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The Art of Glassmaking

The author enjoys sharing his tips and experiences on a variety of subjects.

This amazing glass aquarium is the result of exceptional artistic talent and creativity.

This amazing glass aquarium is the result of exceptional artistic talent and creativity.

What Is Glass Art?

It's hard to imagine a time when glass wasn't a part of everyday life, but for centuries glassmaking techniques were a carefully guarded secret, and they still are. But I would like to give you an idea of how this art comes to life.

Glass is a brittle, usually transparent or translucent substance made by melting sand and other materials such as limestone, and soda ash (sodium carbonate).

It is one of the oldest and the most versatile human-created materials, which is widely used all over the world in technology, packaging, interior design, furniture, renewable energy, and much more.

Different Types of Glasses

There are many different types of glass; the most common are soda-lime borosilicate glasses, silica glasses, and phosphate glasses.

Soda-Lime Glass

Also called soda-lime-silica glass or soft glass is mostly used for windowpanes, lighting products, and glass containers (bottles and jars) for beverages, food, and commodity items.

Borosilicate Glass

Borosilicate glass is mechanically stronger and higher-grade material than soda-lime; it can be shaped into vacuum-insulated vessels and is also chemically resistant to acids. Borosilicate glass is designed specifically to keep chemicals pure and uncontaminated. It is also scratch-resistant.

Silica Glass

Silica glass compositions are mostly used for industrial equipment, laboratory glassware, and exterior aircraft lenses. It contains minimal amounts of metallic impurity and is heat resistant.

Phosphate Glass

Phosphate glass is used for scientific and medical products as it is chemically durable.


Techniques Used to Make Glasses

There are several different techniques and ways of working with glass, such as glass blowing, hot sculpting, cold working, glass casting, stained glass, and fusing glass.

Glass Blowing

Glass blowing is a challenging task that is usually best tackled by a team. The lead glassblower is called the gaffer. A combination of sand and soda-lime, along with coloring agents, is used to produce a raw material, which is melted together to form molten glass.

This glass is “gathered” from the furnace onto a blowpipe; glassblowers use air blown into the pipe combined with movements of the glass, and special tools, to quickly shape the molten glass before it cools. Once properly shaped, the art glass sculpture is placed in an annealing oven to slowly cool down the glass until it is stable. If it cools too quickly, the glass art may break or crack

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There are two basic methods of blowing glass: offhand glass blowing and lampworking. Both involve hot, molten glass and a stainless steel or iron rod. They differ in the process by which the glass is heated and manipulated.

Offhand Glass Blowing

Offhand glass blowing requires three furnaces. The first, called the furnace, is used to hold the hot, molten glass that is the raw material of a glassblower. The next furnace is known as the glory hole, where the piece is heated and reheated during the process of shaping and the material. The annealer is the third and final furnace, where the glass is slowly cooled to reduce thermal stress.

Lamp Working

This term is used to describe glass that has been heated and manipulated by using propane/oxygen torches. The artist uses rods and tubes of glass, shaping with a variety of metal and graphite.

Old-fashioned lampworking used a flame created by an alcohol lamp and breath or bellows. The use of a lamp gave the technique its name. This method was and still is used to create beads, miniature glass items, figurines, sculptures, and laboratory glass such as test tubes.

As the glass is shaped, it often cools to the point where it becomes unworkable. When that happens, the glass must be put into a second furnace to reheat it to the point where it's once again flexible enough to shape further.


Glass Hot Sculpting

This technique is used when a solid metal rod gathers the molten glass from the furnace and is shaped with the use of special tools. While the process is similar to blown glass, no actual blowing takes place in the sculpture. The hot sculpting process tends to make much larger solid pieces of glass art using proper usage of heat and tools, with an introduction to color and bit application such as handles. Blocks are also used to shape and mold the glass.

Glass Cold Working

This method of glasswork involves working with glass while it is cold. A variety of techniques include sandblasting, cutting, grinding, polishing, and engraving to create a unique piece of art. Cold working also includes the application of special glues to adhere glass pieces together. These techniques are especially important for glass art repair and restoration.

Glass Casting

The large-scale sculpture is usually created with the help of a mold which can be filled with either clear glass or colored or patterned glass, depending on the techniques and effects desired.

Stained Glass

The glass is cut into specific patterns to make their artwork. The pieces are stuck together using lead came and solder. They can also use techniques in a kiln to create texture, patterns, or change the overall shape of the glass using heat.

Fused Glass

This term is used to describe soft glass that has been fired in a kiln at high temperatures to bond the glass together. Most fusing methods involve stacking or layering thin sheets of glass using different colors to create patterns. The stacks of glass are then placed inside the kiln and heated until the separate pieces begin to bond together, eventually softening and rounding the edges of the original shape.

As the glass is shaped, it often cools to the point where it becomes unworkable. When that happens, the glass must be put into a second furnace to reheat it to the point where it's once again flexible enough to shape further.

Glassmaking Takes Skill and Patience

Glassmaking is a very interesting field. It takes a high level of skills and patience to create the perfect glass art. For some, this is a means of livelihood, a job which they have to do to feed themselves. The second category of people is artists, working day and night, blowing and spinning molten glass to create the perfect design to showcase their skills.


Robert Remy from Eagle River, Alaska on September 02, 2017:

My ancestors were glass makers. You were not kidding about this trade once being a guarded secret. Come check my piece called: Esoteric Ancestry from an Ancient Remy Family.