Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Glass Blowing
Glass blowing is one of the most fascinating crafts, both to practise and to watch. It comes close to magic as the blower precisely judges the heat of the glass while rolling, blowing and turning the hot, soft blob into a hard, bright and elegant object.
Origins of Glass Blowing
The ancient Babylonians and the Egyptians were the first to make glass. It is a combination of two materials, silicates and fluxes. Silica is a mineral found in many substances including sand. The flux is vital because the normal melting point of silica is 3000'f - which would be impossible to work. The flux allows the silica to be worked at a much lower temperature. As with many crafts the materials originally used were chosen partly for their suitability and also simply because they were available. For instance, the Romans used soda ash, the English flints and the Germans potash.
For thousands of years glass was only moulded into shape by pressing it over a clay form that sometimes had a raised pattern on it. The Egyptians were the first to make sheet glass, but it was a laborious process - involving moulding a cylinder and cutting it open - and only small pieces could be made at a time. It wasn't until the invention of glass blowing that working glass became a major craft.
Historians are unsure whether glass blowing was discovered by accident or invented. The molten glass was always held on rods and some of them may have been hollow. An inquisitive desire to see what happened if you blew down the hole in the rod may well have sparked off the craft.
The basic technique of glass blowing has changed very little. Modern glass blowers still work in teams, or at least in twos, in just the same way as their predecessors. The slang word for a boss 'gaffer,' is the proper term for a master blower in charge of a work shop or team. He carries out the most difficult parts of the glass blowing process.
It is begun by the 'footmaker' who rolls the first glob of molten glass on the end of the blowing iron, judging how much to take from the furnace to make a wine glass, a decanter, or whatever the job in hand may be. He rolls it in order to thin it out. At this and every stage the skill lies in judging the temperature of the glass from its colour and its consistency. The knack is always to have it at the right heat for a given process. At the beginning it is just viscous enough to stick to the rod.
Another member of the team will take the rod and blow quickly into it to create the bubble or 'parison.' While it is molten the glass naturally tends to form a drop towards the floor. The blower constantly turns the rod to counteract the gravity ' sometimes throwing it from hand to hand like a drum majorette'
Sometimes pieces are made entirely through 'free blowing' like this. Others are mould blown, a hinged mould is placed on the floor so that the craftsmen can blow steadily down into it. It can be opened and closed by foot.
Once a basic shape has been created the glass is passed to the gaffer for finishing. He or she sits on a special chair with long arms, across which the blowing rod can rest and be rolled back and forth to keep the shape even.
Extra glass is brought to the gaffer which he, she adds, shaping the whole piece with a variety of old fashioned tools. The mark, like a dimple, under the feet of many wine glasses shows the point where the blowing tube was attached.
Like pottery, glass has to be cooled gradually so that it is not too brittle.
This is called annealing and takes place in the kiln.
Over several hours the temperature is lowered so that the glass can set properly.
Glass blowing can be dangerous - please do not attempt unless you are properly supervised or trained.
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