DIY : Cutting Glass – Jeff – Medium

The past couple weeks I’ve occupied my time building a frame for our enamel pin collection from the PAX gaming convention we attend every year in Seattle. I’ve never built frames before, nor really tried any precision woodworking projects since a woodshop class in junior high, so this was new territory for me.

Every step of framing requires exactitude. As I quickly learned, there’s a reason professional framing is expensive. I eventually got a serviceable frame put together, but once it was time to size and cut the glass, I ran into the real trouble.

You can buy the panes of glass at any hardware store. They aren’t expensive, maybe $10–12 for more than enough glass for most projects.

But the process of cutting the glass is tricky. The glass cutter looks a bit like an exacto knife, but with a wheeled blade on the end. When used correctly, it produces this horrible ripping noise, like tearing construction paper, and leaves a tiny score in the glass. The first time you try a cut, it’s easy to assume you didn’t push hard enough. The score in the glass is that shallow. Yet when you pick up the pane and place just a bit of pressure on that score line, the piece snaps cleanly in two. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

My first cut went well, but the second I put just a bit too much stress on the piece, and fractured it in a way to make it impossible to salvage anything from it. Staring at a completely wasted piece of glass, I went back to the store for a second attempt.

This time, I made sure to cut the piece along the short side first, knowing that if I screwed up the first cut like in my first attempt, I’d still have plenty of room have room on the long end to salvage the piece. I successfully made the first cut, but I ended up fracturing the piece again on the second cut. The work surface I was using just wasn’t big or smooth enough, and it meant the glass was getting pressured unevenly.

Back to the hardware store for the third pane. This time, instead of an uneven, dirty workbench, I set up on a more solid workspace, the kitchen counter. I measured out the piece over and over. I made both cuts, and the glass fit perfectly.

I’d never have succeeded without applying the lessons learned from each past failure. As it turns out, the only way to master glass cutting is to break a lot of glass first.

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