Friday, December 01, 2006

Build A Solid Shipping Crate-Dec 2006

To ship a piece of glass, it needs to be crated and well protected. Knowing how to build a crate around every piece of glass which you ship is an important skill. It needs to be a custom fit so that the glass can be adequately protected. The following steps are of how we build a crate for an 18" by 30" window. We use the same techniques when crating bigger windows.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Appreciating Stained Glass

In 1983 I opened a stained glass studio in the small town of Pierce City, Missouri. It was a small studio during the first few months and then I got a chance to purchase a large building for a really great price. I soon moved across the street into the new location and set up shop.

The town was a small town and there were several vacant business spaces, so residents were very interested in what we were doing. One day, an older fellow came into the shop, he was a tall thin fellow, dressed in farm clothing and slightly stooped over in the shoulders. I was standing at a bench, cutting glass to fit in an art glass panel. He looked around the shop with interest, reached out to touch some glass pliers hanging on a wall display and then asked, “What are you gonna’ do here,” in a slow drawl.

I sat my glass cutter down, wiped off my hands on a rag and replied that we built stained glass windows for people and we also taught classes on how to make stained glass.

He gave that information a moment to sink in. I could tell he was really thinking this over, his mind racing even though outwardly he appeared to be very calm and relaxed. “What do ya do whith it once you get it made?” was his next question.

My mind reeled at the question, I thought it was self evident what one would do with stained glass. “Oh, “ I calmly replied, ”You can hang it in a window so the sun can shine through it. Some people have installed it in the transoms over their doors and one lady even built a piece of glass as a room divider.”

The old man pondered this new information, he kept nodding his head and looking around, trying to take it all in, he wasn’t the type to make snap decisions or pass quick judgments. He was really thinking on what I’d said and what he’d seen, then he made a statement, “You can’t see through it.”

And that was true, you couldn’t see through the glass and in that man’s mind, a window was a thing that you looked through. No amount of conversation was going to change his mind, the only hope I had of demonstrating the value of stained glass was to show him something that he really liked. But the moment passed and he left, never understanding what we were really doing in our studio. I could hardly wait to get home and tell Jeanne about that man because it seemed so funny, so extraordinary to meet someone who just didn’t get it.

Now, with a few more years of experience under my belt, I look at that moment with different eyes. I think back to my teenage years, going to Sunday school with my friends where all the boys were excitedly discussing the different basketball games of the day before. I listened to all their words, all that excited discussion about the games and I tried to understand what was so exciting about them. I’d played the game in gym when I had to, I’d seen a game or two but I just didn’t get the connection. These were guys who were so enthusiastic about the game, they knew the stats of all the teams and many of the players. They knew the standings of the teams, who was going to the playoffs, who was going home. They thrived on the game, no detail was missed, no statistic too small to be uninteresting. And they loved to talk about the game, about the sport, about the contest, about their opinion how a team could be turned around.

But no matter how hard I listened, no matter how interested I tried to be, I just couldn’t understand the draw of the game, until I met a retired teacher who had taught basketball in high school. His name was Lou Dean Flake and he had moved to Missouri to retire. He had taught school in Wyoming and then in Arizona. What was fascinating to me was his description of the game of basketball. Coincidently, he had done some of his first teaching in the same school that my Dad was attending when he was in high school. He talked about how great it was to watch my dad play basketball. “He had the greatest, natural one handed shot of anyone I’ve ever seen,” he was fond of telling me. Imagine that, my Dad had been a great basketball player and as he had kids, not one of them had an interest in the game. But listening to Mr. Flake describe the games and the coaching he’d done, I got a glimpse of what could be so compelling.

I still don’t get it. I sit in a room with sports enthusiasts and feel like an outsider, but that’s okay. I appreciate passion and I feel good for them that they can find so much joy in the game, year after year. After all, I find joy in cutting little pieces of glass from big sheets and then putting the glass back together. I find joy in spending countless hours grinding and fitting and learning every detail I can about stained glass. I’ll bet a lot of those ball players would shake their heads in wonder at how anybody could find it all so interesting, after all, “You can’t see through it.”

For more articles on stained glass visit

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Nov-How To Clean A Really Dirty Window

Once, I left a window to be cleaned for over a month. It was made with clear artique glass, so all imperfections showed up and the flux that had sat on the panel left the glass looking cloudy after a normal cleaning. I was really worried because I had done this to several windows and faced having to build them all again from scratch. Flux should be cleaned off of a window as soon as possible to avoid this problem.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oct-How To Clean And Apply Patina

Okay, it's not brain surgery, it doesn't even sound that complicated, but if you follow these steps, you'll have success when applying patina, and if you don't, you'll end up with very mixed results.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Build Your Own Work Bench-Sept 2006

1. Start with the top frame which is made of 2 sets of two by fours, 2-48” long and 2-33” long. The total dimension of the top frame will measure 48” x 36” when screwed together. Use glue at the joints and run two 3-1/2” deck screws in the long 2 x 4’s at each end to join them to the shorter boards. (Some folks like to add additional strength to the table by adding an additional short board in the middle of the frame, but this is not necessary).
Build 2 of these frames at the same time, the second will serve as the footrest and bracing for the legs.

