How to Decorate your Lead – Part 1

"I'm only trying to talk about something other than glass painting!"

Hey there! Thanks for calling by. You remember how we got here?

I rashly said let’s talk about something other than glass painting for a change …

And it was all because someone left me!

Here’s goes.

I reckon it’s best if we chop things into two sections.

Right now we’ll look at over-soldering and adding a patina.

Next time round, we’ll look at gold leaf.

And now, to give you a sense of where we’re going this time and next, here’s gold leaf on top of an over-soldered lead.

Gold Leaf

Gold leaf on over-soldered lead

Now before anyone throws up their hands and says, “Oh my gosh, how vulgar!”, let me just say the gold lead had a purpose, and there’s a moral here for anyone who’s interested in stained glass design.

This is a small front door panel.

In particular, it’s one of two panels – I’ll show you the other one in just a moment – for two luxurious holiday cottages which are set in the middle of a sprawling apple orchard about 30 miles from here.

So the idea was for us to design and make two panels which could “brand” each one of these two cottages on all the relevant literature.

And also to give newcomers a visual means of quickly knowing whether they’d gone to the right cottage.

Here’s the other panel:

Silver leaf on over-soldered lead

See what I mean?

In the daylight, as you approach each cottage, you can’t see the painting until you’re really close but you can see the glittering colour of the lead work.

So that’s why we used leaf.

I just wanted to reassure you that Williams & Byrne never decorate for decoration’s sake. Oh no, it’s got to have a function.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is all for next time. This time it’s …

Over-soldering and patina

Over-soldering is when you apply a layer of solder over the entire surface of all the leads.

(We’d usually do this after the cement has dried.)

This will get all the copper-foilists really hopping mad – they’re all so keen on soldering being super-smooth – because the point of over-soldering is to leave a slightly rough and artisanal surface.

Why?

Decoration

You see it makes a change from dull flat lead.

Also …  it gives new strength to a panel.

To be clear, our main reason is always decoration (we get our local blacksmith to forge us some lovely shaped tie-bars whenever reinforcement is required).

So we tend to over-solder for panels which get examined close-up.

Fibonacci

That’s why we over-soldered the Fibonacci window: it’s the entrance to a large Victorian rectory, and, strange to say, all kinds of important businessmen are forever coming and going for meetings with the hyper-active and mathematically super-endowed owner.

Yes and we also over-soldered the literary agent’s rose window as you can see just below:

The literary agent's rose window

And that’s why – meaning, decoration – we over-soldered Kate Charles the crime writer’s window: nothing to do with her being a crime writer and thus our being fearful of a mysterious accident

Actually it’s on a stairway landing, and writers and bishops and journalists and CIA agents and diplomats and Oxford historians (I kid you not) are forever walking past.

Here’s a shot – Sorry, Kate, here’s a photograph – of it just before it left the studio for installation:

"Me I'm a really decorated angel. What's more I'm also really strong!"

So a nicely texture layer of solder over the entire surface of the lead is what we’re after.

Once that’s done, we let the panel cool, de-grease it (very important), then apply a patina to give a bronze-like look to the work.

Big and small

You can use this technique for architectural stained glass like the pieces above.

You can also use it for autonomous panels and wall-lights.

And also, as you’ll see today, for hangers and sun-catchers.

It really makes them stand out.

Enough talking – let’s watch the show!

Just sit back and hit the Play button.

So you see how it’s done?

Risks

Always consider:

  • You might burn through the lead in places
  • You might crack the glass
  • The patina can damage paint and enamel if it gets in contact with them

Just balance the risks against the benefits.

Practice before you do it for real.

Hazards

Always consider:

  • Solder fumes
  • The retained heat of the leads for many minutes after you finish soldering

Just ventilate your workplace properly and don’t touch the panel until it’s cool.

Your own tips

Herman van Rongen, a colleague from the Netherlands, says: to control the darkness of the patina, you can add water to dilute it (e.g. 1 part water to 5 parts patina). Certainly worth trying if your patina makes the leads too dark.

And here’s a comment from a colleague, Margie Cohen, in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania:

I have a visceral response to the words “patina” and “glass paint” used in the same sentence. I even get the creeps hearing the two words used on the same day. People have to be really really careful because it’s just so easy for patina to run tracing paint. And if you get it on enamel … Well, even diluted patina will ruin (as in, “it will disappear”) your beautiful enamel or rouge paint in a split second. So be extra, extra, EXTRA careful with patina and painted glass

Especially watch out for …

This:

  • Don’t apply the solder too thickly. The whole idea is to spread it fairly thinly. A little blob on the end of your iron will go several inches
  • Don’t let the iron get too hot or too cold: use a “snake” of lead just like you see in the video

"Who's a pretty boy?"

