Saturday, 9 June 2018

Dressing the Came

This is a different kind of dressing than what you do in the morning. It relates to how easy it is to slide the glass into the channel of the came.

If you have consistent difficulty in sliding the glass into the came, you should consider dressing the came before use. Dressing the came consists of running a fid or other hard material along each of the four flanges of the came. In doing this, you are pressing each flange in turn down against the bench or other smooth surface.

Dressing the cames gives a slight bevel or ramp for the glass to slide over the edge of the came and into the channel of the came. You can dress the whole length at once, or as you cut the pieces off from the main length. Dressing shorter pieces is less likely to bend the came away from the straight.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Cutting Lead Came

Cutting came is a gentle process rather than an abrupt chopping effort.
There are at least three kinds of implements in common use to cut lead came.

Lead nippers or lead dykes
Lead nippers/dykes are a kind of adapted side cutters, used for cutting wire and by electricians. But these have the bevel only on one side of the jaws, making them almost useless for anything other than cutting lead. This arrangement only crushes the lead on the cut-off side and also leaves a minimum of lead next to the back of the jaws.

In use, the jaws of the dykes are aligned in the same angle as the heart of the lead, cutting across the leaves of the lead. They do not cut from the top and bottom of the came. These are very quick for right angle or very oblique angles on the came. However they are of little use for acute angles.

Lead knives
For more acute angles, blades are more commonly used. These can be either straight edges or curved blades. The straight edge lead knives are essentially putty knives or stiff scrapers sharpened to an acute angle. This kind of knife is normally wiggled from side to side while applying pressure to work through the came.

Other knives are curved to make rocking back and forth easier. There are a variety of knives such as the Pro or Don Carlos. Some look more like a scimitar than a lead knife! These are used to rock along the line where you are cutting the came.

Whatever kind of knife you are using, be sure to be directly above the knife, looking along the blade to ensure vertical cuts.

Of course, saws are sometimes used. The blade needs to be coarse toothed to enable the soft lead to drop out of the teeth. These saws can be hand held or table saws. Normally, it is quicker to use lead dykes or knives. However, if you are in production mode, a powered table saw may be worthwhile.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Thermal Shocking Ceramics

When firing glass in ceramic moulds, and especially ceramic pots for pot melts, you should be aware of the temperatures at which the ceramic material quickly expands and contracts.

There are refractory ceramics which are not as sensitive as the kind of ceramics we are using in most kiln work.  The ceramics we use are not refractory materials and contain, among other things, quartz and crystobalite. These two elements are important, as they have considerable effect on the survival of the pot or mould during the firing.

The effects are called inversions.  This is because the rapid expansion experienced upon the heating is reversed as rapid contraction on the cooling of the ceramic.

The first element to be affected by the heat up is crystobalite.  This element has a sudden expansion of 2.5% at 226°C.  This does not seem to be much, but compare it to the expansion of glass at this temperature - .0085% - almost 300 times that of glass at the same temperature.  And of course, the ceramic contracts by that amount when it reaches 226°C on the cooling.

The second element affecting the heat up is quartz.  There is quite a bit of this in clay.  The critical temperature for this is in the 570°C to 580°C range.  The expansion and contraction is not so great here – only 1% - but it is still more than 100% that of the glass, and in a critical range for the glass on the cooling.   

The importance of these inversions for us are to remind us to be careful at these temperatures of about 225°C and 570°C - 580°C to prolong the life of the ceramic pots and moulds that we use.  

It is probable that 150°C per hour is as quickly as we should increase the temperature when using ceramic moulds or pots.  Some thought should be given to the cooling of the moulds too.  They should not be taken from the kiln while hot nor subjected to draughts of relatively cold air.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Leading Small Circles

Putting came around small circles such as lenses and small bullions often leaves an irregular curve. There is a way to avoid this.

