How to cut stained glass

For beginners looking to get started with stained glass making, one of the first skills you need to know is how to work with patterns. Both how to cut the pattern itself (to make sure your pieces come out the correct size), as well as how to actually use those pattern pieces to make the final cuts on your glass.

Check out this awesome video guide from Youtube User eHowArtsAndCrafts, staring Shanon Materio of McMow Art Glass Studios. She goes through all the key points which we’ll summarize for you down below.

The process consists of 4 basic steps which we will detail for you:

Step 1: Make a copy of the pattern.

Step 2: Cut out the pattern pieces.

Step 3: Transfer the pattern to the glass.

Step 4: Cut the glass using the transferred pattern.

Stained Glass Art : How to Cut Patterns in Stained Glass

Key Takeaways

1) Make A Copy Of The Pattern

Rather than hacking up the original stained glass pattern, the recommended approach is to make an exact copy of it (either by tracing, photocopying, or other method).

Once you have your copy made, it’s time to mark them up so you know which pieces go where. Do the following:

  • Write a unique number or letter on each piece in the pattern (same number on both copies for each piece).
  • Consider using letters to identify the type of piece (e.g. L for a leaf), so you know which glass to use.
  • Consider using an arrow to identify which direction the grain should go.

These tips will help you stay orgnized, and can come in very handy for large patterns. Be sure to further transfer the numbering / lettering to your cut pieces so you don’t lose track!

2) Cut Out The Pieces

Once your parts are numbered, the next step is to cut out the pieces using either an exacto knife or pattern scissors.

In the video, she explains that it’s important to know whether doing copper foil or lead came so you know which pattern scissors to use. Lead came is thicker, so removing more of the black line helps make sure it will all fit together correctly.

Likewise, the copper foil method is less thick, so it’s ok to remove slightly less of the spacing. Please refer to our guide on choosing the Best Stained Glass Pattern Shears if you have more questions.

3) Transfer The Pattern

Now that all of your pieces are cut, the next step is to transfer the pattern to the glass so you can cut it. There are 2 options recommended in the video:

  • Use spray adhesive to stick the pattern piece directly to the glass.
  • Trace the pattern on the glass using a pen.

We tend to recommend the spray adhesive option, since it’s a bit faster, and can lead to more accurate cuts. If you’re going to go the pen tracing route, make sure to use a sharpie or something else that will work on the glass and not be wiped away too easily.

It’s also a good idea to write the number / letter from the first step on the cut piece if you use the pen method so you don’t lose track of what goes where.

4) Cut The Glass

Once the pattern is applied, it’s time to get cutting! In the video, she notes that if you use the pen / tracing method, you should be sure to cut just on the inside of the line you traced. If you’re looking for a good cutting tool, check out our guides on The Best Wet Saws For Stained Glass.

Wrapping Up

Stained glass patterns are quite common among hobbyists, and can help you bring an intricate pattern to life. Knowing how to most effectively use the patterns is a great starting point for any beginning stained glass artist to understand.

This awesome video tutorial has some great nuggets of wisdom, that can make the whole process easier. We’ve summarized the key take away, and leave the next steps up to you! Go get started!!

One of the first things you learn when making stained glass, is how to cut glass. It can be a strange experience because it’s often intimidating yet exhilarating all at the same time.

Teaching and demonstrating how to hold the tools and what to do with them is so much easier than describing how much pressure to use when cutting glass. The latter, is best acquired through practice, guidance, and observation.

So let’s start at the beginning.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, I recommend products ​I’ve used and ​trust and may receive a commission if you purchase them using my link (at no additional cost to you.)

​ Carbide wheel cutters are the most commonly recommended when making stained glass or fused glass art. These have a smaller, harder wheel than the plain steel wheel cutters, and this allows the glass to be scored using less pressure.

​ Did you know, that not all cutters are made with the same angle for the wedge on the cutting wheel? For our hobby, and for the type of glass we cut, cutting wheels are usually in the neighborhood of 134 degrees to 140 degree angles.

​ ​ If you purchase and use a traditional stained glass cutter such as the Toyo Pistol Grip Cutter or the Toyo Custom Grip Cutter , you needn’t worry about any of these specifics as these tools are ideal for stained glass and fused glass.​

But there is a science behind how these cutters are designed to work.

