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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How to Break a Mirror and Other Stories

Hello folks!

I continue to learn lots of little lessons about what not to do!  But on the other side of every one of those lessons comes a bit of new skill that will come in handy with new projects.  So I cheerfully press on!  And boy is this fun!

I thought I would take a moment to share what I have learned about breaking a mirror. . . literally!  I undertook this week, with the help of my long suffering and precious wife, the task of cutting the mirror for the over mantel in the Grand Parlor.

Just to prove to you that trial can beget beauty, at least of a sort, here is a shot of the fireplace surround with the mirror actually CUT, not BROKEN! What a relief!  

Seriously though, the process was not that bad, minus one broken mirror. I learned enough to know how to do this again without as much trial and suffering!   So on to the circuitous process WE went through.  (This became a family affair!  That made it even more fun!). 

Our little adventure started with my purchase of a glass cutter from Michaels ($6.99!  Not too bad!) Luckily, my wife actually worked as a framer for a few years, and knew what to tell me to get.  I went to Michaels to find the tool, bearing the description of what it looked like.  

Of course, it would not be that easy now, would it!   I got to the store only to find that there were three options, none of which appeared to fit the description proffered by my wife.  (It turns out her description was perfect, if I had been able to SEE what was in the package!)  So I spent ANOTHER ten minutes on the phone describing what I saw to my wife, reading all the instructions on the back to her, so she could guide me to a choice that might be the right one.  (The instances of my standing in front of an entire bank of merchandise in total confusion seem to have escalated in the last year.  In fact, I only recall once or twice in the past being in that situation, as I am a reasonably intelligent male.  At least I used to think so.)

That was one of the "Other stories" alluded to in the title of this post.  Now on to the something worth reading, I hope!

The tool pictured above has a tiny (I assume diamond) wheel facing you in the picture above.  In theory, you fill the clear handle with sewing machine oil, score the mirror or glass, only once, and then tap along the scored line from the back.  This is supposed to net a beautifully cut, perfectly straight line!  Very simple, yes? My wife is pictured above performing this wonderfully simple task. 

Well, you can see in the photo here what we ended up with!  And she had DONE this a lot before.  I don't know if it was the mirror, the way we performed the task, or the tool, but the advertised perfectly cut, straight line was not our first experience!  (Truth?  We scored TWICE!  An OBVIOUS blunder!)

I tried the mirror with it's imperfectly cut edge in the new frame, and breathed a sigh of relief.  We could still use it.  So we attempted to cut the other edge.  We were Oh so smart, and limited our cuts to only two. . . you see, we planned ahead, and used the already cut edges for two sides.  So we patted ourselves on the back, truly astonished at our great wisdom.   One cut left, surely we can succeed with this!

What you see in the photo above is my gracious, patient wife beating on the mirror edge to try and get the second cut to separate.  5 minutes of tapping, 10 minutes of tapping. . .  we finally decided we needed to do something different.  The definition of insanity is to continue to repeat what does not work.  Again, we are somewhat wiser than that, so we decided to extend our efforts to include additional methods to persuade the glass to break nicely for us. 

We therefore microwaved a bowl of water to an impossibly hot temperature, and procured an additional bowl of iced water, and we just knew we would succeed using the scientific method.  Hot to cold, everything breaks, right?  I mean, we once had a casserole (the unbreakable kind) we took out of the oven that was hit by a cool draft of wind and shattered into pieces!   Surely this would work. 

Not.  We still could not get the mirror to separate along the scored line.  So we played with that for a few minutes...repeating the process over and over again, microwaving the water, adding more ice, tapping along the scored line.  Still no success!

Finally, the man of the house took over with the smashing (totally smashed!) result of one broken mirror. We got to start over.  Don't you love those moments of manly prowess ladies?   Aren't we impressive?

Now here is the part that is truly genius!  This genius supplied not by myself or my wife, but my son! Wisdom from the mouth of babes!  (Should I share with you that my son is now 30?  Nah, that is irrelevant isn't  it?) 
He asked whether I had some small clamps, which of course I did.  So based upon the sage advice of my progeny, we brought in the big guns!

After I had scored the line, pressing much more firmly than we had before (such a man!), my son (not Dad, not Mom) placed the two clamps on the narrower side of the scored line.  (for the observant among you, the photo above is STAGED, with the clamps applied to the already cut mirror tile! I forgot to take a picture in the heat of the moment!)  We used the clamps to apply pressure along the scored line by forcing the glass (scored side out) as if we were going to fold it along the scored line.  It worked!  Oh the opulent sweetness of success!