2. Next, screw the 48” x 36”, ¾” (or ½”) particle board top to the top frame (you may substitute with plywood if desired). You may want to just use screws (no glue) to attach the table top to the frame so that it will be easy to replace it if you ever need to. Screws to attach the top should be spaced 6” apart and be at least 1-1/2” in length.

3. Next, turn the table top upside down and attach the 4 32-1/2” legs to the table top. The boards should rest inside the framework and touch the underside of the table top. 3-1/2” screws should be used to attach the legs and they should be run into the legs from both directions.

4. Before turning the table over, measure down on the legs 8” and attach the extra frame work you built in step 1. When you turn the table over, the top of the frame will be 11-1/2” from the floor, a good height to be able to use as a footrest and to be able to sweep under.
Some folks like to add a shelf to the top of the foot rest for storing light objects. This is best done when the table is turned over. Also, a ¾ thick x 1-1/2” wide cleat added to one side of the workbench will give you a good way to use a strip cutter.

Bill Of Materials
6 – 2 x 4 x 8’
1 – ¾ x 3’ x 4’ particle board or plywood
3-1/2” Deck Screws
1” or longer screws for top attachment
Optional – ¾ x 1-1/2” choice lumber for cleat
Cut List
4 – Long Frame Pieces – 48”
4 – Short Frame Pieces – 33”
4 – Legs – 32-1/2”
1 – ¾ x 3’ x 4’ particle board or plywood

I hope you enjoy using your workbench.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Business Dream

Sometimes, it’s just great to be in business! I step back for a moment, the floor is swept clean, a cool breeze runs through the studio, the finishing touches have been made on a big project which is ready to deliver and the bills have been paid for the month!

It’s a rare occasion, but there really are times when all the hectic hustle and bustle of commerce and deadlines fade away and you’re able to find the calm, like a mountain stream, carrying all your cares away. And it’s good! Good to be in control of your destiny! Good to be earning your way, doing what you set out to do, building a team of folks you can depend on.

Back when I was truck driving as a way to pay the bills, I often had occasion to overhear different business people complaining about the stress of running a business and I just plain didn’t believe a word they said! I would listen to women with big fat diamonds on both hands complaining about how hard it was to make ends meet and I just couldn’t take them seriously. Men who had gotten so fat that there was no way they could really put in a hard day of labor would talk about how hard they worked and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

So I got the itch to go into business for myself and let it take me into the great adventure! The idea of all that freedom to do what I wanted, was like a drug, a siren song calling to me to come and enjoy the fruits of the goodness of the earth. It was like walking off a cliff, starting into business. You think you know what you’re getting into, but nothing prepares you for ALL that. You’re in charge, it’s great! Then you realize that you’re in charge of everything!

It’s probably best to start your own business when you’re young, when you have unlimited reserves of energy and no doubts that you’ll succeed. Old duffers know too much, have seen too many ways to lose the game. I was in business when I was young and then somehow got the crazy notion that I should go to college and become a professional. Then, for several years, I enjoyed telling my boss that I didn’t want to go into business for myself each week when he was sweating finding enough to pay the payroll. “Did I ever tell you that I don’t want to be in business for myself,” I told him at least once a week for years. I was rather smug about it.

Then something happened. I just knew I had to do it. I had to go into business for myself, take back the control I’d given to others and see where it took me. I’d been in business full time years ago. I knew something about the stained glass business and had been building windows as a part time business for years. But somehow, the urge was strong to get back into the business full time. What was wrong with me? I was older, I knew better, but I did it anyhow! I went into business again!

Back in the eighties, I had never really figured out how to make it in the stained glass business, I had simply discovered a way to make a good living as I created several video rental stores. It was fun, it was exciting, it was the best time! And I would find myself explaining to employees that it was really difficult to make ends meet. And they would look at me with doubt in their eyes, not believing a word I said.

So, here we are. Jeanne and I are working together full time in our business and we’re not getting rich. We just kind of keep our heads above water. But the quality of our lives is so good. You can deal with a lot of tough times when they are offset by the chance to meet really great people and get to design works of art that we would have never dreamed of in years past. And the more we do, the more open we become to bigger and better designs, more and more substantial projects.

And sometimes the floor gets swept and the weather turns cool and nothing could be sweeter than stepping into the studio and hearing the crisp scratch of the glass cutter as I score yet another piece of glass for an elegant piece of art.

August-Reinforcing A Large Panel

We recommend that windows which exceed 3' by 4' in size be reinforced to prevent breakage. If a window is 3' by 3', it might not need to be reinforced, that's usually a judgment call based on where it is to be installed.

In the old days, when a panel was large and needed to be reinforced, artists actually installed big pieces of rebar, no kidding rebar, in window frames and wired the stained glass to the rebar. This was an effective method of reinforcement, but it was far from attractive.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

July-Insulating Stained Glass To Be Installed In A Door

Tempered glass needs to surround decorative glass used in a door. This protects people from injury if the glass is broken and it also serves as a barrier against heat loss during cold months. Tempered glass must be ordered in advance and once its been tempered, it can't be cut or ground.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Just Too Happy For Words

The other day a client came to pick up a window we built for her. She took one look at it and broke into tears. Yes, it really was that beautiful, a real knockout of design. Most people don't burst into tears over the beauty of their window, that comes later on an overcast day, when they are in a mood and they walk in to see those vibrant colors that somehow draw emotion out of you, forcing you to pay attention.

