Introduction – Definition and brief history of leaded glass
Windows have been built with lead came for centuries and it is still used today to create beautiful and intricate stained glass windows. The history of leaded glass traces back to the Middle Ages, when it was first used in churches and cathedrals. Religious art was frequently produced using leaded glass. The medium allowed for intricate designs and bright colors to be incorporated into the windows.
What is leaded glass?
Leaded glass is the term used to describe stained glass windows built in the traditional style where lead strips called ‘cames’ form a grid that holds the glass in place. The interlocking strips of lead came are the distinguishing feature of true “leaded glass.”
To make a leaded glass window, an artist first designs the image. They cut the glass pieces to match the design, wrapping each piece with a came on all sides. The camed pieces are soldered together into panels. Finally, the panels are combined and installed into a window frame.
Leaded glass windows allow light to pass through in beautiful colored patterns. The technique originated in medieval times for decorating churches and cathedrals. Today leaded glass is still used in windows, lamps, and other artwork.
In this blog post we will explore the history and techniques of leaded glass, and showcase its beauty and artistry.
The Traditional Method of Making Leaded Glass
Step-by-step process of creating a leaded glass window
Design and pattern creation
The traditional method of making leaded glass begins with the design and pattern creation. This is the most important step as it sets the foundation for the finished product.
The designer or artist will create a detailed pattern that will be used to cut the glass pieces. The leaded glass is then soldered together to create a secure, stable window. This process may take several days or even weeks to complete, depending on the complexity of the design.
Cutting and fitting the glass pieces
Once the pattern is created, the glass pieces are cut using a variety of tools such as a glass cutter, running pliers, and breaking pliers. The glass cutter is used to score the glass along the pattern lines, while the running pliers are used to snap the glass along the score line.
The breaking pliers are used to shape and smooth the edges of the glass. The glass pieces are then cleaned and checked for any defects before being placed into the lead came. It’s important that the glass pieces are cut precisely to fit the design, as this will ensure a proper fit and a cohesive final product. For more details and tips on cutting glass for your project, take a look at this post (link).
Assembling the lead came
Once the glass pieces are cut, the next step is to fit them into the lead came. The lead came is a strip of lead that is typically between 2-4mm wide, shaped like the letter H, and is used to hold the glass in place.
The lead came is bent to the shape of the design using a lead knife and lead bender. The glass pieces are then placed into the lead came, with the edges of the glass fitting snugly against the lead.
Soldering the joints
The lead came is then soldered to secure the glass pieces in place. This process is known as “leading up” and it’s a crucial step in the leaded glass making process. Just before soldering, flux is applied on the area to be joined to clean the metal of oxides.
The soldering process is done by heating the lead came and applying a small amount of solder. The melted solder then fuses with the lead came to create a durable window framework. The lead came and solder provide structural integrity, making sure the glass stays in place and is protected.
Filling the gaps
This cementing step is not required, but is suggested for windows that will be exposed to the elements. Done right, this step makes a weathertight seal.
After the soldering is complete, cement is added to fill in the gaps between the glass and the lead came. This creates a smooth surface and seals and protects the glass edges.
Glasspro stained glass cement (link) is an example of a commonly used cement. This is applied to the joints by hand or with a stiff brush. A whiting powder is brushed in last to help soak up the remaining oils. Excess cement and powder is removed with a pick, brush, or trowel. Clean remains with a vacuum and cloth.
Watch this helpful YouTube video that shows the entire process on a newly built window.
Cleaning and polishing
Cleaning with soap and water is done to remove any excess solder, flux or other debris that may have accumulated during the soldering process. This is usually done with a damp cloth or a soft-bristled brush.
Once the window is cleaned, it’s time for polishing. Polishing with a product like Liva polish (link) removes chemical residue left over from flux, solder, and patina. The polishing process is done to make the lead lines shine and to give the window a clean and finished look.
The most common method is to use a polishing compound that is applied to a cloth and then gently rubbed onto the lead lines and glass, then buffed off with a clean cloth. This process results in a smooth, shiny finish.
