The Smith Panel Combination: Doing the Math

Last week, we noted getting started on a new project: the Smith Panel Combination. We’re excited to be working on the project, and for several reasons. For one, it’s always good to have work to do. For another, the panels really are quite pretty, and it’s always a pleasure to work with beautiful things in the shop; really, it’s one of the reasons we work with stained glass to start with!


The project at present; photo by Geoffrey B. Elliott.

One of the other reasons we’re looking forward to working on the project is the challenge it presents. We noted last time that we’ve got to find a way to combine the two panels into a single installation, and we have to find a way to strengthen the construction so that it will hold up over time. If you look at the picture of the project above, you’ll see that, although the panels are framed in came, they are composed of individual cut pieces of colored and textured glass; the edges of those pieces are wrapped in a copper foil and soldered over to join them together.

The advantage of the technique is that it allows for great detail in the work; cutting glass in curves and small parts is a skill in itself, as is fine solder-work, but deploying those skills allows for more complex pieces to be made in smaller spaces. The weakness, of course, is that there are a lot of joints, and they are not very strong; came is a more robust joining technique in no small part because it occupies more space and can provide more structure therefore. At the same time, the came takes up more space, so it doesn’t allow as much detail per square foot or yard.

Addressing the issue, for us, means integrating the two techniques: foil-and-solder and came-framing. Working out how to do that is where we’re at at the moment. It’s not enough to just slap some copper on some glass and cram it into the frame that exists; we’re going to be resetting some of the pieces and reinforcing the frame with additional came-work. That means we have to work out where the new came will be minimally intrusive, allowing for the most strength to be brought in while still keeping the most detail possible. That begins with sketches, such as are showing up as preliminaries already.

It also involves some complex calculations. Each kind of glass we use–and we use lots of different kinds!–has its own strength, as do the various solders and cames we employ. Figuring out what needs to go where to have the maximum effect takes no small amount of pencil-pushing; it’s not the kind of thing that can be leapt into with abandon, not and have it work well over the long term. And since we mean to build (and repair) to last, it is the kind of thing we take seriously.

We take it seriously with all of the work we do. If you’d like some of that to be for you, please, give us a call at 830-890-1509, or message us via our “Contacts” page. We’d love to hear from you!

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