Stained glass art does that, it draws out emotions, demands recognition. There was a painting that some friends of mine owned. It was a macro-realistic painting of strawberries with a drop of water on one of the leaves and it was so perfect and so big, it took me away. It made me feel that I was a fraud, that my art meant nothing compared to this perfect still-life. It didn't actually make me weep to view that beauty, but it did bring me to the brink of tears (it's a guy thing, I guess).

I feel sorry for those who never develop a sensitivity to art work. Like the fellow in Missouri who asked what you did with that there stained glass when you were done with it. I carefully explained that we put it in the window and enjoyed the way it looked. He nodded his head for a long time and then said, "But you can't see through it."

He was right, you often can't see through a piece of stained glass, but, Oh the joy of looking at it, instead of through it. The Father of the client picking up the window really tried to understand his daughters connection to the piece of glass. "You really like that, don't you? Can you tell me what it is about it that you like? She answered and he still kept asking, not understanding the beauty that she beheld.

I'm glad to be one of those who gets it when viewing a piece of glass, and a great painting, a good view and a great sunset. Maybe I need to find common ground with guys who don’t get glass, I’m sure they swell with pride when they look at their dog or maybe their new truck…

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

When Is Enough Enough?

There are times when I really wonder what I should do. Like the time that a window was broken by a friend who installed it as a favor to a customer. Do I have a responsibility because I knew them? Where does my involvement start and end? I mean, I want to be a good guy, but I'm also in business to make a profit, not to lose money.

To resolve the issue in my own mind, I think about the way that Randy Meitler, a metal artist reacts when things go wrong. ( Randy bends over backwards to satisfy the client. He often goes and does work for a client when he had little or nothing to do with a problem. I have seen him lose money time after time, fixing problems that others caused. When he installed a gate according to the instructions that the firm who hired him gave him, it didn't work right. Those guys didn't engineer the project properly. Really, Randy wasn't at fault, but he came out and re hung different hinges which had less friction in them and the gate worked fine. By rights, he should have been able to charge for the extra work, since it was the other guys fault, but he didn't. When I asked him about it, he explained that he would rather feel good about the job than to haggle over right and wrong and have the client have bad feelings.

He believes that what you do, comes back in some form. If you give good service, you'll get repeat business. If you give poor service, people will know.

There was a mechanic in the town where we lived in Missouri. He was an excellent mechanic, but he always had to cut himself a little better deal. When you took your car in for a tune-up or inspection, he always recommended that you get a new starter because that old one was going bad. If you happened to need a new starter, he was sure to find that your battery was bad as well. He padded every job with as much as he could and as a result, over the years, folks quit coming to him. He was still an excellent mechanic, but he had milked so many jobs that his reputation caught up with him and he lost more business that he gained.

So what am I going to do when asked to make good on a deal that has already cost me dearly? I'm going to remember what my son told me in a recent conversation. "It's not that the customer is always right, they're wrong as often as not, but we treat them with the same respect and care as IF THEY WERE RIGHT."

For more articles on stained glass visit

June-Removing Corrosion From Stained Glass

Sometimes we find that the metal surrounding a piece of glass begins to corrode. It is quite easy to remedy the problem. Some folks in the chemical industry refer to this white powder as "mold", but I believe they are mistaken. Mold doesn't grow as fast as I've seen some oxidation take place.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

May-Re Applying Patina To A Stained Glass Panel

Here is a panel that is in need of brightening. The blackness of the patina is dull and you can see that there is a buildup of pale corrosion around the edges of the lead lines.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Competition Is Only An Illusion

It's important that we as stained glass artists realize that we are not in competition with each other. There is a tendency to see someone else’s success and feel jealous. “I should have gotten that commission, I could have done better.” We see artists in all mediums belittling their colleagues work. What’s wrong with us? Are we working from an attitude of scarcity or abundance? Those who have a view of life that there exists abundance become much more open and able to feel joy for the success of others. They are able to be inspired by the work of others instead of feeling jealous.

When I started in stained glass in 1983, I wasn't making enough to support us by only doing glass. Somehow, I stumbled onto video rentals and soon I had three video rental stores in three different towns. What's interesting is that in one town, another person opened a video rental store right behind ours on the same block. We thought we were really going to be in fierce competition.

The other store lasted a year and then the owner relocated to another town. During that year, the store located in the town with the “competitor” did about $1200 in rentals each week, so did the store in a nearby town that had no competition. After the other store closed down, our revenues went up for a week or so, but leveled back to about $1200 a week. If that other guy was so much competition, shouldn’t the stores’ revenues have doubled when he closed? Hmmm.

Later, three other video stores opened in the town where there was no competition. Guess what? There was very little change in that stores receipts. There was a slight dip in the stores revenues, but not anywhere near enough to hurt us. Huh, that just didn’t seem right.

