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Stained Glass box #5

I am always on the look-out for 3D type stained glass projects. So far I have done these 3D projects....

-rectangular clock
-kaleidoscope biplane

-lamp shades

-candle covers

Somewhere I picked up Ed Sibbett's book on how to make stained glass boxes, with many patterns in it. I decided to try building some stained glass boxes. For my 1st box, I chose box pattern #5, which is shown on the front cover.......the lower design.


I entered the design into Sketchup.

In the book, it says to make the top of the back piece about 1/8" lower than the other 3 sides.  He doesn't say, but I assume this is to allow room for the hinge.  I am not sure how this works, so after I get some tube hinges, I will modify the design as needed.  I would also think you want the lid to extend further than the sides by a little bit, maybe an 1/8" of an inch.  The book calls for copper foil box construction, but I think I am going to do try using small leaded construction. The box dimensions will have to change, once I decide which leads to use.

Glass Selection

The pink glass came from Kokomo.  The light brown amber color came from hobby lobby.

I think the green and aqua-marine also came from hobby lobby, not sure.

Finding the Materials

When doing a project you have never done before, the biggest challenge is usually figuring out where to buy the materials from.

Since I want to try using small lead on this project, I need to get some lead.  Other than 1 lead project in stained glass class, where the instructor selected and provided the lead, I have only done 1 other lead project (3 copies of an intricate stained glass small clock).  On the clock project, I learned the hard way that proper selection of the lead to use is not an easy one. I decided to order 1 roll of each of the smaller lead sizes, then decide which one I want to use on this project.

I wish there was a to-scale chart showing all the different choices for lead, and with the lead in the orientation you normally install it (it is usually shown with the opening of the U on the top, but you install it with the U pointing horizontally).  Once I received my selection, I plan on cutting off a little piece of each type, then putting it on a display I can pick out what type I want on future projects.

I have also heard of a very small size lead called Hobby lead.  It is usually used as an outside border on small "sun catchers".  I bought a roll from amazon just to see how small it was, and if I could use it on any of my projects.

Glass Jewels

I Googled and checked Amazon, but none were available.  So, I checked Ebay, and seller MissouriJewel sells 30 mm diameter colored faceted glass jewels, and other items for stained glass.  I bought 2 red, because that is all they had at the time, and 2 blue.  I later went back and bought some more red and blue ones.


I bought about 12 "tube hinges" from one of my stained glass suppliers to try out on making boxes........

Mirror bottoms

Many boxes use a piece of mirror in the bottom.  On my 1st box, I might just use plain stained glass........then maybe buy some mirror at a later date. I have never used mirror in any of my stained glass projects before.

I went to my Fairbury Ace Hardware store, and they sell mirror glass. I picked some up for my box projects. It is 1/8" thick.

My lead came selector block

I just drilled some holes in a piece of scrap 2x4, and now I can easily and quickly see what kind of lead I want to use on a project.  I like it!!!!!

1st Oooops

I cut out 12 pieces of glass, all the same size (brown & green), using the Morton system.  This is enough glass to make the 4 sides for the 1st box. 

When I went to assemble them, I noticed I cut them to wide, such that the width of the box is about 1/4" wider than my design. I guess I did not allow enough for the space taken by the 2 outside lead edges, plus the 2 H vertical pieces.  I did not want to grind 12 pieces of glass to get the width back to blueprint dimension, so I just used them.  As long as I adjust the size of the mirror bottom and the top for the larger box size, I will be ok.  Maybe I should test the assembly before I cut the pieces for the next project, if I want them to exactly match the blueprint.

I selected RU-90 for the U-came and RH-3 for the H lead came for this project, from Cascade Metals.

First box side leaded up and soldered

Soldering the Sides Together

I decided to make a 90 degree piece of wood, so I can clamp and hold the sides perpendicular to each other, similar to how I made a wood angled piece on the candle shelters I built.  This worked well.

I learned on some previous projects, the key is getting the solder joint horizontal while soldering.  I used some scrap blocks to temporarily get the joints horizontal while soldering.

I rigged up the fixture below to hold the inside joint horizontal while soldering.  Had to make sure and not tighten the clamps too much, or you break the glass!!

