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Wine Bottle Cutting 101

Cut Wine Bottles on the Table

Ever look at that beautiful wine bottle and think I can make something out of this? Wine bottles comes in all sorts of colors and sizes and some are just too cool to recycle. Bottles also come in various thicknesses as well. I have found that the heavier bottles, such as Champagne bottles, can be harder to cut so I tend to gravitate towards lighter weight bottles.

There are three things you will need to begin your artistic journey with your empty wine bottles. First is a good Bottle Cutter. With all of the different types of bottle cutters on the market, it can be hard to choose. Don’t be fooled by the fancy box or the cheapest price. There are major differences in bottle cutters. If you are serious about cutting bottles successfully, invest in a good cutter that will do the job well. I have found that the Creator’s Bottle Cutter is the best on the market, hands down. The Creator’s Bottle Cutter has a carbide cutting wheel that will out last the steel wheel cutting heads on other bottle cutters. It also has a cradle that holds the bottle horizontal while you score, which allows you to keep constant pressure on your cutting head. It will also keep your bottle perpendicular to the cutting head, for a better score. With the upright cutters, it hard to keep your pressure consistent. The cradle has rollers that allow you to rotate your bottle smoothly.

Wine Bottle with heat gun
Wine Bottle with heat gun

The second thing you will need is a heat source. Some use candles or hot water, which will work only a bit slower. I prefer a heat gun  for my heat source. You can find them at any home center with a paint department (heat gun example link to Amazon). It is portable, efficient  and easy to use. It does get very hot so be careful working around it. We sometimes get so engrossed in our work that we don’t realize how close we are to the business end of the hot tool. Safety glasses are a good thing to have on in case your bottle has a different idea of breaking than you do.

Bottle in Ice Water Bath
Bottle in Ice Water Bath

The Third thing is a container that will hold enough ice and water to cover your score on the bottle. Keep the ice coming. It works better when the water is really cold.

Before you begin your bottle cutting, you need to remove the label and any glue left on the wine bottle. You don’t want anything in the way that will hinder your score. Removing labels can be a chore because some labels will soak off easily and others you will need something just short of dynamite to remove the label. Trust me, dynamite doesn’t work either. I fill the bottle with hot water and soak the outside in hot water. Having hot water on the inside seems help loosen the glue. After it soaks for a few minutes, try peeling off the label. The glue may need something like Goof Off (Goof Off example link to Amazon) to remove the residue. If you want to keep your label on the bottle, just make sure it doesn’t get in the way of your score.

Now that the hard task is finished, removing the label, we can begin to cut the bottle. Mark your bottle, with a marker, and make a reference point as to where you started your score. The Creator’s Bottle Cutter has a line on the top of the back stop to help you know where you began your score. Once you decide where you want to score your bottle, simply slide the cutter head along the cradle and tighten the black screw. The yellow screw adjusts the cutter head. I usually put a piece of card stock paper between my cutting wheel and the bottle so that I don’t accidentally start my score until I’m ready. Take your pressure pad and apply pressure on the bottle and get the head into position and tighten the yellow screw. Remove the card stock and while applying pressure on the bottle with the pressure pad, loosen the yellow screw.

Too Deep (top) and Light bottom) Scores on Bottle
Too Deep (top) and Light (bottom) Scores on the Bottle

Slowly rotate your bottle towards you while applying pressure with your pressure pad. Once you see that your bottle has made a full rotation, stop and remove the bottle. Pressure can be tricky. Too much pressure can result in a deep score and too little pressure can cause a light score. Either score can end badly. Practice getting the pressure right and your results will be amazing.

After you have scored the bottle, heat the score up with the Heat Gun on low. Continue to rotate the bottle to get an even heat. You want the bottle to be warm to the touch but not too hot. When you feel it’s ready, put the bottle in ice and water and let it set for a minute or two. The idea here is to shock the glass by going from heat to extreme cold. If your bottle is too hot, it could cause y0ur bottle to break badly. It is exciting when you pick your bottle up out of the ice bath and the bottom falls off. Occasionally, you may have to reheat and chill the bottle a second time if you get a stubborn bottle. Be careful and make sure you have a good grip on both ends of the bottle because it could break loose when you reheat. Be patient and let the magic happen. If you feel that you did everything right and it still broke wrong, don’t worry.  The bottle manufacturer doesn’t care what happens to the bottle once you empty it. The bottles are made very quickly and can have stress, just like other glass. Luckily, our materials are cheap so if we have to give up on a bottle that’s ok.

