Sunday, June 24, 2012

Playing with glass

I played with molten glass and I lived to tell about it! Look, here's proof!

Getting my glass all melty so I can work with it.

A good friend talked me into a Groupon deal at a glass art studio - a two-hour beginner class where we'd get to play with molten glass. Sure, I thought to myself, what better way to spend a hot Maryland summer evening than standing by a two-thousand-degree furnace and risking third-degree burns?

The class was at Lillie Pad Studios in Millersville, and I'm going to tell you about it, but please don't trust me to be giving you accurate information about the process! I was faint from the heat and scared to burn myself, and mostly only paid attention to the "how to do this and not end up in the hospital" parts of the lesson. The instruction was really superb and I should have been more relaxed and taken it all in, but I was such a chicken!

The instructors got us some molten glass to work with by collecting it on the end of a long metal pole called a punty. When it first comes out of the heat, it's the consistency of honey, so it's important to keep the punty spinning gently to avoid letting your glass ooze to the floor. I was told I have an excellent sense of gravity. I'm so proud!

We made simple paperweights, and the first step was getting some color into our pieces. To do that, we dipped the hot glass into little colored glass chips, and then put it back into the fire to let it all melt together. Some colors are opaque and some of them are translucent, and mixing them right can get a great layering effect.


Then we let the glass drip into sturdy metal molds and take a shape. It cools quickly enough that you only need to hold it in place for under a minute, but the important part is to keep the punty completely vertical, or you'll get a lopsided piece.


Once the glass was molded, we let it cool so the instructors could add more glass over the top of the shape, to make another layer. Then it was time to work the glass with some tools, to smooth it and prepare it to be chipped off the punty. We started with wet newspaper and our bare hands! Gravity pulls the glass downwards, and all we were doing with this step was keeping our hand under the dripping glass so it dripped into a roundish shape. With the punty constantly rolling, of course. I was petrified about this step, naturally, and focused so much on not burning my hand that I had a hard time coordinating the rolling part. The instructor stepped in and took over, because I couldn't keep the punty straight.


Of course, it eventually has to come off the punty! We used jacks to make a channel in the glass while we were spinning it, and slowly pulled the paperweight part away from the pole, leaving it connected by a dime-sized section of glass.

Using the jacks to get the piece away from the punty

Letting gravity flatten out the bottom of the piece

The pieces had to cool slowly overnight in a special oven so the temperature differential wouldn't cause them to shatter, so I had to wait to bring my paperweight home! Here are the final products from our group:

Mine is the monstrosity on the right!
It was a ton of fun, and it's a hobby I could see myself enjoying very much, if not for the blistering heat. I'm whiny when I'm too hot! I felt bad because a couple of times I couldn't handle standing in front of the glory hole (yes, that's the actual name for the furnace thing, and yes, I also giggled), and my instructor had to "take the heat" for me. I might consider going back for more... in the winter.


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