Bottom Design

I decided to follow the Kokomo glass built box design, for the bottom.  They make the bottom slightly larger than the ID of the box, then just solder on the outside of the box, versus trying to get down to the bottom of the box to solder.  The Kokomo box also has Hobby came for the whole construction, so I used Hobby size came for my mirrored bottom. I just wrapped the came around the box, and soldered it at 1 joint.

This is the first piece of mirror I have ever cut.  I asked the Ace Hardware guy, where I bought the mirror, which side to cut on, he said the mirror side, so that is what I did.

I got a piece of paper, set the box down, then traced the inside of the box. I made the glass the same size, because once you add the lead came border, it will overhang the desired 1/8" on all sides.

I  used some blue masking tape to hold the bottom in the correct position while I soldered it......

Corner Accents

I twisted some Hobby came, by putting 1 end in the vise, and gripping the other end with vice grips, then twisting.  

Like the Kokomo box, I did not fill each of the 4 outside corners with lead.  I just used a little lead, to leave room for the twisted lead accent pieces.  I attached them with a little solder on top and bottom.  I previously soldered the 4 inside corners pretty well to give the box strength.

Leading the Lid

Because there are so many curved pieces, I thought a while if I should foil it, then put a lead border on it.   I finally decided to make the whole box leaded, with no final patina applied.  We will see how it goes on the lid!

Oh No, Black Rot sets in on my Mirror Bottom

One day after I soldered in the mirrored bottom, I noticed strange discolorations on the mirror bottom of my box!  I wondered if I should have done something different to prevent I Googled it.  Here is what I found from this web site.....

Working With Mirror

It is best to purchase the mirror from a glass shop or a hardware/home improvement store. Get 1/8" thick mirror glass. The cheap mirrors from your discount stores usually have a very thin backing that tends to peel off or chip easily when you are breaking out the pieces you have scored.

Cut the mirror on the mirror glass side. Before you begin cutting, make sure it is laying on a clean surface so that the back doesn't get scratched. It is very easy to scratch the back side. Another thing you can do is to cover the back of the mirror with contact paper before you begin cutting it. The contact will protect the back. After you have run the score, you can cut through the contact paper with an exacto knife.

You must seal the edges of the mirror glass before you begin constructing your mirror. There are several mirror sealants available through your stained glass retailer. Clear finger nail polish works too.

Another way to seal the mirror is to lay the mirror upside down (glass side down) on a lazy susan, or anything that you can turn, and spray the edges and the back with a clear polyurethane. Let it dry thoroughly before you begin foiling.

The reason you seal the edges is to prevent "black rot", a term used to describe the black patches that you often see in old mirrors. It is caused by moisture getting between the silver backing and the glass of the mirror. It can also be caused by flux, patina, just about anything you use to construct or finish your mirror.

When applying the sealant, paint it along the edge of the mirror and run it over, about 1/8 inch, onto the back of the mirror. By running it over, you will cover any chips in the silver that have been caused by cutting and breaking the mirror. Be sure the sealant is absolutely dry before you apply foil.

It will take several hours (more if it's cold or humid) for the sealant to dry, so cut all of your mirror glass and seal it. While you are waiting for the sealant to dry, you can be cutting and foiling the rest of the glass.

It is best if you don't grind mirror glass, as the grinder chips off small bits of the backing on the mirror. I know...sometimes you have to grind, especially if it is an odd shaped piece, or maybe it's your last piece of mirror glass. Whatever the reason, use an old grinder bit, one that is well worn down. I also find that grinding the mirror upside down helps to prevent chipping. If you do this, put some paper towels under the mirror front, while you are grinding, to prevent scratching the glass. Actually, put something under the mirror, no matter which side up, to prevent scratches.

Use silver back foil on the mirror glass in these free stained glass mirror patterns. It will not reflect in the mirror like copper foil does.

So, I guess this is why you do a prototype of anything you have never done before, to learn!!   Maybe I can cut the lead and solder with my Dremel tool, remove it, cut a new piece and seal it, and solder it back in.

Repairing the Blue Rot

I thought it was going to be really tough to do, but I decided to replace the first mirror I did not seal, that has blue rot.