Separated Bottle in Coming Out of Ice Bath
Separated Bottle after the Ice Bath

After your bottle has separated, the cut edge can be razor sharp. I use a 120 grit Diamond Pad to go around the outside cut edge of the bottle to smooth the edges and use a half round Diamond File to smooth the inside edge of the bottle.This way you can handle you newest work of art safely. Be sure to keep your Diamond Pad and File wet while sanding the bottle. This will keep the sanding dust and friction heat down.

Cutting Wine Bottle Rings

I like to cut rings out of the bottle to use for wind chimes. They come in several colors and have an interesting sound. You can also put them in a kiln and slump them into interesting shapes, usually about 1250-1300 degrees. Talk about the ultimate Recycled project!

Wine Bottle Rings (fresh cut and kiln slumped)
Wine Bottle Rings (fresh cut and kiln slumped)

The only thing I do differently, when cutting rings is to score all of your rings at one time. After you have all of your scores finished, heat the whole bottle with your Heat Gun on high, quickly rotating the bottle for an even heat. I use the high setting because I can get the whole bottle warm fast. Make sure your ice and water level covers all of your scores when you put the bottle in.

Bottle Art is so much fun so have some friends over and let them help you empty your “materials” for your next work of Art! The sacrifices we must make!

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I Can’t Cut This Glass!

Toyo Glass Cutter

We’ve all been there, the Glass Gods must be on a coffee break  because you just can’t seem to cut the glass like you want. Hopefully we can cover some of the real problem areas of cutting and get you back on track. First, the cutter. There are so many different types of cutters. Most of us that do stained glass will agree that the Oil Fed Carbide wheel glass cutters work the best. They will last longer and much more comfortable to hold, unlike your Grandpa’s hardware store cutters. But there are several different styles and manufacturers. We have Pistol Grip cutters for those who need extra help with pressure. We have the Pencil Type Cutters, which you hold like a pencil. Then we have the Custom Grip, which fits in the palm of your hand. When trying to decide which cutter works best for your hand, ask your local stained glass store if they have samples of the different cutters to try out. They all work about the same, but it is important to find a cutter that fits your hand perfectly. This will help with hand fatigue and control. They also make Cutter Cozys and Pistol Grip Cozys to put on your cutter to give you a non-skid handle for a better grip.

Now that we have the cutter worked out, there are a few important tips on scoring the glass. You only score once, never back and forth. If the glass doesn’t break, either score next to your line or try to score it on the backside. You could damage your glass cutter going over the same score.  I have found it easier to score your glass on the smoothest side of the art glass. If you want the texture up on your project, simple turn your pattern upside down and trace it on the smooth side. Some types of glass require different pressure with the glass cutter. Opalescent glass tends to need more pressure when scoring. Transparent glasses tend to be softer and need less pressure. Iridescent glass often needs more pressure because the metallic finish seems to make the surface harder.  As you become more experience with glass working, you will learn the different characteristics of the glass. If you notice that your score is frothy and white, you may need to back off on the pressure. If you can barely see the score, you may need more pressure. Practice will make it easier to get the pressure just right. It is also important to not lean your cutter to the side, try to keep it perpendicular to your glass. If you are leaning the cutter it will change the angle of the wheel slightly and could cause a “deep” score, which may not break where you want it.

I often get customers that say I can’t cut straight lines and I immediately ask are you using a bar or ruler that your cutter runs along when this happens. I have noticed that when this happens, the cutter is tilted away from the bar instead of straight against the bar. This changes the angle of the cutter and often times plows along the bar instead of rolling along. If you suspect this is happening, have someone stand across from you and watch how your cutter is gliding along the bar. They can see if you are tilting your cutter. Straighten up the cutter and be amazed how easy it is to cut straight lines. Also, when using a bar, it helps to pull your cutter towards yourself, rather than push away.