After all of the above, here is the two line summary of how to successfully CUT (not BREAK) glass!  Score the line deeply (and only once) along the new edge you want to cut.  Use a couple of small clamps to apply pressure along the scored line, with the scored line AWAY from your face, and behold, you will have a beautifully cut piece of glass.   See how easy!  (It really was, once we figured out what we needed to do!) There, that was the whole process!  In one paragraph.   Aren't you glad you read this whole post?

Having finally succeeded in persuading my mirror tile to cooperate with me, I painted and assembled the mirror.  Two pieces of mount board around the mirror (to equal the thickness of the mirror) and the frame.

Above you see the final result!  Other than the plethora of fingerprints (I thought I cleaned that!!), I am pleased with the final result. 

Aside:  Note that my "feature" (the pen blank) is present in it's new found shape.  This is the OTHER "other stories" that I wanted to share.  I FORGOT that I had lowered the ceiling in the Grand Parlor.  My measurements were therefore too tall, creating a slight problem with placing the newly minted fireplace in the room.  So my "feature" became a (albeit beautiful) piece of wood, and even at that, I may have to remove it. Notice in the first picture on this post.  The top of the over mantel is slightly higher than the crown molding. 

I haven't given up yet.  I am going to TRY to make that make sense by placing a chimney breast behind the fireplace.  We shall soon see. There is however, a risk of my little "feature" becoming a thing of the past, leaving my fireplace "featureless"!  ( I know I run the risk of disappointing Vivian again.  Please forgive me! )


I hope you enjoyed my somewhat tongue in cheek presentation of how to break glass.  

Until next time!

Doug S


  1. -Hello Doug,
    That was a great post. I'm glad you finally got the mirror cut to your specifications and no one got hurt! It was well worth it because it looks beautiful. As for the height of the over mantel, is there any way you can make it fit even though it goes over the crown molding. It gives the over mantel a grand built in look that I personally like. ..I'm a sucker for custom work ;)
    Terrific work as always Doug. the room is looking fantastic and I love the effect of the reflection in the mirror. Gorgeous!
    Big hug,

    1. Hi Giac,

      Glad you enjoyed my irreverent treatment of this post. . . I just had to share the convoluted process we went through, I found it somewhat humorous! Besides that, I get to sing the virtues of my family, that is my favorite activity, you know.

      I'll think on the over mantel height. I do like the height, but I need to find a way to really tie it in and not have it look pasted on. So far, I haven't figured that out. As I was thinking about your response after I got it this morning, I was realizing that if I got paid for all the "thinking" I am doing for this house, I would likely own an island somewhere in the tropics. Unfortunately, I don't. So I think for free!

      I am excited about adding some detail to allow the mirror to reflect more color! I love the fact that the mirror has a large reflective surface, because I think it will really help provide interest and light as the room is completed. Who knows, as things move along, you may even catch a furtive glimpse of the builder!

      Thanks Giac! If you have ideas on how to tie that fireplace in, I am all ears! :0)

  2. Wow, you have done a great job, Doug, or let's say: you wife did ;)! I've never cut before a piece of glass, so certainly not a mirror....... So, I've learned a lot of your blog post and of your experiences with this job, thank you!
    Nice work, the fire place is nicely coming together.
    Kind regards, Ilona

    1. Hi there Illona! You are a perceptive woman! :0) My wife did do most of the cutting while I stood aside and learned. But hey! I scored the final cuts and cleaned the glass. (sort of anyway!) So don't I get to take the credit?

      I am glad you felt like you learned from our little comedy of errors! I like to hear that someone benefits from my folly. We really did have fun, and I have completely overblown all of the little problems we had. You should try a cut or two! It was really not that hard and it feels good to have conquered (even if I didn't do it all myself!).

      Thanks Illona! It is good to hear from you!


  3. Hi Doug, I just loved your tongue-in-cheek humour in describing your trials and tribulations over the mirror. It's a sad state of affairs when we, the readers, get the benefit of your hardships....but that's what our blogging is all about :)
    I congratulate you, your wife and son on achieving what you set out to do! It's wonderful for the soul to learn a new skill...and to know that you are helping others too.
    That's your good deed done for the day! Persevere with the problem of the tall mantle, it will come to you. Thank you so much for the informative and humourous post! 'Till the next time...
    All the best

    1. Thanks Vivian! I am glad you enjoyed the post. More importantly, I am glad you learned a thing or two in the process.

      I think I figured out my over mantel! At least almost! If my new idea works, it will be sweet! If it doesn't . . . Well, we'll cross that bridge . . . I would hate to disappoint you again!

      I don't think it is "sad" at all that others get to benefit from my prattling on. I have fun doing it, and you all get to have fun laughing at me. I think that is a sweet deal!




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