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Pattern and Glass Cutting: When cutting glass for a leaded glass window, a 1/16" allowance must be made for the "heart" (center) of the lead came. This is normally done by using 3-bladed pattern shears for lead to cut out the pattern templates. Once you have an accurate pattern with lead allowance, cut the glass in the usual manner.
Tools, Terminology and Safety: "Came" is the term for the extruded lead channel used to form the framework of a stained glass window. Lead came comes in two basic shapes, each one named after the alphabet letter it looks like. "H" came is used to join two pieces of lead together; "U" came is usually used around the outer edge of a window, unless the window is to be installed into an already existing window frame. If this is the case, "H" shape is used so adjustments to the outer edge can be made later if necessary. The outer profile of either came can be flat "F" or rounded "R". Thus, a 1/4" RH came would be an "H" shape with a rounded profile measuring 1/4" wide.
There are a few specialized tools and supplies required. A fid (lead opener) is a pointed plastic or wood tool used to open the lead channel and to clean up after glazing. A lead vise is used to secure one end of the lead strip while stretching. Horseshoe nails are preferred to hold glass in place while leading. A flush cutting lead nipper (dyke) is normally used to cut the lead; a sharp knife can also be used.
Handling lead poses a risk of lead poisoning if certain safety precautions are not followed. Lead cannot be absorbed through the skin - only through ingestion or an open cut. Follow these basic safety rules: Always wash hands well with an abrasive soap and water after working with lead. Never eat, drink, or smoke while working. Always bandage any open cuts on hands and fingers. Keep children away from work area.
Lead Stretching: Lead came must be stretched before using it. This will help straighten out any kinks and also stiffens the lead. Lead usually comes in six foot lengths. Secure one end in a lead vise and grip the other end with a pair of pliers. Pull slowly and steadily until the lead has stretched 3" to 6". Then set aside on a flat surface for later use.
Workbench Setup: Tape your assembly pattern to a work board or bench top. Nail wood strips on the bottom and left sides just outside the perimeter lines on the pattern. The wood strips should form a 90 degree corner; use a square to check and adjust wood strips if necessary. A square corner is very important.
Assembling the Window: Assembly will start in the lower left corner and work outward to finish in the upper right. Lead is a soft, pliable metal easily cut with nippers. Best results are achieved by cutting through the "channel" side (with the heart in sideways or horizontal position). The nippers tend to crush the lead when cutting with the heart in a vertical position.
First, cut strips of lead for the bottom edge and the left edge - cut them 1/2" longer than the pattern. Place the strips on the pattern, butting the joint in the corner. Use a couple of horseshoe nails to hold the lead in place.
Locate the piece of cut glass for the lower left corner and fit it into the lead came snugly. Make sure the pattern lines are visible just beyond the exposed edge of the glass - if not, tap the glass slightly with a wood block or the flat end of a lead knife until it fits. Recut the glass if necessary. When it fits just right, use a horseshoe nail to hold glass firmly in place. Next, cut a piece of lead to fit the right side of your corner glass piece. Cut it slightly shorter than the glass to allow for the lead overlap. TIP: Cut a short piece of lead to use as a gauge to help determine exact length. Then fit the next piece of glass into the space just to the right of the corner piece. Use two horseshoe nails to hold it in place.
Continue working in this manner, moving towards the upper left. Be sure each lead piece butts tightly against the adjoining pieces. Use plenty of nails to hold all the front line glass pieces in place as you go. If the pattern contains any long straight lines, use a single piece of lead rather than many short pieces. As each glass piece is fit into place, remember to check it against the pattern. Seemingly minor problems can multiply into big ones as the window "grows" due to oversize pieces.
After the last piece of glass is fitted in place, make sure that all perimeter pieces on the top and right sides are just inside the perimeter pattern lines. Next, cut lead strips for the top and left sides. Cut the top piece a little longer than the window, fit it along the top edge making sure that all glass is inside the channel, and secure it with a wood strip. Then cut the left side came to fit between the top and bottom cames, butting all edges. Secure the left side with wood strips and nails.
