A question that one of my readers asked recently was “Do I need to use came on my projects?” Finishing the edges of projects seems to fall into a grey area for many crafters. To help you, this article addresses key concepts to consider whether came is the right way to go.
Using came around your projects matters because it can affect the overall strength of the piece. And, it can completely change the way the piece appears when finished!
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of whether or not you should use it on a given project, let’s discuss a little bit about what it is.
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What is came?
Came is a channel made from a variety of metals and is available in various shapes. The two most commonly used metals in stained glass are zinc and lead.
It is soft and bendable by hand. It it is used to make a stained glass window in its entirety or used in combination with the copper foil technique.
There are different types and widths of channels to accommodate the placement of glass. For use in a panel, the channel is in the shape of an “H”. For the outside edges a simple “U” shape is commonly used. A really lightweight lead came used for edging very small pieces is referred to as “hobby came.”
Zinc on the other hand, is much more rigid. But without the right tools, it can be a huge challenge to cut. It is most commonly used as a border for stained glass panels because of it's rigidity.
You can see from the end view, the metal has been folded right around so that the raw edges meet together inside where they support the glass.
There is a lightweight zinc came too that is perfect for edging smaller projects and it’s called capping came. It's much easier to work with and can be cut using a pair of side cutters. But since it's so lightweight, it doesn't lend the same strength to reinforce your work as other sizes of zinc came.
Now, the biggest drawback to working with zinc, is that it cannot be bent into shape by hand. It will bend if forced but the results are more a kink than a bend. It crushes the channel and causes one side to flare out making it impossible to use.
So how does one make zinc fit a round panel?
A came bender, of course!
This tool is not something most crafters have at their disposal as they are a pricey investment. This usually leads crafters to using lead around circles. (Zinc came bent into different sized circles will be available for purchase in the online store starting mid-summer 2018! Details to come.)
Now that you have a solid understanding of what came is, let’s move on.
How to decide if you NEED to use came
There are four things to consider when finishing your stained glass window or suncatcher with came. These are shape, size, structure and aesthetics.
So for anyone working on square, round, hexagon or oval pieces, essentially anything that has a geometric shape, zinc came or lead came are feasible choices. Just keep in mind, zinc requires a came bender to shape circles and ovals.
Anything that has a shape in a free-form outline, for example the bear silhouette design below,doesn't have the option to finish the edges with zinc came. There are simply too many bends around the edges of this piece. Lead came would work, as would finishing it with copper wire or pre-tinned wire embedded in solder or twisted wire.
The smaller the project, the less likely it is to require any came on the edges.
Suncatchers for example, are smaller and consequently light enough to not require came.
But that's not to say that you couldn't use came if you wanted to.
And, there are many glass workers who like to use hobby came around all of their small copper foil projects. It alleviates the need to solder the edges. A step that can be a bit frustrating until mastered.
Deciding to use came or not based on the structure of the project can be a little more challenging for those with less experience.
Hooks for hanging your stained glass art should be embedded in the seams whenever possible. This allows the weight to be distributed more evenly than soldering them somewhere along the edge of the piece. However, not all designs allow for this.
If you want to add hooks where there are no seams, using came could allow you to place the hooks along the edges instead of in seams. Just be extra careful with large or heavy panels.
Since lead came stretches and is not rigid, hooks added along the edges of a panel supporting a fair amount of weight, result in the lead pulling away from the glass. Zinc does this too on really heavy panels if the hooks aren't placed in the proper position.
What's nice about using zinc came for framing is that when your project is rectangular, either vertically or horizontally (it doesn't make a difference,) placing hooks on both the left and right sides at the top corner is normally a safe bet.
Another way that zinc came is used to add structure to stained glass, is to reinforce hinge points. Lead is too soft to do this properly.
When thinking about the aesthetics of your project, how you finish the edges plays a vital role in how your artwork is perceived.
Zinc came along the edges of a stained glass panel adds a nice clean border which gives the perfect finishing touch. And with a variety of choices for the width of the zinc, it's easy to choose one to provide the look that you like best.
Lead came around a project is a great way to finish a free-form shaped piece. It bends around all of the edges that are curved or veer in and out. This saves you from soldering the edges of your projects if that is something that you struggle with and find detracts from your finished work. (That's not to say that you shouldn't push to learn the skills of soldering the edges of your project properly!)
Another way to use lead came, is to add twisted lead came as a decorative asset on top of the lead that was used to frame the piece.
Here's a video from Dichroic Glassman showing this technique on YouTube.
Let knowledge and experience help you decide if you need to add came to your projects and which type to use.
Always observe your finished artwork regularly to see if, when, and how your project holds up over time. Make a mental note of the problems (if there are any) and try to determine the factors that contributed to the problem in the first place. This way you can adjust accordingly next time.
Every project will be different, everyone's personal taste varies, and experience, knowledge, and practice will guide you on making the right choice for your stained glass projects.