Having fluid motion while scoring will also improve your cuts. I have better mobility if I stand while cutting. Even though you are tired after a long day at work, it is important to be able to follow your line effortlessly. Use your whole body, not just your hand. This will be beneficial if you have a curve to follow. If you are following a curve, make sure your elbow is pointing out as you score otherwise you may run into your body as you try to navigate the score. I usually do a dry run to make sure I can complete the score comfortably and in control.

Another factor to successful glass cutting may be the height of your cutting table. If you’re height challenged, and your table it too high, it will be hard to maintain the correct pressure when scoring. If you feel like taking a nap after scoring a few pieces, it may mean that you’re working too hard. Try moving to a lower table and see if it helps with the fatigue and control of your cutter.

If you have tried all of these ideas and nothing seems to work, maybe the magic has run out of the cutter. Your cutter may need a tune up to get it back to when you first brought it home. Sometimes, tiny chips of glass can get behind the cutter wheel and keep it from rolling freely. I roll the wheel on my hand an few times to see if it is rolling well. You can put a drop of cutter’s oil on the wheel before you do this to help free up the wheel. If this isn’t it, your cutter may have a nick in the wheel or just plain worn out. An easy test to see if your cutter is rolling properly is to get a piece of mirror and score  5 or 6 straight scores about 1/4″ apart. If there is a nick in the wheel, you will see it at the same spot on each line. The mirror helps reflect the score so it is easier to see. If this is the case, you probably need to replace the cutter head. Oil Fed Carbide glass cutters will last a long time it they are taken care of. Don’t drop them point down on the workshop floor and don’t store them around your flux. Flux will cause your tools to rust, including your cutter.

For those who’s hand strength just isn’t there anymore, I recommend The Cutter’s Mate tool. It will allow you to cut any shape at just the right pressure. It can be the miracle that gives your stained glass hobby a new life.

Cutting can be 90% mechanics and 10% luck so I hope that these tips can help you improve your cutting skills.

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Which Foil do I choose?

Ever wonder why there are so many Copper Foil choices? Why do we need so many? The obvious is thicker glass needs wider foil. This is true. Stained glass can vary in thickness with the different manufacturers and sometimes you need to use a wider foil to cover the edges more. The most common sizes really are 3/16″ and 7/32″ and occasionally 1/4″ for the wide stuff. We start our beginner students with 7/32″ because it is easier to get the foil centered on the glass. After some experience, we recommend going down to 3/16″.

We have found that once your cutting skills are better and your pieces fit closer, a smaller foil will give you a smaller solder seam. The smaller the solder seam, the easier it is to get a great solder line. Of course it more challenging to center on the glass. We have found that using a foiler with help center the foil and partially crimp it along the way. Our favorite foilers are the Table Foiler and the Glastar Foiler. The Table Foiler is easy to use and makes centering your foil a breeze. It works with different foil sizes; 7/32″, 3/16″ and 1/4″ and has a weighted base that makes it easy to use anywhere. The Glastar Foiler also will accommodate the 3 common size foils and partially crimps the edges as well. You do need to attach the Glastar Foiler to your work table to make it easier to use.

Another question we often get is “Why do you have Black Back Foil and Silver Back Foil?”  Ever finish a project and hold it up and you can see an orange glow around your bevels or clear glass? It is the inside edge of the Copper Foil that is showing through the glass. The top is soldered and silver but the inside is still copper. Yikes-now what? At this point there is nothing you can do except remember this feeling next time you plan a project. Think ahead and decide how you want to finish your project. If you’re going to leave it silver, you might want to use Silver Backed Foil. This foil has a silver colored adhesive so when you look through your bevels or clear glass you see silver and everything matches in the end. If you want to use Black Patina on your project, you should use Black Back Foil. Also, if you want to use Copper Patina, use your regular Copper Back Foil. You will be happy in the end that you thought ahead and used the appropriate foil.

