[PA-NJ Glassblowers] If you can't stand the heat...then you better learn to work quickly when glassblowing
gaffer at glassblower.info
Sun Dec 27 20:27:42 EST 2015
I liked the title of this article, thought it was worth sharing.
If you can't stand the heat...
then you better learn to work quickly when glassblowing
Reporter enjoys her first lesson in Hot Glass 101
440e-ae2a-d0997b7f173f> Pam Douglas
When I told my craft-show-crazy friends I was going to try glass blowing for
the first time, they were impressed - and a little skeptical.
"That's pretty hard," they said.
Turns out, they were right. In glass art - much like everything else in life
- you have to learn to walk before you can run.
And when I met my teacher, Andrew Beauchamp, the studio technician at
Mississauga's The Living Arts Centre, he explained that my introduction to
glass art would not involve creating fancy vases or Christmas tree
ornaments, and indeed would not involve any blowing at all. The beginner's
course is called Hot Glass 101 and I would be making an ordinary
paperweight, albeit a very beautiful one.
I admit I went in cold to Hot Glass 101. I knew nothing about the process of
creating the gorgeous glass art I do so admire. I buy it, I love it, I
marvel over its delicate beauty and its ability to be transformed into so
many different things, but I've never really thought about its creation, and
this was my chance to find out.
Where to begin? I learned so much. Andrew has a vast knowledge of his craft,
its history, its mystery, and he has a passion for glass artistry I dare say
isn't easily matched.
I was a little perplexed when he told me not to wear anything flammable. I
know it takes high temperatures to melt glass, but how close was I going to
be getting? Turns out, you get pretty close. The heat from the "glory hole,"
where you heat up the hollow metal rod used to dip into and gather the
melted glass, is pretty intense.
And glass is melted in a crucible inside a furnace that is heated to 2200 F.
It's then lowered to a cool 2050 F. And there you stand, right in front of
it, dipping that "bit rod" into the crucible to gather the melted glass on
The orange glow coming from those two furnaces is infrared light, Andrew
said, and specialty shaded safety glasses are needed by those with light
Andrew went over some basic safety rules, but the main point I heard was
this: "Assume that everything in here (the workshop) is either sharp or
He has been working with glass for 10 years, and he said it is quite safe.
"If you know what you're doing you will rarely hurt yourself," he said.
The equipment isn't much different today compared to what was historically
used. In fact, the tools are simple and do look like something you might see
in a pioneer village display - tweezers, shears and wooden paddles that are
kept wet all the time so they don't burn when they come in contact with the
So, I heated the rod in the "glory hole," then moved to the furnace with the
crucible and began the adventure.
The heat was almost unbearable, even with Andrew shielding my hand with a
wood paddle. I dipped, turned and brought the rod out.
Rookie mistake. I was in such a hurry to pull the rod out and get away from
the heat, I touched the edge of the furnace opening and slopped melted glass
all around it.
"You can only stand there so long because it gets very hot," Andrew said,
assuring me that "everyone does that their first time."
But here's where it gets really tricky.
With hot, moving glass on the end of a metal rod, you have to fight with
gravity instantly and constantly because the glass just wants to ooze down
toward the floor.
So you have to keep the metal rod turning. Difficult enough as you walk from
the furnace to the table to dip it in "frit" - little chunks of coloured
glass - and then over to the work bench, but even more so when you sit, rod
resting on two metal posts in front of you, and you have to turn with one
hand and use the tools to shape and form the glass with the other.
Forget creativity. I was just trying to keep the glob from stretching down
and touching the floor. Although, apparently, hot glass just bounces.
"You're always turning with one hand, tooling with the other," Andrew said.
A few twists and turns grasping the glass with the tweezers and it starts to
harden. That's when you return to the crucible to gather more glass to trap
the colourful streaks inside.
I chose two colours - violet and gold - but when they are heated up to
melting, they both looked orange, and I couldn't tell the difference. Andrew
Another surprise - once you are done, your glass creation goes into an oven
where it will slowly cool down. My masterpiece would take 10 hours. Larger,
thicker pieces can take days, weeks, or even years.
Corning Glass created the Hubble telescope lens and calculated it would take
one year for it to cool - one degree per day. But despite an entire year
cooling down, it cracked right down the middle and they had to start again.
The second time, they let it cool for two years, and that worked.
The key to working with glass, according to Andrew, is figuring out how it
"It's a very unique material to work with. It's between a liquid and a
solid. You're playing between the different states."
He makes it look so easy but, obviously, it takes practice.
"You have to move with the glass and react to it," Andrew said.
When you figure it all out, it's called "getting your hands."
What's really exciting is, this was not a special opportunity reserved only
for a select few. The Living Arts Centre offers courses, for anyone to try.
The next session starts Jan. 20.
<mailto:gaffer at glassblower.info> gaffer at glassblower.info
<http://www.glassblower.info/qr-code.html> QR Code for Tony Patti -
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