Materials used in the traditional method
Glass is the foundation of a leaded glass window, and it comes in a wide variety of colors, textures and thicknesses. The type of glass used will depend on the design and the intended location of the window.
For example, for a window that will be exposed to direct sunlight, a thicker, more durable glass is used. The glass is available in a variety of colors and textures, such as clear, opalescent, and textured glass.
Some glass pieces are hand-painted with the design or color before being cut. This adds a unique aspect to the final window but also adds an extra layer of complexity to the process.
In the traditional method of making leaded glass windows, lead came is a crucial material. Lead came is an H-shaped strip of lead that holds the separate pieces of glass together.
The glass pieces are placed into a slot in the lead came strip, with the edges of the glass fitting snugly against the lead. The lead came is then soldered to secure the glass pieces in place. The lead came provides structure and protection to the glass.
Lead came can be found in different widths, thicknesses and profiles to adapt to different design and structural requirements. The lead came also gives the final window a characteristic look, with the lead lines being an important design element in the final product.
Solder and flux
Solder and flux are important materials used in the traditional method of making leaded glass windows. Typically composed of tin and lead, solder is a metal alloy that is melted into the joints to solidify the lead structure. Flux is a cleaning chemical that removes impurities prior to soldering.
The soldering process begins by applying flux to the area being joined. Next, the lead came is heated and a small amount of solder is melted into the joint. This creates a strong and durable structure between the lead came and the glass.
Solder is available in different alloys and melting points to adapt to different types of lead came and glass. The most common alloys used in leaded glass are 60/40 (60% tin and 40% lead) and 50/50 (50% tin and 50% lead). The choice of solder will depend on the desired look of the window as well as the type of lead came and glass used.
Patina is a material that can be used to add a unique and distinctive look to leaded glass windows. A patina is a surface coating that is applied to the lead came after the window is assembled and soldered.
Patina is usually a chemical solution that reacts with the lead, creating a variety of colors and textures. Some of the most common patinas used in leaded glass are black, brown, and antique. We recommend this Novacan patina (link).
Black patina creates a dark, rich finish that contrasts well with the bright colors of the glass. Brown patina creates a warm, old-world look that is perfect for historical reproductions.
Antique patina creates a weathered, aged look that adds character and charm to the window. Patina can also be applied to give a more natural look to the lead came and more harmony to the final window.
Advantages of Leaded Glass
One of the main advantages of leaded glass is its durability. The traditional method of making leaded glass windows involves the use of lead came, which is bent and soldered into place. This provides a solid, stable structure to the window.
Leaded windows are much more durable than other types of stained glass window construction. The leaded glass windows are able to withstand the test of time and weather, making them suitable for both interior and exterior use. In fact most leaded windows have a lifetime of over 100 years.
The risk of the glass breaking due to thermal stress is reduced in leaded windows as well, adding to their durability. Furthermore, leaded glass windows are easy to repair and maintain.
If a glass piece breaks, it can be replaced without having to replace the entire window. And if the lead came becomes tarnished or discolored over time, it can be easily cleaned and polished to restore its original shine.
Leaded glass has the advantage of providing excellent light control. The lead came helps diffuse and filter the light, creating a soft, warm glow inside the room.
The leaded glass can be used to create different effects depending on the design and the glass used. By using different colors of glass and different widths of lead came, it’s possible to create a window that lets in a lot of light. Conversely, you could create one that filters out most of the light.
This allows for the creation of a variety of lighting effects, from bright and airy to dim and intimate. Additionally, leaded glass can be used to create privacy screens or room dividers, allowing for natural light to enter the room while maintaining a certain level of privacy.
Leaded glass has the advantage of being energy efficient. The traditional method of making leaded glass windows provides a barrier that helps keep the heat inside during winter and out during the summer. This helps to reduce energy costs and make a home or building more environmentally friendly.
Additionally, the leaded glass can be designed to allow for optimal solar gain, which can be used to heat a building during the winter. This natural heating helps to reduce energy consumption and costs.
Combining low-e coatings or insulated glass units can make it an ideal choice for green building projects. The leaded glass is not only beautiful and durable, but also an environmentally friendly option for natural lighting and energy savings.