Use oval or round came to reduce the kinking of the leaves of the came. As there is less material at the edges of the leaves of oval came, there is less kinking than on flat came, where the thickness of the leaves is constant.

Begin to form the lead round the circle, about half way. Then take the circle out of the came and cut, at a right angle to the length of the lead, at an angle from top to bottom. The degree of the angle is not important at this stage, only that you can repeat the angle – so it must be fairly shallow and natural for you.

Put the circle back into the came and continue to form the came round it until you meet the angled cut at the beginning. Again at right angles to the length of the came, cut a repeat of the angle.

Then fold this end toward the other end. Push the two angled ends together. If they slip up and down from each other, the came is too long. Open the came and cut a sliver off.

Try again until they meet with very little “slippage”.

Then the piece is ready to put into the panel. Place the join at a lead joint so you don't have an additional solder spot.

This technique can be used for small ovals too.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Tin Bloom

Using float glass sometimes produces partial clouding as though devitrification were present. Although float glass is prone to devitrification, not all the cloudy film on the surface is due to devitrification.

Float glass, which these days, is almost all clear smooth glass, gets its name from the process of floating the glass on molten tin. The tin in compression gives an apparent devitrification effect which is called tin bloom.

it is different from devitrification, to which float glass is particularly subject. Devitrification sprays and solutions will not have an effect on this surface defect called tin bloom. 

When the tin layer is stretched, it does not create a tin bloom on the surface.  Therefore, it is important to have a means to detect which is the tin surface.  Always fire the glass with the tin in the same relative location to each other.  I.e., on several layers of glass have all the tin side down or all up, but not mixed. 

This example of a test by Glass Art by Margot shows the tin bloom on the outer portions of the platter where the tin side was up, causing the tin too be compressed and show.  The flatter portion of the piece did not show this tin bloom as there was not the same extent of compression. You can visit the description of the experiment here.

When forming the glass (slumping, draping, kiln carving) make sure the tin sides will be stretched rather than compressed.  Of course, you can take advantage of the tin bloom by controlling the compression of the tin layers.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Leading Procedure

Cut the leads exactly as the cartoon indicates. In other words, where one line runs into another, that is generally a stopping/starting point for the came.

Always lead to the cartoon line, not the glass. This ensures accurate completion of the panel. If the glass is slightly too small, the cement will take up the gap (assuming the flange of the came covers the glass – if not, you need to cut another piece of glass that fits). If the glass overlaps the cut line, it needs to be reduced.  A description of the process is given here.

This shows the use of a guage to determine where to cut the horizontal lead came.

Cut the ends of the came shorter than the glass. The best way to determine this is to place a piece of came of the dimensions being used for the next edge on the cut line. Use it to determine the length and angle for the cut. The object is to have each piece of came butt squarely against the passing came, to make a strong panel and to make soldering easier.

Leading - Establishing the perimeter

The first thing to be established about the panel is the placing of the came that goes around the edge of the panel.

Fix your cut line cartoon to the work board.  Usually a long strip of masking tape on all the edges will be sufficient.  To establish the placing of the battens, which will form the frame for the leading process, you need to determine the spacing from the cut line.

This shows the initial battens in place and ready for the final two battens to be put in place before soldering.

To determine the size of the off-set of the battens you should cut a short piece of the came you will be using for the outside and use that as a guage.  Place the heart of the came on the outside cut line near one end and move the batten to the side of the came.  Nail that end of the came to the board.  Move the guage came to the other end of the cut line and do the same with the batten as you did for the other end.  Establish one other batten at right angles in the same way.  Then you are ready to place the cames.

Make a straight cut across the came to be used for the outside and put that trimmed end into the corner and along the vertical wood strip. The lead should extend beyond the cut line to accommodate the length of the upper horizontal came. The minimum length must be longer than the width of the perimeter came that will butt against it. If it is even longer, the extra can be trimmed off after the leading is complete or after soldering.