​​ The most commonly asked question about glass cutting, is “ How much pressure should be used when scoring the glass?”

Let’s start by diving in and learning a little bit more about about what a score really is and how it allows us to control where the glass breaks.

Think of a score as an almost invisible path that we make to basically “tell” the glass where we want it to break.

If you’re new to glass cutting, you should know that we don’t actually cut glass in the traditional sense of cutting something. But rather, we create a small fissure along the surface of the glass. The cleaner the fissure, the cleaner the break.

The Science Behind Breaking Glass

​ When placed in the jaws of running pliers, a plain piece of glass that hasn’t been scored, will experience tension on the top surface and compression on the bottom. With only a slight bit of pressure on the handles of the running pliers, there isn’t enough localized stress to break the glass. ​

But once the glass is scored, the equation changes.

Because of this tiny fracture we call a “score,” we have created a point for localized stress to build up along ​the fracture. It creates a line or crevice where the thickness of the glass is thinner and this allows the glass to break under the same amount of force exerted from the running pliers, which in our last example had no effect on the glass.

So now that we understand what a score is and how it affects breaking glass, we can dive into the question of how much pressure is actually needed to create a GOOD score.

If too much pressure is used, instead of causing a small fissure or separation on the surface, the glass crushes creating a dusty line that is full of little nicks and chips. Instead of having just one stress point to direct your break, each of those little nicks cause additional weakness or stress in the glass making the break less predictable and more likely to go awry.

The most common mistake, is applying too much pressure. Here are three methods you can use at home to test you’re cutting pressure.

​ ​Method # 1

Using your bathroom scale can help you determine how hard you need to press to score the glass. Holding a pencil in your hand in a similar fashion to how you hold your cutter and with the eraser pointing downward, press down on the pencil until your scale reads about 6 lb. This will be the approximate amount of pressure you need to use in order to make a good score to cut glass.

Try this a couple of times to become familiar with the amount of force you need to use.

​ ​Method # 2

​Using your bathroom scale again, place some folded newspaper (this will act as a cushion for your cutter) with a piece of glass on top. Using your cutter on the glass, practice scoring across the sheet of glass while aiming for your scale to read 6 lbs.

This ​will give you a feel for how hard to press while scoring and whether or not you keep consistent pressure.

​ ​Method # 3

​ For this ​method, you will need a piece of glass roughly 8 in by 4 in. Cutting the glass across the shortest distance, make a score about an inch from the edge using your normal cutting pressure. Look at your score. Do you see chips? Is it white and dusty or powdery looking? Or does it look smooth and almost invisible? Sometimes you can only see the score if you tilt the glass a little to one side. Now, use your running pliers to break the glass and then look at the 2 raw edges that you just broke. How do they look? They should appear smooth.

Now we’re going to repeat this exercise and cut the glass again. Only this time, we’re going to do it with a little less pressure. Inspect the score and then run the break. Look at the glass edges again. Did it break easily? Is it smooth?

Repeat the process again​ with even less pressure to ​cut the glass. Keep repeating this whole process until you get the lightest pressure for scoring that still breaks cleanly and easily. That’s the correct amount of pressure you will need to cut the glass.

​More From The Blog – Types of glass cutters for art glass: How to Choose a Glass Cutter

The type of cutter you use as well as it’s age, rather the wear and tear on it, will play a factor in how hard you need to press when making your score.

Transparent glass will often​ cut easier and with less pressure​ than opalescent glass.

Even different colors will cut slightly differently, and every manufacturer and style of glass will cut differently too.

For more simple tips to improve your glass cutting skills, read: 14 Strategies to Improve Your Glass Cutting.

Sound can be a helpful indicator when scoring glass, however it shouldn’t be your main comparison.

While transparent glass tends to make more of a clicking and popping noise, opalescent glass will often create less sound. If you were judging you’re cutting pressure based solely on the noise your cutter makes, you would be pressing much too hard on opalescent glass to create the same amount of sound you would hear while scoring transparent glass.

