Equipment And Supplies
- ½” (soft) rolled copper tubing (approximately 37″ does one 12″ glass round)
- ½” rigid (L-series) copper tubing (36″… can be adjusted at installation)
- ½” copper “T”-fitting
- Tube cutter
- Metal cutting tool: very high-speed drill with metal cutting wheels (RotoZip etc) or cutting wheels on a strong compressor tool. If a Roto-zip tool is used, we find that the cutting wheels made by that company are the most durable.
- 5 gallon bucket: to be used in shaping the 12″ frame
- Rubber mallet: also for shaping on the bucket
- Drill with a 1/16″ bit: to make pilot holes for screws in metal
- #4 x 3/8″ sheet metal screws (5) (get steel, the brass are too soft)
- Tabletop vise: to hold while cutting and screwing tube to T’s
- Short bungee cord (10″)
- Large, slotted screwdriver: (used to expand frame and T opening)
- Regular manual screwdriver with a small head (slotted or phillips depending on the screws used)
- Offset pliers like a channel lock (for crimping edges of round tubing close to the glass)
- SAFETY glasses & work gloves
- Dust mask or respirator
- Earplugs: for use with high-speed cutter (optional but sensible)
- Glass panel round (see instructions in that section)
NOTE #1: There is no soldering involved in this procedure. You risk breaking the glass with even a small butane torch (how do I know? :)). The piece is held with 5 small screws, which make it totally removable at any time.
NOTE #2: CAUTION! Construction of these stakes requires that you use good safety measures. The use of a high-speed tool poses a significant hazard. If you have not used one, find somebody who is experienced and willing to do it for you. Once you know the length of the tubing needed it’s easy to cut open as many as you want. That’s the hard part. I shouldn’t need to tell you to wear SAFETY GLASSES at all times. There will be dust from cutting wheel wear as well as copper filings, so also use a dust mask or respirator and ideally, heavy work gloves. The mask can be discarded after the cutting is done. For everything else, like drilling holes etc, you still need to wear safety glasses. Earplugs are recommended for protection from the high-pitched noise of any high-speed tool. It also takes a bit of old fashioned arm muscle. I don’t have much of that, but I’m pretty much surrounded by MEN. Isn’t that SPECIAL?
1) Purchase a roll of soft rolled copper tubing in the ½” diameter size. It comes in many different roll shapes from 12″ up. The stem is made from ½” rigid copper tubing. There is an M and an L series in this rigid material. The L is thicker-walled and stronger. Get ½” copper T-fittings which will be used to hold both ends of the frame and the stem. All of these are readily available at home builders’ and plumbing suppliers, or any business which sells copper routinely.
2) Cut a 37″ length of tubing from the coiled stock using a tube cutter. It’s a good idea to measure the circumference of the glass panel with a soft tape measure to be sure of the tube length needed (cut it about ½” shorter). Once you get used to making the panels in an 11½” jig this measuring step probably won’t be necessary.
- A five gallon bucket and a rubber mallet work very well for shaping your copper into a 12″ round frame.
- Place the shaped tubing, with the inside surface showing (up), into a vise to hold it securely while the channel is cut. Mark the cutting line with a sharpie felt tip marker to make a cutting guide.
- Use an abrasive cutting wheel on a high-speed drill or compressor tool to evenly cut open the exact INSIDE of the tube along the marked line. Move the tubing in the vise every 4″ until the entire length has been opened. The speed of the tool must be approx 30,000 RPM or above. Normal speeds will break the cutting wheels and add to the expense and difficulty in opening the tubing. A RotoZip requires the addition of a ¼” mandrel attachment to hold the 4″ cutting disc.
- Place the T-fitting in the vise (stem part down) with the horizontal top piece showing. Use the cutting apparatus to cut across the top of the T.
***CAUTION*** The two previous steps can be hazardous. They require caution and experience.
3) Gently pry open the cut tubings (both round frame and T-fitting), so that the edges have a 7/16″ opening (1/8″ wider than the glass+lead came edge). A wide,slotted screwdriver will do this.
- Gently unroll the frame piece, pulling it back approx 2″ to make room to insert the glass panel into the channel. Place the panel inside.
- Carefully compress the frame around the glass leaving no more than ¾” opening between the 2 ends.
4) Place the tube/glass in a tabletop vise with the cut ends (bottom) UP and the top of the frame held securely in the vise clamp.
- Bend the ends and body of the tube evenly around the glass panel until they fit close to the glass.
- Crimp the open ends of the tubing until it will fit into the horizontal openings on each side of the copper T-fitting. At this point, the inventor (David) suggests that you use a short, 10″ bungee cord(s) or something similar to wrap around the frame diameter, providing tension to hold it tight in the T-fitting while you drill and secure the screws. BE SURE that the T-fitting is straight (don’t allow it to become tilted or angled).
5) Drill holes for the screws ¼” from the ends on the underside of the horizontal T-fitting (the part that you’re looking down at in the vise) and THROUGH the frame ends inside of it. Place screws and tighten manually. #4 (3/8″) screws will stop just short of the lead edging on the glass panel. Be sure to use steel sheet metal screws, brass screws are too soft for this purpose.
6) Remove from vise and bungees.