Leaded glass has the advantage of providing a unique aesthetic appeal. The traditional method of making leaded glass windows allows for intricate and detailed designs to be created. This affords a wide range of creative possibilities.
The use of different colors, textures and thickness of glass, combined with the lead came, creates a window that is not only functional but also visually stunning. The lead came lines when used as a design element add depth and interest to the window.
The leaded glass is used to create a variety of styles, from traditional to contemporary. Traditional leaded glass windows incorporate into any design, adding character and charm to any building.
Additionally, the leaded glass is used to create different moods and ambiances, depending on the design, glass and patina used. The leaded glass is not only functional but also a beautiful and unique art form that enhances the aesthetics of any space.
Examples of Leaded Glass in Stained Glass Windows
Leaded glass is a traditional method for creating stained glass windows, which involves using lead cames to hold the pieces of glass together. This technique has been used for centuries, and can be found in a variety of architectural styles.
One of the most notable examples of leaded glass can be found in Gothic cathedrals. Intricate designs and lively colors of the stained glass windows add to the grandeur of the architecture. Another notable example is in Art Nouveau buildings, where leaded glass is often used to create elegant and ornate designs.
The use of leaded glass in these historical examples is a testament to its enduring beauty and versatility as a medium for creating stained glass windows.
Gothic cathedrals are renowned for their ornate and intricate architecture. The use of leaded glass in their stained glass windows is a key component of this. Leaded glass used in Gothic cathedrals allows complex designs featuring fine details and vibrant colors.
The lead cames that hold the pieces of glass together are often thin and delicate, giving the look of a seamless and fluid design. The result is an artwork that is not only beautiful but also functional. The windows let in natural light and create a unique and dynamic atmosphere inside the cathedral.
The colorful and detailed stained glass windows in Gothic cathedrals had multiple purposes. Not only were they amazing works of art, they actually brought life to the bible text.
The windows became illuminated visual sermons of biblical stories, enacting religious teachings, and added a spiritual atmosphere to the building. These elements all contribute to the grandeur of the architecture and make the stained glass windows an essential part of the Gothic cathedrals.
Art nouveau buildings
Art Nouveau is an architectural and decorative style, popularized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is characterized by serpentine, organic shapes, and arches. Common natural motifs include flowers, leaves, vines, and animals.
Leaded glass is particularly well-suited to this style. It allows for the creation of delicate and decorative patterns that complement the overall aesthetic of the building.
In Art Nouveau buildings, leaded glass was often used in windows, doors, skylights, and other architectural elements. The designs were often intricate and detailed, featuring floral patterns, geometric shapes, and stylized figures.
Overall, the use of leaded glass in Art Nouveau buildings was an important aspect of the style, and it helped to create elegant and ornate designs that were both beautiful and functional.
Leaded glass in Art Nouveau buildings helped to create elegant and ornate designs that were both beautiful and functional.
Residential homes and commercial spaces
The traditional leaded glass method has been used in the construction of stained glass windows in churches, cathedrals, and other religious buildings for centuries. However, it is not limited to historical examples.
Today, leaded glass can be found in a wide range of modern buildings, from residential homes to commercial spaces. In residential homes, leaded glass is used in a variety of ways. These include entryway windows, skylights, or as a decorative feature in a dining room, kitchen, or bathroom.
In commercial spaces, leaded glass adds a touch of elegance and history. Churches, government buildings, and even modern office buildings or retail spaces benefit from leaded glass designs. Its versatility and timeless appeal make it a popular choice for architects and designers looking to add a unique touch to their projects.
Preserving the traditional methods
Leaded glass is a traditional method that is worth preserving and appreciating. It is a technique that has been used for centuries and has stood the test of time.
The use of leaded glass in stained glass windows adds a level of craftsmanship and artistry that is hard to replicate with modern methods and materials. In a world where new technologies and modern materials are constantly emerging, it is important to remember the value and beauty of traditional methods and materials.
Preserving these traditional methods will ensure that the art of stained glass will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.