Dremel recently released the VersaTip and VersaFlame tools — butane-powered torches with interchangeable heating tips that allow for a variety of uses. The VersaTip comes in a small pencil-grip form that works well for soldering and intricate work; The VersaFlame is a slightly larger pistol-grip mini blowtorch that has targeted heating and soft-material cutting uses. Both excel for artists working with wood, leather, and more.
We connected with Beca Skeels, a talented artist who sells her creations as half of the Tumbleweeds Handmade duo, to learn how she’s been expanding into stained-glass art making with these tools. She’s shared her notes and tips with us.
As artists, (Tumbleweeds Handcraft partner) Doug and I work with a variety of mediums. Our primary material has been wood, and most specifically in the last few years, wood veneer for our sunglasses. Last year we started slowly expanding our catalog to camping tools, tiny knife and tool charms, apparel, home goods, and more — which has us working with a lot more metals, plus acrylic, bone, corian, antler, and copper.
As we expand more in our work, I’ve also felt a natural progression in my personal art. As a maker, it’s easy to get stuck in the same cycle, make the things we know we’re good at, and rarely go outside our comfort zone. I’ve been challenging myself to learn a new craft and was instantly drawn to the art of stained glass. It definitely isn’t an easy craft, and more than any skill, it takes a lot of practice and patience.
I’ve done a fair amount of wood burning and the irons I’ve used in the past have always been clunky, the cord gets in the way and the handle is awkward, making it incredibly difficult to maneuver. I was hesitant to learn stained glass because of this. I’m excited to learn this new craft with the Dremel VersaTip because it is not only cordless, but holds like a pen and is much easier to get in smaller places with more precision.
Although the work I have done so far is incredibly elementary, its been such a fun learning process, full of mistakes! I spent a good hour one day breaking every single piece of glass I was attempting to cut because I was using the cutting tool upside down.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far, both for using the VersaTip, and for making stained-glass art in general.
Beca’s VersaTip tips for beginner stained-glass artists:
• Make sure you keep a moist (natural, not synthetic) sponge handy and clean the tip often to keep the solder from building up. Since the VersaTip is built for precision, it’s important to keep the tip as clean as possible. Don’t ever use sandpaper to clean it. Keep it stored when it’s not in use because soldering tips can be effected by the elements.
• Use the temperature control option so that you’re in control of how hot the tip gets. When I first started out, I would just keep it on medium and not adjust it, but the more time I spend working with the tool, I have started adjusting the temperatures depending on the stage of soldering I am in. I think it’s really a personal preference.
• Hold the VersaTip at an angle, the same way you would hold a marker or pen. Use long, thoughtful movements while soldering to create a smooth seam. I still have a lot of learning in this department, but I have noticed that if I don’t rest my arm, and hover above the project, I have more control when it comes to soldering a seam.
• Start small. Try geometric pieces with short seams so that you can get the hang of working with the solder and comfortable with the iron before you move onto bigger pieces. We started by getting scrap stained glass from other artists, which can also be found online, and worked on geometric pieces with straight, clean lines.
• Precise and deliberate cuts of the glass, even foil creases, and steady seams of solder will make all the difference in learning this new craft.
• Although stained-glass art can be an expensive hobby, it doesn’t have to be! Use salvaged or repurposed glass, or check your local art co-op for scraps! And don’t forget to have a blast, there is nothing more rewarding than learning a new craft!
• Practice! I still have a LONG way to go in this journey, but having the right tools and the determination to make quality work means I know I’ll get better every time I practice.
Beca Lewis Skeels and Doug Switalski are artists running the small variety shop Tumbleweeds Handcraft. They are currently based in the North Florida swamps.