I’ve always been attracted to the vibrant colour of glass. Stained glass is a hobby I learned about 15 years ago and I couldn’t wait to put my skills to work when I bought my current house!
In Canada, it’s winter for far too long and I wanted to find a way to enjoy my pond no matter what the season – so I made this one in glass and installed it in the corner of our winding staircase! Today, I’m showing you some of the details on how I did it so you can add some curb appeal to your winding staircase too!
Before and After Transformation of the Stairs
The mosaic artwork was only a small part of the transformation of our staircase, as you may have seen in the previous post I wrote on Birdz of a Feather. We started with blond wood and worn carpet, which were both stripped. Hubs then applied a darker stain on the wood and sealed it. The finishing touch was a new carpet runner. The pictures below show the before, during and after of the staircase makeover.
New carpeting adds the final finishing touch:
Step 1: Add Some ‘Curb Appeal’
Now for the curb appeal! That little piece of real estate in the corner of a winding staircase is the perfect spot to add a stained glass mosaic ‘pond’; it will add interest and colour to an otherwise boring spot. As you can see below, the corner is still quite bland.
- Brown paper
- Pencil/marker (not pictured)
- Plywood backer (if necessary); thickness will depend on the depth of your own staircase corner platform)
- Carbon paper
- Large format photocopies of your design (at least 2)
- Rubber cement (not pictured)
- Glass cutter
- Glass grinder
- Cutter oil
- Rubber coated gloves (to prevent glass cuts)
- Rubber spatula
- Tile sponge
- Stained glass pattern shears (not pictured)
- Bench brush (to keep work surface free of glass shards, not pictured)
Step 2: Make a Paper Template
It’s advisable to remove your quarter round first before you trace the pattern! If you can removed it without breaking, you can re-use it once the mosaic is installed. Otherwise, you will need to replace it to give your mosaic piece a finished look.
If you have carpeting on the platform to begin with, when you remove it you may find that you will need to fill it in with plywood, as was the case with my situation. If you don’t need to build it up, then make sure when you add glass on top of the base that it doesn’t extend above the trim: you don’t want to do this technique if it’s going to result in sharp edges that are higher than the trim!
I used the paper template to cut 1/4″ plywood as a backer to fit the corner and act as a base for the mosaic.
Step 3: Draw Your Design
At this point, you can use carbon paper to trace your design onto the plywood backer (or directly onto the surface of the wood that’s already there if you don’t need to build it up). Tape the template down securely with painters tape so it doesn’t shift and be sure to transfer ALL lines and letters/numbers; you can peak under the paper as you go so you don’t miss anything. Once the paper is removed check that it’s complete and then set it aside again for later so you can add the cut mosaic pieces directly onto the backer. I also pre-drilled some holes into the plywood where I planned some circles in the design so I could screw the plywood onto the base and secure it, then cover those spaces with glass gems.
Step 4: Photocopy Your Pattern and Start Cutting
Take your artwork to a large format printer and have them print off at least two copies.
Use a special pair of stained glass pattern shears to cut out the pieces from one of copies. The shears will remove a small sliver of paper between each piece leaving you with enough of a gap to add grout if you wish. I used a shear that’s 20% thinner than most others that are typically used because I wanted a smaller gap and the option of not having to grout the piece once it was done.
The intact copy of the template will be used as the new master template to arrange the glass pieces on. When the paper pieces are cut out from the template, sort them by colour so you can cut like colours all at once. Apply rubber cement to like-pattern pieces then lay them on the sheets of glass selected for the each element. Rubber cement allows you to lift and re-position the paper if you have to so you can plan your cuts and economize on glass.
Step 5: Cut Your Glass Pieces
Watch this video to learn the basics of cutting stained glass:
Use a glass cutter to score the glass and cut each piece. When you score the glass, there’s no need to apply excessive pressure. A steady firm score is all you need and you should hear a gentle ‘hiss’ as the cutter passes over the glass. I used a pistol grip cutter; it gives me more control and is much more comfortable to use than a regular straight cutter. In the second picture, you’ll see an example of both styles of glass cutters. They both have oil reservoirs which automatically dispense lubricant to the glass surface; a real convenience on large pieces like this mosaic.