Soldering: The assembled panel must now be spot-soldered at every lead joint. Soldering should be done in a well ventilated area - outdoors or in a garage is best. If indoors, open a window and run a fan. All lead came should be clean and shiny before soldering begins. If lead is not shiny, use a soft wire brush on all joints to remove any oxidation. Plug in your soldering iron and let it warm up for 5 minutes. Next, use a small paint brush to apply flux (liquid or paste) on each joint. Flux is a cleaning agent that allows the solder to bond with the lead came. If you forget to flux, solder will not stick to the lead. To begin soldering, first test the temperature of your iron by touching the tip on a scrap piece of lead; if it instantly melts, your iron is too hot. Use a rheostat to lower the temperature or unplug the iron until it cools down. The iron should be hot enough to melt solder quickly, but not so hot that it melts lead in less than about five seconds. After adjusting temperature, uncoil a few inches of solder from the spool and hold the end of the solder on top of a lead joint. Position the flat side of the iron tip directly above the solder. Touch the solder until it melts, then pull the iron tip straight up. The iron should only be touching the joint for a second or two - any longer can melt lead came or crack glass. Continue this process at every lead joint. If the solder is not smooth, just move on and come back to it later when it is cool. Brush any rough solder spots with a little flux and touch with flat side on iron tip until solder "puddles", then lift iron straight up.
When all lead joints have been soldered, carefully turn the panel over and solder the back side. For large windows, sandwich window between two pieces of plywood before trying to flip it over to back side. When soldering is complete, remove flux residue by washing panel with warm water and soap (or a commercial flux remover like "CJ's").
Glazing and Cleanup: Applying a glazing cement is the final step on a leaded window. The cement is what makes the panel rigid and strong - without it, a leaded window is floppy and won't last long. TIP: Wear old clothes - this process is messy. You will need a pre-mixed glazing cement such as "Inland Cement", whiting powder (calcium carbonate), and two natural bristle brushes (or one brush cut in half). Stir up the cement until it has the consistency of cake frosting - takes about 10 minutes. Then dip a brush into the cement and use the brush to apply the cement to the window panel, brushing in a circular motion to work the cement under the edges of the lead. Don't worry about what a mess it looks like at this stage. Keep brushing until all the lead came has been cemented.
Next, use whiting powder to clean up the excess cement. Wear a respirator during this stage. Spread a light coating of whiting over the entire panel. Use your clean brush in a circular motion again, brushing against the lead came and allowing the whiting powder to soak up the excess cement. Brush away any dry clumps and continue brushing - apply more whiting as needed. When the cement is cleaned from the glass, keep brushing to burnish the lead cames and polish the glass. Then flip over the panel and repeat the process, starting with cement application. After both sides are glazed allow glazing to set-up for a few hours (but no more than 24 hours), use a fid or pointed stick to trace (pick) around each piece of glass and clean away excess cement. Be sure the window is clean - once the cement dries, it is extremely difficult to remove. Allow the window to dry for at least 48 hours before moving. Small amounts of cement may ooze out from edges - use a fid to clean up. As a final step, the patina and wax may be applied.
@Emma V. I have made two curved projects lately and was assisted by my husband. He took measurements from the curved parts of my pattern and laid out the curve on a quarter inch piece of plywood. He then carefully cut the circle about 1 1/2 inches wide. I then tacked it to my pattern layout board. Works beautifully.
@comments3 Thanks, I'll give that a try.
do you have a setup recommendation for an arched panel? I know you can use wood or the aluminum layout blocks for square or rectangular panels, but this has me a bit stumped as I've not done this type of panel.
I have been doing some reading about stained glass cement products and recipes and have come across comments that cements or glazing compounds containing Portland cement and/or plaster of paris should not be used. I have looked up some recipes for cement that contain portland cement and plaster of paris and some that consist of only whiting mixed with the liquids and colourant. I have tried the one with only whiting but find that it will flake away or turn back to powder if picked at. My question is, should I be staying away from recipes with Portland cement and/or plaster of paris or are they required to make a proper and effective stained glass cement?