Next butt a trimmed piece of perimeter came along the horizontal wood strip. This one should be shorter than the cartoon. It should be half the width of the perimeter cames to allow the vertical came to butt against it. The reason for having the vertical cames running from bottom to top is that there is a fraction more strength in the heart of the came going all the way to the bottom of the panel, rather than resting on the flanges of the came.

This is how the finished perimeter cames will appear:

These perimeter cames should be held in place with horseshoe nails. Try placing the nails only where a lead line will be soldered in order to cover any nicks the nails might make. Alternatively, you can place the nails at the ends of the perimeter cames to keep them from sliding vertically or horizontally.

If you want to have mitred corners, this post will show you the method.

The next stage of placing the first pieces of glass is shown here.

Leading acute angles

Most of us like flowing lines in leaded glass windows, but these often give very acute angles to be leaded up. One way is to avoid creating intersections by using passing cames.  

But, if the cartoon does not allow for passing cames in acute joints, you have to consider how to cut the came to butt well against the next came. The easiest, but most time-consuming method is as follows:

Determine what the length of the came must be to reach the end of the joint.

Mark your lead there.

Determine what the shortest part of the came will be at the joint and make a faint mark there too.

Cut the came at the first (longest) mark.

Use your lead dykes to cut the heart out of the lead, leaving only the flanges. This is done from the end to just beyond the faint mark you made to indicate the shortest part of the joint.

You then need to smooth the two flanges where the heart was. You can use a fid or your lead knife to draw over the rough interior of the flanges. This enables the flange to be inserted below the came already in place, or to slide the new came over the modified came.

You can trim the upper came flanges immediately to conform to the angle of the joint or do it when the whole panel is leaded. Make a mark with a nail or your lead knife along the edge of the un-modified came. Then raise the flange and use your lead dykes to cut the flange along the line. Fold the flange down to butt against the passing lead and it is ready to solder.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Element Coatings

You will notice that after the initial few firings of your new kiln that a grey residue forms on the elements.  This is a protective layer.  It is a surface oxidisation that protects the underlying metal from further corrosion. 

Kiln elements are generally made from Kanthal or Nichrome wire. 

Kanthal wire is an alloy of iron, chrome and aluminium.  The aluminium oxidises to provide a protective layer of aluminium oxide.

Nichrome wire is an alloy of nickel (the main element) and chromium in various proportions for different applications. It is the most common heating element for high temperatures. The chrome forms a protective layer of chromium oxide at red hot temperatures.  But once heated, it becomes brittle, so it can be manipulated only when hot.

This layer is not a chemical reaction to the things you put into your kiln.  It is the necessary protective layer to give long life elements. This coating should not fall from the elements unless it is disturbed by bending, abrasion or impact. If it does, check for damage to the elements and look closely for any break.

Monday, 7 May 2018

False Lines in Leaded Glass

False lines are used in leaded glass where the design calls for an angle that cannot be cut into the glass. This includes right angles and even more acute angles. E.g., the petals of a fuchsia flower. 

The design would call for an angle of about 60 degrees. This is impossible to achieve through hand cutting. So the glass is cut in a curve and the cames on the side and bottom of the petal have their hearts cut out so they overlap each other. 

In the example above, the red petal points would be cut rounded, so that the clear glass below can be rounded as well.  The came or foil is extended beyond the glass to give the visual points required.

The overlap is then trimmed to the shape of the outside of the petal. When soldered, the appearance is of the glass being cut at the angle required for the flower.

At other times, the requirement is for a line to go into a piece of glass, but not all the way across. As in this stained glass panel by Justin Behnke.  The hanging lines are those on the lower left of the panel, giving a great flow to the whole.

Again you cut the heart out of the came, and overlay the smoothed lead onto the glass. You can use just a little silicone to hold the lead in place until you finish cementing. After this you can lift the piece of came and use silicone or epoxy resin to firmly attach the came to the glass. You do not want to do this before cementing as any excess of glue will be made dirty by the cementing process and be very difficult to clean up.

