The Lead Came Technique

Constructing a window with lead came appears to be something that a lot of stained glass instructors do not teach anymore. Some even admit to not knowing how to do it.

Leaded Bathroom Window

From reading the threads on various stained glass forums, I know that there are quite a few people that want to know how to work with lead came, but don't know where to learn. I hope that this tutorial will give you enough information to get you well on the way to making a leaded window.

When my husband and I moved to Australia, in 1980, we opened a stained glass business. It grew rapidly to the point that we were teaching 6 to 8 classes a week. We also did a large volume of custom work, repairs and restorations, with the vast majority being done in lead.

Our students all started out learning lead work first. There were very few windows made with copper foil when we lived there. As amatter-of-fact, stained glass windows are referred to as leadlights. Lead is the traditional way to construct a window and our students and clients expected lead. Therefore, I have had a lot of experience working with and teaching the lead came technique.

Why Lead Came?

Lead came was the first material used to construct stained glass windows. It is the traditional way to do stained glass. Look at church windows, stained glass windows in old homes and old buildings. They are all made with lead. Lead gives them a look that says fine craftsmanship, high quality, beauty, I'm here forever.

Lead is more forgiving than foil. Yes, you still need to cut accurately, but there is room for slight errors, such as a chip on the edge of the glass. Slight imperfections along the edges will not show under the lead came, so, unless you are an absolute perfectionist, there will be less time spent at the grinder.

I have never found a design that I couldn't do in lead. Lead came comes in a huge variety of sizes, giving you the ability to lead up the smallest of pieces. I wish I had pictures of the most intricate windows we made, but unfortunately, they were left behind when we sold our business. We made many windows with very small pieces, most with birds and flowers, all in great detail. Every single one was leaded. Look at the orchid sidelight on my home page. Every bit of it is done with lead. Actually all of the windows, in photographs, on this web site were done in lead (except for the ones in the copper foil tutorial).

For those of you that aren't ready to venture out into leading tiny pieces, you can copper foil anything with many small pieces (like a flower or bird). Then you can use that foiled object as though it were a single piece of glass, to be leaded into the window. Just remember not to bead the edges. It will need to fit into the lead came channel and the beading will cause the piece to be too thick. You can peel the foil off of the edges, if you want, to prevent the foil from showing beyond the edges of the lead.

Zinc or No Zinc

One word of explanation here. I very seldom use zinc and as a result have had little experience with it. When I was constructing windows for a local studio I used zinc for the borders only because the studio owner wanted it that way. I have used it enough to know how to cut it and solder it, but beyond that I confess to not knowing much about it. Therefore, this tutorial will be all about lead even though some of the instructional photos have zinc in them. I took those pictures when I was constructing a window for that local studio.

In our studio, we have constructed very large windows for restaurants, churches, etc, and we have always used lead around the outside. To my knowledge, there have been no problems in the 40+ years we have been in business.

Lead has the ability to be trimmed around the outside edges (when you use H came) if there is a tight fit when the window is installed. Most window frames are not exactly a true square/rectangle, especially the old ones. There can be variances due to warping, settling, or poor construction. As a result, there may well be areas that the border lead will need to be trimmed to make the window fit in the frame. If you use zinc for the border, trimming is not an option.

I'm not against zinc, and many people use it. I just find lead easier to work with, to cut and trim...and it has enough strength for any application when the window is properly reinforced.

Precautions To Take When
Working With Lead Came

Lead came is not dangerous if you take sensible precautions when handling it.

Here's a list of things not to do when working with lead came:
1. Do not eat while you are handling lead.
2. Do not smoke while you are handling lead.
3. Do not put your hands in your mouth while you are handling lead.
4. Do not drink while you are handling lead.
5. Do not let your children play with lead.
6. Do not let your pets chew on lead.
7. Do not work with lead in the kitchen or any other place you might prepare food.
8. If you are pregnant, don't use anything containing lead, This includes lead came and solder.

And a list of thing to do when working with lead came:
1. Frequently wash your hands while working with lead, and always wash when you're finished.
2. Keep the lead in a place that your children and pets can not get to it.
3. Use a fume extractor when soldering lead (actually when soldering anything!).
4. Change your clothes when you are done working for the day, or any time you will be
preparing food, or handling babies, children and pets.

That's it. All sensible things to do or don't do.

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The Materials and Tool You Will Need

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1. A separate surface/board to build your window on. 3/4" plywood, homosote or fiber board will all work. I personally like plywood because nails won't fall out once they are hammered in.

Make sure the board is from 3 to 6 inches wider, both height and width, than your cartoon (pattern), and thick enough, 1/2" to 3/4", to hammer nails through the framing strips without them going into your work bench.