A couple of years ago, a major stained glass studio in Salt Lake City, Utah closed their doors. We sell stained glass in Salt Lake through a couple of decorators and are located about 50 miles south of there. If it were true that we were in competition with each other, my business would have gone up. But it didn’t, what another store does has very little effect on us. Except that if someone starts a heavy advertising campaign, interest in stained glass goes up and it’s almost as if their campaign was one of our own. So having people around in the same business only SEEMS like you’re in competition. Their marketing efforts help me!

Recently, our studio worked with two other “competitors” on a project. We were contacted to build some large windows to go in doors in an office building. They would have to be insulated between tempered glass and rather than use the local big glass guys who routinely make mistakes and even damage windows, we approached our nearest competitors, a stained glass shop who have been in business for many years. They turned out to be very friendly and helpful and even though the price for their work was 50% higher than that other glass shop, the value was there because they treated our work as if it was their own.

When I asked if they could install the glass, they were too busy, but they recommended another glass company who specializes in installations. The install went so well, that we’ve asked for other help from that third company.

So instead of being “competitors”, by using each others talents and strengths, it’s almost like we’re partners. The glass shop that did the insulated units doesn’t teach classes, so they give out our business cards to people who ask about classes and they send folks to us when they don’t have a specific piece of glass in stock.

Your natural instinct may be that if my students go buy tools from a different glass studio, I’m losing money, but don’t forget that the folks at the other studio are coming to you and making purchases. It’s a win-win situation. You and your neighbor studio sell more to each others students because they visit and everything in your studio looks new, because they haven’t been there before. The students win, because they get to see the same things in a different setting and it breathes new life into their hobby.

What if they start building windows for their friends and become competitors? Then treat them like partners, like long lost friends. Their circle of influence is completely different than yours and so it doesn’t matter if they are selling to others, they were never going to be your customers anyhow. And besides that, the more people who learn about stained glass in your area, the more popular it will become. And the more educated the community is about glass, the more valued it will become.

Have you ever wondered why all the car lots seem to cluster together? They all seen to locate on a single road, rows of them. Because they know that there is power in numbers. That they aren’t really in competition with one another. By locating closely to each other, they create a synergy where the two separate lots might have sold a number of cars by themselves, but by being near each other, they’ll each sell more than they would have.

Get over the jealousy and you can really enjoy your business. The other store owners will become your best friends instead of your enemies. Sounds good? Try it.

For more articles on stained glass visit

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dragging Myself Out Of Depression

I have been cursed with depression most of my adult life. I especially remember that my bouts of depression would center around the delivery cycle of The Mother Earth News magazine. It came every two months and I would read it from cover to cover and then, usually fall into a blue period which would sometimes turn into depression. I figured that it was because the magazine caused me to dream of freedom and a different lifestyle which was very different from the one I was living. I didn’t feel there was a way to live the life I longed for, that I was stuck, so I became depressed.

As time went on, I noticed that when I was under a lot of stress, my depression cycle deepened. When I sold books door to door, the job was very stressful and I would be able to work at selling for two weeks and then each third week, I would be unable to face the world and stayed in bed for a week. Then I would feel ready to face things again, sell for another two weeks and retreat to sleep for another week. This was not a healthy cycle, it really put a strain on relationships with others. I was lucky that Jeanne was able to cope with my ups and downs.

When I faced a crisis of sorts about the age of 28 and irrationally moved to Missouri without any job or prospects (following the Mother Earth News lifestyle) I found that depression left me for a long period of time. My stress levels were lower, and I was living a life that was closer to the one I desired. My cycle was still there, I still had a tendency to get a little down, but it was dip in my mood, rather than a full depression. So I had a few pretty good years. I started a stained glass business and rented videos from the three stores I started, things were pretty good.

Then I made some “responsible” choices, going to college and joining the regular workforce and slowly my depression cycle returned. I think the cycle is a naturally occurring ebb and flow that we all have and that the deep depression was my subconscious minds’ way of trying to deal with life choices it didn’t agree with. As I struggled with employment issues and dealing with teenaged children my depression really became a monster that sometimes completely stopped me in my tracks. I would find myself unable to do the simplest tasks. I began visiting a depression treatment center, encouraged by a councilor to figure out what was wrong so that I could be over this once and for all. That was one of the worst times of my life, because I had no way to get out of the cycle of depression. I wasn’t working, so didn’t get that positive lift to my ego. The medications seemed to do little to help. And the kids weren’t making life any easier.

Eventually, I just went back to work and forgot all the depression center nonsense and my mood immediately rose. They say men derive self esteem from work and women derive self esteem from their relationships. That may be true because I certainly began to feel better being back at work. Still the cycle continued, at least I found that anytime I got a cold, I stayed sick longer than normal. A cold that would cause a normal person to miss a day of work would knock me out for a week. This effects your reputation at work and has a negative impact on your career. I began to suspect that I might have allergies that were causing me to be physically overwhelmed and thereby affecting my mental state.

Good theory, but when I finally learned that I had type 2 diabetes (in 2003) I finally understood why I had these lingering illnesses. Diabetics typically have symptoms three times longer than others. Their systems abilities to fight off colds and flu are less, so they need to be careful to avoid sickness. And being sick opens the door to depression, mental states are lower and your ability to cope goes down when you feel helpless.