There are also times when you may want to have a silhouette, you can cut it out of lead foil and solder it into place. This allows intricate shapes to be made when a dark representation of the shape is required. If the panel can be seen from both sides, the overlays should also be on both sides. These should be glued to the glass just as for cames.

Further information on removing the heart of lead came are given in this post on leading of acute angles.

These principles can be applied to copper foil too.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Slumping a Form Flat

There are a variety of reasons that you might want to make a formed piece flat again for another kind of slump or drape.

There are lots things you think about when preparing to make a shaped piece flat.

I am going to assume there are no large bubbles in the piece.  You can see the posts  Large bubbles and Bubble at bottom  on the causes.

The following comments are things in five groups to consider when contemplating flattening an already formed shape.

  • ·         Shallow forms with no angles have the fewest difficulties.  Take it out of the mould, put it on the prepared shelf and fire to the slump temperature.  Observe when it is flat and proceed to the annealing.
  • ·         Forms with angles or multiple curves are a little more difficult.  If the piece has stretched in some areas to conform to the mould, you will have some distortion in the pattern and possibly some thinner areas.  It should be easy to flatten pieces on a prepared shelf with the same schedule, but a slightly higher top temperature as used to slump it.
  • ·         Forms where the sides have pulled in will become flat, but continue to have curved sides.
  • ·         Deep forms are possibly the most difficult.  The glass may have stretched, giving thin areas.  It may be that the process of flattening the glass will cause a rippled effect as the perimeter of the piece is a smaller size than the original footprint.  These deep forms are the least likely to flatten successfully.

  • ·         Which way up? Upside down or right side up?  Shallow forms are easiest to flatten by placing them right side up on a prepared shelf.  For deep or highly formed pieces, it may be best to put it upside down to allow the now higher parts to push the perimeter out if it is necessary.

  • ·         Thick glass will flatten more quickly than thin glass, so you need to keep a watch on the progress of the work to avoid excess marking of the surface of the glass.
  • ·         Very thin pieces are likely to develop wrinkles as they flatten.  Even if they do not, there will be thick and thin areas which might cause difficulty in subsequent slumping.
  • ·         Tack fused pieces are likely to tend to flatten at different places and times due to the differences in thickness and therefore weight. This makes shallow forms easier to flatten.

  • ·         In all these processes, you should use the lowest practical temperature to flatten.  This means that you will need to peek at intervals to see when it is flat.
  • ·         Your starting point for the top temperature to use will be about 10°C lower than that at which the original was slumped, normally.  The amount of time may need to be extended significantly. The reason for this is to avoid as much marking on the finished side as possible.
  • ·         Shallow forms and thick pieces will flatten more quickly than others, so a lower temperature can be used.  You will still need to observe the progress of the flattening.
  • ·         Angled shapes and deep forms will need more heat and time than the shallower ones. 
  • ·         Thin pieces may require more time than thick pieces.
  • ·         Tack fused pieces need more attention and slow rates of advance to compensate for the differences in thicknesses.

  • ·         Kiln washed shelves are usually adequate for flattening.
  • ·         Thinfire or Papyros are needed when flattening upside down to ease any sliding necessary.
  • ·         Powdered kiln wash or aluminium hydrate can be dusted over the kiln washed shelf when it is felt the form will need to slide on the shelf while flattening.

It may be that after all this, you feel it is not worth it to flatten.  It certainly is worth the effort, if only to learn about the characteristics of the form and its behaviour in reversing the slump or drape.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Thinfire* and Devitrification

There are reports that Thinfire causes devitrification by rising over the edges of the piece.  There as many saying they have no difficulties with the Thinfire curling.  This indicates there are several factors that may be at work.

If the Thinfire curls over the edge of the glass while firing, it will deposit a fine powder on the edge and perimeter of the piece.  This gives an ideal condition for devitrification to form.

