Do-it-yourselfers are an intrepid bunch that will without hesitation cut any building material they can get their hands on. The thought of cutting glass, however, stops even the most daring DIYers in their tracks. And that’s understandable since cutting a hard, yet fragile material such as glass seems impossible for someone to do at home.
In actuality, cutting glass isn’t only easy, it’s also well within the capability of any DIY homeowner. All you need to make clean, accurate cuts in plate glass are a few simple hand tools and a little practice. But before getting into the specifics of glass cutting, let’s take a look at the tools you’ll need.
Collect the Tools
The primary tool used to cut glass is-surprise!-a glass cutter. The manual glass cutter is arguably the most innocuous-looking tool ever produced. Resembling a medieval toothbrush, it consists of a cast-metal handle that has a round ball on one end, and on the other end, a notch-toothed head fitted with a tiny steel cutting wheel.
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine this tool could cut through water, much less plate glass. But don’t be fooled by appearances: This tool has remained virtually unchanged for more than 150 years because it cuts glass quickly, efficiently and cleanly.
Besides a glass cutter, you’ll also need a can of cutting oil or machine oil, window cleaner, some kind of straightedge guide, a few cotton rags, duct tape, snug-fitting safety glasses and leather gloves.
Prep the Work Area
Prepare a clean, flat, hard surface for cutting glass, such as a sturdy workbench or thick piece of plywood. Just be sure the work surface is rigid; if there’s any flex in it, the glass will crack when you go to cut it.
Sweep or vacuum the work surface to remove any dust, dirt or debris. Lay down a thin, damp rag to create a non-slip, supportive layer for the glass. Put on leather gloves and safety glasses, and use cotton rags and window cleaner to clean both sides of the plate glass. It’s important to clean the glass prior to cutting to prevent any dirt or grit from stalling the tool’s cutting wheel. Set the clean plate glass onto the cloth-covered work surface.
Cut the Glass
Next, mark the cut line onto the glass with a fine-tip indelible marker. However, the cutting wheel is offset from the edge of the cutter by about 1/8 in. To compensate for the offset, subtract 1/8 in. from the desired measurement. For example, to cut a 10-in.-wide piece of glass, measure 9 7/8 in. and then make a mark.
Use a framing square, steel rule or other straightedge to serve as a guide for the glass cutter. Set the straightedge on the mark, and secure it with two strips of duct tape. The duct tape isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’ll help prevent the straightedge from shifting out of position. Once you’ve had a little practice cutting glass, you can skip the duct tape.
Now, lubricate the cutting wheel on the glass cutter with a drop of lightweight cutting oil or machine oil. (If using a self-lubricating glass cutter, there’s no need to oil the wheel.) Firmly grasp the cutter similarly to the way you’d hold a pencil. Then, press the cutting wheel down hard against the glass and in one, uninterrupted motion, pull the cutter along the straightedge and right off the edge of the glass.
When done correctly you’ll hear a continuous screeching sound as the hardened-steel wheel scores the surface of the glass. Remove the straightedge from the glass. There are two basic ways to snap the scored glass into two pieces:
1) Turn the glass over and use the ball on the end of the cutter to tap the back of the glass along the scored line. Keep tapping until the glass cracks along the line.
2) With the scored line facing up, slide the glass off the work surface until the scored line is even with the edge of the work surface. Firmly hold down the glass with one hand, then press down on the cantilevered part to snap the glass in two.
Finish up by using 100-grit sandpaper wrapped around a wood block to smooth any rough, sharp glass edges.
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