My depression cycle still continued, but since I knew why I was unable to give good consistent work to an employer, I determined to go back to stained glass full time. It had been part time from the day I sold my business back in 1984, now it’s full time again. One of the benefits of being self employed is that if I’m having a bad day, I can go to work later. I can adjust my work hours to go along with how I’m feeling. Some days I’m only up to 3 or 4 hours of work and some days I’m up to putting in 10 or 12 hours of work. Depression is not as much of an issue any longer because I’m doing what I love and so my stress levels are at a level I can handle.

But occasionally, the monster of the “artistic temperament” raises its’ head and I have to deal with it. I have found a few ways of coping with depression over the years.

First, when you find yourself getting down, try to look inside and see what is causing the additional stress. Getting down is normal, it’s when you start to not be able to deal with it that you have a problem, so look inside and see what’s going on. Are you facing moral issues that weigh heavily on you? Is your life not tracking where you want it to? What is it that seems to be trapping you? Once you find your answers, you can begin to dream of ways to bring your life back into control, which will lessen your feelings of helplessness. It may be something as simple as starting a savings account for a vacation that you want to take, or starting a plan to get out of debt. Your problems won’t disappear, but your attitude towards them will make them feel less threatening.

Second, make sure that the little voice in your head is positive and not negative. Write yourself a little commercial that you read to yourself everyday and throughout the day. It should be positive and state what a winner you are and how successful you are, it should reflect your dreams and state them as if they are already a reality. This little recitation to yourself will turn away the negative that can grind you down and allow you to get to a place where you can handle things again. When I can’t work up the energy to even read my affirmation, I sing a little song which I made up (patterned on one they taught when I was selling):

It’s a great day to be a glass man,
Best Thing I know,
It’s a great day to be a glass man,
Everywhere I go, go, go, go
Cut my own pieces,
Put them back together,
It’s a great, great day to be a glass man,
No matter what the weather.

It’s a very dopey song, but I find that no matter how down I am, I can mumble this and it raises my attitude enough to croak it and then to sing it and then to believe it. And if I believe I’m happy, then I am.

Third, and most important, I have to let God into my life. When I’m down, I don’t believe in anything, not God and not Jeanne and not my own abilities. But if I can open up just a little and talk to God and ask for help, he always helps in some way. He didn’t give us life so we can suffer, we’re here to have joy and get out of ourselves and look around us and see the good in life and enjoy it and see the suffering around us and reach out to help relieve that suffering that others are experiencing.

Depression is a natural event, in my life anyway. So I figure it must be a natural event in your life as well. It’s neither good or bad, it just is. How we deal with it, that’s what determines the difference between those whose lives work and those whose lives don’t work.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Artists Learn To Live With Disappointment, How To Lessen The Impact Of Setbacks

One of the realities of being an artist is that we take risks with our art and often fail in the process. Sometimes things go wrong with the techniques we are using and sometimes we bring failure on ourselves. We imagine making a beautiful piece that will only take a few minutes, which we begin and it ends up taking weeks. Our studio has many projects in the half-finished stage. We had planned to finish that project right away, but it took more time and as we let time pass, the project takes even longer.

We started one project and jumped right in and cut all the glass for one third of a three panel window. It only took a couple of days. Then we got side tracked by another job with a more pressing deadline. We set the three panel project aside and worked on the new project. Then another project was ordered. It was a couple of months by the time we got back to the three panel project. We had to get it out of storage and clean off all the dust that had gathered on it. Then we started foiling it. There were a couple of pieces that needed to be fixed and we had to research what the colors were supposed to be because by that time, we’d forgotten a lot of the details of the window. We got the thing foiled and then soldered one side of the panel and ran out of time. We had to complete another project, so once again, the three panel project went back into storage. When we got back to it, it needed to be cleaned again, which used up valuable time. And something was happening to us mentally, since we had put off the project so long, we found it easy to put off again. We struggled with color choices, cleanliness issues and direction that “grain” should run through the window, all things that take care of themselves when we complete a window in a timely manner. Finally we just stayed on to the end and completed the panel. It was easy once we dedicated ourselves to the task.

When we started experimenting with hot glass and firing plates in our kiln, we struggled for a long time. We would fire a piece of glass for use on a plate and get bubbles in it and that would be a setback. We’d have to study to figure out what happened and then overcome the fear of failure enough to try another piece. Then we would fire a piece and it would be perfect except for the fact that it broke. Time after time, we experimented with temperatures and glass mixes. And with each failure, we learned more, but we had to fight to continue to try again and again.

Finally, there is the type of failure and disaster that comes in our art by just plain dumb luck, (bad luck). You’re just finishing a panel, nailing on the outer metal to a piece of glass and your hammer slips and breaks a piece of the panel. It’s really no big deal, but now you have to de-solder the piece of glass, cut a new one and solder it in, just to get back to where you were before the mistake happened. This type of accident happens occasionally and isn’t too hard to recover from. It’s the other mishaps that occur that are especially difficult to deal with. When a glass insulator or installer breaks a piece of glass for you, it’s tough to deal with, especially when you hand carried it to them, warned them of weaknesses and begged them to be careful. The worst accidental break is when you don’t tie down the load securely enough or someone trips on an install, or any number of accidents that end up with severe damage. You may just want to go to bed for a week and fins a nice comfortable job in a pillow factory.