Bullseye recommends placing dams or other kiln furniture on the edges of the paper to resist any tendency for the paper to curl.  Of course, if the paper is put upside down, it is much more likely to rise over the edge.  The smoothest surface should face upwards. Now that Bullseye prints their logo on the bottom, this is unlikely to be a problem.

Cutting the paper to the size of the piece is initially an attractive idea.  However, it does not account for the expansion beyond the initial footprint that glass goes through while heating to the working temperature, and before it contracts to its final size.  The Thinfire must be cut larger than the piece. The amount depends on the thickness of the piece.  6mm larger may be adequate for a 6mm thick piece.

Bullseye does not recommend using Thinfire under multiple small pieces of glass because the paper can shrink and move, disrupting the glass placement on the kiln shelf.  Instead using kiln wash as the separator may be better in these circumstances.

There are other things that can affect the deposit of the separator powder from the Thinfire onto the glass.

Venting – It seems to be good practice to open the peep holes or leave the door/lid slightly ajar during the heat up.  These should be carefully closed once the smell of the binder burning out disappears.  This is usually around 500°C.  The idea here is that the combustion products from the binders are allowed out of the kiln without settling on the glass.  I do not find this necessary, but many do, so it is worthwhile trying it out.  When the smell of the burnout of the binders ceases close the lid slowly and place the bungs gently into the peep holes to avoid disturbing any dust within the kiln.

Opening the kiln or ports - Opening or closing the kiln above ca. 500°C, if done quickly, will create a draft that will distribute the powder around the kiln.  Some of this will land on the surface of the glass. Other parts of the Thinfire will be moved up onto the edges of the piece.  This dust and the pieces of Thinfire will create nucleation points for devitrification.  Always open or close any part of the kiln slowly when there are powders or anything else which can be disturbed by a gentle waft of air.

Over firing - Another element that can bring Thinfire onto your pieces are a too hot a firing.  During high temperature firings, the glass will expand and thin more than usual.  During the cooling phase, the glass will draw back to being 6-7mm thick. This means the glass will have expanded over the Thinfire and drawn some of it back onto the edges as it thickens and retreats.  The solution for this is to reduce the top temperature and possibly lengthen the soak time, but do not do both at the same time.  First see what a lower temperature with a 10-minute soak will do.

Of course, if you are not having problems with Thinfire or Papyros, continue your practice as normal.

*I have used the term “Thinfire” almost exclusively throughout, but remember all these notes apply to Papyros too.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Rates of Advance with Soaks

I’m sure I have written about this before, but a repetition will not hurt.

I have seen many schedules with initial rates of advance interrupted by soaks.  These kinds of schedules that are written something like this:

250 degrees to 200, soak for 10 (or 20 or 30) minutes
250 degrees to 500, soak for 10 (or 20 or 30) minutes
300 degrees to 1100, soak for 10 (or 20 or 30) minutes
300 degrees to 1250, soak for 10 (or 20 or 30) minutes
600 degrees to working temperature (1450, 1500 etc.)

When I have asked, I’m usually told that these are catch up pauses to allow all the glass to have an even temperature.  There are occasions when that may be a good idea, but I will come to those later.  For normal fusing, draping and slumping these soaks are not needed.

To understand why, needs a little information on the characteristics of glass.  Glass is a good insulator.  It is a poor transmitter of heat.  Therefore, glass behaves better with a moderate steady input of heat to ensure it is distributed evenly throughout the glass.  To advance the temperature quickly during the initial heat up stages where the glass is brittle risks thermal shock. 

The soaks at intervals do not protect against a too rapid increase in temperature.  It is the rate of heat input that causes thermal shock.  Rapid heat inputs cause uneven temperatures through and across the glass.  When these temperatures are more than 5°C across the glass, stress is induced.  As the temperature differential increases, so does the stress until the glass is not strong enough to contain those stresses and so it breaks.  At higher temperatures these stresses do not exist as the glass is less viscous.

