Using real glass for windows

I had a reader ask about my technique for using real glass for windows – noting that it’s very easy to break the microscope slide covers when cutting them to size.

I wrote about using real glass in the January, 2009 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine – still available from the publisher. But here are some ideas to guide others who are breaking a lot of glass.

First, here are the tools I use for glass:
Glazing-Tools photo Glazing-01_zps814dfe74.jpg

I have a small cutting mat that I use only for cutting glass. I keep it in a drawer when I’m not using it so it stays clean and dust-free. Under the mat, I have a second, larger mat – which I use for all sorts of modelling projects. Between the two, I put a piece of waxed paper, so I can clear glass shards off the small mat onto the paper, then when I’m done working on glass I can fold the paper so that I keep any shards contained before disposal.

The mat is important because it supports the glass with just the right amount of give so that one can score the slide covers without breaking them.

The black “pen” is actually a diamond-tipped scriber. I bought this at a jewelry supply company, and it set me back about $20. I use it only for glass and it does a terrific job – scoring the glass with very little pressure. The steel rule is used for measuring the sizes I need to cut, and for guiding the scriber.

The rubber gloves are essential to cutting glass. In fact, I use them when airbrushing as well, so I buy a box of them from my local Lee Valley Tools. The gloves do more than keep finger prints off the glass: They allow you to handle the glass with confidence – and this means you don’t end up breaking it because you’re worried about putting prints on it, instead of worrying about how much pressure you’re using to hold things in place.

The last essential is a good source of directional light. I use a small gooseneck lamp, aimed so that it washes over the glass I’m working on – like this:
Glazing-Light photo Glazing-02_zps44019caf.jpg

I can’t do decent glass work unless I can clearly see the glass. And this stuff can disappear on a surface without a strong, directional light.

To cut the glass, I measure the size piece I need and use my scriber to add marks to each end of the cut. Here’s the same piece of glass, with two marks on it showing the end points of my cut:
Glazing-Marking photo Glazing-03_zps0a4376bf.jpg

(This is actually the same photograph as the above one, but taken with with a faster shutter speed so that the glare from the glass doesn’t wash out the marks. When actually working on glass, my eyes adjust so I can see the marks just fine.)

With the glass marked, I can then line up the ruler with the two marks – holding the ruler down with fingers placed to either side of the glass itself – and then I lightly draw a line with the scriber. I let the diamond do the work: That’s what I paid the $20 for. It took a bit of practice to get a feel for just how much – or rather, how little – pressure I needed to use.

The scriber may break the glass along the line when I scribe it, or it may not. I can repeat scribing the line until it does break – or I can slide the glass to the edge of the cutting mat and press down on the scrap piece to snap the glass along the scribed line. Regardless, I tip and tap my glass cutting mat onto the waxed paper to collect the scrap and then move onto the next cut.

4 thoughts on “Using real glass for windows

  1. While I don’t use glass in all of my buildings, I do use it occasionally. Rather than marking the glass for size before cutting it, I draw the outline of the size of window I need on a sheet of typing paper, put the glass over the drawing, and then just cut on the pencil marks.

  2. Trevor,
    Thanks for this post. I read it when you first posted and stored it away for a future day. That day came today when I needed to start cutting slide glass for a snow plow model in large scale. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I remembered this post, reread it, applied your methods. The only thing I did different was to put a light layer of oil down before scribing. 1 small window done, 7 more to go plus 4 larger windows.
    Thanks again!

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