So what do we do to fight against despair?

In the first place, determine that once you start a project, you’ll finish it right away. Plan ahead so you’ll be sure to have the time to complete the work in your schedule, then start the work and stay with it till it’s done. This will save so much time in the long run that it will become even easier to stay on schedule because you’ll be saving all that time doing steps over and over again.

Second, when you start learning a new technique or process, take a class. We could have saved ourselves a lot of time and failure by enrolling in a class with a qualified instructor and learning some of the pitfalls to avoid. Instead, we tried to learn by reading a book and doing it on our own.

Third, attack any problem head on. If you break a piece of glass, fix it immediately. If it breaks again, fix it again. Leaving it till later will only make it worse. And when the damage is really bad, try to assess which method you’ll use to repair the damage. Will you fix the broken pieces or rebuild the whole thing? We once spent a month and a half repairing a window, which only took two weeks to build in the first place. We would have been time and materials ahead to have just started over on that project, not to mention the fact that it meant we had to suffer five weeks with our mistake rather than two.

My students sometime tire from hearing me say that “the difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional will fix their mistakes.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, a true professional will also fix their mistakes quickly.

For more articles on stained glass visit

April-Studio Chemicals

After covering repair techniques over the last few newsletters, I thought it might be helpful to go over the chemicals we use in the studio and their uses.

We use many chemicals in the stained glass studio. It's sometimes helpful to review how they are best used and when they should be used. This helps us achieve better (and safer) results.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

How Can I Make It In The Stained Glass Business?

I wrote this entry in response to a query from a businessman who is thinking about buying an existing stained glass business. He asked if I thought it was a good idea. When a person first embarks on starting into business, there is a tendency to be overly optimistic, so I felt it important to warn of the pitfalls he may encounter. I have to admit that when I re-read this blog page, I felt it was almost too honest, that it leaves me feeling a little vulnerable, like I've told too much.

Recently, one of the best stained glass supply and teaching centers in Salt Lake City, closed their doors. They were very aggressive and well run. They had been in business for over fifteen years (I don't know how long their actual years of operation were). Why did they fail? What was new? Two years previously, the long time run business was sold by the original owner who wanted to retire to a man who had made enough money for the purchase running a janitorial business. But the stained glass business is different than any other business. I have often said that I could probably make more money and be more successful in ANY OTHER BUSINESS that I chose to run. That recent business closure illustrates the fact that the stained glass business is very competitive and labor intensive.

When we started in the stained glass business in 1983, I soon discovered that the business was a real roller-coaster. Cash flow would go from nil to a modest influx of cash about every three months. When we sold a window or commission we would have enough cash to get another order of materials together. We never really felt we were making money, it felt that we were just using up supplies and then replenishing. I found that running a stained glass only business was very tough and discovered that by changing my business into a stained glass/video rental business worked much better. Eventually we ended up with 3 video rental stores which did quite well. (that would not be the case in today's market).

We quit doing stained glass as a living in the late 80's, but continued to do commissions and personal work in our spare time. This is an avenue that I recommend to students who think it might be fun to get into the business. This way they can test the waters and find whether they really want to expand into the business of glasswork. Most find that doing a little on the side is the perfect avenue for them.

I started back into the stained glass business, full time again, 5 years ago (1999) when I moved to Utah. My son thought the market here would be better than it had been in Missouri. While it is true that I'm able to sell more glass here, I find the increased rental prices for a store location to be a barrier that equalizes things to be about the same as Missouri.

So you may ask me, why are you working at stained glass if things are so difficult and I would answer that if I weren't stricken by diabetes, I would probably be working in a different industry. Since I have health problems, I had to go into business for myself since I can't be a dependable employee. I already knew the stained glass business and had stained glass ability. So I went into it again. It is tough, and rewarding but not so much in a financial sense but on an artistic level. I beat my head against the wall trying to figure how to make a living, but simply seem to scrape by each year. So far, in five years of internet presence, we have worked and worked on our site and not yet made a single sale from the site. (We have picked up the majority of our students from our website and have met many in the business from publishing our newsletter.) We have changed our product line, rewritten pages and registered with search engines. I have finally asked a designer to help me and offer him a percentage of all sales he makes. Maybe that will pay off.

We do make a small amount of money by offering stained glass classes. But after taking all expenses and costs into account, we find that we just break even on classes. If I made enough money to support myself well in this business, I would take the extra money and expand and hire help, but so far I'm just keeping my head above water. It is my belief that the key to making it in stained glass is to offer products that will help others to enhance their stained glass experience. I would advise you, that before you make a decision to get into the business to work for at least 3 months in the business, 90 days seems to be the point where you really get an eye opening. The honeymoon ends and you see what you're really getting yourself into.

Be very cautious about the valuation of the business that you are looking to purchase. Remember that you are looking at retail values versus the wholesale values of the business. Figure that the cost of buying all materials and starting a business from scratch is 1/3 to 1/4 of the retail value of the business. It is rare to find that an existing business really has a built up value of customer good will which has much, if any, value to the potential new owner. Customers are our friends and we love them, but because most people only have a limited interest in the business, their value to future income is smaller than the seller might lead you to believe.