If, as is common and illustrated in the schedule above, you advance at the same rate on both sides of the soak, the soak really does not serve any purpose – other than to make writing schedules more complicated.  If the glass survived the rate of heat input between the soaks, it will survive without the soaks.

But you may wish to be a little more careful. The same heating effect can be achieved by slowing the rate of advance.  Just consider the time used in the soak and then slow the rate by the appropriate amount.  Take the example above using 30-minute soaks:

250 degrees to 200, soak for 30 minutes
250 degrees to 500, soak for 30 minutes

This part of the schedule will take three hours.  You can achieve the same heat work by going at 167 degrees per hour to 500 degrees.  This will add the heat to the glass in a steady manner and the result will be rather like the hare and tortoise.  If you have to pause periodically because you have gone too quickly, you can reach the same end point by steady but slower input of heat without the pauses.

But, you may argue, “the periodic soaks on the way up have always worked for me.”  As you work with thicker than 6mm glass, this “quick heat, soak; quick heat, soak” cycle will not continue to work.  Each layer insulates the lower layer from the heat above.  As the number of layers increase, the greater the risk of thermal shock. Enough time needs to be given for the heat to gradually penetrate from the top to the bottom layer and across the whole area in a steady manner.

To be safest in the initial rate of advance, you should put heat into the glass in a moderate, controlled fashion.  This means a steady input of heat with no quick changes in temperature.  How do you calculate that rate?  Contrary as it may seem, start by writing out your cooling phases of the schedule.  The cooling rate to room temperature is the safe cooling rate for the final and now thicker piece.  If that final cool rate is 300 degrees, the appropriate heat up rate is half of that or 150.  If you are in the habit of turning off the kiln at 370°C, you can use the cooling rate that is scheduled to get you there.  Normally, you would double the rate you used to get to 370°C as the rate to room temperature.  So, the rate to 370°C is the same as half the final cooling rate.

This “half speed” rate of advance will allow the heat to penetrate the layers in an even manner during the brittle phase of the glass.  This rate needs to be maintained until the upper end of the annealing range is passed.  This is normally around 55°C (110°F) above the annealing point.

Then you can begin to write the rate of advance portion of your schedule.  It could be something like:

150°C to 540°C, no soak
225°C to bubble squeeze, soak
300°C to working temperature, soak 10 minutes
Proceed to cool segments already

I like simple schedules, so I normally stick to one rate of advance all the way to the bubble squeeze.  This could be at the softening point of the glass or start at 50°C below with a one hour rise to the softening point with a 30-minute soak there before proceeding more quickly to the working temperature.


I did say I would come back to an exception about soaks on the rate of advance segment of the schedules.  When the glass is supported – usually in a drape – with a lot of the glass unsupported you do need to have soaks.  The kind of suspension is when draping over a cylinder or doing a handkerchief drop.  This is where a small portion of the glass is supported by a point or a long line while the rest of the glass is suspended in the air.  It also occurs when supported by steel or thick ceramic.

The soaks are not to equalise the temperature in the glass primarily.  They are to equalise the temperature between the supports and the glass.  A thick ceramic form supporting glass takes longer to heat up than the glass.  The steel of a cocktail shaker takes the heat away from the glass as it heats faster. 

The second element in this may already be obvious.  The glass in the air on a ceramic mould can heat faster than that on the mould.  The glass on a steel mould can heat faster over the steel than the suspended glass.  Both these cases mean that you need to be careful with the temperature rises.

Now, according to my arguments above, you should be able to slow the rate of advance enough to avoid breakage.  However, my experience has shown me that periodic soaks in combination with gradual increases in the rates of advance are important, because more successful. 

