Fused Glass Switch Plate Tutorial

Existing off center switch plate
Existing Off Center Switch Plate
This past summer, a person I met at an outdoor art show contacted me about creating a custom light switch for her home. She and her husband had recently gone through a kitchen remodel. She explained that the existing light switch was off-center (see photo, right), and she was looking for something to appear more balanced in the space and work well with her existing d├ęcor. Would I be interested? Well, sure, I thought. How hard can it be? That kind of statement always ends up falling into the “famous last words” category.

While there are commercial fusing molds available for various light switch configurations, they are, of course, all based on standard flip switches, rocker switches, and outlet sets. The challenge with this installation was that to balance the light switch visually on the wall, a commercial mold could not be used.   

Close-up of the existing switch plate
Close-up of the existing switch plate

I measured the wall and switches carefully, and along with the client I concluded that a 5x10” piece would be suitable for the 18” space. We also made the decision that she would replace the existing “old style” flip switch with a more modern (and easier to work with!) rocker switch.

After working with the client to choose the glass, it was time to get to work. She chose a lovely piece of Spectrum's fusers reserve with blue, amber, and white swirls on clear. I decided to use the flow of the glass to influence the design. I would use the swirls in the fusers reserve to represent water, and then create fused glass pebble embellishments. The base of the piece would be white. 

The first step was to carefully draw the outline of the plate on cardstock and cut the base glass, and then cut and assemble with the fusers reserve and clear on top. This layup was fired to a full fuse.

White base glass
White base glass
Layout of fusers reserve on base
Layout of fusers reserve on base

Into the kiln for a full fuse
Into the kiln for a full fuse
After fusing I checked the sizing of the switch and outlet openings with a plastic switch plate I picked up at the local big-box hardware store, and then later at a friend’s house who has double-rockers. I knew that the glass would move some and I would need to make adjustments – these were done with a small ¼” 100 grit diamond bit on my grinder.

Pebbles enhanced with reactive red
Some of the pebbles were enhanced
with reactive red
Prior to the second fusing I visited the client’s house to double check the fit. I had already done a test fuse on the “pebbles”with the initial firing, and brought a few of those along so she could get an idea of what I was thinking. She was excited with the design and loved the colors (which is always a relief!).

So that the switch plate would have an edge that rounded down and sit flush on the wall, I placed it on a piece of 1/8” fiber paper for the final firing. The fiber paper was cut just slightly smaller than the switch plate, and I did not cut out the fiber paper for the rocker switch holes. This firing was a tack fuse (almost a contour fuse), with a conservative annealing schedule. My "cry factor" on this piece was pretty high (I didn’t want to do this again!), so I annealed for two hours to ensure there would be no stress around the contour-fused pebbles. After this firing was completed, I used the plastic switch plate as a template for the screw holes. To drill the holes, I used a Dremel tool with a Flexi-shaft and a diamond bit.

Installed switch plate
Installed Switch Plate
For the installation I brought along my Dremel and my plastic dish pan that I use for submerging glass in water and drilling holes. While the piece fit before the tack fuse, the glass moved some (I was expecting that) and I wanted to be able to adjust the piece where necessary. In the end, I drilled the upper right screw hole a little larger, and slightly trimmed the right edge and top of the right rocker switch hole.

At this point the most difficult part was being able to see behind the plate well enough to secure the screws into the outlet hardware. I joked about how many educated adults it took to install a switch plate (turns out it’s three – one to hold the plate in place, one to handle the screwdriver, and another to look on in wonder, laugh, and hold the flashlight.) We were careful not to tighten the screws too tightly, so that no stress was put on the glass.

This was a high stress project. The fit had to be precise, and there were several points of risk in completing the design -- proper annealing, drilling the holes, and even the installation. The clients were very happy with the piece, and offered to act as a reference if I needed one. They even began talking about another custom piece to cover up the base of an overhead light fixture.

“Sure!” I said. “Just let me know when you are ready.”

Besides... How hard can it be?

Custom fused glass switch plate
Custom fused glass switch plate

Learn more about fusing!

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