Stained Glass – Foil or Lead Came?

Lead came (L) Copperfoil (R)

Lead came (Left ) Copperfoil (Right)

I have never done stained glass before, but have been very interested in it for years. Can you please tell me what the difference is between the type that uses the copper came and the leaded type and which kit/s would be best.  Andy

Milly’s reply:

Hooray! I love it when someone who has been wanting to make stained glass for years decides to give it a try. Welcome to stain glass, Andy!

You’re right to separate out copperfoil and lead came, they’re very different techniques:

Copperfoil (right in above photo). This method is the one that Tiffany started, and is the one most used in the US.

The glass is cut to a pattern, and is then wrapped around the edges with a sticky copper tape. This tape is then covered with a bead of solder, which has patina applied to it before being polished.

My copperfoil tutorials will take you through the whole process from the beginning.

Lead Came (left in above photo). This goes way back to medieval times.

The glass is cut to a pattern and then, instead of copperfoil, lead came is used to join the pieces together. This comes in 6ft lengths and is cut to size and bent around the glass shapes. Then each join is soldered, before the panel is cemented to make it strong and weatherproof. It is then polished.

My Lead Came Tutorials explain the whole process.

What to use each for?

Copperfoil gives a less uniform look than lead came, so if you like trees or other organic subjects, it would be the best option artistically. It is very good for fiddly, small shapes – think Tiffany lamps!

It’s a cleaner process and a little bit easier for beginners I think. It doesn’t take up so much space, if that’s an issue for you.

Copperfoil is good for 3-D projects such as lampshades and boxes, free form suncatchers, internal window panels.

Lead Came is best for external windows as the cement makes it waterproof and hardy. Think Chartres Cathedral…
It it quicker than copperfoil if you’re doing a big panel, and works out cheaper because solder is more expensive than lead. You use far less solder in the lead came process.

Artistically, lead is better if you like graphic designs, as it can be very straight and looks ‘clean’.

Stained Glass Kits.

There are some tools that you need for both techniques – up to the cutting. But after that they differ. It is easier to start with a ready-made kit.

I’ve looked at lots starter kits for sale, and have recommended two that I like the look of – one for copperfoil, one for lead came. You can find out about them both here.

I could go on…. but I think that’s answered your questions. I hope you’ll come back and keep us up to date with your progress.


20 thoughts on “Stained Glass – Foil or Lead Came?”

  1. I do stained glass panels, but I don’t use lead came, copper foil or solder. I use a three piece steel frame technique that I have been developing over the last 3 years. It allows me a lot of flexibility in finishing the frame. I have hand painted, powder coated, vinyl wrapper and epoxy coated the frames. Image a lead came panel where the lead came is whatever color you want is the best way to describe the finished panel. I’m wondering if anyone is aware of someone else doing anything similiar to this.

    • Wow Robert, this sounds a fascinating technique. Not ‘stained glass’ as I know it but I always love to hear about people’s creative journeys. Anyone else doing similar?

  2. I have an old moon nightlight that my niece wants incorporated into a larger panel. It is lead came on the outside edge. Can I somehow foil tape the edge and add it to the rest of a foil taped/soldered piece? Since the outside of the moon has flat channel I can’t just create a leaded panel around it somehow could I?

    • Your best bet is to remove the edge lead came, clean and foil the edges Wendy. That way you can add to it with other foiled pieces.
      You’re right about the U channel on the edge; you’d need H profile to accommodate additional glass.
      Good luck.

    • Not stained as it won’t hold water but you can slump glass in a kiln to make sinks. There are lots of beautiful examples on the Internet.

  3. I want to use hobby came to wrap some foiled sun catchers. I’ve seen pros online who foil the edge before applying the hobby came. Then they solder the hobby came to the foil. I’ve tried this and end up with solder on my came. Is is really necessary to foil the edge if using hobby came? I am not really sure what the purpose is for this is. It seems that the copper is barely (if at all visible) once the lead came is applied. I guess I could use wider foil – but not sure if foil is needed at all if using hobby came on the edge. Can you please let me know your thoughts on this? Thanks!

    • I wouldn’t use foil and hobby came, no. Like you I don’t see the point and the foil actually makes it harder to get the hobby came on. I’m sure they have a reason – maybe it’s to help the came to adhere along the stretches where there are no joints? You can use a dab of E6000 in these places instead.
      Good question Karen, thanks.

  4. So, I have always used copper foil for projects and am going to be taking on an interior door project that is about 3′ by 2′. There won’t be any exposure to the elements, but I’m wondering if structurally it would be ok to use copper foil, or if I should use lead came instead?

  5. I’m educating myself on the most durable process for a stained glass window insert on an exterior door. I hope a local artist will fabricate it. 1st question: Is lead the best (only) use for exterior window? 2nd, Should thickness of glass be considered for exterior? 3rd. What is the current best practice to thermally insulate an exterior window considering the least negative effect of obscuring the beauty. Thank you for being a source of expertise.

    • The best way to have a stained glass window in your door that retains the thermal insulation is but getting your panel encapsulated in a sealed unit. Triple glazed, in effect. It’s also very secure and doesn’t obscure any glass (although it does cut down on the textural effect, sadly).
      Others use foil for external windows but I don’t recommend it myself. I’d always use lead as it’s weatherproof and hardy.
      Reinforcement is important for a door so make sure that’s robust enough.
      I hope that helps Trish. Good luck!

  6. I have 10+ years in stain glass, and used copper foil extensively. I’m getting interested in lead cane method, and would like to know when lead is preferred over copper foil. Is it acceptable to use both methods on same artwork, such as copper foil for detail and lead for longer lead lines. I have not made any work for sale, but to give me an idea of how each is considered, if put up for sale in a gallery, what piece would sell best: same design made from lead came , copper foil, or blend between the two?

    • Yes you can combine the two techniques successfully – Tiffany did it all the time if you need proof! You can read more about that here:
      The second question is very interesting and subjective Joe 🙂 You can see the different qualities of both in the image at the top of the page. It would depend on what your customer preferred. Having said that, I do think that foil looks as if it would fit more comfortably into someone’s home if it’s free-hanging, whereas lead came has that heavily textured look that some people may not like so much indoors.
      I absolutely love the combination of the two – maybe that’s the way to go to be a bit different and stand out in the stained glass crowd!

  7. I would like to make some small stained glass Christmas ornaments and saw a tutorial using plastic in place of the glass and polymer clay for leading, then baking to cure it. I realized this isn’t traditional but wondered if this would work with real stained glass since I don’t want to purchase many tools and materials for a one time project.

    • This isn’t my area of expertise John, sorry. Maybe someone else can help out here? I’d like to persuade you to try stained glass. It’s SO much nicer than plastic in every way, but of course I would say that! Good luck with your ornaments, either way 🙂

  8. I’m planning to make a free-standing lamp, with three or four sides. Should I use lead cane for the outer edges of each rectangle for strength, or would the copper foil technique be strong enough please?

    • Foil and lead came are used for lamps so it’s your choice here Alex. If the shapes are simple they might favour lead came. Foil will be strong enough, yes. Good luck with it.

    • The weight isn’t a factor Annie. The design and planned reinforcing are the crucial things to thing about. Good question, thanks!


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