These are really important tips.

You have been told!

OK so that’s all for now.

Next time you’ll see how to apply gold leaf.

Feel free to ask questions and we’ll always tell you what we know.

All the best,
Stephen

"Why's it's always me that has to wait to be dressed up in gold?"

P.S.The saint’s head was first traced with water-based stained glass paint (see Part 1 of Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets from an English Stained Glass Studio) then shaded with oil (all as described in Part 2 of Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets from an English Stained Glass Studio).

P.S. And this is really important – if you want to know how we shaded the back of this saint’s head with silver stain – I mean, how confident are you with shading and blending silver stain, and knowing it’ll fire correctly? – then you really must go here and discover the proven techniques. Click here.

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42 thoughts on “How to Decorate your Lead – Part 1

  1. You ALWAYS surprise me … But I wonder: WHERE and HOW do you find the time to build surprises for others and still get your work done?

    I mentioned your website on my email newsletter at the beginning of this month. I heard that I caused some people sleepless nights as the wanted to read EVERYTHING you had put on your site.

    Thank you for your interesting pages and for the enthusiasm that speaks from them.

    Kind regards,
    Ellen Goldman

    • Hello Ellen,

      Speaking for myself, it keeps us sane! (Stephen’s a “lost cause”. Anyway, since last week, I can’t get him out of the studio wardrobe.)

      Best wishes,
      David

      P.S. And yes – we saw a number of new subscribers from the Netherlands. Thank you so much for introducing us! The newsletters make an ongoing series, so new people always start with number 1 and continue until they catch up with the current issue.

  2. Dear Stephen,

    Again a lovely lesson to learn. I have never thought of this because the general idea is always to avoid damaging the lead and keep it as smooth as possible. I am going to give this a try!

    By the way, are you aware that if you want more control over the darkness of the patina, you can dilute it in water so you can build up the darkness gradually?

    I use 1 part patina to 5 parts of water. Perhaps a suggestion to try?

    Thanks again,
    Herman

  3. Hi Stephen!

    As a coppersmith, I’ve welded, soldered, saft tammied, used copper bolts, brazed everything you can use on a whisky still – but I have never seen a gadget like that you use for soldering. Did you get it from the Pharaohs?

    All the best,
    William

    • Actually from The British Museum. It’s David’s pride and joy (along with his badger blender).

      Best,
      Stephen

      P.S. What’s “saft tammy”?

      P.P.S. William wrote back and said saft tammy is “using Mole Skin and Tallow, especially when metal gets very thin e.g. on condensers”.

  4. Hi Stephen and David!

    As usual, thank you for your wonderful informative newsletters, and your links work fantastically – a big “up” to your web host!

    I did have to chuckle, along with William, re. your soldering iron … Is it used for both central heating and soldering? Can it also flambé Crème Brûleé in its spare time?

    I love you guys! Keep up the humour and the instruction!
    Peta

  5. Hi Stephen and David

    Your humour keeps me going – as I am very new to this ball game I am learning sooooooooooo much from your emails and having a chuckle along the way – sometimes I swear my husband thinks I have finally “lost the plot”!

    Keep them coming – this email was one of the best so far. I am all for trying anything new, and I do really like the finished product.

    Please could you tell me what flux you are using. (Mine is water-based – so clear. Yours looks … very yellow? Or is it just my tired old eyes :-)!

    Kind regards
    Sue

  6. Well fellows, that was most interesting. And so sorry to hear of the loss of one of our followers! We do not all posses the same skills. It’s a long road to perfection.

    Best,
    Scott

  7. Ha ha very funny! We actually also possess a relic such as yours. Twenty years ago when we started (in South Africa) teachers and tools were near impossible to find. So we started with one of those. And now I use it in my restaurant for Creme Brulee!!!

  8. Now that is funny. See ours started out in the kitchen (back when I was doing my City job and needing cookery to chill out) and much later on was hijacked to the studio when everyone realized what a gem I had on my hands …

  9. Hello Stephen and David!

    I’ve heared that oversoldering is a very common thing in the Czech republik .

    But it is a hell of a job when you have to replace a piece of glass when one is broken …

    Best,
    Ebel

  10. Ebel, hello!

    Good point – we oversolder on one side only so that at least there is once face from which it is possible to remove and replace a piece of broken glass in situ. Thank you for mentioning this.

    I hope all goes well for you.

    All the best,
    Stephen

  11. Hi Stephen and David,

    Thank you for this video. I wonder, why did you say “iron” – is it iron or lead that you
    melt over the lead frame?

