Humans have been blowing glass for thousands of years, and the technique has not changed much since. Every great civilization has left evidence of glass blowing, whether for art, ceremonial purposes, or tools.
Glass is a part of our nature. As with any skill, glass blowing takes practice, but that does not mean you need to be an expert do it. As a matter of fact, it makes a great hobby.
Why Learn Glass Blowing?
Glass blowing is one of the most versatile and satisfying forms of art. You can truly push your creative abilities to the limit, all while performing respectable art. Whether you want to make some extra money on the side, create gifts for friends and family, art for your home, or all the above, blowing glass is a great hobby.
The art is beautiful, and the process looks magical, but the fact is, anyone can learn to do it with the proper tools, equipment, and knowledge.
Is Glass Blowing Dangerous?
Glass blowing involves many fiery hot objects, so if you do not take the proper precautions, it can be dangerous. If you follow all the recommended safety guidelines, it can be the most enjoyable hobby in your life.
Ensure you use the proper safety gear, including safety glasses, heat-resistant gloves, and closed-toe shoes.
What Exactly is Glass Blowing?
Glass blowing is the process of taking a mass of molten glass, blowing air into it, and then forming different shapes. Common glass blown items include:
- Bowls and Jars.
- Drinking glasses, wine cups, and shot glasses.
- Tobacco Pipes, water pipes, and hookahs.
- Sculpted art and ornaments.
It is such a versatile art; you can do anything with it.
How Do I Begin Glass Blowing?
First, you must learn the basics of the art of glass blowing.
Without learning the basics, one can feel lost and have no idea where to begin. An excellent way to learn the basics is to find videos on the internet and watch a professional glassblower at work.
If you know local artists, maybe they teach a class on it or point you in the right direction. Beginners should always learn under a professional’s supervision.
What Tools Do You Need for Glass Blowing?
It would be best if you had many tools for blowing glass. While all these tools are not a necessity, they will make the project come out much better. Some of the tools include:
A furnace is an essential tool. The glass will not melt without the furnace. Glass requires extremely high temperatures (1600 to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit) to melt. Furnaces can be costly, so renting out a studio for a few hours might be better.
The glory hole is a hole in a furnace where the glass is reheated throughout the shaping process to keep the glass soft.
The blowpipe is the primary tool for shaping the glass into art. It is the blow in glass blowing. It has an air passage throughout the length, a mouthpiece, and an end to garner the glass.
It provides a healthy distance between you and the shot glass. Blowpipes are made of metals like iron and brass.
A lehr helps to gradually cool down the glass while helping to reduce internal tensions. The lehr will help to prevent the glass from breaking down or cracking.
The lehr is not exactly a necessity, but it will help make large quantities of projects. It is also called an Annealer.
A punty is a long metal rod with a hot glass tip. It helps the artist hold the piece in place while working on the design.
A marver is a tool that helps you roll the blowpipe cylindrically. It attaches to a wooden table and forms a surface safe for rolling. It is usually made out of some type of metal like brass or graphite.
A jack is like steel tongs that help remove the glass from the blowpipe and control the shape of the sidewalls. It has two blades with straight edges, which can be either metal or wooden.
A bench is your battle station. A bench is not necessary if you are visiting a workshop occasionally, but if the hobby becomes almost daily, then the bench is where you will sit, store your tools, measure, and more.
You can use the bench as an armrest while you are rotating with the punty. It also helps protect your legs from hot glass.
The shears are tools for cutting and shaping glass (scissors and knives won’t do the trick here). There are two shears, diamond and straight, depending on if you want to cut in squares or straight.
The block is another tool used for shaping the glass. The blocks are shaped like a sphere, which helps you mold the glass in the proper shape. The blocks make it easier to set the glass.
Molds are used to create specific and perfect shapes. Not all blowers use them, but they do come in many different shapes and sizes.
A crimp is a tool that creates decorative indentations on your glass. These are not essential, but they help with the aesthetics of your project.
Paddles are tools used for flattening the base of the project. They do not look like boat paddles but rather Greek paddles where they stay thick throughout the length.
A yoke is a support structure that can help you balance the punty and the blowpipe while rotating the glass. A yoke is usually shaped like a Y or T and has two wheels.
These help keep the heat even while doing a perfect project.
A puffer is a metal tub with a narrowed nozzle at one end. The puffer helps to inflate the opening of a finished project.
Blowers use other tools to create finer detail for their projects, but those are optional. A temperature reader is a great tool to have, so the artist can ensure the furnace is at the proper heat.
Now that we have the tools, next, we need to learn the basic step-by-step process.
- Before starting the process, the glass must melt in the furnace.
- The molten glass is gathered by the blowpipe from the furnace, forming a glob of glass.
- The glass is rolled over the marver to shape it cylindrically and evenly while controlling the temperature.
- You can add crushed colored glass for a colorful design.
- The glass will begin to harden, so it is time to put it in the glory hole to reheat (you will reheat the glass throughout the project) and then back to the marver.
- While reheating the glass, the blowpipe must rotate continuously; otherwise, it will fall victim to gravity.
- Now it is time to blow through the blowpipe, which will create a bubble of glass, and from there, the artist can create the desired size for the project.
- The artist can use a variety of tools to shape the glass into something aesthetically pleasing.
- After the glass is shaped, it is time to remove the project from the blowpipe. Using the jacks, cut the glass at the mouthpiece, removing the glass from the blowpipe with a short tap.
- The project is then put in the lehr to gradually cool down (rapid temperature changes could crack the glass).
There is, of course, much more to the process than just these steps.
It takes a lot of patience and practice to get it right, but the payoff is always worth it. At last, you will have a beautiful and colorful piece of art made with your hands and breath.
Here are a few pro-tips:
- Read glass blowing books, and then re-read them. The more knowledge you retain, the better you will be.
- Practice, practice, practice. The old cliché, “practice makes perfect,” proves to be a valuable and masterful tool. When you are home, practice the turning motions without the molted glass. Let the movements become second nature.
- Learn the whys. Not just the dos. If you understand why you are doing each step, you will have a better chance of mastering it.
- Learn about heat because heat is the key to being a pro glassblower.
- Challenge yourself! If you don’t occasionally fail in the first few years, you are not challenging yourself enough.
- Learn from every piece you make. Analyze what went right, understand what went wrong.
- When you first start, it is exhilarating blowing molten glass but calm down. If you stay calm, you conserve your breath, and you will be better at blowing.
There is plenty of literature on glass blowing: from history to technique. The internet and the library are filled with excellent materials to take your glass blowing to the next level.
Signing up for a glass blowing class is a great way to meet like-minded people, and it is a way to use a studio while learning at the same time.
It is always great to find a new hobby, especially one as fun and as beautiful as blowing glass. Start researching your area to see if you can find a class, and then hop right in.
Nothing feels better than seeing your beautiful work after a fiery day in the glass shop. Remember to follow the safety guidelines!