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What Are Different Types of Glass Blowing?

A glass blower working at his bench.
A colorful dish made by a Venetian glass maker.
Glass blower heating glass in a kiln.
Lampworkers may use propane torches in their work.
Close-up view of potash granules, which are used in glass blowing.
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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2014
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Glass blowing is a centuries-old technique of forming a glass item by inflating a small amount of molten glass on the end of a hollow iron tube, which is also known as a blowpipe. The technique can be traced back to approximately 50 BCE in Roman Syria. Although the methods haven’t changed much over time, the technology used has come a long way.

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 called a punty. They differ in the process by which the glass is heated and manipulated.

The basic recipe for glass has remained very much the same since it was first developed: glass is made with sand, ashes, lime, and potash, among other possible ingredients. Before glass blowing was developed, people used to wrap hot glass around molds and cores to make vessels. These were not seamless and were susceptible to leaks. Once blowing became the favored method, it spread throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Glass became more efficient to make, and therefore more available to the common household.

The early 13th century marked the rise of the Venetian glass makers, who perfected the technique of glass blowing. In 1962, the “studio glass movement” ushered in a new era of publicly-accessible workshops and studios. Today, this art is noted as one of the fastest growing hobbies.

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With offhand glass blowing, three furnaces are required. 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 manipulating the material. The annealer or lehr is the third and final furnace, where the glass slowly cools over several days in order to reduce thermal stress.

There are many tools that glassblowers use in their craft. The blowpipe is dipped into the molten glass to collect a glob of it, which is then rolled on the marver, a hard, flat surface. After this step, an air bubble is blown into the glass through the blowpipe. Blocks are also used to shape and mold the glass. At the bench, which is the glassblower’s workstation, there are several hand tools used to further shape the material. Large bladed tweezers called jacks can be used to pull on the glass or to make more detailed adjustments, and shears are used to cut it.

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 and sculptures, as well as laboratory glass such as test tubes. Now, lampworkers use an oxygen flame created by natural gas or propane torches. Molten glass is collected on the punty, then manipulated while turning the rod and constantly shaped by various hand tools. At one time, this technique was used primarily for scientific applications, but it has developed into an art form in its own right.

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anon177754
Post 4

You can start at home, spare bedroom, shed, studio space would be fine. I am self thought but would recommend going to glass intro courses, one, two days to cover basic safety, equipment and techniques. Much faster learning process and you can make new friends! If you in the US, there are million teacher there. There are online forums where you can post a thread with your location and teacher preferences. I am sure somebody will get back to you promptly.

pastanaga
Post 3

I've had the chance to visit glass blowing artists a couple of times, and it is something well worth seeing. The amount of skill and care that goes into making even a simple glass object is wonderful. If you ever get the chance to visit an artist's studio or maybe get some custom glass blowing done, you should definitely take the opportunity.

irontoenail
Post 2

@pleonasm: I would highly recommend finding a glass blowing school or course to learn the craft before attempting it on your own. It can be very dangerous as the temperatures you are working with are very high. You could hurt yourself, or set your studio on fire, or you could simply create weak pieces of art that won't last. For the most part, you will need to join a professional group or club of glass blowers in order to use their equipment anyway, as it is too expensive for most hobbyists.

If you want to try lampwork, the equipment for that is cheaper and more accessible, but I would still recommend classes for beginners before trying to go it alone.

pleonasm
Post 1

I've always wanted to learn glass blowing. How much basic equipment would a learner need in order to make simple items? I've seen some beautiful works, like glass hummingbird feeders shaped like flowers, but I would just like to know how to make small items like pendants. Is it something I can learn at home, or do I need to go to glass blowing courses?

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