Intro to Glass

Intro to Glass Design Idea C51E Necklace

by Tammy Honaman, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Educator,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®
Design Idea C51E Necklace

Glass has been around since 3000 BC. In present day, glass is most commonly found in households in the form of windows, drinking glasses and decorative objects. Bring the scale of the glass down, learn a few new techniques and voila, jewelry components!

The new line of glass supplies and tools brings you just that: glass in a great scale and all the tools you need to transform the glass into jewelry. And whether you are using a "stained glass" method of foiling and soldering, fusing the glass into components or applying glass enamel "paint" to porcelain, there is something here for everyone.

Stained Glass Method of Foiling and Soldering

Design Idea C518 Necklace The "stained glass" technique adds a silver rim to the edge of your glass, and is often referred to as tinning. Tinning is the process of applying copper foil to the edge of a piece of glass then applying lead-free solder to the copper. This process accents the shape of the glass, protects the edges from breaking and from scratching the wearer. This technique can be used on any material that can withstand the heat of the soldering iron--up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a ring, loop or other finding in the soldering process and the glass is transformed into a component that can be used as a charm, pendant or link.

For this type of design you need: glass, copper foil wide enough to fit the thickness of the glass with extra to fold over the edges, lead-free solder and heat. Don't forget the finding if you are adding a ring or loop. The glass can be purchased at the size you like or cut to size using a glass cutter and glass-cutting oil. It can be any glass component or other material that can withstand the heat of a soldering iron or soldering torch (up to 1000 degrees F).

Design idea C517 shows tinned Swarovski rivolis, wrapped with wire incorporated in the tinning process, then made into a pair of earrings. Design idea C518 (shown here at left) shows a design with decorative paper sandwiched between two pieces of rectangular glass that is tinned and transformed into a pendant by adding a jumpring.

View illustrated instructions on tinning copper foil.

Fusing Glass in a Kiln

Fusing is the process of heating glass to a new shape. Basic supplies needed for this technique are: compatible glass, kiln wash (glass separator), a kiln and safety glasses. You can use the microwave kiln when fusing small pieces of glass. Glass is typically 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thick--no more than two pieces of either thickness should be stacked in the microwave kiln. Follow manufacturer's how-to included with the kiln for usage and safety information.

Compatible glass is glass with the same coefficient of expansion (COE). COE indicates the rate at which glass expands and contracts. When two different COEs are combined, stress builds up in the glass which, at some point, will cause the glass to break. If you work with glass with different COEs, be sure to label each so you don't inadvertently combine the two.

In fusing, the finished shape and dimension of the glass is dictated by the temperature and where in the process you stop the fusing process. The following are a few fusing terms, their description, and the firing temperatures to achieve the finish:
  • Fire polishing (1300 degrees F - 1400 degrees F)--the glass will be shiny and the edges rounded off.
  • Tack fusing (1350 degrees F - 1450 degrees F)--the glass pieces will fuse together but retain their own individual shape and character.
  • Full fusing (1450 degrees F - 1550 degrees F)--two layers of glass merge and the edges are rounded. See Design idea C51A where stringers were added to lavender glass and a full fuse achieved. (For how-to on fusing in a microwave kiln, see how-to.)
  • Frit casting(1480 degrees F - 1600 degrees F)--small pieces of glass are placed inside a mold and are heated to form a solid piece of glass. (For how-to on frit casting, see how-to.)
Glass Frit
Fused Glass Components

Design Idea C51A Unlike creating glass, fusing is not an exact science. There is a ramp up time (the time/speed you set for the kiln to heat up to temperature), there is a soak time (the time the fusing temperature is held and the glass "soaks" in the heat) and an annealing temperature and time (the time the glass cools to allow the stress built up in the process to escape, so your piece does not shatter today or 3 years from now).

Note: Each time a new piece was created, a test piece (or two or three) was done first. Testing was done to make sure the kiln temperature was set right for the glass being used, the soak time was appropriate for the desired finish and that the annealing process was slow enough to allow the glass to de-stress. It is important that you allow yourself time to learn your kiln so your finished pieces are just as you would like them.

Applying Glass Enamels in a Paint Form

Multipens are an enamel paint that can be applied to porcelain, metal and glass. These enamels work on glass with a COE of 90 or 96, making them very versatile. There are two size tips, which make it possible to write and draw with the pens; use a paintbrush to paint the enamels on. The enamel is very forgiving but does dry quickly. Testing the paints on a practice piece of porcelain then firing in your kiln will help establish the temperature needed for achieving the results you like. View the how-to on using the multipens and creating a painted porcelain bead.

Additional Resources:
Design Idea C51K Necklace

Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article "Intro to Glass," as featured in an email newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"This was a very well written, informative article! I started fusing glass 8 months ago in a small manual kiln I purchased to fire pottery beads and miniatures. I discovered the wonder of glass fusing by studying youtube videos and have learned quite a bit through trial and error. Thank you Tammy, for sharing your wisdom and expertise! Sincerely,"
- Regina

"'Glass has been around since 3000 BC.' is not quite correct, since it depends on how one defines "glass" (as separate from such materials as faience and frit) and on the dubious dating of most of the tiny objects of "glass" from early archaeological excavations. For a detailed discussion, see P.R.S. Moorey's Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries (Oxford; 1994) pp. 166-214, and especially pp. 190ff."
- Judy

"Loved the info, Thank you!"
- Ron

"I agree about glass ... just finished a glass beaded 1/2 curtain that arches into the jacuzzi room ... beautiful! Thanks FMG."
- Stacy

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