An example of my rates of advance for 6mm glass supported on a steel cylinder is:
100°C to 100°C, soak 20 minutes
125°C to 200°C, soak 20 minutes
150°C to 400°C, soak 20 minutes
200°C to draping temperature

Call me inconsistent, but this has proved to be more effective than dramatically slowing the rates of advance. 

This exception does not apply to slumps where the glass is supported all around by the edge of a circular or oval mould, or where it is supported at the corners of a rectangular or square one.

Another exception is where you have a lot of moisture in a mould, for example. You need to soak just under the boiling point of water to dry the mould or drive out water from other elements of your work before proceeding.  This applies to situations where you need a burn out, of for example vegetable matter at around 500C for several hours.

In both these cases, these are about the materials holding or contained in the glass, rather than the glass itself.

Came: Straighten vs stretch

In dealing with lead came there is often reference to “stretching the lead”.  This frequently leads to emphasis on making the lead came longer. However, this is a misinterpretation of the phrase.

The object in pulling on the lead is to straighten it.  No more effort needs to be put into the lead once it is straight.  In fact, further stretching can lead to weakness.

The upper strectched came has an orange peel texture and the lower straightened does not

You will see an “orange peel” texture on the surface of the came when it has been stretched beyond its tensile strength.  This indicates considerable weakness in the metal.

The upper piece illustrates the visual effect of over stretching leading to the weakening of the came

A test to show relative strengths in stretched and straightened came uses two short pieces of came from the original pair.

After three 90° bends from the straight to a right angle, the stretched came has begun to break.  The straightened came is deformed at the inside bend, but not broken. 

This test shows stretching the came to the extent that there is an "orange peel" appearance to the surface, dramatically weakens the lead came.  Only draw the lead came to make it straight, not to lengthen it.

When you are trying to get kinks and twists out, there is a point between straight and stretched where you begin to weaken the came instead of simply making it straight. There is a point in straightening linked or twisted lead that goes so far in trying to get it straight that the whole is weakened. When the orange peel appearance shows on the came, you have stretched to the weakening point. 

It is often better with kinked and twisted came to cut out the damaged portions and straighten the rest.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Copper inclusions

Inclusions of metals can be achieved with care.  Copper is a very good metal, as it is soft, even though its expansion characteristics are very different from glass.  This note provides some things you might consider when planning to include copper in your fused pieces.

The copper sheet should be stiff, but not thick. If the metal can be incised with a scribe and maintain that through gentle burnishing, it is suitably thick. The usual problem is that the copper is too thick rather than too thin.  Copper leaf can be very faint if a single layer is used.  Placing several layers of leaf improves the colour, but often provides wrinkles.  In summary, the requirement is to get a thickness of copper that will retain its structure, but not be so thick and stiff as to hold the glass up during the fusing process.  

Do not use the copper foil as used for stained glass applications. The adhesive backing produces a black colour from the adhesive and many bubbles -  sometimes a single large one.

Copper can provide several colours.

Copper sheet normally turns burgundy colour when oxidised.  This means that there is enough air reaching the copper to oxidise it to deep copper red.  This most normally happens, because a lot of air can contact the metal during the extensive bubble squeeze usually given to inclusions.

To keep the copper colour, clean the metal well metal well with steel wool or a pot scrubber. If you use steel wool, wash and polish dry the metal before fusing.  Reduction of air contact with the metal helps to retain the copper colour.  There are two methods I have used.  Addition of a glass flux like borax or other devitrification spray will help prevent the air getting to the surface.  Another method of avoiding oxidisation, is to cover the copper with clear powdered frit, as well as the surrounding glass.

In certain circumstances you can get the blue green verdigris typical of copper in the environment.  This is an extent of oxidisation that is between the clean copper coloured metal and the burgundy colour of extensive oxidisation.  The key seems to be be a combination of restricted air supply, shorter bubble squeezes and lower temperatures.  Experimentation is required to achieve this consistently.

The spaces under and over the copper give the opportunity for bubbles to form. 

