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Recycled Art: Stained Glass Windows

September 8, 2010

Here’s some easy steps on how you can make your own stained glass window like the ones shown here.  I had fun making them and had always wanted to try stained glass, but I could not afford the equipment.  Instead of spending many hundreds of dollars on equipment, you can use this recycled art version for less.

  1. Find a discarded window.  Look for an old one with a single pane of glass and a wooden frame, or as light a window as you can find but still strong enough to not fall apart.  Look for construction and rehab projects around buildings where they are replacing the windows.  The window cannot be cracked or broken.  The frame needs to be strong enough to hold up to double the weight it is holding now.
  2. Buy glass.  You can buy glass floral marbles: these are little blobs of glass that are rounded on the front and have flat backs.  These are sold in many dollar stores and craft supply stores.  You can break up regular stained glass sheets, use scraps from other glass projects or break apart colored glass bottles and dishes by laying them between pieces of cardboard and hitting it with a hammer [wear safety glasses].  I have found that the glass marbles do not break or cut well, so I do not recommend trying.  You can buy a glass cutter and cut pieces from sheets of stained glass like I did for the sunflowers one above.  The glass marbles are easiest to use and kid friendly – no sharp edges.
  3. Buy glue.  Just get a bottle of PVA white craft glue, like from grammar school [Elmer’s, Aileene’s etc.]. This dries clear and is very cost effective.  I like thicker, strong hold multi-use craft brands.
  4. Make a drawing.  Use crayons or markers and make a bold drawing, called a cartoon, on newsprint, newspaper sheets or other cheap paper.  Tape this to the back of the window.  Clean the front of the window well with glass cleaner or white vinegar for good adhesion before you glue the pieces down.  Keep the window flat so nothing slides around and try to have about 1/4” to 3/8” between the pieces.
  5. Create a leaded look.  Once all of your glass pieces are glued in place and the glue is dry, put on some water proof gloves and mix black sanded grout so that it is thick like “sandcastle sand” from the beach, like a soft dough but wet enough to be pliable.  Do not get it as wet as pancake batter; it will take too long to dry and form a weaker bond.  You may want a lot of newspapers or a plastic sheet under the window to catch any slopped group globs.  Put painter’s tape around the inside edges of the window first to protect the wood, fill in the gaps with the grout, remove the tape when the grout is still wet. Make sure to use wet sponges and rags to remove the haze of the grout as much as possible; the sooner you clean the grout haze, the easier it is to clean this off.  Leave the window flat to dry; you may notice the glue rehydrate and become white after having dried clear; it got wet from the grout again, just leave it alone, the glue will dry clear again.
  6. Finish the window.  You can paint the edges if the wood looks worn or tattered; make sure the grout is totally dry.  I put in large steel eye hooks with wood screw bottoms to hang the window from; I use a length of chain and run it through one eye loop across the top of the window and through the other eye loop.  I use 50 – 100 lb mirror / picture frame wall hangers to hook the ends of the chain on and hang my stained glass window in front of a real window.

That is all you need to make a stained glass window.  This is a simple mosaic technique and if you have ever used grout or done any tile work, you would find it easy and familiar to work with.  You don’t need to buy hundreds of dollars worth of equipment or mess with soldering hot lead.  You just need to trash pick or dumpster dive a discarded window to get started.


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