Cutting Accurate Stained Glass Pattern Pieces

Making Stained Glass Templates That Fit

Accurate stained glass templates are crucial for creating beautiful panels. Once you’ve designed or found a stained glass pattern that you’re happy with, the next thing you need to do is make copies of it and cut the individual shapes out accurately. These will be used as templates for cutting all your glass pieces. You can cut stained glass templates most accurately with Foil Shears* or Lead Shears*, depending on which construction technique you’re using.

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How to Cut Stained Glass Templates

The following steps are all easy but it’s worth taking a bit of time doing them accurately. Think of it as a puzzle. If any of the pieces don’t fit, making the final picture will be difficult.

What you need:

Your stained glass pattern. Strong tracing paper. Carbon paper. Thin card. A pencil. Scissors.

For copper foil construction: Fine felt tip pen. Pattern shears for copper foil.*

For lead came construction: A 1/16 (2mm) black felt tip pen. Lead pattern shears.*

1. Making Copies

This is all about the order:

  • Put the card at the bottom. Then the carbon paper (face down), followed by your pattern. The tracing paper goes on top of the pile.
  • Pin or stick the edges down. It’s very important that nothing moves at this stage.
blue card, green cactus pattern with tracing and carbon paper
Laying down order for making cutting pattern

2. Tracing And Numbering The Shapes

  • With the pencil, draw over the pattern with a constant, firm pressure. You want to make sure that the pattern reads clearly on the thin card at the bottom.
  • It’s very important to number the shapes now, when all the pieces are together. I number mine at the top of each shape. This makes it easier when I’m trying to find how they fit together after they’re all cut.
stained glass window pattern with traced lines and blue card
Numbered tracing paper and card pattern

At this stage you should have your pattern drawn on the tracing paper and the thin card.

  • Put aside the carbon paper and your stained glass pattern.
  • For foil:
    On the tracing paper, go over all the lines – except the outside lines – with the fine pen. This will be used for assembling your panel when you’re ready.
  • For lead came:
    Do the same as above, only this time with the 1/16″ (2mm) thicker pen. This line represents the gap which the heart of the lead will fill later on.

3. How To Cut The Stained Glass Templates Pieces

  • Now move on to the thin card. You are going to cut the stained glass templates from this. Cut neatly around the edge of the whole design with regular scissors.
  • The next step is to cut a thin strip of card out between each shape. Why? Because either the width of the copper foil and solder, or the heart of the stained glass lead came will fill the gap when you assemble the panel. This means that you have to cut all the glass pieces a tiny bit smaller to make room for the foil and solder or heart of the lead.
  • Luckily, the copper foil and lead shears are designed to cut the correct amount of card away from your pattern. Simply place them so that the line is in between the two outside blades.
    Cut around each pattern piece. Do it slowly, especially around corners, as the strip can get caught up. Break it off every inch or so to stop this happening. You can rub candle wax on the blades to prevent the thin strips sticking.
  • Once you’ve cut them all, check their accuracy by placing them on the tracing paper. You should be able to see the black felt pen line between each shape. The photo below may help.
  • Make sure you have the correct shears for the technique you are using, either copper foil or lead. The lead shears cut a wider 1/16″ (2mm) slice than the copper foil ones.
stained glass templates
Checking to see if the pattern templates are accurate

By now you should have:

  1. one coloured design or pattern
  2. one sheet of tracing paper, with your pattern drawn in either a fine line (copper foil) or a thicker 1/16″ (2mm) line (lead came)
  3. each shape numbered on the tracing paper
  4. all your stained glass templates cut out of thin card and numbered
green cactus pattern with stained glass pattern piece in blue card
Stained glass templates all cut to size

If this is the case then you’re ready to start Stained Glass Cutting.

Make a Double-Bladed Knife for Cutting Templates

Do you find copper foil pattern shears tricky to use? If you struggle with the paper getting stuck or hurting your hands then this idea will help you.

It’s an ingenious way to adapt a box cutter to create the perfect alternative for pattern shears.

This idea was shared by Georgia Hamilton who kindly gave permission for me to pass it on to you. Thanks Georgia 🙂

Taking The Knife Apart

1. Take your box cutter apart. Take notes about how it will fit back together. Yours may be slightly different .

2. The 2 areas of importance are circled in red. They will need adjusting for the added thickness of the additional blade.

Sanding Down

3. Here’s a close up of one of the areas you’ll need to sand down to accommodate the 2 blades. The black plastic piece has a little ridge. Don’t sand down more of the ridge than you have to as it helps stabilise the blade(s). You want the double blade to fit on the slider at the same even depth as the single blade did.

4. The tab here rests on top of the blade when the handle piece is turned over. It fits into the same slot as the blades so it will also need to be sanded a bit to compensate for the added thickness of 2 blades.
*Important – sand the side of this tab that is contact with the blade –  the inside of the black handle piece. Don’t sand any other ridges on this piece, just the tab and only as much as necessary. Keep checking the fit. This will help keep the blades fitting snugly.

Soldering 2 Blades Together

5. Use pliers to hold the blades together while placing a dab of flux and soldering. Just a smidge on both ends will hold the blades together.

If you’re using them for foil construction you don’t need to do any spacing of the blades. The blades are tapered at the edges (like a knife edge is) so the upper part of the blade provides the space needed to cut the correct width for foil construction.
You can see this natural gap in the blades below.

