The basic technique for crafting stained glass lamps was developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany at the beginning of the 20th century. This method involved wrapping copper foil around the edges of each separate piece of glass and soldering them together on a mould into a three-dimensional shape. Modern techniques have streamlined the process, adding adhesive to one side of the copper foil and developing easy-to-use moulds of fibreglass or styrofoam rather than the wooden ones used by the Tiffany studios. Two main systems that use moulds have become popular: Odyssey and H. L. Worden. Another technique, called panel lamps, is a simpler process and does not require a mould for assembly.
H. L. Worden Lamp Crafting System
H. L. Worden developed lamp forms moulded from heat-resistant styrofoam. Each mould can be adapted for use with a number of different patterns that all have the same basic shape. The glass pieces are cut and assembled on the mould using pins, then wrapped with copper foil and tinned while on the mould. Tinning requires melting a thin layer of solder over all the seams to hold the piece together. This prepares the seams for the final soldering process. Once the piece is tinned and the top and bottom apertures are reinforced with wire, it is removed from the mould and the inside is tinned and beaded. During beading, solder is melted onto the seams so that it forms a rounded line, beading up on the seam. Then the outside is beaded and the lamp hardware is installed. A crown is added if that is part of the pattern, then it is cleaned, patina added if desired, cleaned again, and shined with a liquid wax.
Odyssey Lamp Systems
The Odyssey system uses fibreglass moulds designed specifically for one lamp pattern only, with the lines for the pattern pieces moulded into the lamp form itself. A thin layer of grout is rubbed onto the form to help delineate the pattern lines. This technique also uses sticky wax to hold the glass on the lamp form, rather than pins. The lamp patterns were all taken directly from pencil rubbings of original Tiffany lamps. One copy of the pattern is provided on paper and the other on Mylar. The Mylar pattern is cut into pieces and used to trace the pattern on the glass for cutting. The glass pieces are cut and fit on the mould, which has been covered with sticky wax, then wrapped with copper foil and the seams tinned. It is then removed from the mould, the lamp hardware installed, and the inside tinned and beaded, then the outside is beaded. The final steps are cleaning, treating the solder lines with patina if desired, a final cleaning, and waxing.
Each panel of a panel lamp is put together and soldered together on a flat surface, then the panels are fit together, taped at a few points on the seams, and lifted into their final geometrical shape. Once the lamp is standing, the connecting seams are tack soldered to hold the panels together and the tape is removed so the seams can be tinned and beaded. The lamp hardware and reinforcing wire is added, then the lamp is cleaned, treated with patina, cleaned again and waxed.