It is true that warm glass has more to offer in a studio setting than just flat glass work, but look at the root of the matter. The stained glass industry knows that they are working with a craft which is fleeting. The normal student has one to three projects in them and then they are done. By expanding into warm glass, we are able to offer a wider range of techniques and projects which helps to hold the students interest longer. But what we've done is change a three month customer into a 6 month customer. We still face a huge attrition rate. Being a lover of glass work, I am often shocked at the number of students who start class and then drop out without even finishing their project.

When I talk to other businesses, I often ask if they will furnish me a copy of their business plan. I hope to learn from those plans ways that I might be able to find more success in my own business. If you come up with a business plan, I'd love to see a copy of it.

One word of encouragement, people in the business are in two camps. There are those who are secretive and afraid that you might want to steal their ideas. But the vast majority of business owners in stained glass are open and willing to share their knowledge and advice. They are those who realize that there really isn't any competition in the business. That shop down the corner doesn't create competition, they increase the knowledge and appreciation of stained glass in the community, so they actually help your business rather than hurting it.

Send me contact information and I'll put you on my newsletter mailing list. I hope my comments are enlightening.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

March-Repairing Severe Damage

In January we showed how to make a simple one piece repair. In February I showed how to fake a repair. This month, I want to show a technique to repair a window which has been destroyed.

Ed Sibbet is one of the very few book designers who creates designs which can be built as drawn and has great perspective.
The Gemini Girl was the first design that I ever built. I built a second copy of it after the first was damaged in a house fire. I spent 2 or 3 months building a custom oak frame in college. So it was very painful when the panel was knocked from it's hook and shattered into many pieces. Rebuilding it was out of the question, nearly every piece was damaged. It would have been easier to build a new one rather than using traditional repair techniques.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Should I Ever Barter Away My Stained Glass Art Or Should I Hold Out For Cash?

In the past, we’ve, of course, had many occasions to make cash deals on our stained glass art and occasionally we’ve had a chance to barter our stained glass art for goods and services. Over the course of years, we’ve had some barters and trades that worked out well, but many trades seemed to go sour.

Most started out with each party having the best of intentions to do right by the other, but our experience’s were that each time the trade or barter was made, our stained glass went right out at the start of the trade and then we usually got our part of the trade after the fact. As a result, the folks we traded with were always sure of what they were getting, but we never seemed to know exactly what we would get, so we ended up getting disappointed most times.

As we’ve entered into these non-cash deals, we’ve developed three simple rules or guidelines to help us avoid the bad deals, while leaving the door open for the good ones.

Rule 1 : What To Trade For

We’ve learned that if we’re not careful, we could end up trading away all the work we could possibly do and leave ourselves with no more materials to make more glass pieces. So this first rule helps us to avoid trading away more than we can afford. As stained glass artists, we know that 10 to 20% of the retail price of a window is the cost of the materials that go into the window and the rest of the price reflects the cost of our labor and some profit for the company. So we’ve adopted the policy that we never trade away the cost of the window. We will make a trade, but not at our own expense. So when we make a deal, we agree that at least 10 or 20% of the trade be in cash, to cover the cost of materials. And we put the cash back into the business for the purpose of purchasing replacement goods. This keeps us from losing on the deal, in the event that what we trade for ends up with little or no value to us.

Back when we first started doing windows, we had a friend who wanted a specific design. She drew a sketch of a very nice pattern which was an amalgam of three different designs she had seen. We agreed that the panel would be about a thousand dollars (which was low for the amount of work) and we started building the panel. Now, up to this point, the window was going to be a cash deal, very straight forward, very clean. But once I had half the window cut out, her husband decided to get into the act and turned the deal into a trade. He was very aggressive in his negotiating skills and I was a wimp. He beat me down on price from $1000 to $300. Why I ever agreed to that change still confuses me, but then he took the cash away from the deal and made it a trade for construction parts that he had lying around. The deal went from bad to worse! I was already committed to the window since the glass was cut, so I allowed the deal to go downhill. I ended up spending $300 on solder for the window (solder had temporarily jumped in price) and I got what the husband valued as $300 worth of construction parts. They really were pretty much worthless. But the deal taught me several valuable lessons. The most important was rule one: Know What To Trade For. I had learned to spell out what the trade was to be, how much cash would be involved, and to get a deposit or the entire balance of the cash part of the deal before cutting any glass.

Another instance vividly illustrates what NOT to trade for. We’ve learned that whenever someone comes to us for classes or to get a stained glass window built and they start whining about cost, or acting “poor mouth” and then they advance the idea of a trade, we ALWAYS lose on the deal.