​ Grab some scrap glass and your cutter and give these exercises a try. Try ​all or only of the methods described in this article and let me know in the comments below what you discover about your scoring pressure when you cut glass.

Glass Scoring Tips

  1. Hold cutter like a pen
  2. Score from edge to edge
  3. Curves are OK, but never try to cut angles
  4. Use the side of your hand for a second point of contact
  5. Keep you score light – like a hair, not a string. You don’t want to see a big line of crunched glass when you score.
  6. Invest in a great cutter that you’re comfortable with – it will soon repay you in savings of both glass and time

Are the blades for the Taurus 2.2 and Taurus 3.0 interchangeable?
All blades can be used on both saws except the Megablade which is designed exclusively for the Taurus 3.0.

Are there any tools that will reduce hand fatigue or joint strain while I’m cutting glass?
There are several tools that can make stained glass cutting easy and enjoyable. The Cutter’s Mate will allow you to make all of the same cuts you can with a regular hand held cutter without the strain caused by applying pressure to the cutter to make an even score. The weighted handle applies the pressure for you while you simply guide the cutter head making consistently great scores that break cleanly and evenly. Delphi also has the Score 1 cutter which is a convenient and small tool that allows you to set the cutter head pressure and guide the glass through, moving the sheet of glass instead of the cutter to make a precision score. Because the pressure is set, you don’t have to worry about exerting the downward pressure that can cause muscle strain for some people.

My glass cutter is defective – it leaks oil!
In most cases, if your cutter is leaky, it’s not actually a problem with the cutter. Most cutters only require a few drops of oil, so if you use a moderate amount of oil (don’t fill it up!), you won’t have any leakage problems.

Why is there a little screw sticking out of the top of my running pliers? I noticed only some pliers have it.
Use the screw to set your running pliers to the same thickness as the glass you are breaking. Before you make your cut, set the running pliers onto your glass and gently close them. Tighten the screw all the way down, then back it off about half a turn. This will allow the pliers to close just a little bit smaller than the thickness of your glass, which will help you make a perfect break!

With a bandsaw, do I still need a hand cutter?
Bandsaws are great tools, but they won’t entirely replace your hand cutter. Bandsaws can physically cut any shape you can think of, a bandsaw isn’t practical for every cut you’ll need to make. Bandsaws cut very intricate and tricky cuts, but they are slow for basic cutting (about the speed of a slower sewing machine). For the best (and fastest) results, we recommend using the saw on small or complicated cuts, and using your hand cutter on longer, easier cuts.

I’ve heard that temperature affects how easy it is to cut glass – is there any truth to this?
Yes. Cold glass is more brittle, which can make it more difficult to cut. Glass is much easier to cut and break when it’s warm. If you work in a basement or garage, you may notice it’s more difficult to get clean breaks, especially in the winter. Try not to work in areas that are too cold (for your own comfort, too!). Some people also warm their glass up a little: when you’re ready to cut out your pieces, pre-warm the glass. I use a plate on a hot plate which is set on the lowest setting.

I’m having trouble cutting front surface mirror, and have tried every trick I know. The glass runs fine for the first inch or so, but then it runs off to the right or left. What am I doing wrong?
Front surface mirror is a hard yet brittle glass. Here’s how you can cut front surface mirror. successfully! Use a cutter that is strictly dedicated to cutting mirror so that the wheel stays sharp and unchipped. I also use a Morton surface and Portable Glass Shop.

Before placing the mirror on the surface, position a large piece of craft felt on top of the grid surface to provide a little cushion for the mirror. Straight scores are more successful when the cutter is pulled toward your body. Score lightly and then break the glass gently. The blue plastic coating on the front of the mirror should still be attached to the glass. Being careful not to grind the edges of the glass together, use a sharp blade to cut through the plastic at the break line.

Since you mentioned that your score starts straight and then veers off, there could be a few other things occurring. For a good score, it is important to hold the glass cutter perpendicular (at a ninety degree angle) to the glass while applying light, even pressure. If the cutter strays from this angle, it is possible for the glass to jump off of the score. The other possibility is that your cutter may have a chip on the wheel, which may not be discernible to the naked eye. To determine if this is the case, score across the surface of regular mirror (not the front surface), but don’t break it. Since the silvering on regular mirror is on the bottom (or back) side of the glass, it will better reflect and illuminate the score line. Examine your score. Does the score look like a dashed line? If the answer is yes, the cutter wheel is indeed chipped and will affect any glass cutting you do regardless of the type of glass.

