Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Glass-making Experience

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In one of my Geekend updates, I mentioned we'd gone for a glass-making experience at a local studio, but I only gave you a couple teaser photos. It's time to tell the whole story!

This is one of the best Groupons I've gotten! Now, when I signed up for this "studio" glass-making experience at Janke Studios, I had a certain picture in my head. "Studio" conjured up visions of us sitting at stylish heavy wood tables, on high stools, with our cute little Bunsen burner things in front of us, goggles on, as we worked with teensy glass blobs. You know, like at the glass blowers' shop at Disney.

I was not prepared for a 2,000 degree F (1100 C) furnace and 6 foot (2 meter) blow pipes!
Yowza! But BOY, was it fun!

It was a small class; just us and one other couple. It would be impossible to have more in the class! We started with a glass (well, a cup ;) of wine and some appetizers from a nearby restaurant. Then, we got a whirlwind bit of instructions thrown at us! Seriously, it was a lot of information to take in, but our instructor was with us every step of the way, and everyone did fine.

First, we made "flowers". I am quoting the word "flowers" because they looked more or less like flowers...some more, some less. =) The first step was to lay out different colors of frits (glass chips) in a circle. Here you can see some of our creations ready to go on the long table with the little gravy boats full of different-colored frits...
I'm looking expectantly on from the bench where we worked the glass. Michael and I wore sandals rather than the closed-toe shoes we were supposed to wear, so we weren't able to walk around with the pipes...ooops. In my defense, the website didn't mention this little restriction!

The next step was for our instructor to get some clear, molten glass out of the big furnace (the big, black cube in the top picture up there) on a pipe, and plop it down on top of our frits.
Clearly, this is a heat-proof table. =) It had a specific name, but by this time it has escaped me! The reason the glass looks orange is that it's so hot! There's no orange in there at all.

The next step was to pinch all around the disc with the jack (that's those giant tweezers I'm holding). You'd occasionally need to dip the jack in water (where it made a satisfying little tsss! sound) to keep it cooler than the glass so it wouldn't stick.
You have to move FAST, because the glass is kind of like frozen honey in consistency (or at least what I imagine frozen honey is like!) It's difficult to explain, and our instructor told us we'd just have to get our hands on it (figuratively, of course!) before we'd know what it was like. At the same time, it had less give and more viscosity than I was expecting. Like I said, difficult to explain. You are rolling the pipe back and forth along that side there while pinching with the jack. And you have to keep things moving or it just droops!

Here the instructor is standing behind a heat shield while she warms up my "flower" in a smaller furnace before the second step. Since it was about 85 degrees F (about 30 C) outside, I wasn't sad I had the sandals on and couldn't perform this step!

Now for step 2 of "flower" making: pulling out the stem. I think we all misunderstood this step a bit; we thought we were supposed to be making the flower more bell-shaped as opposed to flat. But really, you have to pull the heck out of the thing to make the stem happen!
Since the glass wants to cool, and the thinner it gets, the faster it cools, you are fighting a losing battle to get the stem stretched out before it's too cool (and solid). You can't really put it back in the warm-up furnace, either, since it's already drooping off the pipe.

At the point, it's cool enough to come off the pipe...a simple "whack" on the side of the table, and it pops right off! Since the pipe is far cooler than the glass, the glass "wants" to come off the pipe, so it breaks right off. Then the flower goes in the annealing oven, which cycles down from 2000 F slowly so the glass hardens and does not crack.

After our "flowers" were done, our instructor explained our next project: paperweights (or Art Glass Orbs, as Michael calls them =). She got some more glass on the pipe, then dipped it into one or two colors of frits at our direction...
...then she handed the pipe off to us and told us to go nuts! Twist, pull, loop back, make some branches, whatever! Here's me going nuts.
Hmm, that doesn't look too crazy. But again, you had to go FAST! She told us what to do if we did or did not want bubbles (I did). Basically if you don't want bubbles, you have to work to make the ending blob really smooth with no crannies.

And here's Michael doing his thing.
He ended up with a very tall glass orb. =) If we'd had time and been on our own, he probably would have put it back in the warming furnace and had another go. Of course, at this point we had no idea what it would look like, since everything was glowing bright orange, so it's not like we could plan how the colors went.

Next, the instructor got a giant glob of clear glass on the pipe to cover what we'd done, and shaped it a bit on the table.

Our part was to use these wooden scoops, which had been soaking in water, to help form it into a round shape. There were different sizes of scoops, but thankfully our instructor told us which number to use.
The final step was to use the jack to pinch the heck out of the "neck". Basically, the bottom of the orb needed to be as close as possible to the size of the pipe--or smaller--so that it would pop off easily.
You can see the brighter orange part inside that is the colored part. It's brighter because it's hotter. We (and by "we" I mean "our instructor") actually had to reheat the clear part in the warming furnace so it would be as hot as the interior, or it wouldn't cool correctly.

And here are the finished products!
You guys saw that shot already, but here's the side view.
It's interesting to note that the color you put in the very center of the flower got pulled down into the stem a bit.

And here are the Art Glass Orbs. =)
That's Michael's on the left; he used blue and green. I used blue and the "class mix" (leftover frits and what's busted up from all the mistakes).
That white and red stripe was from some class mix pieces. It's pretty cool how the colors, which started out as those chips you saw, got swirled all around!

I like this last shot of mine because it shows the part I worked so hard to twist around and around!

We were done with the class in just two hours!

Hope you enjoyed the blow-by-blow of our glass-making class!

Glass-making classes are very fun, and even better, I completely failed to injure myself!


Katy said...

Oh wow! I would LOVE to do this!

pandy said...

That's amazing, you guys did a wonderful job!!! (of not hurting yourself :D)

Love the flowers :)

cucki said...

Wow it is so wonderful :)

Christine said...

They are amazing!

pinkundine said...

Wow - that looks like so much fun - I'm so jealous! I absolutely love the orbs!

Shirlee said...

So cool : ) I always wanted to try doing that. I used to make glass beads & that was fun for a while : )

Melissa said...

Wow! What an awesome experience :) Thanks for sharing!!!!

Karoline said...

It sounds really cool! Your glass is lovely

Nic said...

Looks like fun. But if I tried I'd probably come away needing skin grafts :)

Ellen said...

Heather, I'm very impressed by your new "objets d'art"! You certainly are multi-talented!

Marsha said...

Very cool!

rosey175 said...

Oooh, how fun! When I did a study abroad, one of the places we got to visit was a glass-making company! I got to make my own very lopsided little glass! It is a lot of fun but o man, I cannot imagine working there everyday in that heat! Your little orbs turned out so nifty too! Love the color choices~

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