2,000 Degree Oven

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Last Friday I ventured into the city to take advantage of a free monthly workshop series at Third Degree Glass Factory. My mission was two-fold: meet folks from Meetup and learn something new. Fortunately, I accomplished both in the space of two short hours. Sitting on the front row allowed me to bask in the warmth of the ovens and take full advantage of the Q&A portion of the evening.

Glassblowing, like any other craft, looks easy when demonstrated by skilled professionals, but is probably something you shouldn't attempt at home. Glassblowing is essentially a three step process. The blowpipe (long iron rod) is inserted into the first and hottest oven and gathers a blob of molten glass much like picking up honey on a dipper. The molten glass comes from a solid rod of colored or clear glass that has been melted down. The second step involves placing the glowing glass into the "glory hole" of the second (2,000 degree) oven between each blow of air and rotation. Glassblowers not only blow air into the blowpipe, they constantly turn the rod to expand and thin the shape, occasionally holding the piece up into the air to let gravity pull the mass down. Once the shape starts to form a colleague leans in with wooden paddles to shape out the flat parts (usually the bottom), while the artist continues to spin the piece. Finally, a little water is used to remove the glass from the rod and the ponti is added to the bottom. The last step requires cooling the glass in an annealer oven, ensuring the glass cools at an even temperature and does not crack. (Cooling typically takes 24 hours depending on the thickness of the glass.) And while most glass pieces are created in 20-45 minutes, some pieces can take up to six hours of continuous work!

Glassblowing has changed very little since the Roman Empire, which, to me, is part of its appeal. A modern connection to an ancient art. Now that's something to behold. The factory also offers classes from simple bead making and paper weights to complex eight week intensive training courses. I look forward to returning to this local gem. Now I just have to decide which class to take.

All images taken by me.


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