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Cutting Circles Makes Me Crazy

How to easily cut a circle in glass

Ever watch an old movie starring the hunky cat burglar that walks up to a plate glass window and scores a perfect circle?  Then he pulls out a suction cup and pops it out easily and he’s in. Only in Hollywood. When glass breaks, it will often have a slight flare, which would be nearly impossible for a circle to drop out without releasing the glass around it. But there is a way to cut a perfect circle!

Let’s start with a the circle cutter. I prefer the circle cutters that have a suction cup on the pivot point. This will help hold the cutter in place while you are scoring the circle. Set your cutter for the diameter of circle you want to cut. Remember, we are dealing with the diameter of a circle, so if you want a 4″ circle set your wheel at 2″. If your circle cutter’s ruler is in metric, you can place a regular ruler on the center of the suction cup and slide the cutting head on top of the ruler to get the size you need.

Circle glass cutter trial on paper
Testing glass circle size on paper

A trick I use to check my measurement before I cut the actual glass is to grab a piece of paper or cardboard and practice your circle cutting. You can see what size you will end up without actually cutting the glass.  When you place the cutter on the glass, make sure you leave about 1/2″ from the edges of the glass. This will allow you to break your circle cleanly. If it is too close to the edge, you will end up with a pointy nub that will need grinding. Go ahead and waste a little glass, it will save time grinding later.

Your score is the most important part of this process. Do a dry run, not actually score the circle, to make sure you will be able to smoothly execute the score well. It never fails, you are in the middle of a score and the circle cutter bar hits something near the glass and interrupts your score. Once you feel that you are cleared for take off, it is time to start your score. Do one full rotation with the cutter, careful not to go past where you started. You can usually feel the cutter fall into the score where you began. Stop there. It is important to have consistent pressure, not too hard, not too light. You can use clear window glass to practice scoring your circles so that you can get the pressure down. Practice makes perfect.

Morten Safety Break System and Glass Circle Cutter
Morten Safety Break System and Glass Circle Cutter

Now, here is the real secret to breaking out the perfect circle, providing you have the perfect score. Use the Morton Safety Break System to run your score around the circle. Glass is like a balloon over filled with air, full of energy. When you score the surface, you want to try to release that energy that will best work for you. The Safety Break System allows you to break the score along the circle in a controlled manner.  It actually has two breaking systems. The Push Block and Button works similar to your breaking pliers only more powerful. The Button will put pressure upwards on the bottom of the glass, while you use the Push Block to apply pressure downward on the top of the score. It allows you to gently manipulate your break around the circle. The Running Tool is more versatile and doesn’t need the button to break out the score. You can simply hold your glass while you apply pressure on the score with the Running Tool. Either tool will do the job and you get to decide what you are comfortable with.

Once you have the circle free of the it’s surrounding glass then you can score lines to finally release your perfect circle. I usually make score lines off at an angle to the circle, so I don’t accidentally run my cutter into the circle, which could start a new run.  Break these lines out and release your perfect circle. If all the stars are aligned and the technique is executed well, there will be no need to grind.


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My copper patina job stinks!

Liva Stained Glass Polish

Tired of getting poor copper patina results? You have tried everything short of standing on your head while applying copper patina and nothing seems to work. We have unlocked the mystery of getting your patina projects shiny and beautiful.

First, make sure your Copper Patina Solution hasn’t been contaminated. We pour the solution in the cap, rather than dip your brush in the bottle. Copper Patina Solution is very delicate and contamination can cause poor results. Also, use a brush only for Copper Patina, don’t share with any other chemicals.

Second, as soon as you have finished your soldering take it to the sink to apply your Copper Patina. Don’t wait until Dancing With The Stars is over. The longer you wait, the more oxidation will occur, which effects your finish. Don’t wash the project until after the Patina is applied. Washing it before can introduce contaminates from the water, which may effect your patina job. After you apply the Patina, then wash and neutralize the chemicals. We like to use Kwik-Clean as a neutralizer.

Third, our secret weapon, is to polish your project with Liva Polish. It will bring out the best in your Copper Patina and really shine.