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[Unedited] Glassblowing in 1st Person

by Christopher Yamane May 03, 2017

[Unedited] Glassblowing in 1st Person

This is the unedited cut of the glassblowing process we use for our Lucky Break Bowls.


It's rare to see the process of glassblowing and even more unusual to get to see the it from the artisan's perspective. I was there as the assistant glassblower, and even having done this for 10+ years, I was surprised how enlightening it was to see the same process directly from the perspective of someone more skilled than me.


Blowing glass is our friend Alex Abajian from Glow Glass Studio in Oakland, CA with me assisting. Thanks Alex!





Step by step walkthrough:

To make these pieces, we use a process of applying colored shards and thin glass threads to the outside of the molten glass to give every vessel its own unexpected and completely unique color composition.


Diamond Sheers

Diamond Sheers (photo by Jim Moore)



Alex starts by pulling glass out of the furnace (a process called gathering), onto a blowpipe which is a long hollow steel or stainless steel rod. Next he blows a small bubble into the glass and lets it cool while I section off a droplet of white glass on the end of a larger cylinder. I heat the white drop until it is liquid enough to be soft and have quite a bit of movement in it. We drop it over the top of Alex's bubble while he cuts it from the excess white cylinder with a tool called the diamond sheers. The excess white is reshaped and saved for the next piece. This is called an overlay which will make the entire vessel look white once it is blown larger. Alex smears the white overlay down to cover the portion of his bubble which is hanging off the end of the blowpipe. Once the overlay is worked into the glass and reshaped, he waits for it to cool down until it is no longer moving. 

A Block made from Cherry Wood (Photo by Harry Seaman)



Next, Alex takes another gather of clear glass on top of the white overlay. He give it some shape with a wooden tool, called a block, which is constantly soaked in water so that is doesn't burn when it comes in contact with the molten glass at just under 2300 degrees F. The glass is so hot that the water in the block is vaporized into steam. The molten glass rides on this cushion of steam so that it rolls smoothly and has minimal physical contact with the block.


As Alex shapes the glass to distribute the material the way he likes it, he has me blow into the pipe to gradually inflate the glass. You don't actually need a lot of air to blow glass. You will see that most of the inflating is actually very minimal until the last few steps. Most people assume that you need big lungs to blow glass. Surprisingly, you usually need to try not to blow too hard. Whenever you add air to the bubble, the glass is so hot that it causes whatever air you blow into it to quickly expand, so you really do not need a lot.

The Jacks (Photo by Harry Seaman)



After the glass is distributed and slightly inflated, Alex uses a metal tool called the jacks to create a constriction called a "neck." This neck serves as the weak point in the material which is used to break the finished piece off of the blowpipe later.


Once this shaping is done, Alex lets the glass cool down again until it stops moving. He then goes back to the furnace for one final gather, but only adds glass to the portion of the piece that is below the neck line. The keeps the neck in tact and also only adds glass to the main body of the piece where we need more material.


While the last gather is still very hot, he rolls it over the colored glass threads and shards placed on the marver (the steel table). His fresh gather heats up the colors so that they become hot and stick to the rest of his glass.  He then makes sure that they are pressed into the surface, and alternates giving the glass some more blocking and heat to make sure that the colored pieces are thoroughly melted into the gather. Once the colors are melted, Alex has me give the glass more air while cooling the bottom with folded wet newspapers until it starts inflating into a wide decanter-like shape. He gives it one final heat, and drops the glass into the mold. I hold the doors of the mold closed while Alex turns the pipe and blows air into it.  Just like with the block, the glass vaporizes the water in the wood which acts as a lubricant and protects the wood while the inside surface of the mold gives the glass a consistent shape. Once Alex feels the glass start to become stiff and cold (about 1000 deg F), he taps his foot to signal me to open the mold.


Once the glass is removed from the mold, it is much hotter on the bottom than the top. This is because the glass on the bottom of the piece is much thicker and, because of that, retains more heat than the thinner areas. Alex uses a large torch to heat the thinner top side of the piece while he lets the bottom cool in the air in order to even out the temperature between the two sides.

Tweezers (Photo by Jim Moore)



Once the temperature is even, and the bottom is cool enough to retain its shape, Alex adds water to the neck line with a large pair of glassblowing tweezers which sizzles and causes small stress cracks in the glass. He gives it a tap and the entire piece falls off the pipe which I can then pick up and move to a cooling oven called an annealer. This oven keeps the glass inside it at 900 deg F which is just below the temperature where it can noticeably change shape. The annealer then cools the glass very slowly overnight to relieve any stress in the material. If the glass changes temperatures too quickly it will crack just like ice cubes crack when you pour a room temperature drink over it.


Once the glass is cool we can cut the tops off the pieces leaving a bowl shape!


Christopher Yamane
Christopher Yamane


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