
    Vancouver, Wa

    Reply
    • Hi Mary Ann,
      Yes, the glass cutting part is exactly the same for mosaics.

      I have a page here with instructions for glass on glass work. It’s not written by me as it’s not my area of expertise. I’m too addicted to stained glass! Hopefully it will help you though:

      https://everythingstainedglass.com/glass-on-glass-mosaic

      Don’t be disheartened about your cutting – you ARE a beginner with it and it takes time to find your feet. Keep at it!

      Reply
      • Silicon, but not hot silicon!
        Silicon Is a very good adhesive on almost all material. But glass on glass you can use white glue (here in Mexico students use this kind of glue) so when it’s dry its transparent

        Reply
      • For glass on glass I use a UV glue from Loctite AA 349. It’s expensive but a little goes a long way. I don’t use a UV light but in the direct sunlight which is free (outside in summer and thru a window in winter) it only takes a few minutes to cure/bond. Even opaque glass and other materials like flat polished rocks will cure in minutes to glass.

        Reply

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