7) Crimp the frame gently, all around the edges with an “offset” type pliers (channel lock will do). Do this on both sides, one side at a time, where the solder lines meet the frame and any place there is a loose fit. Just crimp enough to secure the glass from rattling or moving in the frame. DO NOT flex as you do this … glass will break (how do I know? :)). Don’t allow the copper edges to dig into the solder lines … stop when it touches. Once crimped, your glass is safe.
8 ) Attach the stem.
- Use a tube cutter to cut a length of rigid copper tubing into a 36″ stem.
- Place project on a flat surface, wrong side up.
- Insert stem into the bottom (vertical leg) of the T, completely.
- Drill one 1/16″ pilot hole ¼” from the vertical edge of the T (on the back-side only) penetrating both the T and the stem inside. Place screw and secure. This holds the stem in place.
- With the project still face down, drill two 1/6″ pilot holes, 3/8″ each from the horizontal edges of the T that contains the round frame edges. These stabilize the frame and prevent it from rocking or twisting.
- There are five (5) screws total in the project. Two on the underside of the T (to hold the cut edges inside), one on the T where the stem is inserted (to hold the stem on) and two in the back of the horizontal leg of the T (to stabilize).
- Ideally, stems start out at 36″. You will want them at different heights in a garden depending on the surrounding foliage. They need to be in the ground AT LEAST 8″ to 10″. Adjust them by pushing into the ground until they’re the right height or, if too long, use a tube cutter and remove some length from the bottom of the leg. The overall height before installation is 48″ (12″ frame + 36″ stem).
Glass Stake Round Pattern Construction
1) If you want a 12″ stake, make your glass panel 11½” in diameter to allow for the glass piece with a protective lead came edging (hobby came or up to 1/8″). If patterns are all made the same size, construction becomes very easy and automatic. The best way to do this is to use a JIG that’s 11½” inside. You can make it from cardboard or poster board and use it over and over. I cheated and got a 12″ wooden picture frame that’s exactly 11½” inside & wouldn’t give it up for anything. It cracks when I remove the nails that hold it down on the worktable and I keep gluing it back together. Finished stakes can be any size. Even the 8″ patterns can be enlarged to 12″ and vice versa.
2) Glass selection: Garden stakes are most attractive and noticeable when they are bright and simple. Use a clear, mono-chromatic, patterned or smooth glass like Waterglass, English Muffle or clear on clear Baroque for the background. A true patterned background detracts from the design. Only time I used it was to put some white on clear Baroque in the Hot Air Balloon stake to simulate clouds in a sky, (don’t know if I would do it again). Use opalescent or translucent/wispy glass in the central pattern. Keep the color selection simple and limited to just a few. Nuggets work great in stakes. Foil them in or just glue them on with UV-Glue.
3) Design your pattern so that it is at least ½” to ¾” from touching the edges of the panel. This allows room for it to be inserted into the copper tubing without losing a part of the design. There should be only solder seams extending out to the lead came edging within that allowance. The pattern books made for stakes are designed this way, but if you adapt some from other sources, you need to keep this placement in mind. Steppin’ Out into the Garden and Beyond the Garden Wall are two books of stake patterns (sadly, they no longer in print). I’ve also adapted some from clip art and fan lamps and made patterns from pictures for a special purpose ( eg. Jester Skull). I’ll include pictures here of the wrong placement and the right one. Proof that we learn from our mistakes … at least I do. Keep a lot of cut lines at regular intervals in your background as they strengthen the panel. Large pieces of glass are more likely to crack from any kind of stress.
4) Other methods: Full lead came as well as copper foil construction should work for these glass panels so long as a small H-came is used (I prefer foil and haven’t used lead). In either case, the rules of stained glass fabrication apply, from cutting to cleaning. There is also a mosaic technique by which glass pattern pieces are glued to an 11½” plain glass circle and grouted. Nice, but not finished on both sides as foil and lead pieces are. They were developed for use in the iron commercial stakes, which are all one-sided view. People who aren’t yet proficient in conventional techniques might want to try this grouted method. It’s described in the Steppin’ Out into the Garden pattern book. I have one mosaic panel in the collection, the sunflower with blue background. The only hard part about that one was cutting a 12″ glass circle (start with a circle cutter).
5) Keep the solder seams and the attachment to the lead came edging smooth and with as little lumpy build-up as possible. Don’t skimp on your attachments, but keep it smooth.
6) Sealant: Color Magic makes a clear, UV protective sealer that can be used on the solder seams for outdoor use. It comes in a little nail polish type of bottle – easy to apply and dries in 3 minutes. Other outdoor-use acrylic sealants can also be used, but if you don’t want to keep waxing your garden stakes out in the weather, sealing is a good option. Glass needs no wax or protection. Just paint the seams to make them shiny and immune from oxidation.
NOTE #3: I happen to love the light look of the copper in the garden, but these frames can be painted. I had NO LUCK using patina on them (it was UGLY). Copper will naturally darken with age and weather exposure and if you don’t paint it when new, you won’t need to paint it again later :).
NOTE #4: Every stake done is unique to some extent. The copper frame tube dimensions for a 12″ round stake are the average and work for most. If your glass panels vary in size, the stakes can be easily adapted.by changing the lengths of the tubing used. The same applies to adjustment of the stem. I doubt there’s much use for an installed stake that’s higher than 40″ (and most will be much lower) …unless you like to see them take flight in a heavy wind. In that case, make a lot of butterflies :).