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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Anne Ryan Miller Glass Studio, Nashville, IN
- Century Studios, St. Paul, MN
- Arthur Stern Studios, Benecia, CA
- Artistic Doors & Windows, Avenel, NJ
- Brian McNally, Glass Artist, Santa Barbara, CA
- Glass Expresssions, Burien, WA
- Jack Wallis Stained Glass & Doors, Murray, KY
- Luminosity Studios, Waitsfield, VT
- Neumann Studios, Brattleboro, VT
- Pompei & Company, Lowell, MA
- Soccio Rodriguez Design, Monongahela, PA
- Spectrum Glass, Woodinville, WA
- Theodore Ellison Designs, Oakland, CA
- Unique Art Glass, LLC, Bellevue, WA
- White Iris Restoration & Stained Glass, Madison, WI