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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Repairs & How To » How To Repair Stained Glass

How To Repair Stained Glass

If the panes of your vintage stained glass window are rattling, follow this step-by-step process to tighten them again.
Story and photos by Web Wilson

    Although stained glass may appear to be stable, if the panes rattle when you drum on them with your fingertips, they need an application of fresh putty.

    If the panes of your stained glass are rattling, it needs an application of fresh putty.

    Vintage stained glass windows often need repairs. As the window’s original putty dries over time, it can fall out of the lead cames that enclose the glass, causing instability. Although the window may have no obvious problems, you’ll know it needs to be tightened up if the glass rattles when you drum your fingers over the surface. Fortunately, the fix is a relatively easy one.

    Step 1

    Tools and materials for stained glass repair


    Start by gathering your tools and materials [A]. To create the new putty, you’ll need a mixture of glazing putty, linseed oil, and lamp black. The latter is now more easily found in liquid form than powder—you can buy it at Ace Hardware for $1 per ounce. (You shouldn’t need more than an ounce or so.) You’ll also need something with a sharp point to clean out the old putty (dental picks work well), a small bowl and stirring stick (I like to cut down a cheap paintbrush so the bristles are short and stiff), and a rag and #1 steel wool for cleanup. I also recommend having a small brass brush on hand to help with cleaning.

    Mix putty, linseed oil, and lamp black


    Step 2

    After you’ve removed all of the old putty from the cames, mix the new putty, oil, and lamp black [B] into a stiff liquid that’s easily spreadable—about the consistency of molasses. You can add more black if you’d like to match it more closely to the color of the cames, although the putty won’t be too visible after you’ve cleaned up the window.


    Step 3

    Brush the putty onto the window


    Brush the putty mixture onto the window [C], pushing it into the cames—in doing this, you’ll end up covering most of the window surface. The putty mixture doesn’t have to be packed solidly into the lead—when brushed on, it will be forced under the cames and around the glass, and will stabilize as it dries. To get an even tighter fit, you can take a wooden stick and gently press down the edges of the lead after you’ve applied the putty.

    Clean up putty with a rag


    Step 4

    You’ll need to clean up the window in two stages. First, when the putty mixture is dry enough to be picked up with a rag (about 15 to 20 minutes), clean off the majority of the glass surface [D]; if the putty dries too long, it will be harder to remove.

    Start in the middle and wipe the putty mixture toward the lead to further insert it under the cames. Allow the remaining putty to dry for another few hours until it’s fairly hard, then use the steel wool to clean the glass and lead [E]. The brass brush comes in handy for getting into the crevices along the edges of the cames.

    Cleaned stained glass window


    If you have the time and inclination, you can repeat the process on the opposite side of the window to further stabilize it. The putty mixture does a nice job of cleaning the glass and cames, so you’ll also give your stained glass a nice cleaning in the process.

    Stained Glass Suppliers & Artisans

    Nervous about repairing stained glass yourself, or looking to buy new? Here’s where to go :

    New Work

    Restoration, Too

    • Art Glass & More, Homewood, IL
    • David Wixon & Associates, Inc., Glen Ellyn, IL
    • Drehobl Art Glass, Chicago, IL
    • Hamm Glass Studios, Whittier, CA
    • Hyland Studios, Santa Clara, CA
    • Lyn Hovey Studios, Norton, MA
    • Painted Light Stained Glass, Omaha, NE
    • Selvin Glass, Ardmore, PA
    Published in: Old-House Journal February/March 2013


    pam McDonald December 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    you say in your Feb/March 2013 magazine in the comments on stained glass/leaded glass windows on page 6 that you have links to some our your favorite glass artisans and restorers? I do not see that link????

    Clare December 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    It’s up now–sorry for the delay!

    Catherine Brooks, Eco-Strip June 20, 2013 at 10:37 am

    What kind of safety precautions does one need to follow when potentially nicking the old lead cames when removing the putty?

    Mark Kirbach April 3, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Bovard Studio in Fairfield Iowa is also a great source for restoring stained glass or installing new. Great company and solid workmanship.

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