How I Putty Stained Glass and Tools I Use

Last weekend I was puttying a stained glass transom I am working on. My father stopped by to inspect my work. If you have been reading this blog, you probably remember that it was my father who taught me how to do stained glass. When he saw my method of puttying, he snickered a bit. My father is a traditionalist and when he taught me to putty he showed me the finger putty method. In this method you take a small ball of putty hold it against your thumb and use a pushing sliding motion to push the putty under the lead came. That is exactly the way I did it for a long time. But eventually I modified the technique a bit.

Not only did my thumb hurt, but I noticed that the putty was irritating my hands. I seem to be sensitive to all kinds of chemicals. I often get small blisters on my hands if I’m not careful. I started wearing disposable gloves to protect my hands. The gloves, of course, don’t fit very well. When I tried to finger putty with them the gloves would move around, bunch up, and eventually rip. My solution was the small plastic spatula in the picture above. I hold the spatula end (not the handle) between my thumb and forefinger grabbing it like you would when you swipe a credit card. I hold my ball of putty in my other hand. Using the spatula, I “cut” off a piece of putty and then essentially use the same motion as finger puttying to push the putty under the lead came. I had to search a while to find a small spatula with just the right stiffness. The spatula can’t be too stiff. It needs to be a bit flexible in order to be effective. Even though my father doubted the efficiency of this method, it works for me. Maybe it’s because my thumbs are not quite as big and strong as his.

After I push the putty under the came with the spatula, I use the palette knife on a bit of an angle to get off the excess putty. Doing this step helps make the clean up a bit simpler. Once I’ve puttied the whole window, I take whiting in my empty grated cheese container and sprinkle it on. Next I use the nylon brush to push the whiting around into the putty pushing the putty into and under the came. I use an old embossing tool with the end filed off smooth to run along the edges of all of the lead came to remove the excess putty. After the excess putty is cleaned off the glass I add a little more whiting and then use a natural bristle brush to clean the glass and give the lead came a patina. The brush I use is inherited from my father, and is a prized possession. It takes a long time to get a brush “seasoned” so that it will produce a beautiful finish on the lead.

I enjoy every part of the process of making a stained glass window except this one. It’s messy, it stinks, its tedious, and it takes way more time than you ever think it will. But on the other hand, it isn’t until this part is complete that the piece really pops and shines.

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