Saturday, January 9, 2010

Its a new balloon

Wow, I can't believe how time flies! Its already a new year and a new decade and its feels like forever since I've posted anything.
I recently added a new rainbow balloon suncatcher to my Etsy shop. Below are the steps that it takes to create one of these balloons.

First, I start with the original pattern, on the right. I make a carbon copy of the pattern on brown craft paper. All of the pattern pieces are numbered to correspond with the original. I cut the paper pattern apart and start selecting my glass.

For all of the balloons that I've ever made, I've always used Waterglass which is manufactured by the Spectrum glass company. There are a number of things that I like about this glass. Spectrum is pretty consistant in their glass making, especially their colors. That's to say, different glass lots can vary slightly and Spectrum is really good about keeping their colors true. The colors are bright and vibrant. Also, this glass cuts very easily. Finally, Waterglass has a slight texture resembling water gently rippling on the surface of a lake which gives it a gentle flow, very pleasing to the eye and good for a number of applications.
Above, I've taken the paper pattern that I've cut up and glued these pieces to the corresponding pieces of glass. Using this method, the pattern pieces stay in place throughout the glass cutting and grinding process.

Next, all of the glass pieces are 'cut'--kind of. Glass isn't cut, its scored. The glass cutter has a wheel that rides over the surface of the glass creating a break in the surface which allows the glass to then be broken off at the score line.

Once all of the glass pieces are cut, they still don't fit together as tight as they need to.
I'll use a glass grinder to smooth out any uneven edges on the sides of the glass pieces. The grinder head is coated with diamond bits that quickly removes any unwanted glass so the pieces can fit tightly together.

The glass pieces are placed back onto the original pattern and checked to make sure they fit tight.

Once all of the pieces have been fit together, the application of copper foil can begin. The little basket hangs separately from the balloon and will be assembled in a different manner.

In the copper foil, or Tiffany, method of stained glass the glass edges are wrapped with a self adhesive copper foil. For this balloon I'm using three different types of foil. One type is copper backed, as shown above. I use the copper backed foil for darker pieces of glass. For the lighter pieces like the yellow and orange, I use a black backed foil which creates a black shadow on the edges of the glass which can be seen once the suncatcher is completed. I'm also using a slightly narrower type foil for the glass pieces that are a little bit skinnier. With Waterglass, some of the glass pieces are a little bit thicker and some are a little bit skinnier. By using both wider and narrower foils, I can keep the solder lines looking consistant thoughout the piece. In other words, if I used a wider foil on a skinny piece of glass I'll end up with a wider solder line that will look fat and globby.

The glass pieces that are on inside of the suncatcher are wrapped entirely around with foil, the pieces that are on the outside edge are only wrapped on three sides. Here, a burnishing tool is used to smooth down the foil to the top surface of the glass. All three sides-top, edge and back are smoothed down to remove any air bubbles and to get the foil to stick to all of these surfaces.

Once all of the pieces have been foiled, I'll tack the suncatcher down to keep it in place using push pins.
Next, the soldering process can begin. Picured left to right, I've got my flux, 60/40 lead solder, a damp sponge to clean the tip of the solder iron off with and the solder iron. Soldering is an interesting process. A combination of copper foil along with chemical flux and hot melted solder creates a chemical reaction which bonds the pieces of glass together.

Here, one side of the suncatcher has been soldered. The piece is then flipped over and the backside is soldered also. The gunky junk leftover from the solder process will be cleaned off the glass.

Here's what the balloon looks like after both sides are soldered and the piece is cleaned for the first time. We're not done yet!

Let's assemble the basket. I save scrap pieces of lead came and use these pieces for the basket. Lead came, or lead framing-there are several different styles and thicknesses depending on the application needed. For suncatchers, I use 'U' channel came--it resembles the letter U and has an inside groove that fits around the edge of the glass.

I'll cut the bottom piece of came to fit and tack the bottom and two sides down to a board using horseshoe nails. These joints are then soldered together. A piece is cut to fit the top of the basket and this piece is then soldered in place.

Both sides of the basket-front and back- are soldered at the joints.

Excess came is then removed from the basket.

I've tried using real people to hold the basket for me when I solder a jump ring to the sides. The problem with using people is that they breath and when they breath they move and don't hold the basket perfectly steady. Then they get impatient which makes me impatient...its much easier for me to place the basket into a vise. The vise doesn't move and doesn't expect a great big thank you, either. Here, a jump ring is soldered to the side of the basket. The basket gets a jump ring on both sides. The basket is done for now and I'll set it aside.

Back to the balloon. Using scrap pieces just to get my measurement, I'll cut a piece of lead came to fit for the bottom of the balloon.

I'll measure the outside edge to find out how much lead came I will need for this project. Lead came is available in either 6 foot lengths in case quantities or it comes in a spool. I've bought both, the spooled lead is a bit more economical and shipping is a lot less expensive. For this project, I will need about 23 1/2 inches of lead came. I measure what I need, cut it off the spool and stretch the lead. The lead is very flexible and by stretching it, it straightens is and makes it not so flimsy.
I'll wrap the entire outside edge with the lead came, fit my bottom piece in and tack the entire suncatcher down to hold it in place. All of the joints are then soldered together using flux and solder. As in the basket, the excess came is removed using a lead cutter.

I make my own jump rings out of pretinned copper wire. Since no one is here to take any action camera shots for me, you've got to take my word that the next thing I'm doing is soldering the jump ring to the back of the suncatcher.

Again with the vise---I'll place the balloon into the vise to hold it while I solder a jump ring to each side of the balloon. After all of this, both the balloon and the basket are cleaned and polished and jack chain is used to attach the basket to the balloon. Then the real fun starts--trying to get good pictures so I can list this-most of the time its easier said then done!
I hope you enjoyed all of this fun stuff. I know I did. Speaking of fun stuff, the next project is a brand spankin new idea that I recently drew up. I'm very excited to get going on it. If you are a cat lover you'll get a kick out of this new suncatcher~think kitty cat, butterfly and a flower.
Until next time, stay warm. Its been an awefully cold winter here in West Tennessee. I can't wait for spring! Or at least a break in the deep freeze.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What a lot of work. You have some patience I don't have for sure.

The Great Ethan Allen said...

very nice! Great pics of the "work in progress" BTW your glass cat suncatcher was a big hit at our Christmas party. Cheryl's Mom was thrilled!

Reflections of Glass said...

What a beautiful piece and not easy to build! It must look great with all that waterglass.

Celtic Cat said...

You don't realize how much work it is to create your lovely glass-art until you see it step by step.

livingglassart said...

Thanks so much! Sometimes I think its more work to take pics and post about it then it is to put it together!

Glass of Many Colors said...

Very nicely documented Anna!

Glass of Many Colors said...

Very nicely documented Anna!