The look and quality of your finished products directly result from choosing the right stained glass lead came technique. Various techniques and variations in came styles, materials, sizes, and colors are available. Learn about the different products and techniques and how to choose the best one for your project.
What is Lead Came?
Lead came is a slender lead bar used to form a framework around and between the glass sections of a stained glass window. Came is a fairly soft, malleable extrusion that is grooved on one or both sides. To make a stained glass window, a person uses came to form this framework.
Came is produced in two basic shapes, each correctly described by the letter of the alphabet they resemble. H-shaped came is used to join two pieces of glass together and U-shaped came is used around the outer edge of the frame, as it is grooved on only one side. Solder is used to connect the joints and gaps between sections of lead came to complete the work.
Lead is malleable, so it can be bent to fit the shape of the glass. Alloys added in miniscule amounts help prevent oxidation, which makes soldering easier.
When you buy lead came it comes in 6 foot strips or in rolls. It is very soft and pliable so it is easy to cut and form to your glass by hand. It is recommended to stretch the came, especially if it was rolled, to smooth its surface before use. Lead came is very durable and can last 150 years or more.
Pictures of lead came produced by Cascade Metals of British Columbia, Canada. Website link.
There are a variety of lead came types available, with different widths and thicknesses. For example, pictured above are three different profiles including flat, rounded, and colonial. Came can also be made with metals other than lead, such as tin, which are harder but more prone to rusting when exposed to moisture, causing deterioration.
Using Lead Came Technique to Build Windows
Stained glass windows have traditionally been joined with lead strips. New types of lead strips are available today that provide strength and durability to the windows. The strips come in a variety of widths, and are used to join the glass pieces together.
Large Church windows use lead came because of their size and weight. The boldness of the came looks fitting based on the large glass panels used.
Trying to use copper foil to achieve a wide joining strip would be difficult and give an irregular surface. Lead came is linear and stays nice and uniform. Geometrical patterns lend themselves nicely to lead came.
When choosing lead came for a window, consider the lead’s diameter, the type of glass, the application technique, and the customization that will be required in order to fit your stained glass window. It is also important to consider the amount of use your stained glass window will realistically see.
Experts recommend using lead came to build stained glass windows that will be subject to the weather. Additionally, putty and cement help the stained glass windows to be long-lasting and weather tight.
Worries about lead being too soft are misplaced. Even though lead stretches over time in windows, it happens very slowly. Many stained glass church windows last 100 years or more before needing to be re-leaded.
Lead came is a popular material for stained glass windows, but care must be taken to ensure that it is treated properly to avoid damage. Lead is easily damaged by exposure to the elements, so it is important to keep it protected.
If a lead came falls off a window, the window can sag or bow, which can cause the glass to sag or bow. Replacing the lead framework with a new one can help to stabilize the weight of the window while retaining the beautiful artwork. The act of disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling a vintage stained glass window with fresh lead came is known as re-lead restoration.
Read more about stained glass repair and restoration services at the Cathedral Crafts website. link
Determining if a window is in need of re-leading is simple. Just check the original glass for bowing or sagging, and if you find it, this may be the time for a replacement. If the original glass is still in good condition, you may only need to re-lead the window if it is not functioning properly.
New lead came has a 250% stronger tensile strength than it’s predecessors. A completely re-leaded stained glass window will be good for another 100 years or more.
Some artists prefer to use solder to fill gaps on their artwork. However, an effective way to make the artwork airtight and weatherproof is by applying putty.
Putty can be affected by things like air temperature, wind, and humidity. For example, if your windows are exposed to high winds, the putty may begin to show signs of crumbling. Check the condition of your leaded windows on a regular basis and watch for these signs.
Stained glass restoration and re-leading provider Lynchburg Stained Glass – link
How to Use Lead Came On Smaller Projects
There is some debate about whether or not it is appropriate to finish the edges of projects with lead came. This is because while it does improve the overall strength, it can completely change the way the piece appears when finished. Consider your project’s intended purpose and desired aesthetic before choosing to use lead came.
Lead is a good choice for borders on smaller craft projects because it is lightweight and has a smooth edge. Hobby came, a type of lead came used for edging small pieces, is often selected by stained glass artists and crafters because it adds a uniformly smooth appearance to the edges of their copper foil projects.
Lead is a great way to finish a free-form shaped piece. It bends around all of the edges that are curved or veer in and out, saving you from having to solder the outer border.
I wrote a full post giving all the details of using hobby came to border smaller projects – find it here (link)
Lead came is a popular choice for art projects because of its shape, size, and structural stability. Additionally, lead came is an easy way to finish with a clean edge and give your artwork a polished appearance.
Choosing the right stained glass lead is an important decision, as it affects the look and quality of the finished product. A good lead came technique can make the difference between a beautiful piece of stained glass, and an ugly one.
Every stained glass project is different, and everyone’s personal taste will vary. While experience, knowledge, and practice will help you make the right choices for your project, it is always a good idea to consult with a stained glass specialist if you have any questions.
Jump to our Designing Stained Glass post for an overall introductory tour of the craft of stained glass!