    By the way, I really like your videos – they are very detailed.

    Thank you,
    Adela

  12. Hello Adela,

    I hope life is going well for you in Guatemala.

    And thank you for your question. You identified a confusion we accidentally caused. When we wrote “iron”, we meant “soldering iron” – the tool itself (not the chemical element).

    I hope this clears up the confusion we caused.

    Best wishes,
    Stephen

  13. Not to worry!

    Eventfully they will tire of cutting and soldering not to mention all its limits.

    I thoroughly enjoy all you present to us and am thankful for you and your group of artisans.

  14. First may I say the your website and your personality and postings are wonderful. Thank you for them.

    Now to my question… would you please explain what the blow torch/iron is, and why you use it instead of an electric soldering iron with a rheostat for temperature control?

    • Hello Kristina,
      Thanks for writing to us.
      What a coincidence your question is: tomorrow I am editing a short film and preparing a newsletter on this very subject.
      Your question will indeed be answered.
      Thank you so much for letting me know that this topic we’d chosen is indeed one you want to know more about.
      All the best,
      Stephen

  15. Hi guys!

    Thanks for all the most informative tips. They just keep getting better and better. Can’t wait to hear about using gold leaf – most unusual.

    Noticed you didn’t need to use flux before soldering your joints. I normally use tallow but I guess if you are careful when cleaning that maybe its not always necessary. Am I right??

    Keep up the great work. I so enjoy your wonderfully witty comments.

    Regards,
    Pam

    • Hi Pam,

      Thanks for your question. That’s really useful …

      In fact we did use tallow – it’s just we didn’t show it being applied. If you go to say 1 minute 50 and watch closely, you’ll see there is indeed tallow on the joints.

      Thank you so much for getting this clarified!

      Always every best wish to you, Pam –
      Stephen

  16. WOW that is one scary iron! I have never seen this done before, and had always tried to get my foil work as flat as my came work … lol! Now I will not be so worried, and say, “That’ s the way it is supposed to look!”

    Why do you use liquid flux and not a styrene candle – wouldn’t a candle give you less chance of damaging your paint?

    • Hi Susan,

      The key lies in the words, “That’s how it’s supposed to look”. Roughness … smoothness – whatever you intend.

      You ask why we don’t use a candle. Well, maybe there’s no harm in trying. We ourselves found we gained better control of the quantity we applied: with a liquid flux, we found it was sure to be evenly and thinly distributed.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  17. Hi there,

    Just returned to your video on oversoldering for a refresher and some inspiration for a piece I am working on and it has set me up for the day now. Thanks for sharing (and love that you can hear the sparrows outside on the video)

    Thank you!
    Angela

    • Hi Angela,

      Thanks for your message. That’s great you’re in the habit of looking at things again! It’s put me in mind to write a newsletter which links all the earlier newsletters (tips and videos) together, so that people are reminded to do exactly what you are doing.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  18. Hello Stephen,

    Good to see a gas iron in action and I greatly enjoy your tips.
    I am curious, I use gold leaf for my own gilding work but I always understood that exposed silver leaf, unlike gold, will tarnish over time. Shellac can be used as a sealant but tends to dull the surface and probably wouldn’t stand up to prolonged external exposure.
    Do you use beeswax to burnish silver leaf?

    Best regards,

    Michael

  19. Thanks Stephan for another great tip. (Just after I have mounted my last two pieces in boring old blackened lead & hung them in the window!) I am very much looking forward to the gold leaf section.
    A handy book “Solder Magic Book” by Kay Bain Weiner has some great techniques for decorative soldering which could be used to great effect in this type of work.
    I, too, was very amused by your jet powered soldering device. I actually got quite a fright when I first saw it used in your DVD. I like my trusty electric “Weller” for general work but have a nifty little gas powered (refillable) unit which is fantastic for fine work (3mm lead).
    Many, many thanks for your tips and techniques. Keep up the great work.
    Cheers,
    Philip
    (Australia)

    • Thanks for the tip about the book, Philip – much appreciated by all of us.

      And, yes, the soldering iron causes great amusement to many people – but it’s a real “work-horse”, which is why we use it.

      I hope all’s well and happy with you.

