How to Reinforce Stained Glass Panels

How to reinforce stained glass is a question I get asked over and over and OVER 🙂 Sadly, there isn’t a ‘catch all’ answer. T‪here are many different factors to take into consideration when reinforcing stained glass windows and they’re different with each window.

When To Reinforce Stained Glass Windows

‪Here are a few of the factors you need to take into consideration:

The Design

This is the most important. If it’s balanced with a mixture of large and small pieces of glass, with lead lines both vertical and horizontal your window will be inherently stronger and need less reinforcing. This is the ideal situation!

‪The Frame

The best solution for stability is 1/2”/12mm puttied lead came around the edge and then fixed in a wooden frame. You can use zinc if you prefer but it’s more time consuming and a bit of overkill if you have a wooden frame too.

‪The Position

Is your panel internal or external? South or north-facing? These are all important things to take into account when reinforcing stained glass windows.

‪I use the following as a general guide:

  • ‪Panels that are static – and by that I mean an opening window or door = perimeter more than 10ft needs reinforcing (some say 12 ft but it’s always better to err on the side of caution)
  • ‪Panels that move – a window or a door = perimeter more than 8ft needs reinforcing.
  • Add reinforcing right across your panel every 18″/450mm or so. It can’t stop halfway across, mind! It has to go from edge to edge for strength.

The bottom line is that reinforcing solutions vary greatly depending on your design and window location.

Main Methods of Reinforcing Stained Glass

how to reinforce stained glass

There are many different ways of reinforcing stained glass windows. These are the main groupings:

1. Metal Strips

Copper Re-Strip, Morton Strongline or Flex-Bar, a braided copper strip. They are collectively referred to as ‘Fins’. They are inserted in between foiled shapes or next to the heart of lead came (not braided wire for lead) and are bent to shape. They can crisscross your panel.

You can get them on Amazon here:

Copper Re-strip*

Morton Strongline*

Flex-Bar*

(*Just so’s you know, if you click and buy through the * links within 24 hrs I get a small % from Amazon, (not you!). Thanks in advance but no worries if you have a local store – I’d always support them first 🙂 )

2. Lead Came

There is also reinforced lead came available that comes with a thin strip of brass or steel running through the heart of the came. This doesn’t bend easily and is good for straighter lines and larger panels.

3. Metal Rods

Saddle Bars are round metal rods added after the piece is assembled. They are drilled and fixed into the window frame and copper ties soldered on the stained glass are twisted around it. Alternatively Flat Rebar are flat metal rods which are soldered on to the face of the came in place on the inside of the panel to keep the entire work from flexing.

Methods #2 and #3 are generally used for reinforcing large external or moving stained glass windows. Techniques #1 – Metal Strips – are more usually used for copper foiled work so I’ll concentrate on how to reinforce stained glass with these.

How To Reinforce Stained Glass

reinforcing stained glass windows

Placement isn’t too difficult if you remember these rules:

  1. The strongest reinforcement runs the shortest distance from edge to edge
  2. Reinforce perpendicular to a lead line that might fold. Parallel lines and borders are good examples

Reinforcing Stained Glass Using Re-Strip & Strong Line

Copper Re-Strip

The Re-Strip* is 10 mil thick and has a bit of a life of its own. You can see it being used in the left-hand panel, above.

  • Re-Strip does sit higher above the glass a little but this is hidden once you solder the seams. Georgia used this to her advantage because the centre plate that it supports was heavy and stuck out quite a bit from the panel.
  • She soldered the backside first so that the circle was proud at the back and not the front of the panel.
  • Pins were used to hold the Re-Strip in place. You can use masking tape across the top of the glass instead of pins to stop it from popping up.
  • Lightly tack solder it in as you work it around.
  • Use bent nosed pliers to bend it around corners.

Pros and Cons: Re-Strip can be used with Lead Came. It’s effective and invisible. Some people find Re-Strip a bit difficult to bend as it’s very stiff.

Morton Strong Line for Reinforcement

Morton Strong Line*  is heavier than Re-Strip at 20 mil thickness.  It jumps about a bit as you are assembling your stained glass panel. You can try using horseshoe nails to keep the end you are not working with in place so it doesn’t jump around.

As with the braided wire (below), you have to shave a mm off your glass piece to accommodate the width of the Strong Line. This is to stop  your panel growing bigger than your pattern. Not desirable!

