The Story of Marina Lead Lights and How to Copper Foil

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Earlier this year I ran a Lead Light shop at Millgrove, starting at 8:00am in the morning I would first put out the signs on the side of the road and the Warburton trail to attract the business of people walking or on push bikes, and then I would put the ‘open’ sign on the door.

Tuesday was the day I started work, with a cuppa in hand I’d unlock the front counter and make sure I had a float to start the day. I usually ran classes on Tuesday mornings so I would vacuum the front of the shop, set the middle work bench with the students work boards, bring out the tool boxes that housed; one glass cutter one set of grouser pliers, one fid witch (a tool that helps press copper foil on to glass and helps lead craft around glass in intricate shapes), one pair of side cutters to cut the lead, one set of glass breakers (which helps snap a piece of glass in the direction that you have scored the glass), and one 70 art-line marker for drawings. The students would come in at 10:00am and work through to 12:30pm, my very first class of the day was: ‘practice glass cutting’ – I would supply scrap glass that I had pulled out of houses when I do repairs. The size of the piece of glass that I used was about 100mm x 200mm wide and using the marker the students would draw 25mm wide lines on it which would give us approximately eight pieces of glass. They must try to keep the glass cutter on the left or right side of the marker line, this helps with shape cutting later. Once we had cut about six pieces of scrap or were confident enough we could go on with picking a job, I would only allow up to a five piece project like a wombat, butterfly, a simple bird, or maybe even a simple lampshade with straight cuts. I had patterns cut out – I would use projector plastic for the stencils as its firm and easier to trace around, I also used a 2.0 black marker as they are nice, fine and precise.

Before we started the lesson the students needed to choose the colours of glass that they would use, for example: if they were making a wombat they would need to pick a light brown, or they may even choose to purchase some scrap glass which goes for about 6 dollars per kg.

When all the body parts were cut I needed to set the drawing of the wombat or butterfly – I would lay a thick piece of glass on top of the drawing that keeps it in good condition and stops it from getting wet when grinding the glass. Running a class of six students I would lay out three grinders, the grinders need to have water in the tops of them to fill to the over flow (this stops them overflowing), then I fit the top of the work station; which has holes through the top of it to allow the water to run back in to the reservoir, it also has a diamond grinding wheel with a sponge behind it that allows the water to pass through and onto the wheel – this keeps the wheel in good condition. There is also a guide behind the sponge that keeps it from falling out or getting lodged between the guard and the wheel.

If a wombat is to be done correctly you have to start with the centre of the body and grind that until it fits the pattern, then grind the head, the ears, the nose is recessed into the head a little, and then grind the legs to fit, once the glass is ground you need to wash it dry. Then we need to add copper foil to the glass – The copper foil is a strip of thin copper with glue on the underside. There are three different types of foil copper: back, black back and silver back – silver back is used for mirrors and blends with the mirror, black back is used for clear glass; it allows you not to see the end of the glass that may have chips on it and is hidden very well by foil, and then we have copper back that is used for coloured glass; it is cheaper in cost compared to the others as well and I’ve noticed that it sticks far better compared to the other foils. The foil is 6mm in width and the glass is 3mm wide, this allows the glass to be wrapped on the sides. Once the foil is on, the fid is then used to press the foil down on to the glass, repeat this process and once all pieces have been done it is then ready for soldering.

Lay the pattern in the shape its meant to be, place it back on the glass, spray your pattern (I use a spray bottle with non-acidic acid in the bottle), then use an 80watt soldering iron. Wait until it’s very hot then with your 60/40 solder dab a blob of solder on to the iron tip and start tacking the legs, head and ears on. Once that is done grab an acid brush and brush over any unsprayed copper, then place the iron back on to a blob of solder. Start dragging the iron across the joints whilst feeding the solder against the hot tip of the iron, melting the solder onto the job, to the end of the job join the first run. Turn the job over and repeat the process, with the solder slightly raised turn the job back over and respray and brush over with the acid brush, resolder (slightly raised). Once this process is done pick the wombat up, holding the glass vertically so the wombat is facing you, then holding the glass level, you will need to place a blob of solder on to the iron tip and begin to place it along the edge of the job, repeat the process by placing the next blob of solder next to the first, this should melt the first on to the wombat which will then level out, creating a nice rounded edge. This process will have to be continued all the way around the job until you come back around to the first blob of solder. Then using scrap copper wire; roll the wire around a small philips head screwdriver, all around the slid of the screw driver, then cut it from the beginning of the roll giving you a ring. Brush the ring with acid then tint it with the soldering iron, with a little solder repeat the other side of the wombat, holding the ring with long nose pliers place it behind the ear of the wombat and melt it (solder if needed), then repeat the process by placing the ring on the tail end of the wombat and solder. Take the wombat to the sink and wash with soapy water using a scarer, rinse and then dry. Patina all lead visible on the job, in copper foiling there are two types; black or copper patina – on a brown wombat I would use black, this allows the brown glass to stand out. The job then needs to be placed in the oven, heating the job to the point where you can just pick it up with your hands (not too hot though, we don’t want the solder to drop off), this process allows the water to evaporate in between the glass and stops the copper foil from corroding. The final process is to polish the job with glass polish, spray and rub with a clean rag to a gloss, then attach fishing line to the rings and create another hook, attach it to the centre of the line, then hang and admire.


By:  John Dufour  Yarra Valley Artist

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