      Best,
      Stephen

  20. Wow! Was that soldering iron handed down to you from Theophilus? That looks very archaic, not to mention inefficient. I certainly don’t mean to disparage your working technique since it obviously suits you quite well, but has electricity not come to your corner of the world yet? I’m saying all this in jest as I hope you realize, but where I live & work, I must produce the work quickly in order to make any sort of living. This is not to say my work is shoddy or hap-hazard, I will pit it against anything out there, BUT, in Iowa, people are generally unwilling to pay a handsome premium for work produced at a leisurely pace, therefore I use an electric soldering iron – 100w with an electronic temperature controller – that allows me to quickly solder, or tin the surface of lead, or attach reinforcing bars, or what have you, in such manner that I can create panels in a timely fashion. Time is money, and I must admit I waste my share of it, commenting in this forum for example! So any thing I can do to streamline my operation is to my direct benefit, and using an electric soldering iron ranks right up there!
    As always, I find your tips very informative and your humorous delivery is refreshing, never dull or boring.
    Looking forward to more .

    Best regards,
    Robert Fassler

  21. Hi Robert,
    I feel as though I should write in defense of “the jet powered soldering device”, even though I had may own little dig at it. I used a similar type of iron in my electrical work for soldering large cables. They are far from inefficient. Once those beasties are fired up they provide a good, consistent supply of heat and really do make the job quick and easy.

    • Hello Philip,
      Although I use my electric iron for just about all my soldering, I do have a “BernzOmatic” type torch for other tasks around the shop. I’ve just never tried to use it for routine soldering. I guess it just comes down to what a person gets used to and is comfortable with. People often ask me if there is a right way and a wrong way of doing various steps of glass crafting and I tell them what works for them is the right way for them. There are little tricks that may make the work flow more easily, but it would be presumptuous of me to think my methods would be universally embraced.
      Always enlightening to read other points of view!

      • Hi Robert
        You make a valid point. This point was reinforced to me recently in email from Stephen and David after I had described the method I had been taught for glass painting (a method that had me quite frustrated). It is good to know as many techniques as you can. We all use our usual methods in our regular work but life always seems to throw up challenges that take us out of our comfort zone. It is handy to be able to employ different methods in these situations, or even develop new ones! If you get an idea, grab some scraps and try it out. It might not work for the job at hand but may be just perfect for something later on. I think it is wonderful that we have these forums to share ideas and can’t thank David and Stephen enough for their contribution.

        I am currently doing a particularly fiddly restoration. The panels are scaled down versions of the main windows in the building with the same number of pieces, but about a quarter of the size. My “best friend” on this project has been an old pair of S/S angled tweezers. They are great for picking and placing small pieces of lead and when held closed the fine curve on the angled head is great for moulding lead into tight corners. This is the first time I have used them for this type of work (and it probably wont be the last).

        I will be glad when these panels leave the studio – I want to get back to my painting!!!

  22. Hi Stephen & David!!!

    AWESOME is all I will keep on saying … trust me, even if you started giving tips on firing, I wouldn’t unsubscribe! You are both geniuses and you have a knack of keeping my curiosity ALIVE … and how!

    I so look forward to your mails, and really missed the gold leafing in this video (I wanted the “whole hog” in one).

    Thank you from my heart and God bless you both,
    Sonia

    • Hi Sonia,

      I’m glad to hear from you again. And also very glad you enjoy the emails and videos.

      Yes, it was “naughty” to leave you with a cliff-hanger like this, but rest assured the next installment will be along to you in a few days’ time.

      I hope you’re well and happy.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  23. That soldering iron is the most Medieval thing I’ve seen in a long time. Sure surprised me to see a torch soldering iron being used. I’ve never seen anything like that. Crazy. Sure brought home the evolution of the tools we take for granted, such as electric soldering irons. Oh, and the video was well done and informative. It’s just that I am having trouble getting past the shock of seeing a non-electric soldering iron!

    • “Crazy”? – I’ll take this in good humor.

      And you’re not alone.

      A lot of people think it’s crazy … And then they see how good these irons are when faced with the kind of situations we deal with in our studio. Gas irons are absolutely wonderful – for us.

      I’ll just say one more thing. Our typical usage is not for tiny pieces like you see in the video but for large windows and a lot of them. We’ve tried all kinds of electric irons and they don’t do what we need them to. We tried them all. And gas works best for us.

      Always, though, whatever works for you.

      Best,
      Stephen

  24. Once again Stephen thank you for making your tuition so interesting as well as informative.
    I enjoy all you emails so please never unsuscribe me even if I don’t respond too often.
    I can’t wait to see the next one
    Many thanks
    Lawrie Norton

  25. Many thanks Stephen,
    I enjoyed the oversoldering demonstration and looking forward to the gold leaf application. Inspirational as always.

    Best regards,

    Michael

  26. Also wondering if you ever do / use any kind etching, sandblasting or engraving on your pieces if you don’t mind my asking. Perhaps I missed this bit (have been out of commission for awhile, working overseas). Or perhaps this is not so much in line with what you do.

    In any case these are fascinating videos and beautifully detailed & constructed guides. Thanks, Stephen.