This week I’ve had a repair project that was in very dire need of work.
Many pieces of glass were completely missing, along with a good portion of the perimeter lead that would hold everything together. There were broken pieces among the existing glass,
a lot of crusty build-up along the edges (likely caused by moisture and dirt seeping through over the years),
and fragile lead that had begun to crack apart, not just at the solder joints, but in the middle of straight runs too. In fact, the whole thing was so deteriorated that it couldn’t be held upright without falling apart.
I began by making a rubbing of the panel with a crayon on kraft paper. Even though there had been some distortion as the leads broke and separated, this step still provided me with a starting point for rebuilding, and was useful for keeping track of all the pieces as the window was dismantled. I also had access to the original wood frame, so I could make an accurate template for the shape. Between the template and the rubbing, it’s not too hard to get a window exactly the size it needs to be.
The old lead was so weakened that I didn’t even need tools to separate it from the pieces of glass; it literally snapped apart wherever I pulled on it. The next step was to clean the glass in water with a tiny bit of mild liquid soap (Ivory liquid works well). While I was at it, I also cleaned the pile of scrap glass provided by the client to be used for repairs.
Here are some of the scraps. The glass comes from an older building that is being rehabbed on a tight budget. I am trying to be mindful of both the needs of the project, and the ethics of my own work. This is obviously not getting the same treatment as a museum-level restoration, but I still want to maintain a high level of craftsmanship. When historical repairs, restoration, or conservation work is taken on, there should be some sense of a Hippocratic Oath for glass ( ‘do no harm’ comes to mind right away).
Here is the window being rebuilt, with all new lead. The missing sections were filled in using the salvaged glass that came from the original building. Sometimes when there has been extensive damage across a series of windows, it makes sense to sacrifice one (or more) of the worst to use for parts. Depending on the needs of the project, the eliminated old windows might be replaced with new stained glass to mimic the look of the old, or simply replaced with new clear glass window units.
Here is the releaded panel, shown just before soldering. To keep within the budget, I made a few concessions that would not generally be done on a more involved restoration project. First of all, although all the replacement glass comes from the original building, it was not available in the full range of colors that were needed. That is the reason for the paler amber piece in the center. Secondly, I used lead from my existing stock, rather than ordering a special profile that would have perfectly matched the original. The width of the lead face is the same as the old, but it is a round profile where the original was flat. This may not seem like a huge difference, but in the past I’ve worked on restoration projects with such strict specs that a new lead that was two hundredths of an inch (that’s 0.02″!) wider than the original was unacceptable. When the money–and the desire–exists, custom dies can be produced to match the original in every measurement and shape. In many everyday situations, though, that simply isn’t a viable option. Thirdly, I used through leads to manage the broken pieces. This is also a sensible choice, considering both budget and restoration standards. If a new lead can be added where there is a break, without removing extra glass, it’s the fastest, easiest way to make the window whole and sound, without taking away any of the original glass. The only downside is the relatively noticeable addition of an extra line, but when it is used in a narrow border as in this window, it can still look fairly subtle. Other repair options would include copper foiling the broken sections together, or using a conservation-grade epoxy. Both methods are more time consuming than using a through lead, and in this case would not have provided a huge advantage visually. What is also important about all of these repair methods is that they can be reversed, if better repair techniques are available in the future.
Just out of curiosity, I pulled some color samples (front row, with labels) out of one of my glass sample sets, to see how closely I might be able to match the range of olive greens. I’d say that’s not too shabby! The only problem is that this particular type of glass is so expensive that a sheet of it costs about the same as this entire project, start to finish. <sigh> I’ll keep an eye out for more inexpensive glass in these same colors, but it simply may not exist. In the end, though this project had certain limitations, I was still able to produce a sound, sturdy panel, sized perfectly for its opening, and ready to take on many decades of new life.
The rebuilt panel, back in its frame.