2. Four framing strips made of wood or you can use the Morton Layout Block System (which is my choice). The wood strips should be at least 1" x 1 1/2", but can be as large as 1" x 2". You will need at least 2 as long as the cartoon, and 2 at least as wide as the cartoon.

lead dykes/nippers/pliers

3. Lead dykes/nippers/pliers (all the same thing, just different names)

lead knife #1

lead knife #2

4. Lead knife. These are just 2 of several types available. I use a stiff putty knife with the blade sharpened.

horseshoe nails

5. 25 or 30 horse shoe nails.

plastic fid

wooden fid

6. Plastic or Wood Fid (also called Lathekin) Even 1/2 of a wooden spring type clothes pin will work.

hammer for glass

7. Hammer with hard plastic on one end of the head and rubber on the other end.

30/60 triangle

8. 30/60 degree triangle (used for squaring up the framing strips).

common nail

9. Twenty 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" common nails

10. Container for scrap lead. I use a coffee can.

11. Masking tape, 1/2" wide, to tape down the cartoon.

12. Cartoon/pattern

13. Glass

14. Lead Came. Since our ultimate goal is building a leaded window, when I talk about lead I will be referring to H came. U came has many uses and it can be used around a free hanging panel if you want a finished look to the edges.

parts of H came

This is what H came looks like. It looks like the letter H on it's side. The face is what you see when you look at a leaded window. The heart gives lead it's strength. The channel is the entire empty space on both sides of the heart, even though it is colored green on one side only in the diagram. The channel is where the glass sits. There is no top or bottom to lead came. Both sides are the same, so you don't have to worry about getting the right side up.

Here is a good web sites that explains the different Profiles and Sizes of lead came.

You may not find the exact lead came shown in that web site at your local stained glass shop. However, it will give you a general idea of what is available, so you can make an educated decision about what size lead you will use to construct your window.

Sizes of lead can be mixed in a window. You may want to use a narrower lead around flower petals and wider lead around a tree trunk. You can emphasize certain lines to make them stand out. Use your lead as an artistic tool rather than just something to hold your glass together.

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Measuring a Window

If you are going to make a window to fit a specific place, you must have exact measurements for the finished piece. First of all, determine whether the stained glass will go over the existing window or be installed in place of the existing window.

In the USA, most stained glass is installed inside, over an existing window. In Australia we replaced the existing glass with the stained glass panel. It's up to you as to how you want to do it. Another consideration is the type of window frame you will be installing the stained glass in. Some frames will be very difficult, if not impossible to replace the glass with stained glass. In that case you would put the stained glass over the existing glass.

If you have a wooden window frame with wood beading holding the glass in place, you could replace the glass with your leaded panel. Pull off the beading and measure top to bottom in several places and do the same side to side.

There can be a variance in width and length with wood warping, or just plain poor workmanship constructing the frame. If there is a variance, use the smallest measurement. If there is a huge difference, use a number that is half way between largest and smallest. This is where the lead around the outside of the window can be trimmed to fit the areas that are narrower.

Once you have those measurements, subtract 1/8 inch (3mm) from the total length and the same from the total width. This will be the finished size of your panel, including the border lead came.

If you will be installing the lead came panel over the existing glass, measure the width and length of the glass that is showing. Subtract 1/8 inch (3mm) from the total length and width. That will be the size of your finished panel.

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Preparing and Setting Up Your Cartoon

For the tutorial on preparing and setting up the cartoon, click here: Preparing and Setting Up The Cartoon

Cutting and Stretching Lead

For the tutorial on cutting and stretching lead, click here: Cutting and Stretching Lead

How To Construct A Leaded Window

For the tutorial on how to construct your leaded window, click here: Making A Leaded Window

Soldering A Leaded Window

For the tutorial on how to solder your leaded window, click here: Soldering A Leaded Window

How To Putty A Leaded Window

For the tutorial on how to putty your leaded window, click here: Putty A Leaded Window

How To Lead Up A Circle

For the tutorial on how to lead up a circle, click here: Leading Up A Circle

How To Lead Up A Diamond

For the tutorial on how to lead up a diamond, click here: Lead Up A Diamond

If you have any questions or comments about lead came, please feel free to Contact me.

To find everything else on this web site, go to: Web Site Index

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Thank you!

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This page was last updated on March 5, 2016

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More Lead Came Tutorials

Prepare Your Pattern
Learn how to get the right measurements, prepare and set up
your pattern.

Cutting Lead Came
See how to use lead dykes and a lead knife to cut your lead.

Assemble a Panel
Learn the techniques used to assemble a leaded panel.

Soldering Lead Came
Do you have trouble soldering lead came? Learn how with this step by step tutorial.

All About Putty
Recipe to make your own putty and how to putty a leaded panel.

Lead Up a Circle
An easy way to wrap lead around a round piece of glass.

Lead Up a Diamond
How to lead a diamond shape and make it look professional.

Do you have problems working with lead came? Ask your questions here.

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