You might not have noticed but a lot of things around us are made of glass. Aside from windows, mirrors, and car windshields, you surely have seen many amazingly shaped glass sculptures and forms.
From mini-occasion giveaways to expensive Chinese figurines and house decorations, glass has been a very versatile material that allows artists to display their skills and imagination. Have you ever wondered how these things are made?
One of the 2 most used methods of creating glass forms or sculptures is called glassblowing. It is not as complicated but it is more amazing than you first think.
Glassblowing is the ancient method of making shaped glass through having glass molten on one end and blowing through the other to create a form.
Now, we will go through the steps of the glassblowing process.
In creating a glass, one of the most important items of equipment for your process is a furnace. A glassmaking studio has 3 furnaces. Furnace 1, the crucible, is for gathering molten glass. The second one is the “glory hole” where the molten glass is reheated so it can be formed by the artist.
And the third furnace is where the molten glass is slowly cooled down to harden. These furnaces, an open-ended blowing pipe, a cold steel surface, and molding sets are needed for a glass designing studio.
The first thing to do is to reach an amount of molten glass or “gathers” in the furnace and in the crucible. The crucible is full of molten glass and you will get an amount on the edge of the blowing pipe. After that, roll the molten glass into the flat metal surface to create an initial form, usually cylindrical.
Now, you can heat it back in the glory hole to get it ready for more forming. Usually, you will have to come back to this furnace several times until the final form is achieved; it is only when it is heated at above 1,000°F that it is moldable.
Designing glass by adding color
Glass is primarily transparent, and glassmakers add color to create magnificent designs. They use frits, bars, and powers to make various designs and patterns in the glass piece. The heated glass on the blowpipe is rolled over the color, picking up pieces of it before putting it back to the glory hole.
The color is melted to the clear glass. The pipe is continually turned to keep the shape at the end of the blowing pipe.
High effort and specialty are needed for a glassblower to achieve designs. The pipe has to be turned continuously. The glass blower sits while resting the pipe on steel arms and turns this with one hand, while the other hand uses the shaping tools. It can be wet newspaper, wooden paddles, stainless tools, and much more.
The glass maker simultaneously does different jobs with both hands. The shape can be determined while sitting at the bench.
Turning and heating in the glory hole is done several times. The artist may add clear glass or another batch of color and continuously shape it until the final design is achieved.
Actual pipe blowing
Here is where the actual blowing begins. The glass blower starts by puffing on the end of the blowpipe and making a bubble. Again, it is back to the glory hole to turn and heat again, and back to the bench for shaping.
When the artist is satisfied with the shape, the piece must now be carefully transferred to a “punty”. A punty is a steel pipe that has been heating over flames. The transferring from the blowpipe to the punty gives the artist the chance to create the vase opening. The punty is attached to the bottom of the piece.
Actual transfer from blow pipe to punty
This is a tricky step in the process. The blower or the assistant takes a small gather in the furnace using the punty. The blower turning the pipe stops and the punty is attached to the other end of the glass piece.
At the right time, the blower or artist “raps” and detaches the pipe from the glass piece, leaving it attached to the punty. If not handled with care, the piece usually breaks with low chances of being repaired.
Opening up the glass piece
The piece attached to the punty is taken again to the glory hole for heating. The artist sits again on the bench and this is when the artist uses tools to create the opening of the bowl/vessel. The heating will allow him to alter the shapes according to his desire.
When he is satisfied, the artist removes the piece by firmly hitting the punty and dropping the piece into a box with thick layers of fire blanketing.
When the piece is done and ready to cool, the artist wears Kevlar gloves to pick it up and transfer it to the annealing oven. It is kept at 960°F and cooled down for 14 hours to room temperature. Cooling is crucial so it is not fragile and gets the best glass color intended.
Finally, the artist takes the piece from the oven and does the final touch of polishing it from the edges the punty.