Stained Glass Lead Came Made Easy
Stained glass lead came comes in 6ft lengths sold in single lengths or boxes or in spools which have to be unwound and stretched before use.
There are many different widths and depths and a bewildering array of profiles or ‘sections’ – for example, the most commonly used round, flat, H and C to the specialist Colonial.
Traditionally, 1/2″ (12mm) flat lead is used for the edges of leaded stained glass windows, as it gives you 3/16 ” (5mm) leeway on each side for any errors in the measuring/fitting process.
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Getting to Grips with Stained Glass Lead Came Sizes
It’s very easy to get confused with all the different measurements – the width, the channel, the heart – they are all equally important but mean distinctly different things. This diagram is of an Flat ‘H’ profile on its side, as this is how we use it in stained glass. It will help you understand which bit is which and will give you the confidence to be able to order lead for your project.
- A = The Height. This is the total thickness of the section from top to bottom
- B = The Leaf, the Flange or the Face. This is what you see as the ‘lead lines’ when you look at a stained glass panel
- C = Leaf, Flange or Face thickness. This is can be rounded or shaped, depending on the profile.
- D = The Heart or the Channel. This is where the glass slots in. If you have very thick or fused glass you might need a high heart lead.
- E = The Heart Thickness. This goes in between the glass pieces and determines how strong the lead is. If you want to strengthen your panel you might want the heart to contain a steel core.
Stained Glass Lead Came Tips
The main reason for choosing a particular lead is the best one – how it will look in your stained glass window design.
Different Lead Came Profiles – What To Use Them For
- Stained glass lead came with a round profile is better for leading curved shapes, as it doesn’t pucker up like the flat lead does.
- Wide heart lead is higher than standard came, and useful for plated glass (two pieces leaded together on top of each other) and for antique sheet glass that is irregular in thickness.
It’s also useful if you’ve slumped your piece and it’s a bit uneven.
- Steel cored lead is used for strengthening stained glass panels, and can accommodate slight curves.
- Alternatively, if your design has deeper curves that you want to strengthen, you can buy separate hardened steel wire that is placed next to the heart of the lead when you’re leading your stained glass panel. You can buy it singly or by the kilo (approximately 12 lengths).
If you’re new to using lead came as a technique I would highly recommend you give it a try. It will add a great deal to your skill set and give you the best of both stained glass worlds – foil and lead.
If you don’t have a local class my Leaded Stained Glass Artistry course has taught many people – even those who have never used lead before – how to make a stained glass panel using lead came. The course is self-paced and online so you can learn this lovely technique even if you are unable to get to a class. You can find out more about it here Leaded Stained Glass Artistry.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch Lead Came?
I always stretch came but the lead I buy is very pliable and would be impossible to work with if I didn’t. If you buy hard lead you won’t be able to stretch it much and if you buy pre-stretched lead you won’t need to stretch it. So it’s not simple!
Technically, you’re not actually stretching the lead, as stretching can actually weaken the lead came. Stretching (or straightening) the came gives it rigidity and therefore makes it easier to work with. This increases the stability of the came during the leading process.
It won’t, however, give it any more strength so it’s not essential in a structural sense.
Stretching helps untangle all the kinks that invariably happen how ever hard you try to stop them. This results in more pleasing lines in your leaded panel. But more importantly, if you don’t stretch it before you use it, it will stretch in your project, and you don’t want that.
I use one of these lead stretchers (paid link)
I’ve never seen the need for the more complex and expensive ones but am happy to be persuaded, should you disagree strongly 🙂 Let me know your thoughts about lead stretchers and any other tips you have on stretching lead in the comments below.
Storing Stained Glass Lead Came
Lead Came is heavy and a bit awkward to store and still be able to access easily. Ideally it needs to be kept horizontal and straight.
Stained Glass Storage 1
I use a lot of lead came so I buy it in boxes. I store mine by resting the boxes on brackets firmly secured to the wall. See the image from my studio below.
Storage Idea 2
This ingenious lead storage solution was sent to me by reader Jeff. Great idea- thanks!
Jeff buys pre-stretched 6′ lengths from a local supplier. To keep it horizontal, clean and out of the way do the following:
- purchase an appropriate length of PVC pipe and cut it lengthwise
- add hinges along the cut
- make a second lengthwise cut 90 degrees off of the first one
- mount it along a wall
Storing Lead Came 3
Reader Stephen Hazard adds some tweaks to the PVC pipe idea. He suggests the following:
- Use pipes 3″ or 4″ longer than the lead came
- Choose the diameter to reflect the amount of lead came you have
- To stop air getting in cap one end and on the other use a screw cap and receiver with inside threads for the cap
- Drill through the plastic square end and insert a rod to help to unscrew it
- Attach brackets to a wall to store the PVC pipes
- To get the lead out, insert a tin can that fits inside the tube. Connect the can with a steel rod all the way to the opening
- Pull the rod and out comes the lead
Ta Dah, thanks so much Stephen 🙂
Additional Tip from Ron:
I put packets of baking soda at each end and in the middle. The soda absorbs the moisture and prevents the “scale” that forms on the lead and interferes with the flux and solder.
I often get asked about lead poisoning and can honestly say that none of my blood tests have ever shown any dodgy levels in my system. But having said that, I always wear gloves and handle the lead with great care.
I never eat or drink in the studio and always make sure I wash my hands thoroughly after working. It is recommended that you wear latex gloves when leading, and that you seek medical advice if you are pregnant.
Read this page on Workspace Safety Tips before starting any stained glass project.
Always read the manufacturers advice before using lead.
Learn to Make Stained Glass using Lead with my online course Leaded Stained Glass Artistry
To see how to cut and shape lead came when making a stained glass window, go to Making Stained Glass – Leaded Panels.
There are some more lead tutorials here: