LEAD CAME method

by Paul Wilson

Came: Came is made from metal that comes in strip and roll form. The process for making came is called extrusion. U-shaped came is used on the outside edges of stained glass projects, H-shaped is for joining more than one piece of glass together on the inside of a project. It comes in lead, zinc, brass, copper and other metals.

Lead came has a numbering system that describes the type of came, whether it has a flat or round shape, and the size. As an example 1/8" FU is 1/8 inch "U"-shaped came with a flat exterior. A 1/4" RH would be a 1/4 inch came that is "H" shaped and has a rounded exterior.

The term "Lead Came" seems to be somewhat of a misnomer. Actually I have heard several people talking about the subject of lead came when the came they were actually discussing was zinc, brass or another metal..

Traditionally lead came was used for cathedrals, mosques, and other houses of worship throughout the world for over the last thousand years. It was used to hold in the glass pieces of windows which are typically larger than today's foiled glass pieces. Often the glass would be painted or alternately painted and then fired to ensure the design painted on lasts. In the past 200 years stained glass and came have also been used architecturally to enhance the look of wealthier home owners. This often was mixed with lead glass for effect.

Lately medium and large sized panels have become popular projects and they emulate the stained glass and lead glass windows of the rich and famous from the late 18th and 19th century. Few of us today could afford the 28 room mansion, let alone expensive windows for a place that large and we have had to content ourselves with panels which can be hung in any bright area and add something different to a home.

Came can be used for different reasons and effects. Came can be used to provide a strong simple frame on the outside of a medium sized copper-foil panel of say 12 X 18 inches or so. Zinc came can be used in a few internal areas of any larger project to add strength. An entire project can be made of lead came or another came. If you are going to use zinc, brass or other hard metal to build an entire project, all lines in the design should be straight or angled. Hard metals do not conform to round shaped pieces of glass very well.

With larger projects the weight of glass and other materials used in a project must be considered. If you want to err, err on the conservative side by adding plenty of strength to your project. Many larger projects require some type of reinforcing. This is true with copper foil and came. In some cases steel, iron, or wood are used as strengtheners in strategic areas of the project. Anything larger than two square feet should be considered for reinforcement.

Came requires some different tools and slightly different technique than copper-foil. Tight inside and outside curves on glass are hard to shape around with came, the larger the came size, the tougher it gets. Copper foil easily makes a 170 degree turn around a tight wedge shape, came does not and some type of miter cutting will have to be done. Even so, there will be the dulling of the desired pattern line and the visual effect of that piece could be somewhat obscured. The worse scenario is a very small piece that cannot be camed at all using larger came. This presents some design problems for pattern makers and for someone choosing a pattern for came work since many patterns are designed with copper-foil in mind. If you wish to use a copper-foil pattern, some experience will be necessary for planning purposes since some redesign may be required.

There are many ways and tools that you can use to cut came. Probably the cheapest way is to use a pair of came dykes or came cutting pliers. Whatever you choose to call them, they are medium sized side cutting pliers similar to what electronics technicians use. They work fine on lead and zinc came. A came cutter is a device in which you stick your came and you squeeze a large handle and it makes the cut. These are a little expensive and still require a little trimming after you cut the came, so I don't see the point of using one of these. The other popular way of cutting is to use the type of tiny miter box and saw that your glass dealer has. I have not used one of these but imagine that they are better when doing brass or copper because they would allow neater more accurate cuts with hard metals. For lead and zinc came my trusty dykes have served me well since I am fairly strong.

To discuss came, we will start with a simple project, framing a small panel that was made with the lead-foil technique. When framing a panel, start from one end of the came and cut two 45 degree inside cuts. If the end of the came is to your right and the came is resting on the bench open side up, you want the 45 degree cuts to start at the bottom and move up and left at a 45 degree angle. To do this in this position requires the cuts be made with your left hand holding the came dykes.

Place the BOTTOM of the glass in the came with the right end at the end of the came, make a mark at the left end of the project. Rotate the glass so the side lines up with the mark, then mark the came where the top of the glass is resting. Rotate on through until all four sides are marked. At the last mark, cut the came in two and make the two 45 degree inside cuts. Later, when the two ends come together you should have a perfect 90 degree joint. At each of the three other marks, make your two 45 degree inside cuts on either side of the mark. Maybe this does not sound too illuminating but remember the idea is to remove came material inside at each corner so that your panel rests inside a tight box that you create with the came.

When using lead came, many experts claim it should be stretched a few percent so that the glass fits tighter and bends will be removed. Shame on me because I have never bought the vise and stretching tools to do this. I just use came as it comes. I buy my came in 6' lengths and carry it carefully to my truck. Since the truck is covered and the bed is more than long enough, I have not bent any came. If you wanted to stretch the came, you could use a regular bench vise to secure one end and use pliers to pull from the other end. Of course you will loose about an inch at both ends, but you would not have to buy any specialized tools.

When choosing came for a 100% came project, it may be necessary to choose smaller came so that it conforms better to the shape of the glass, this is true if using a pattern that was created essentially for copper foil. If it is a large project with big pieces of glass, larger came may be more appropriate, this would be true in large window and door projects.

When making a came project, you still need to use something to keep the shape correct as you assemble it. You may use wood strips or layout blocks for panels pinned to your project layout board. On the inside you use horseshoe nails to secure portions of the project as you work. These nails have a flat outside that does not mar the came. Pattern shears for lead came are different than those used in copper-foil. You need shears that have a wider 1/16" cut because more space is needed for came.

Whether you are using lead came or copper foil, remember NOT to foil or came the outside edges as this is where you will put your frame which needs to be continuous for strength. Stop about 1/8 inch short with came or foil when working on glass with outside edges. This allows you to fit the came. If you had came or foil right to the edge of the glass, the came used to frame it would not fit well over the foil or came. When you solder it later, you will build solder bridges to fill in the area.

When it comes to soldering, it gets a little trickier with came. With zinc, brass and other harder metals it is a fairly simple matter of spot soldering where the pieces join one another. First put some flux where you are going to solder. I like to dab a little solder on the soldering iron tip and touch it to the came, I get good heat conduction to the came this way. If necessary, I then feed just a little solder to the tip and move it to touch or bridge to the other came I am joining so that the joint is complete. I use a high heat setting and always work from the inside of the piece. If I have the iron close to the outside, the solder always seems to roll down the outside of the came spoiling the looks.

When soldering came made from lead, I use a much cooler setting on the iron and a light touch. Too much heat in one spot for too long and the came melts right through. The idea with either type of came is not to solder in a bead. If you want the bead-like look, get the came that has a rounded edge(s).

The next step is a good cleanup, see Section III for tips on cleanup. If your project is a window or door or larger panel, you probably need to glaze the project. I recommend a pre-mixed glazing cement such as "Inland Cement." Mix according to directions. Using a stiff natural paint brush, you work some of the cement into the joints sealing the area where the glass and came meet using a circular motion. Cleanup using whiting powder and a stiff brush. Use a fid to clean up stubborn areas. Let it cure for 24 to 48 hours and then reclean as needed. Patina and or wax as desired.

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last updated 23 Aug'99
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