Strong Line is good for panels that have straight-ish lines and that don’t have many complex shapes to bend around.

Pros and Cons: It’s very strong and effective. It can be used with lead came. It’s a bit tricky to manipulate but makes up for it in strength!

how to reinforce stained glass - restrip

Using Flex-Bar for Reinforcing Stained Glass

Flex-bar is a braided copper reinforcement originally used for reinforcing lamps. The solder drips into it and stiffens it during assembly.

Georgia used it for stiffening and reinforcing across the centre of the panel, right above. The blue line shows roughly where the braided reinforcement was placed.

  • It is the same height as the glass so it didn’t matter which side of the panel I tack soldered it into first.
  • It is wider than Strong Line or Re-Strip so you’ll have to work out where it’s going to go BEFORE you cut your glass. Cut the glass a bit smaller along this reinforcement line to leave more of a gap to accommodate it. Because of this, it makes your solder seams wider, which may bother you.

Pros and Cons: It’s easier to use than Strong Line or Re-Strip as it’s more flexible and good for complex lines. Good for arthritic hands! It uses far more solder and creates a wider solder seam.

Which Metal Strip Is Best?

I think all three have their uses, depending on your design.

Using Strong Line, ReStrip or Flex-Bar next to the heart of the came as reinforcement is great choice because it’s internal and therefore not visible from the outside like saddle bars or flat rebar.

You can get them on Amazon here:

Copper Re-strip

Morton Strongline

Flex-Bar

(Just so’s you know, if you click and buy through the links within 24 hrs I get a small % from Amazon, (not you!). Thanks in advance but no worries if you have a local store – I’d always support them first 🙂 )

Reinforce Larger Stained Glass Panels With Metal Strips

With these Strong Line or Re-Strip solutions I would:

  1. choose 1 or 2 straight-ish central line/s (depending on the height of the panel)  and cut the metal strip a couple of inches longer at each end.
  2. bend the strip upwards at either end a couple of inches and solder these ‘tails’ into the lead or zinc frame.
  3. melt some solder in the inside of the frame to hold the metal strip in place. Do this by working it in at the solder joint along the area where the braided wire is sitting.

This effectively holds the weight of the top half/third of the panel above the reinforcement line.

Big thanks to Georgia Hamilton for sharing her helpful storyboards for this page 🙂 Georgia is a student of my online stained glass classes and a member of my private student FB Group the Stained Glass Hub.

Reinforcing Questions

Question: Should the reinforcing go horizontally or vertically?

My rule of thumb:
  • The basic principles are if it’s a tall narrow window, go across with the reinforcing.
  • If wide and short, go vertical.

Beach Design

 

 

 

Question: When I solder the panels together do I need to reinforce the panels before soldering? If the answer is yes how should I do that?

I have designed and created 3 stained glass panels separately and now want to put them together to make a single rectangular panel for a transom window 66″ in length (actually I am doing 2 windows). Each single panel is 22″ using foiled technique. I plan to go around the perimeter with U came.

I have attached my design that measures 10 7/8 x 66. There are (3) panels. Starfish, Chairs, and Starfish again. This will be placed on the inside of the transom windows using silicone or small window molding.

Milly’s Reply:

I would add 2 vertical supports (as per the turquoise lines). Make them longer and solder them into the U came frame. See instructions above under Reinforcing Larger Panels With Metal Strips.

The moulding will give the edge some support too.

Question: Saddle Bar Attachments

I’m fitting some restored stained glass panels into new wood frames. The panels are roughly 1m 26cm (4ft 2″) high so I’m fitting saddle bars horizontally in either 2 maybe 3 placed to tie the panels too. How do I fit the saddle bars to the framework? Should I just make the saddle bars the width of the window and once the panel is tied would that be sufficient?

Milly’s Reply:

Work out where you’re going to place the saddle bars and drill 2 (or 3) holes on both sides of the wooden frame, one about 2.5cm deep, the other less, say 1.5cm. Their diameter must be big enough for the rebar to go in.

Then place the window in and insert one end of the rebar into the deeper hole and then centre it so that there is an equal amount of rebar in each hole.
You can wedge them in with small slithers of wood and/or putty around them and paint when dry.

No, you can’t have the rebars the exact same width as the window. They have to be cut longer and go into the frame to add strength.

