Why Craftsmanship is Crucial for Stained Glass

Written by Mark Stine of Transparent Dreams Stained Glass
Updated June 15, 2021
stained glass window with beveled glass
This stained glass window and beveled glass depicts peonies. (Photo courtesy of Transparent Dreams Stained Glass)

Learn how to spot quality craftsmanship when looking for beveled or stained glass.

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Good craftsmanship is a crucial aspect of stained and beveled glass.

Poorly crafted stained glass may start to show structural problems in as little as a few years, where as well-crafted work should last many decades with no structural problems. If you've ever seen windows in churches or restaurants that have begun to sag (bow out of shape) or separate (light coming through where it shouldn't), you've seen the results of time and gravity working on poor craftsmanship.

Poor craftsmanship also looks imprecise, sloppy and disjointed up close. Well-crafted stained or beveled glass looks clean and precise.

Craftsmanship and design

If you're thinking of having a stained glass or beveled glass artwork made, proceed carefully! The two major pitfalls you'll want to be on the lookout for are poor craftsmanship and poor design. Remember that the best quality work has these characteristics:

• innovative and original in design• crafted cleanly and precisely

Design is purely subjective, and each of us knows what she or he likes. But we can assess craftsmanship using objective criteria, you can learn what to look for.

doorway with leaded glass above and beside
Leaded windows can add a unique touch to your home's design. (Photo courtesy of Transparent Dreams Stained Glass)

Making stained glass

In stained glass artworks, the pieces of glass are held together wither with lead or with copper foil. A professional stained glass artisan or studio should know both of these methods and choose the right one based on the project itself. Be sure to ask about lead versus copper foil to make sure the studio knows both. Knowing only one method (usually copper foil) is a big red flag. It doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but it should cause you to delve further into the artisan's skills and expertise.

In copper foiled projects, look primarily for leadlines that are fairly uniform in width. Although leadlines will certainly vary in width with copper foil, precision glass-cutting will minimize this variance.

Also look for the following:

• smooth soldering• a uniform patina, if one has been applied to darken the solder• the absence of jags where the ends of the copper tape meet• no "backside" showing through the glass, which will occur where the copper tape has not been well centered on the edge of the glass

Artisans will often use lead where the stained glass design is symmetrical and/or geometric. Good leaded craftsmanship will have straight lines that are perfectly straight, curves that are smooth, circles that are truly circular, and so forth. Also, look for the following:

• leadlines that line up precisely with other lines• leadlines that merge smoothly without jags or notches at the juncture,• smooth and relatively small solder joints• a uniform patina if one has been used to darken the lead and solder• pristine puttying if putty has been applied, which usually means that all of the excess putty has been removed

Find a craftsman close to you

Although I do commissions all over the United States, not all projects have the scope or the budget to make using an artisan from far away feasible. However, I am happy to talk about craftsmanship with clients who will end up using a local artisan or studio. I will even look at the work of an artisan or studio online that you're considering, and get back to you with my opinion of their craftsmanship. It's that important.  

About this Experts Contributor: Mark Stine has been working professionally in stained glass for 41 years. As owner of Transparent Dreams Stained Glass in Denver, he is widely know within the stained glass industry for his innovative design and superlative craftsmanship. He has completed custom stained glass and beveled glass projects throughout the United States and Canada. 

As of March 30, 2016, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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