I also wear rubber coated gloves on occasion to prevent glass cuts. The specialize gloves shown for stained glass work are a tight fit and are still flexible so allow a good range of dexterity (unlike other gloves).
You can use running pliers (shown above) to help you break out each piece of glass you score. The video I linked to from Delphi Glass provides great instruction on the basics of cutting glass and reviews the different styles of glass cutters and the tools.
If you want to learn how to cut glass, there are many courses at community centres and night schools; I suggest you check one out. They are generally reasonably priced and a lot of fun! I took a stained glass course at a studio in Toronto called ‘Glasstronomy’ (http://www.glasstronomystudios.ca) where I learned how to cut glass. I still consider myself a student in the art of stained glass.
Step 6: Grind the Pieces
Once the pieces are cut, use a glass grinder to take off any bits of glass outside of the cutting line on the paper. A glass grinder is a water cooled piece of equipment with a diamond wheel that can shape the edges of the glass more precisely to each piece. It best to run every piece briefly along the wheel just so they are not sharp and can be handled when it comes time to glue them to the backer.
The video at the following link shows the features of a similar glass grinder to the one that I used for this project (I don’t have an affiliation with Glastar, I just think they make a stellar grinder): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03JMwdF0PF8.
The gadget pictured on the grinder helps to hold the smaller pieces of glass without getting your fingers in the way of the grinding wheel.
Place the finished pieces on the master template to check for sizing. Continue cutting your other pieces of glass and fitting them onto the master template. Adjust any pieces using the grinder if you find that they still need to be finessed.
Step 7: Glue to the Backer Board
Now you should be ready to glue your pieces down onto the wood. I used a pre-made tile mastic right out of the tub and literally just spread it onto the bottom of each piece of glass in an even coat. Then I stuck it down to the wood.
I also glued on some fused glass for the eyes on the frog and turtle.
Let the whole thing dry at least 24 hours before you transfer the mosaic to the staircase for installation. In Step 9, further below, you can see where there are circular gaps in the design. This is where I will hide the screws; they’ll be covered with glass gems later once the mosaic is installed.
In the meantime, you can pour out a bunch of glass gems to sort through them and check to see which ones best fit the gaps. Set aside the ones that work best.
Here, I’m testing the fit of one of the glass gems.
In addition, I found some nice pieces of abalone shell to add to the middle of the lily pads; I could have left them as-is but I liked the extra sparkle they brought.
Step 8: Transfer Onto Cardbord to Transport
Transfer the mosaic to the staircase in a piece of folded cardboard. I found that folding the cardboard and sandwiching the glass in between is the easiest way to carry an awkwardly shaped mosaic like this and prevent it from getting damaged on the way:
Step 9: Before and After Comparison
It’s a welcome change to the dreary little spot it was before and will definitely tide me over until summer when I can enjoy my real pond again.
Step 10: Grout
If you wish, you can grout the glass mosaic just like any glass tile. I use a non-sanded grout that you have to mix with water. I mix it up in small batches and then apply it with a cheap kitchen spatula from the dollar store to help me maneuver into the corners (a regular grout float would be too awkward and messy)! Once the grout is applied you wipe it off the surface just as you would for any other tiling project. Let the grout dry 24 hours and then remove the haze with a soft cloth and buff the glass to a shine.
For now, I chose not to grout my mosaic just yet, but when I do, I won’t be grouting around the glass gems. The reason for that is so we’ll be able to remove the mosaic again if we ever move; just in case I don’t want to leave it behind.
Free Koi Pattern to Try
The attached Koi pattern was designed by glass Artist Laura Heathcote for Spectrum Glass in 1999. It’s available as a free download (for personal use only) but I’ve included it here for you in case you’d like to give it a try: Koi_Spectrum Pattern_Birdz of a Feather.
If you’re intimidated to try a real stained glass piece, I’ll be experimenting with faux stained glass and hope to bring you an easier project soon!
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