I went to Dave's supermarket in Fairbury, and tried to find finger nail polish, but had no luck.  I had to get one of the female employees to help me...........she said it is called "Topcoat", and by golly she found it for me :)

When I went to cut a new piece of mirror, I lucked out because my Morton Glass set-up was still intact from when I cut the first piece of mirror............meaning I could cut a 2nd piece exactly the same size as the first one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    I cut a new piece, then sealed the 4 edges with the nail polish.......and let it dry.   It only takes a few minutes to dry, which is quite an advantage of using polyurethane.  Of course, the smell is terrible!!

I took my small ball peen hammer and carefully hammered out the hobby lead U-came holding the old mirror.  I cut the 4 corners with the hammer and a small screwdriver.  I was able to easily remove the old piece of mirror, and install the new one.   I just hammered the lead back in again, and I did not solder the 4 corners I cut, because I figured it was not necessary from a strength perspective.   Boy, that was easier than I thought!!

Here is what the "blue rot" looked like on the 1st piece I did not seal.  I swear it has spread further than yesterday..........

Speeding up Production on future boxes

If one uses the Morton Glass cutting system, you can quickly cut out the 12 pieces needed for the 4 sides.

Then use a wood spacer on the miter saw, with pencil marks for the correct length, and cut out all the lead came pieces needed for the whole 1 time.

Applying the hobby came around the mirror is a pretty quick operation.  So, the only time consuming item is cutting and grinding all the curved pieces that make up the lid.

Lid Size Design

When I designed the lid size in Sketchup, I did not yet have the brass tube hinges, so I really did not know what size they were.  I did not want to make the lid size exactly the same as the OD of the box, because both the box and the lid will end up a little out of square.  So, I added a 1/4" of overlap on all 4 sides of the box for the lid design size. The box as-built came out about I made the lid 5x5 to allow the 1/4" overlap.

After I got the brass tube hinges, I decided they would work best if the back of the lid was flush with the back of the box.  So, I ended up with about a 1/4" overlap on the 2 sides, 0" overlap on the back where the hinge was, and 1/2" overlap on the front.  The 1/2" overlap might be ok, but it looks a little funny to the eye.  I will see what 2 other ladies say.

On future boxes, I should try 0" overlap on the back, 1/8" overlap on the 2 sides and 1/8" overlap on the front.

Finishing the Lid

It took me one afternoon to cut all the glass and lead for the lid.  It is slow going doing the curved pieces of lead.  There is also little margin for error when cutting each piece for lead versus copper foil.  If you have a small gap between pieces with copper foil, you just fill it with solder. If you have a small gap where the glass does not fill the lead channel, you can drip some solder in to fill it, but it takes longer.


I made the 2 outside tubes about 3/4" long, and the middle piece about 2.5" long. I used either blue masking tape, or a piece of paper, to keep from accidentally getting solder in the wrong place. When the 3 tube pieces were soldered to the box, I bent the ends of the brass rod, so it could be removed easily if the lid would ever need repairing. 

Brass Chain

I got some smaller size brass chain from my Fairbury Ace Hardware. Since my lid was 1/4" wider than the box, I could not solder the top end to the outside of the lid, because the chain would hit the top of the box and prevent the lid from fully closing.  I moved the top end in until it cleared the box side.  I could not get the bottom end to solder, so I tinned it with the chain end on the table for easy access.   Once I tinned the end, I could put the end in place at the bottom of the box, and it soldered easily.

Finished Stained Glass Box with Lid

Lessons Learned on this Project

I learned quite a few things on this project!!

1. You must seal the edges of a mirror before you install them in the stained glass project. If you don't, you will get "black rot" where 

          water or flux works its way in the mirror coating, and the mirror discolors.

2. You can use nail polish to seal the edges of the mirror, except at the grocery store it is called "top coat" and not called nail

        polish!!  You can also use polyurethane, except it will take longer to dry than the nail polish.

3. If you use tube hinges, they work well with the back of the lid being flush with the back of the box. The pattern book suggests

      making the back of the box 1/8" less in height than the other 3 sides. The tube hinge then goes in the 1/8" gap. I may have to 

      try this on a future project.  I used a 1/4" overlap of the lid to the box on all 4 sides, and since the back of the lid ended up flush

      with the back of the box, I got a 1/2" overlap on the front, which may be too much aesthetically to the eye (although it makes the

      lid easy to open!).  I may want to experiment with some other size overlaps on other boxes.

