My neighbor has offered me two panes of glass. They're about 40 x 100cm and stained in places by what I assume is some sort of oil (I haven't examined them closely).

I'm interested in making them into an enclosure for some of my indoor plants. I live pretty far up north, so it would allow me to grow some more interesting southerly species.

This would require cutting the panes several times and cleaning them.

I've seen glass-smiths (not sure what you call these dudes) cutting panes to size. They have a tool that looks a bit like a t-square, and once measured carefully they just run it once across and then sharply bend the end to crack it off.

Is cutting and cleaning your own glass worth the trouble? or should I pass on this offer?

3 Answers 3


The T-square is just that - a T-square for making sure that the glass is cut square, unless it has an integral glass cutter of course.

The tool they use is a glass cutter. It will have a diamond wheel or tip and scores the glass where it needs to be cut. Then a sharp tap will (hopefully) produce a clean break.

They should be easy to pick up at any hardware store. You might have more difficulty getting hold of a large enough T-square, but for a cold-frame you don't necessarily have to be 100% accurate.

Glass can be quite expensive. It would be worth getting a quote for buying the glass you would need and then compare to the cost of the tools you need to buy and your time.

However if (as chris points out in his comment) the glass is tempered then you won't be able to cut it. It will simply shatter if you try.

  • 1
    You will want to make sure that it's not tempered glass before attempting to cut it, however.
    – chris
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 15:59
  • @chris - very good point.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 16:02
  • Watch a video on you tube, the first time can be intimidating. When you buy your tool, buy some inexpensive glass or see if they have any scrap glass they can sell as scrap. Practice practice practice before you start on the real thing.
    – lqlarry
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 0:54

Most often glass will be permanently stained unless it has become embedded in the glass. The best way to try to clean off an oil is a less viscous oil or a thinner for oil based paints. That solution on the surface with a straight razor blade may do the trick.

Glaziers use glass cutters which are like a pencil with a steel wheel in the tip. What is done is the steel wheel puts pressure on the glass and crushes a fine line where you want to cut it. Glass always breaks in its weakest point, this line creates a weak point for you to break the glass in a controlled fashion.

Once you have scored the glass you just need to apply pressure on the opposite side of the score and it will break across it.

Most glass is relatively cheap if you go to a shop that specializes in glass. Often times it is worth the time and effort you save to pay the price for the glass you need.

The cost of equipment isn't very expensive. Some glass cutters can be, but all you need is a $4 glass cutter and a straight edge to assist in a straight line if that is what you want. One thing to point out, the edge will be very sharp once you cut it. Some coarse sandpaper along the edge should dull that down and give you what is called a seamed edge. A smooth edge is called a polish and your best bet is to buy the glass if you need that.


As someone who has done some stained glass work, cutting glass is not difficult, as long as it is not tempered glass. It can take a little practice. This link shows how in pictures. Even better, this YouTube link does a very nice job of teaching you to cut glass.

Use a straight edge to guide the cutter. Better glass cutters have an oil reservoir, used to lubricate the cutting wheel. If not, you can also put a drop of a thin oil on the cutter before a cut.

Make the cut in ONE firm smooth stroke, not in multiple passes. (This is what takes the practice, to know how you need to press down on the cutter, while still making a straight line. Don't push too hard, just firmly. You will usually hear the sound of the cutter making tiny splinters in the glass, and you can hear if you got it right.)

Once you have made that one firm pass with the cutter, it is time to break it along the scribed line. With a straight line to cut, you can often take the glass in two hands. A bit of pressure, trying to bend the glass against that scribed line will usually cause it to break.

Sometimes the glass just won't break with a firm hand along that line. If not, then turn that glass cutter around. Not that the butt end of the glass cutter probably is shaped in the form of a small metal ball? This is to help you to break the glass along the line you just scribed.

The trick is to hold the glass with one hand partly off the table, with one edge still on your work table, and your fingers spanning the cut line. Now, with your other hand, tap the glass LIGHTLY with the ball end of the glass cutter from UNDERNEATH that cut line. You will hear/see/feel the glass suddenly break along the score line. If the crack does not travel all the way, a few more light taps with the cutter will do the job.

Since the table is supporting both pieces of the glass, when it does break, nothing bad will happen.

Be careful handling glass! If you are not comfortable with it, then a thin pair of gloves will not be a bad idea. I would also recommend not doing this work in your living room or kitchen, as glass splinters are nasty and hard to find. Sweep up carefully afterwards.

As far as cleaning goes, I'd be surprised if the glass is permanently stained, but that is possible. If you are just using it for a bit of a greenhouse, a bit of stain is not a problem anyway. I'd try some Windex first (or paint thinner, or a citrus based cleaner.) A razor blade is also a common solution, but you can scratch glass with a steel blade if you are not careful.

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