This means that the copper needs to be as flat as possible for one thing.  Burnishing the copper can have a good effect on reducing the undulations in the copper.  Thinner copper is easier to make flat than thicker.  If you can stamp a shape from the copper with a stamper designed for card making, it is a good indication that it will burnish flat.  Thicker copper sheet holds the glass up long enough in the temperature rise during the bubble squeeze to retain air around the metal.  This remains the case even after burnishing to be as flat as possible.

The second element that can help to reduce bubbles around the copper is to sprinkle clear powder over the copper sheet once in place on the glass.  The spread of the powder over the glass assists in giving places for the air between layers to escape.

These two things combined with a long slow squeeze can reduce the amount of bubbles you get.  It cannot totally eliminate them.

Of course, a longer bubble squeeze allows air to be in contact with the copper and promotes the change to a blue green or burgundy colour.

Foiling Space

There are a lot of views on what amount of space is required between copper foiled glass pieces.  Some say the pieces should be tight, others that a consistent space is needed, and some who say that variable spaces are fine.

It is necessary to consider what holds a foiled panel together.

The foil is supplied with an impact adhesive which helps keep the foil attached to the glass before soldering.  However, the heat of soldering deteriorates the adhesion of the glue.  If you must take a foiled piece apart you will find that the adhesive is sticky rather than firm. Also, the adhesive will continue to degrade during the life of the object.

The solder bead is significant in creating the matrix required to hold the panel in one piece.  The bead on each side holds the glass in place and resists deformation away from a single plane. This resistance is significantly reduced if there is not a fin of solder connecting the two beads.  The beads and the fin of solder form an “I” beam which together resists movement of the glass.

To form that “I” beam there does need to be space between the foiled pieces. It does not need to be wide, but it does need to be enough to wiggle the pieces.  This will allow the solder to flow from one bead to the one on the other side, forming a strong “I” beam.

In vertical panels, the glass is the strong element.  The solder lines serve to hold the matrix together.  Where people indicate the strong border will keep the whole panel from falling apart, they are correct in part. But, if there is not a sufficient “I” beam between each piece, the whole panel is subject bowing, either from wind pressure, vibration or mechanical pressure from handling.  Therefore, you cannot rely on the border to make your panel strong and long lasting.

Some take the view that there will be enough unintentional spaces created between pieces to allow the fin form between beads intermittently.  But the gaps in the “I” beam due to tight fiting pieces will make it much weaker than a continuous bridge between beads.  The existence of gaps puts greater pressure on the solder that does bridge between beads.

An example was provided for me in a lamp brought in by client which spontaneously fell apart one evening.  (Not made by me, I add). The upper band of glass remained attached to the vase cap, but separated from the rest of the shade.  Fortunately, it fell straight down and only a little of the bottom edge was broken.  Investigation showed there was very little solder between pieces, although there was a good bead on each side of the lamp.  The lamp pieces separated, in different places, at the foil-glass interface and elsewhere at the foil to foil interface.  This indicates there was little or no solder where the foil remained on the glass, as the adhesive is much weaker than even a thin fin of solder running between the inner and outer beads. This case is an example of the need for a fin of solder to be formed between the beads on either side to provide a strong, long lasting object.

Heat Cracks
There is sometimes a fear expressed that tight fitting of foiled pieces can lead to heat fractures when soldering due to expansion.  Yes, when soldering pieces with a lot of variation in width, you do need to move reasonably quickly. Come back later to improve a bead if you need, to avoid overheating the glass.  Even the thin copper foil can transmit heat along its length, which reduces direct heat transfer to the glass.  Mostly, breaks occur from dwelling too long in one place with the soldering iron. It may be better to tin the foil all around the suspect piece just before running the bead.  This will warm the glass around the edges in preparation for the greater heat of laying down the bead.

The main point is that the solder needs to connect the beads on either side of the glass to provide a stable, strong and long-lasting piece.