In the studio where I learned, one man drew the design, another cut the glass, a third man painted it, a fourth assembled the glass in lead and did the soldering, while a fifth cemented the finished window, picked it clean and polished it.
This fifth was really just a boy who’d left school early and unqualified.
The owner paid him less than anyone else, having calculated the lad would struggle to find a job elsewhere.
If you are romantically inclined, you might suppose the other staff would show compassion and try to bring him on so he might better his position in life.
But the boy was daily mocked.
Therefore he soon harboured such resentment and was filled with such aggression, he was not trusted on the studio floor, but was confined to a small, filthy, ill-lit room at the back of the studio – the “cement-shop” – where he did his thankless work from 8 o’clock till 4.
Cementing – thankless work?
Yes, thankless, though the job he did was vital:
- If the windows are badly cemented, they will let in water.
- If the cement isn’t scrupulously cleaned off, the windows will look messy.
- If the leads aren’t polished till they gleam, the glass won’t look its best.
But only a handful of the workforce saw things like this.
Cementing – worrying and demoralising. (But it should not be like that)
As an apprentice, I was sometimes ordered to the cement-shop to lend a hand.
It was hot, exhausting work throughout.
Perhaps the most important part of the job is this:
It’s crucial that the “2” cements are pushed until they meet. Then, somewhere very near the heart of the lead, the cement will set together.
Now, if it at all matters to you that windows don’t leak, you will worry greatly about this, and often wish it were possible to devise a fool-proof method (short of X-Rays) which guarantee success.
You will also worry that you are at the end of a long and skilful process – designing, cutting, painting; and how completely awful it would be to break a piece of painted glass right now, just as the studio is gearing up for shipment.
It is also demoralising work throughout.
But you cannot even enjoy those times when your own work is slack, because you will immediately find yourself the object of other people’s ill-feeling (since they now have a lot of work to do, and the owner knows that you are waiting, which costs him money, however little, which makes him angry).
When you are your own masters, you can choose to do things differently and better
Here at Williams & Byrne, we’ve spent the greatest part of last week cementing, cleaning and polishing a set of windows, the first piece of whose glass David cut eight months ago.
Four lancets. Each one just over a half-metre wide and two metres high. Each one in 4 cuts.
If this menial, filthy job were best-served by hiring someone else to do it, we would always find the necessary money to get it done that way.
But it is not best-served like that.
It is less worry when we do it ourselves.
In this country, I can scarcely believe it’s practical to delegate a job like this and not expect there to be some breakages or leaks or unclean glass or improperly polished lead or something just gone wrong which no one spotted because they don’t take it sufficiently to heart.
So, since we wanted this last stage to go smoothly, we cemented everything ourselves.
Not quite everything – we brought in extra (over-qualified) help
Just one concession: for the leading, we’d hired an extra pair of hands.
When the leading was finished, our hired help then knew the windows well enough (even though he hadn’t had a hand in painting them) to remain with us last week and help us with cementing.
Hard-nosed business is also good for windows which don’t leak: here’s how
Three hard-nosed points concerning business now.
- Naturally, since cementing really is that important, our hired help was paid the same fair rate throughout: he wasn’t paid less for the days he joined us with cementing.
- If the day ever comes when we employ permanent staff here, everyone will need to do whatever work is best for the project. If this means painters getting dirty with cement, that’s just how it’ll have to be. (It’s how it is right now.)
- No way will cementing ever be delegated to anyone unless they are over-qualified, because over-qualification is often the best guarantor of success with this particular job.
That’s all for today.
- Off-the-shelf cement vs. make-your-own.
- When to do things the old-fashioned way vs. using modern gadgets.
- Tools for cleaning cement. (Do you own a dental pick?)
- The kind of brush we use to burnish and polish our lead so it gleams like gun-metal.
So, over to you now: Do you have a recipe for home-made cement?
If so, please use the comments box below to share.
Also: we’ll all be grateful for any instructive anecdotes or tips you have about cementing in particular or learning and apprenticeships in general.