Cutting stained glass for your DIY mosaic projects is easier than you might think.

This post is dedicated to showing you how simple it can be.

Tools Needed for Cutting Stained Glass

  • Glass cutter
  • Running pliers
  • Mosaic cutter
  • Safety glasses

Step 1: How to Cut Glass Using a Glass Cutter and Running Pliers

The process of scoring glass with a glass cutter is quite easy.

You simply roll the head of your glass cutter over the surface of your glass in one direction only from one edge of your glass to another edge. This is referred to as “scoring” your glass.

If you’re wanting to create squares, simply score your your glass vertically and then score it again horizontally creating a grid.

Then in order to create your squares, you need to “break them out” with your running pliers.

To do this, you need to line the center of the head of your running plier up with one of your vertical scores. Apply just enough pressure to break the glass along the score.

Break out all the vertical scores with your running pliers leaving you with strips.

Take each one of your strips and break all the horizontal scores with your running pliers leaving you with a pile of squares to work with.

How to cut stained glass

You also have the option of working with strips of glass by just breaking out your vertical scores.

How to cut stained glass

You can cut irregular pieces of glass with your glass cutter and running pliers repeating this same process of scoring and breaking.

How to cut stained glass

Step 2: How to Cut Glass Using a Mosaic Cutter

You select a mosaic cutter for cutting glass when you need small bits cut.

Typically you mark pieces to fit, cut them with your mosaic cutter and glued them in place.

How to cut stained glass

Small pieces cut with the mosaic cutter can also be used to create the interior portion of a design such as this leaf or to cover an entire piece randomly with glass.

How to cut stained glass

I hope this post helps in coordination with following my instructions for each of my project posts.

How to cut stained glass

Danielle is the mosaic artist and teacher behind Mosaics Mostly. She has been creating mosaics for over 25 years, and has taught hundreds of people to create their very own mosaic DIY projects at home. She has been featured in multiple galleries and magazines, and has even had her own beginner mosaics book published! She loves crafts, and is always working on something new!

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These glass cutting techniques should help you have success at cutting glass. Sometimes it’s just one little thing that can make a world of difference.

Impossible Cuts

There are some shapes that just don’t work in glass. Glass likes to break in a straight or curved line. If the piece you’re trying to cut doesn’t fit into one of those categories, the glass will take the path of least resistance and break where you don’t want it to break.

In the following picture, you will see Impossible Cuts and the modifications that will make them work. There are a lot of variations of the shapes shown. For instance, the L shape could also include a V shape since the intersection of the two legs of the L form a V. The half moon shape won’t work because of the very narrow tips. Once it’s widened out there is less danger of the tips breaking off. That shape could include any shape that has a very narrow tip.

How to cut stained glass

Cutting a Piece That Has a Point

How to cut stained glass

These glass cutting techniques are for cutting a piece with a point. When you cut a piece that has a point, such as a triangle, always start cutting at the narrowest end and run your cutter to the widest end. Break the glass out from the edge you finish cutting on (the widest end). That way, you have a much better chance of keeping the point. It’s not so important if you are working with lead came, but it is very important to keep the point if you are using copper foil. With lead came a missing point won’t be seen under the lead. Actually, missing points make it easier to lead up a pointed piece. With copper foil, you will have a hole in your panel where the point is missing. So, to recap, always cut from narrowest end to widest end..

Make the Most Difficult Cut First

How to cut stained glass

When you’re cutting glass, your tendency will be to do all of the easy cuts, on each individual piece, first and leave the most difficult cut for last. Don’t Do It!

How to cut stained glass

On this piece, the most difficult cut is the semicircle. The space above the word “Cut #1” is too narrow for the semi circle to come out without the glass breaking somewhere. You need the extra glass on the other side of the semicircle to prevent that from happening.

If you made cuts #2 and #3 first, here’s what would happen:

How to cut stained glass

So, to continue, score and remove the semicircle first: