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How to Blow Glass, Part 2

By: Abby Robinson and Neal Robinson
July 29, 2006

Summary: In Part 1 of How to Blow Glass we covered studio glass blowing preperation. In this article we will continue to discuss the basics of glassblowing.

Look in the furnace. You should be able to see the reflection off the surface of the glass so as to know where to “gather”, the term used for turning a heated pipe in hot glass to get as much molten glass on the pipe as possible. You may even have practiced already using a mirror before you got this far just to see where to put the pipe. Depending on how big you are going to make your piece, you may gather multiple times. In most cases you will at least gather twice.

The final effect you hope to achieve dictates when you encase the glass with color, but that is material for another article. So your next move is to shape the glass on your pipe into a bullet or diamond configuration, using the wooden blocks, the paper or the marver. Once you become a master gaffer, you can probably use just air and gravity to achieve this shape but for the next 15+ years, plan on using the above mentioned tools. Then, put it back in the glory hole for a short “flash".

To make any blown work, you must put a bubble in this mass of glass that is sticking on the end of the pipe – otherwise it would be a solid glass sculpture, not a blown piece of glass. Many artists do this by “capping off”, a polite term for sticking your thumb in your mouth while blowing into the pipe and covering the end of the pipe with said thumb. Hot air expands and, if properly done, you can watch the bubble expand to whatever size you wish and then stop the process by releasing your thumb.

If you are going to gather again (as in make a larger piece, or add color on the outside) you want to let the glass cool now, until the color is no longer red/bright yellow. This is so bubble will keep its shape and more glass can be put on that falls off the piece when you re-enter the furnace. If you do not plan to gather again, you can re-heat the bubble and put in a neckline with your jacks.

To extend the length of the glass, gravity is your friend. Just heat it in the glory hole and hang it down on the way to the bench. With a wet piece of paper or the marver, cool the bottom of the glass so you can blow out the shoulder (part nearest the pipe). And remember, if you don’t put a jack line in the glass is never coming off that pipe in one piece.

Now you can get creative. By heating and cooling, blowing and hanging down, you shape your piece however you want. Work the piece in thirds. Form the part closest to the end of the pipe first, for it gets cold first, then form the center, and finally, work on the bottom of the piece. That way all that work you did on the bottom won’t be melted out while you, belatedly, try to make a jackline.

Finally, using a paddle flatten the bottom. If you forget to make it flat on the bottom then it won’t stand up. Unless you want to make a beer glass you can never put down, remember to flatten the bottom. . You can tell where the heat is by color. As glass cools: First it is red and then it turns yellow then it shows whatever color you added. If you can see the color you - it’s not hot enough. If the glass isn’t hot then you can’t manipulate it. It’s solid. You want to heat the piece so that it is approximately the same temperature throughout. If the top and bottom are at different temperatures the glass will crack while its annealing. The little suckers (glass) will crack from the strain.

Once the bottom is flat, you reheat the piece and punty up. photo Punty making, and finishing the piece once it’s on the punty is material for a whole other article – so stay tuned.

The cost of blowing glass? Not to scare you but if your studio does not supply tools, here are some of the costs they can incur: Blocks are about $30 each and sized in inches or centimeters. You need a set of 6 but coul get by with 3.. They are handmade of fruitwood and must be kept in water to keep from cracking. How much do the rest cost? The tools run from $75 to hundreds. For the jacks you can spend about a $125 dollars for some really good jacks. Jim Moore hand makes them as well as shears (oth straight and diamond shaped), tweezers, and speciality items like taglios, soffietto’s etc.

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