Introduction to foiling
Applying copper foil to stained glass is an essential technique that may seem tricky at first but gets easier with practice. Foiling, as it’s called, involves wrapping the edges of each glass piece with thin copper foil to prepare the glass to be soldered together into a cohesive artwork. Proper foiling leads to clean, durable projects that will stand the test of time.
In this comprehensive beginner’s guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about foiling, from selecting the right materials to applying foil smoothly and tightly. On top of that, I’ll provide detailed steps and tips to set you up for foiling success!
Choosing your foil – width, color, and thickness
The first step is selecting the right copper foil for your project. Here are the main factors to consider:
Foil comes in different widths, usually ranging from 5/32” to 1/2”. The most common width for stained glass is 7/32”. However, when starting out, I recommend going with 1/4″ wide foil. This width gives you a bit more margin for error when centering the foil on glass edges. Narrower foil like 5/32” requires very precise centering.
Foil comes with different backing colors besides basic copper. Choose a foil color that matches your intended patina or solder line finish:
- Black backing – for use with black patina
- Copper backing – for use with copper-toned patina
- Silver backing – for projects with unfinished silver solder lines
- Double-sided silver – for maximum solder line coverage
Typical foil thicknesses range from 1 to 1.5 mil. The 1 mil foil is very thin and tears easily. I suggest 1.5 mil foil (or at least 1.25 mil) for beginners because it is more durable and forgiving. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to fold it smoothly over glass edges with a fid tool.
Once you gain some experience, feel free to experiment with different foil widths and thicknesses to see what works best for your projects. But when starting out, 1/4″ width, 1.25 mil or 1.5 mil thickness foil is a safe bet.
Preparing your glass prior to foiling
Before beginning to apply foil, make sure your glass pieces are properly prepared:
Clean each piece thoroughly with glass cleaner or rubbing alcohol. All surfaces must be free of dirt, oil, grease etc. This helps the foil adhesive stick tightly. Inspect for any lingering rough spots or sharp edges and use a grinder or abrasive stone to smooth them out. Jagged areas can tear foil.
Glass should be completely dry before applying foil. Moisture interferes with adhesion. Only remove pieces from your pattern one at a time for foiling. Keep the rest intact until needed to maintain proper positioning.
Tips for Smooth, Even Wrapping
Now we’re ready to start adding copper foil to our stained glass! Follow these steps for a flawless foil application:
Position the foil between your thumb and forefinger with the non-adhesive copper side facing down. Peel back approximately 1-2 inches of backing paper from the end. Don’t remove the entire backing yet.
With your other hand, pick up a glass piece and center its edge onto the exposed foil. Double check that the glass is perfectly centered.
Once centered, begin slowly pulling the backing paper away while simultaneously rolling the glass piece away from you at a steady pace. This wraps the foil smoothly around the glass edge.
When you reach the starting point, overlap the foil about 1/4” and use scissors to trim off any excess. A tiny overlap is better than leaving a large gap. Use your fingers to firmly press or “crimp” the foil around the complete glass edge. Ensure even coverage on both sides.
Go over the entire piece with a fid tool, burnishing (gently rubbing) the foil down tightly onto the glass surface. Apply firm but not excessive pressure.
Inspect your work
Visually inspect the foil wrapping. It should be centered on the glass edge, without any large wrinkles. Use a knife to carefully trim any “tails” of excess foil at the overlap.
Avoid leaving pieces foiled but unsoldered for long periods, as the foil may oxidize and resist solder. Be patient with yourself – foiling is a skill that takes practice! Maintain concentration and move carefully. If the foil becomes wrinkled, peels up, or is off-center, simply remove it and start over on that piece. With time, you’ll be amazed at how good you become!
Helpful Foiling Tools and Accessories
Specialized tools can make foiling much easier for beginners. Here are some handy options to consider:
- Fid – A fid is a wand-like tool with a rubber tip used to burnish foil down tightly (a Sharpie works too). It really helps adhesion!
- Foil Shears – These sharp scissors are designed to cleanly trim foil. Regular scissors work too.
- Crimping Pliers – The zig-zag jaws on these pliers press foil evenly onto glass edges. Great for getting into corners.
- Foil Dispenser – Holds foil rolls neatly and keeps them from unraveling as you work. Dispenses desired length.
- Foiling Machine – A handy tool that aids in centering foil perfectly. Great for efficiency!
While not mandatory, any of these accessories can make foiling much faster and easier. They’re worth considering if you want to upgrade your tool set.
Achieving clean, professional looking foil lines in your stained glass
With practice, you’ll be able to foil your stained glass edges with almost invisible, seamless lines of copper foil. Here are some tips:
- Stick with 1.25 mil or 1.5 mil foil when starting out – it’s more forgiving. Once you gain experience, try thinner 1 mil foil if desired.
- Center foil carefully on glass edges and maintain even coverage on both sides as you wrap.
- Use a fid to really burnish the foil down tightly. This melds it smoothly to the glass.
- Visually inspect from all angles and trim any uneven bumps or tails with a knife.
- Make sure glass edges are smooth before foiling. Use a grinder to polish any rough areas.
- When overlapping foil ends, minimize overlap length to just 1/4 inch max.
- Change foil angle frequently to wrap contours. Don’t try stretching foil around corners.
- Work slowly and methodically. Rush jobs mean poorly applied foil.
- Foil shapes one at a time, returning each one to the pattern before proceeding. Stay positive!
With focus and determination, you’ll be cranking out professional quality foiling in no time. We all have to start somewhere. Every project will boost your skills.
Getting creative with foiling
Once you master the basics, there are creative ways to use foiling to enhance your stained glass projects:
- Try combining different foil widths in one piece for visual interest. Or use two colors of foil.
- Consider foiling both sides of glass for a bold, mirrored effect. This works great with textured glass.
- Foil small clusters of jewels or beads and attach them to your project as embellishments.
- Use foil folds, bends, and wraps to make three-dimensional foil patterns across your piece.
Many crafters like to add hobby came around the outside of their smaller projects, suncatchers for instance. I wrote a post all about it – find it here!
Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative! Foiling opens up many artistic possibilities beyond just edging glass.
With consistent practice, foiling will become second nature. Your lines will become perfectly straight and tidy. Be patient with yourself and celebrate each small victory. Time to make some magic!