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Manufacturing a Stained Glass Window (the basics)

The following is intended as a quick overview of the techniques that are required to manufacture a stained glass window.


The initial requirements are discussed with the client and an outline design produced. Picture of previous commissions and stain glass reference books are often helpful in getting an understanding of the type of design that is required. Colours are discussed at this stage but are finalised once the outline design is approved.

Initial Design

A outline sketch of the design is produced and glass colours and types discussed with the client. This will often go though several iterations with the client being asked for views on several outline sketches before the design is finalised and the outline design is then agreed.


The outline design is scaled to size to produce a “cartoon” for manufacturing the piece produced.
Finished cartoon

The finished cartoon   ©

The heart (centre section) of lead came is approximately 1.25mm thick so and allowance has to be made for this when cutting the glass. The lines on the cartoon are increased in thickness to allow for the heart of the lead came. On a large design I would also mark the sizes of the lead came that are going to be used on the cartoon. The pieces on the cartoon are numbered and each piece ticked off on the cartoon once it is cut. This avoids cutting the same piece twice by mistake.

It is possible to strengthen are window by adding internal reinforcement inside the lead came as it is manufactured. The advantage of doing this is it is then not seen on the finished panel. Internal reinforcement takes the form of a thin copper strip so an additional allowance has to be made for this when cutting the glass. If you look carefully at the cartoon you will notice some of the lines are marked in blue where internal reinforcement was going to be added.


Glass is then cut to size. The glass is selected that best matches the pattern both in terms of colour and texture. With features such as flowers and leaves it is important that the flow of the glass replicates the feature being copied.

Cuttingthe glass

Checking the cut glass against the cartoon   ©

Having cut all the glass the panel can be leaded. The design will dictate where the best place to start is but often of it will be in the corner of the panel. Panels are assembled on a wooden board. With a square panel two battens can be place at 90 degrees at one of the corners to mark two outside edges. When manufacturing a curved piece such as an arch a template is cut from a wooden board to form the outside edge. The panel is slowly assembled. The lead came is stretched to make it more rigid and then each piece of came is cut to length. The glass is gently tapped into place to ensure that it is sitting at the heart of the lead came. As the panel is manufactured the lead came is held in place by flat side nails (horse shoe nails). To avoid damaging the came the nails are not place directly against the by inside small packing pieces of lead came are place in between the panels lead and the nail.

Once the panel is assembled the joints are then soldered. A tin lead solder in the ratio of 40% tin to 60% lead is used. A tallow candle is used to flux the joints and the each joint soldered in turn. Having soldered the panel the panel has to be carefully turned to solder the joints on the opposite side. Great care has to be taken turned the panel as it is weak until the cement is applied. Large panels are turned by sandwiching them between two boards for support.

Starting to cement the panel

Cementing the panel   ©

The next step is cementing the panel. This weatherproofs the panel and improves its rigidity. The cement is a mixture red lead,linseed oil and white sprit.The leads are carefully opened up with a knife and a stiff brush used to apply the cement. Excess cement is removed the leads gently pushed down and chalk dust and a clean brush then used of polish of any remaining cement from the panel.The leads are then flatened .The process is repeated for the opposite side of the panel. The panel is then left for a few days for the cement to harden.The edges of the lead came then have to be tidied up. This can be done by carefully removing any excess cement with a thin piece of wood such as a matchstick. After 2 – 3 days the cement the will have hardened further and the panel will be ready to install.

Final Touches

The panel is now ready for installation. Patina can be applied to darken the lead came and the solder joints if required. The leads can also be polished by using a small quantity of a black grate polish such a Zebbo. These later steps would only be carried out if the window is going to be viewed at close quarters.

Finished cartoon

The finished window   ©

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