PIN IT FOR LATER!

Other stained glass tutorial articles on the site that might interest you:

Stained Glass Tools and Equipment

Design Original Stained Glass From Scratch

26 thoughts on “How to Reinforce Stained Glass Panels”

  1. I have designed 6 panels 18×30 that will be installed in our village library of my retirement village. There will be 6 – 5″x5″ clear dew drop squares that will be going across the top to keep thing light. 3 of the panels have additional designs in the top, like cats to look like it is sitting on a shelf or the steam from a coffee cup. 4 of the lower portions will be books with additional characters sitting on the books, A mouse, Russel terrier with a ball, a calic0 cat and a coffee mug. the middle two will have an underwater fish & kelp (everything represents something in our village)

    When completed they will have a zinc came as a frame for support. They will be installed to a fix non opening window with multiple “pegs” on each side going into all 4 walls to hold them in place. Each panel has it’s own window.

    We live in Florida & Heaven forbid a severe hurricane should arrive, we wanted to be able to remove them for safety or if damage is done to the library, remove them as repairs are done Should I still consider reinforcing them?

    You’re a great inspiration by the way

    Reply
    • I can’t quite visualise the layout of the design to ascertain whether there are any weak spots Kim… are there any straight lines that go from edge to edge? These are vulnerable if not reinforced or held in sufficiently robustly from the frame.
      The perimeter is under the 10ft I recommend as a minimum but this is not fixed in stone; if the design is vulnerable the perimeter measurement isn’t that helpful.
      If you could secure them all round with quarter rounds or similar rather than pegs that would help.
      I hope that helps.

      Reply
  2. Hey there, I am working on a pair of 2′ x 3′ panels that are going to be installed into steel frames above a doorway. The design is well balanced and I’m using lead came, would you still reinforce?

    Reply
    • The rebate in the steel frames will help with stability, especially if they’re deep – say 15mm. You’re right on the cusp with reinforcement at 10ft perimeter. You should be okay if the design is well thought out 🙂

      Reply
  3. Hi I am making a leaded panel that measures 13 inches tall by 46 inches wide. It is framed by 1/2 inch zinc. It has many vertical and horizontal pieces. It will also be framed with oak to be a wall hanging. Do I need to reinforce it?

    Reply
    • I would just choose a couple of evenly spaced verticals and reinforce them with ReStrip or similar Carolyn. Sounds like a pretty robust design and it’s inside too but best to be safe and it’s not much hassle to do this.

      Reply
  4. Hi Milly,

    I have a vertical door panel with perimeter just over 11 ft; the door is internal (inside the porch) and will be fitted with grilles over the panel. I am wondering if the grilles will take on the function of the reinforcement or not, would you say it’s necessary to reinforce the panel itself?

    Many thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • If the grilles are robust and you can find a way to attach the stained glass to them this would work Diana. You could solder tinned copper wire (you can patina to match solder colour) to strategic parts of your window and twist said wire around the grille. Good luck!

      Reply
  5. Hi, I am making 2 small copper foil panels for an internal door. They measure 330mm by 150mm and the pattern is oblong strips placed in a brickwork pattern that runs vertically. Although they are only small, do you think these should be reinforced due to the hinge joints. Many thanks.

    Reply
    • Yes, from what you’re describing. Doors and windows always need more reinforcement and if you have hinge joints even more so. Hinge joints are easy to reinforce though, which is a good thing! 🙂

      Reply
  6. i have a panel that will be 10.175” x 28.250” (lead came frame and foil construction it will be framed in over a doorway like a transom ( no door and it will not move unless we have an earnthquake) the perimeter is a little over 6 ft i don’t think i need to reinforce but just want to double check

    Reply
    • Ha, let’s hope for no earthquake Paula 😉 You’re right, you’ll be fine with this if the design is nice and balanced.

      Reply
  7. I like to make small, 3-dimensional stained glass pieces using foil. (flying dragon, bee mascot, leaves and flowers on a copper wire wreath) I have trouble with the joints bending and coming apart, even with heavy solder. I live in Florida so it is humid here. That also contributes to the glue easing lose. I never try to mail these items as they are so fragile. Lately I have been thinking that I need to move to lead and hobby came for these projects but I’m still not sure how to make the 3-D joints strong. I have never used lead came before but I have used zinc came. The zinc is strong but not flexible enough for the projects I would like to make.

    Reply
    • You can stick hobby came (very narrow lead came made for sun catchers) around the edge with E6000 glue Jo Marie. It finishes them off nicely but it won’t give them any more strength. The only way to truly get around this is to design them so there isn’t any ‘hinge’ points – straight lines that go from edge to edge. You could try adding small shapes in to break the line up and add strength.
      I hope that helps.

      Reply
  8. Hi Milly, I’ve a large panel to make 77″ high 30″ wide…the pattern does not have a strait line anywhere lol…how would you reinforce this to keep it in one panel, or am I crazy to even try one panel..any suggestions would help

    Reply
    • Something this big needs some serious reinforcement. Ideally metal fins or bars drilled into the wooden frame with ties soldered to it. I wouldn’t do a window this big unless I had thought of how to reinforce beforehand.
      Can you divide it to make it easier for yourself? That’s what I’d recommend in this situation.
      Sorry to be a doom-bringer!

      Reply
  9. I don’t understand how you are saying to make the Reinforce Larger Stained Glass Panels With Metal Strips section work… Is this for a leaded window? how do you solder the metal strips inside the zinc and then insert the glass?

    Reply
    • Copper foil and lead. Solder the upturned edges last, after you’ve inserted the ReStrip/Strong Line in between the foiled glass/lead heart and glass. With foil, hold the ReStrip down with masking tape or similar until soldered.

      I hope I’ve explained it more clearly now Bridget.

      Reply
  10. Hello! I have an old 27” round window that is going to hang free from chains in an arch way. It is in good shape but a little bendy when being lifted.I have a carpenter building a round frame for me. I was planning to reinforce it so it is easier for the carpenter to handle while installing the frame. It also has a piece of rebar attached that runs through the center. Is soldering copper a good was to enforce it? Also, there are literally no straight lines at all.
    Thank you for any information.

    Reply
    • Copper wire won’t add any appreciable strength to a window this size Jennifer. Adding any of the metal strips would mean dismantling it so that’s definitely not going to happen! The best thing you can do is make sure that the edging zinc or lead came is in the best shape it can be for the carpenter to move it into the frame. Once installed in the frame the frame itself will provide the extra strengthening you need.
      I hope that helps. It sounds lovely!

      Reply
    • Ah, that’ll be because Amazon is trying to find a similar product (but can’t) in the UK Mike. Thanks for the heads up. You can get it here at Tempsford Glass.

      Reply
  11. Thought I’d share my observation with Strong-Line. I have used this when I needed a nice stiff piece of metal as support on the outside of glass items, but not in between seams as it’s normally used.
    Unlike Re-strip, Strong-Line is not a solid piece of copper, it is steel that has been copper plated.
    In every situation that I’ve used Strong-Line I’ve noticed that the copper plating on the Strong-Line gets sucked up into the solder, leaving the steel metal exposed. This has caused difficulty (for me) to make a good, reliable solder joint; the solder doesn’t want to stick very well to the steel.
    In a situation where Strong-Line is used in between pieces of glass, and the seam is filled with solder, that might not be an issue at all. Since the metal strip is there to prohibit the glass from flexing, and the solder should fill the cap between the glass, the solder should also encapsulate the Strong-Line.
    It might not be so critical that the solder is attached (wetted) well to the Strong-Line as long as the solder is covering it all the way around.

    This has happened when I used either Nokorode paste flux, or Glastar Gel flux. I use a Hakko 601 iron.

    For anyone who has not seen or used Strong-Line, it is thicker than Re-Strip so it would fill a wider gap. It is also much stiffer than Re-Strip so it is more difficult to make it bend to go around sharp angles.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments about StrongLine Gail, very helpful for others to read about others’ experiences too 🙂

      Reply
  12. Thanks for the page as this is a little discussed topic. While they are technically windows, I make a lot of glass tables. I learned about strong line when I was making a particularly large project. I went to my local store and asked for re-rod, as a tabletop will sag without reinforcement. They don’t sell re-red but they sell strong line. It worked great for the table — it adds a nice amount of rigidity. For a large table, which is normally rectangular, run the strong line up both sides of the lead on the shorter width of the table, in as many places as you can. I tried strong line once with a copper foil project — it’s too unyielding, so the re-strip is definitely the better choice for those projects.

    Reply

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