Putting It Back Together

6. Reassemble the cutter making sure the tab (circled in red) goes into the slot with the blades. The two handles should fit together smoothly. If not, you may need to sand a bit more.

The beauty of the box cutter blades is that when one side gets dull, you simply take the blade out and reverse it.

Georgia got the idea after watching a video of a master glass artist at work cutting out a pattern with a (vintage) double bladed tool that looked something like a modified lead knife. Excellent all round, thanks Georgia 🙂

There is more help with the copper foil technique here if you’re interested

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26 thoughts on “Cutting Accurate Stained Glass Pattern Pieces”

    • Thanks for this link Stephanie. I’ve tried and liked these too but they seem to frequently not be available so a bit frustrating to recommend!

      Reply
  1. I have found that the trick to using pattern shears efficiently is to take very small bites before moving forward. Think of it as a little pac man eating small bites at a time. This keeps the waste material in the channel and keeps the shears moving freely.

    Reply
    • I totally agree Jeff, thanks for adding your thoughts. I hadn’t thought of likening to Pac Man LOL – how I loved playing that, scary as it was!!

      Reply
  2. Thank you, Milly, for your tips and classes. I am making my own pattern for leaded glass and am using pre-cut beveled diamonds in the middle of the design. When making the pattern, how do I compensate for the fact that the size of the diamonds won’t change? Do I use a thick marker for the adjacent pieces that I will cut out, use regular scissors to cut out the diamonds and then use shears for the rest of the pieces? Maybe you have a tutorial on this that I just haven’t found yet?

    Thank you for any guidance you can send my way!

    Reply
    • You need to include the bevels in the pattern as if they were a regular glass shape. You still need to accommodate the width of the heart. Think of them as a fixed shape that you need to draw into your pattern.
      I hope that answers your question Susan.

      Reply
  3. Milly,
    I have a question about cracks. I finished a panel and didnt notice till done that is has a crack in 3 spots. How do I fix? It has been patina on it and polished.

    Reply
    • Oh no, that’s a sorry tale Diana! It depends where they are on the piece, how big they are and if the piece needs to be weatherproof and strong. If it’s a small decorative free-hanging piece you might be able to do some patching up as per the example here but with foil and not lead (or lead if it’s a lead panel!).
      If not you’ll have to take it apart and recut and redo the pieces. Either way you’ll have to touch up the finishing.
      Fingers crossed for the former.
      It might also be thinking what it was that made this happen 3 times… so that you can avoid a repeat.

      Reply
  4. I realise this is a tutorial on making templates, but what about a no-template tutorial. Making without templates would reduce a significant amount of work prior to cutting the glass.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for another of your always-helpful tips. I’ve seen (online) people put two blades into an X-ACTO knife holder, I forget if they soldered the two blades together. I, and many other SG makers on some Facebook pages, just use regular scissors, and cut off all of the edges of the printed lines. It seems to work for many, though takes a long time. Not as much time as fighting with the benighted “pattern scissors”, however. Somebody’s making a bunch of money selling those contraptions to the unwary.

    Reply
  6. Hello Milly ,
    The question about incorporating bevels has reminded me that I have some agates which I would like to use .
    The edges are very uneven and I’m not sure it’s possible to foil them . I haven’t tried grinding them yet , any ideas ?

    Reply
    • Yes you can foil agates Barbara. Wash, dry and foil. You can carefully grind the edges if necessary and use lead for those that have a looser, sandy edge.

      Be careful when soldering as they can crack. Also take care with chemicals and patina because they stain easily too.

      Remember too that the coloured agates are stained and can fade from the sun.

      Reply
  7. More great tips and tricks. Thanks Georgia Hamilton for sharing the wonderful idea of making pattern cutters out of two utility knife blades!!

    Reply
  8. Milly I am learning so much from your web site thank you so much. Is there a round brace to hold your glass in place when your tacking it like the wooden board with the corner? My round panel was tight but when I went to tack it I ended with a lot of gaps. Gail

    Reply
    • If I understand correctly Gail, you mean a jig for a circle? If so, you can cut these out of 3mm hardboard and either nail straight on your work surface or on a piece of chipboard.

      Reply
  9. Hi Milly, I love your tutorial and it is very helpful! However, I am having a problem with bevels. Since they are a set size, how do you include them in your own pattern. I don’t want to grind them down to fit the template so it becomes a challenge to allow for that small gap. What do you suggest? Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • You have to make adjustments to your design to accommodate the bevels Heidi. You may have to grind a little to make them more uniform – it depends how important that is for your design.
      I’m glad you found the tutorial helpful.

      Reply
  10. Thank you so much for the tips! I am beginning a picture now of my brother’s airplane. There are so many little details I was having a hard time trying to figure it out. I will post a picture when I finish.

    Reply
  11. Milly, I love all your tips and tutorials. Since I live in Northern California nd don’t have any idea where you live, there’s no way I can attend any of your classes. 🙁 So therefore I read everything you put on line. There’s only one stained glass shop near me and it’s 20 miles away, not real convenient for an 83 year old glass crafter. 🙂 Thanks for all of the tips and tutorials.

    Reply
  12. Thank you so much! I’m a beginner so this information is great it helped with new tips as well as refreshing my memory from class.

    Reply
    • Oh that’s good to know Joyce, thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you continue to improve your stained glass skills.

      Reply

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