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How To Cut Glass: A Few Tricks Of The Trade
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How to Cut Glass: A Few Tricks Of the Trade

Most people think it’s difficult to cut glass when, in fact, it is very easy. With a few tools and a little know how, you can replace that broken window for pennies compared to what a window repairman will cost you. Or replace a piece of glass in a picture frame without having to get a whole, new frame for just the right-sized piece of glass.

Unless you’re going to make a profession out of cutting glass, the only tool you need is a glasscutter. A glasscutter is a handheld tool that is easy to use and inexpensive to purchase. It has a wheel on one end and a metal ball on the other. It may have notches along one side and I’ll explain those in a minute.

The first thing you need to understand is that one does not actually cut glass but rather breaks glass along a predetermined line. Glass always breaks along the line of least resistance. If you use a glasscutter to score a line on the glass and then apply pressure under the line, the glass will break along the line whether straight or curved.

In glasscutting terms, the word scribe is used instead of score but the concept is the same. When you score say a thick piece of paper (card stock), you are essentially creating an indent where you will be able to fold the paper in a nice, neat, straight line. When working with glass, the concept is the same but the result is two separate pieces of glass with nice, clean edges.

You can smooth the edges but it isn’t necessary unless there is a particular reason for doing so. For instance, if you want to make wind chimes out of frosted glass, the pieces will chip when the chimes clink together. You’ve seen those little seashell-shaped chips in glass, right? You can prevent them simply by sanding the edges of the glass.

Back to scribing lines. It is not necessary to press down hard when scribing a line in a piece of glass. If you are cutting small pieces of thin glass, such as single windowpane (1/16” thick) or double-paned (1/8” thick), once you scribe your line, you can simply pick up the piece and snap it like a cracker. If you’ve ever had a Hershey bar, you can easily understand the concept of breaking it where the pieces are indented. Same thing with glass once it’s scribed.

If you are cutting larger pieces, this method is not recommended. Instead, place a pencil under the scribe line and apply equal amounts of pressure to both sides of the glass to snap them apart. Remember I mentioned the little ball on the end of the tool? Well, that is to help you snap the glass. Instead of a pencil, just place the ball at the end of the glasscutter under the scribe line about a half inch in from the edge of the glass. Then proceed to apply pressure. Snapping the glass in this way will give you a clean, straight cut.

This is the method for snapping thicker glass as well; however, unless you are cutting straight down the middle of the glass, you may see a sort of bevel to the edges of the pieces where they came apart. Cutting straight down the middle means that the weight is distributed evenly and the glass will break with 90-degree angles. If, say, you are cutting 4 inches off a 12-inch piece of glass, a bevel will occur due to the uneven weight of the glass on either side. A bevel is where the glass edge has an angle to it instead of a straight 90 degree slice.

If you are used to other cutting methods, such as a using saw, you should be aware of the kerf. The kerf is the amount of material taken out or removed by the saw blade. When sawing wood, you need to draw your line and make your cut beside the line to get the width you want. If you have a 12-inch wide piece of wood and cut straight down the middle, you will end up with two pieces that are shy of 6 inches each. With glass, there is no need to cut on one side of the line. If you cut a 12-inch piece of glass down the middle, you will end up with two 6-inch pieces of glass. There is no kerf, so there is no waste.

It is easier to trim a small amount from a thin pane of glass than a thick one. When working with thin glass, you can take a quarter inch off the edge with minimal effort. However, a thicker piece will be more troublesome. The least amount you can trim off a thick piece of glass is 3/4 of an inch. Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to get a clean edge. The less you try to trim off a thick piece of glass, the more bevel will occur. That may be okay for picture frames where it can be hidden, but not for windows that need to be a tight, straight fit. This is also where the notches on the tool come into play. You can snap a thin piece of glass off with your fingers but a thicker piece will require using the notches instead of your fingers. Just put the glass in the notch and apply pressure to the tool and the glass will break away.

Most instructions say to push the cutter away from you to follow a pattern. In this way, you won’t lose sight of where you are cutting. Cutting away from you prevents your arm or hand from blocking your sight and preventing you from clearly seeing what you are doing. This is mainly the technique used for working with stained glass or for making curves. Stained glass has a pattern with lines and it is easier to use the push method to follow the lines you want to cut.

However, when you want a long straight cut, pulling the cutter toward you is more effective. Ever tried to even draw a straight line away from you? It’s much easier to keep it straight with the pull method.

Pushing or pulling, the wheel of your cutter should always go in the same direction. Let me explain. If you use the pull method on Monday and the push method on Tuesday, turn the cutter's wheel around so the wheel itself is rolling in the same direction it was on Monday. The wheel will become dull quickly if you push or pull it in different directions. This also causes “skips” in the wheel—little spots where indents will occur and cause areas on your scribe line which are not scored. If you try to break the glass, those areas will break the glass away from the scribe line and will not create the straight line you intended. You’ll be left with useless pieces of glass. So, always push or pull in the same direction when using the cutting wheel.

We’ve all seen TV shows where a burglar breaks into a home by “cutting” a circle of glass out of a window and uses a suction cup to pull the piece of glass out of the pane. Well, it just doesn’t work like that when cutting glass into circular pieces. Here’s why…

The trick is to make the circular scribe then cut straight lines (relief lines) away from the circle’s edge to the edge of the whole piece of glass. Otherwise, the circle will want to stubbornly stay in place because there is no way to break the glass out of the center. There is more pressure against a curve that makes it that much more difficult to break a circular piece of glass from the center of a larger pane. Remember, we are not cutting glass, but breaking it. The scribe line does not mean the glass is actually cut out yet. It’s just an indicator that tells you where the glass will break if scored properly.

It is possible to cut out (I should say break) circles out of glass but it takes practice. There are tools for this that look like compasses with a cutting tool on the end like the one the burglar uses. The TV show’s producers have the tool right but the concept of “cutting” glass all wrong.

Once you see how easy it is to cut glass, a whole new world of artistic possibilities opens up. Tiffany-style lampshades, wind chimes, or holiday ornaments are some of the handcrafted items you can make. My friend cuts glass to handcraft all manner of things by stacking small pieces of varying sizes atop one another to make stacked glass pineapples, cacti, palm trees, animals, and more. It really is easy once you know what you’re doing.


Street Talk

  

Glad I gave you some inspiration and motivation! Thanks! Let us know what you come up with.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Cool!! I want to play. I can think of hundreds of projects that would be fun...

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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