A tabletop kW-level spectral beam combining (SBC) system using volume Bragg gratings (VBGs) recorded in photothermo- refractive (PTR) glass was presented at the last meeting . Diffraction efficiency of VBGs close to 100% was demonstrated. However, when using VBGs for spectral beam combining, it is important to ensure high diffraction efficiency for the diffracted beam and low diffraction efficiency for the transmitted beams simultaneously. The unique, unmatched properties of VBGs allow spectral beam combining achieving this condition at wavelengths with less than 0.25 nm separation. We present modeling of reflecting VBGs for high power SBC that takes into account laser spectral bandwidth, beam divergence, PTR-glass scattering losses, and grating non-uniformity. A method for optimization of VBG parameters for high-efficiency SBC with an arbitrary number of channels is developed. Another important aspect of spectral beam combiner design is maintaining high diffraction efficiency as the temperature of beam-combining VBGs changes during operation due to absorption of high power radiation. A new technique of thermal tuning of large aperture VBGs, designed to maintain high efficiency of beam combining without mechanical adjustment over a wide range of laser power, is developed. Finally, these tools are used to demonstrate a robust and portable 5-channel SBC system with near diffraction limited spectrally-combined output beam.© (2010) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.