4. Do use blue masking tape and paper to help prevent soldering the wrong piece of the box to each piece of tube hinge. If you 

      mess this up, the hinge won't open!

5. You can make the twisty corner accent pieces from either H-shaped lead came, or U-shaped Hobby just depends on

      what diameter you want. I used U-shaped hobby came on this project.

6. This is the first "all lead" stained glass project I have done.  The end result may be better than foiling, because the lead is a 

      consistent size versus variation in foiled joints.  The sides go quick using the Morton cutting system to make all the pieces the

      same size, then you can saw all the lead ahead of time.  It takes more time to fit the curved lead pieces in the top.

7. My idea to make a "lead selector block" turned out to be a great idea.  I can easily and quickly figure out which U and H shapes

       I want to use on a project.

All-in-all, this was a fun and challenging project.  I need to make some more boxes and experiment on the lid size.



Box #2

I decided on this box to make the lid the same size as the OD of the box.  I kept the OD of the lid at 5x5 inches, like the 1st box.

I went into sketchup and adjusted the size of the box to match the lid. I also measured my U and H lead, and found it takes 1/16" of space.  I added the lead to the sides, so I more accurately cut the rectangles to the right size.

I also sealed the edges of the mirror bottom, to prevent black rot, right after I cut the mirror.  I cleaned the cutting oil from the mirror edge using a dry shop towel, versus my normal soap and water to clean glass.  Then I used Hobby lead around the mirror.

I also went into the Sketchup online warehouse and found a short spring, that I can use to simulate the twisted hobby lead I am going to twist for the corner decorations.

Build of 2nd box

On this 2nd box, the leading and cutting for the lid went a little faster than the 1st one.  I slip scrap paper under the assembled glass, to accurately mark the next piece of glass, versus using the paper pattern.  

Hinge Placement on 2nd Box

On the 2nd box, the back wall is 1/8" shorter in height than the other 3 sides.  The tube hinge has an 1/8" OD, so it fits in this space.

I got the back of the lid, and the back of the box flush, then put in the tube hinge............with the tube hinge as far back as possible.  I used blue masking tape to help prevent soldering areas that are not supposed to be soldered.

The lid then opened to about 115 degrees, which is fine, and it stays open by itself.  I went ahead and tried to install a chain to the lid, but ended up cracking a piece of glass in the lid.......URRRRRRRR.    I tinned a small #12 electrical wire in a ring, then soldered it on.  I took a pair of pliers and tries to squeeze the ring, and ended up breaking the glass.

So I replaced the cracked piece, then decided to try it with no chain at all.

2nd Box Finished

Comments on the 2nd finished Stained Glass Box

I liked the looks of the 2nd box better than the 1st box.........mainly because the lid just slightly overhangs the box.............where as on the first box, the lid overhangs the box by 1/2" on the front.  I was going to leave the 4 twisted corners off the 2nd box, but then decided it looked better with the twisted hobby lead came.

Changing the 1st box to have no lid

I decided to "repurpose" the 1st box..........remove the lid...........and add the twisty came to the basically it is just a fancy stained glass box with no lid.  

I used H shape RH-3 from Cascade metals, to form the twisty accent on top.  I laid the box on the side, to solder it...........which is how Kokomo glass soldered their twisties also.  I put a scrap piece of 1.5x1.5 inch wood in the inside of the corner, so I could wrap or bend the twisty around it.  This worked well.

This is a nice looking box!!

I kept the lid.  I am going to make a new box, then use the lid on that box.

Sketchup Warehouse

I uploaded my Sketchup model of the box with the 5 inch lid to the Warehouse. You can download the model here.

Closing Thoughts on This Project

Learning how to make boxes was quite a learning experience! After making 5 boxes, the 5th one took about 2 hours to make the box, and the lid about 5 hours. I think I could have made the lids faster if I had used the copper foil versus the lead method...........but I like the look of an all lead box with no patina applied.


March 13, 2018 Update

I ended up making a total of 5 of this box design for Christmas 2018 family gifts........

I made a 6th box with no lid also.