April was a good example of this type of bad deal. She came and started to take classes. But she immediately began wondering if she could make payments instead of paying for class up-front. We agreed and then the next week, she advanced the idea that maybe she could trade for half of the cost of tuition. We asked what she had in mind and she told us about these beautiful candles she made. So we decided to allow the trade. She traded us two candles which she felt were worth the $40 of class she was trading for. I would have valued them at $10 total, but we’d already entered into the trade and felt committed. So we allowed to let the trade stand. The candles, while overvalued on her part, also had another problem. They stunk! We couldn’t be in the same room with them and we gave them away to someone who didn’t find them offensive. That deal started out badly and we allowed it to continue, not putting an end to it when we began to feel taken advantage of. We’ve since found that all those type of deals have been bad for us, both in the trade itself and also in the bad feelings it generates in us. It damages our faith and trust in others when we get ripped off. A footnote to this instance, when April quit coming to class, she left owing us almost as much money as she had paid for her classes.

Rule 2: Get Your End First

It’s human nature to be quite excited while you’re about to get something, but to lose interest once you’ve gotten your side of the deal. The donkey who follows the carrot on a stick is a good example. As long as that carrot hangs out there nearly within reach, the donkey will keep moving, but as soon as the carrot is gone, the donkey stops. We even lose some of our enthusiasm for completing a project when we’ve been paid, but we usually have plans and patterns that have been set in advance, so our part of a trade or a business transaction continues on whether there is a promise or a reward.

This isn’t the case with folks we’ve traded with. So we’re fighting two negatives if we don’t get our part of the trade up front. First we’re dealing with something (an item or service) which is sight unseen and we’re fighting the other persons natural loss of enthusiasm for the trade because they’ve already gotten what they wanted.

A good example of a positive barter was when we traded for some essential oil diffusers for Christmas presents with a client. We got about $400 worth of product in trade for some work we did for them. Over the course of the year, we were able to complete their design and get their windows installed for them. Then at Christmas time the next year we traded for some essential oils for the balance of what they owed us. This was a good trade because it allowed us to save on the costs of Christmas presents for two years and it got them a beautiful entryway which will give them years of enjoyment.

A trade which didn’t go so well involved a custom rocking chair built by a friends brother. The trade went fairly smoothly except, we didn’t like the custom rocking chair once it was completed. It was too high, and didn’t rock right. It was beautiful and we gave it to my sister and her husband. They loved it, he was taller and the rock of the chair was just right for him. In this case, the deal went just as it should have, but we were just trading for something sight unseen.

Rule 3: Give More Than Expected, Lower Your Own Expectations

To really get a deal to work in the favor of both parties, you’ve got to give more than the other guy expects, always trying to make the deal better for them. And you’ll be less disappointed when you lower your own expectations. When I dealt with the husband who traded construction parts to me, I learned that many times, the other guy doesn’t care if you get a good deal. This man was only interested in getting a good deal for himself, and he did. But I never traded stained glass with him again!

A good barter arrangement is one where both parties are concerned with the others feelings. When we made a trade with an artist friend, some large windows for a painting, the deal changed several times. They agreed to pay for the materials and we would get two paintings, based on the amount of time that it would take to build both of the art projects. She later decided that two paintings was too much so we agreed to get one and some design time on glass projects. When it turned out that the completed painting couldn’t be published in the magazine we had thought it would be placed in, we felt that the ultimate value of the painting was greatly diminished. So the deal did continue to go downhill, to become less valuable to us, through no one’s fault, just circumstances. But we had already lowered our expectations and our friend had become a greater friend and we have enjoyed many hours doing art projects together.

We have another friend, whom we build pieces for on a fairly regular basis. The trades never go well for us, she forgets that we have credit with her and she wants more glass, we will never get “even” but we’ve lowered our expectations. We know her, know she “needs” the pieces we trade with her and figure that the work we do for her is more a gift than a trade.

If you can get to this point, where you expect little in a trade, where it’s more about opportunity, art and building beauty, bartering might work out for you. If you find yourself feeling ripped off, you should probably avoid trading your art and stick to cash deals. Even they will occasionally go south on you.
Trading stained glass for products and services has very often been a way for others to obtain the glass that they want, when they really wouldn’t have been able to afford it for cash. It has seldom been a good way for us to fill our bank account, but it has often been a way for us to develop relationships with others that have become dear to us and has become a way for our art to be seen by others. It very often leads to other deals we would never have imagined, providing us with sales in the most unlikely places. It’s like that scripture about casting thy bread upon the waters and it will return to you ten fold. A good trade is like that. It returns to us rewards we never would have imagined.

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Feb-Faking A Repair

Last month we showed how to make a simple one piece repair. This month, I want to show an even easier repair, which deals with illusion.

This type of repair only works when you can easy cover a crack in the design. We do this by covering the crack with copper foil and soldering over the foil. We do this on both sides of the glass, thereby creating the illusion of a lead line.

The design to the left is the design we're going to demonstrate with. This panel had a weakness in the design and the side glass was cracked when the glass was being encased in tempered glass.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jan-Repairing A Broken Piece Of Glass

I am firmly convinced that the main difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional will recognize and fix mistakes. An amateur may not even know they've made a mistake and won't fix it if they recognize the fact.

I hope that everyone who has ever taken a class from us has been exposed to our philosophy. If not, you may want to read "Don't Be Like Milo."

In an effort to help others to fix or repair mistakes, I thought I would go over the techniques for repairing windows. This is a simple one piece repair, not like the major damage we showed how to repair in last October's newsletter.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.