So You Want To Blow Glass At Home
A Guide to Getting Started with Glass Blowing
There is a lot to consider when deciding to set up a home studio for lampworking.
Do you have an idea of what you might like to make? Will you be working soft glass and/ or borosilicate?
Do you have the resources to pursue the craft? You will need money, time and space for a studio.
The following are the most common questions we hear from our customers:
What is the difference between soft glass and borosilicate?
These glasses have a different COE, (Co-efficiency of Expansion), which means that they will heat to molten and cool at different rates.
Soft glass, also known as soda lime glass, (COE 90, 96 and 104) melts at a lower temperature and stays molten for longer. These types of glass are popular for bead making, fusing and slumping.
Borosilicate glass, or boro takes more heat to become molten, and will cool to solid much faster when removed from heat. It is popular for hollow vessel and detailed sculptural work like Christmas ornaments, perfume bottles and pipes.
What kind of torch should I get?
Budget will be a big part of this decision.
Do you want something to just get started with, and then allow yourself to upgrade later as you learn and figure out what you ultimately want to be making? Or do you want to go all in and invest in a torch that will let you grow?
Most torches work best with oxygen and propane, but some are able to operate on natural gas or even hydrogen!
Mountain Glass Arts carries torches manufactured by Bethlehem, Carlisle, GTT, Herbert Arnold, National and Nortel.
All of these companies make excellent torches, and each have their advantages:
Surface mix torches that are powerful but quiet, and work at lower oxygen/ fuel pressures than other brands, making them more efficient. Unique base design allowing for easy adjusting of the torch to a wide range of working positions.
Surface mix outer-fire with a premix center-fire. Premix torches are too hot to work soft glass. The industry workhorse. They have been producing torches longer than most. We joke you can blow glass under water with these torches! The premix center-fire is very hot and powerful, providing a sharp and penetrating detail flame. This detail flame produces a loud hissing sound that some find annoying. Available with a rack and pinion base that allows for single-handed torch angle adjustment.
Surface mix with the unique triple-mix technology, utilizing an additional oxygen port. The flame adjustment capability of GTT torches is unmatched due to the ability to introduce additional oxygen in a controlled manner. These torches are a high-precision tool that will take a little longer to learn, but will ultimately provide excellent control of your heat and other flame characteristics. Whether you are working a delicate color, bathing a large piece in a soft annealing flame, or want to push heat deep into a marble, you can adjust your flame to do whatever is required. Because of the additional oxygen input, you will use more oxygen operating these torches, although they do offer a couple of models specifically designed to be more efficient.
Surface mix torches with convenient one knob flame adjustment. We all know the Germans have a reputation for engineering quality, and these torches are no exception. Beautiful to look at and easy to use, it is designed to work best with the addition of compressed air, which requires a little bit more set up, but will ultimately perform better and require less maintenance. Without the compressed air you will likely need to clean the carbon build up from your torch face every time you use it.
Known for their premix torches, but do offer a couple of surface mix products. Premix torches are too hot to work soft glass. The price point of these torches makes them a great option for a first torch. In addition, if you get the hand torch version with a stand, it will be useful for years to come as a compliment to your upgraded bench torch. The premix flame delivers a very hot flame capable of fine detail work as well as larger flames. The tips are interchangeable, and there are many different tips available to get the type of flame you need. Premix torches are loud to operate. These torches are very durable, and replacement parts are available should you need to do maintenance.
Primarily surface mix with popular premix options. The price point makes these torches a great option for a first torch, with more versatility than the National torches. Arguably the most bang for your buck, delivering a large surface mix bottom-fire with surface and premix options available for the top-fire. These torches stack the small detail flame on top of the larger bottom-fire instead of incorporating both in the same barrel, which allows for a simpler manufacturing process, hence the lower cost. The only real downside of this design is it does not allow for the use of a foot pedal. (What the heck is a foot pedal you ask? I’ll get to that, but you don’t need it yet!)
Why do I need a kiln, and what kind should I get?
When you work glass, you introduce stress. If you do not anneal your pieces, they will crack.
Kilns are a relatively simple piece of equipment. It is an oven designed to retain very high heat. The main considerations are how much internal space you need and the amount of electrical power you have available. Kilns have a very high power draw and require dedicated circuits. They are available in 120 volt and 240 volt. We would include the option of digital versus analog here, but the benefits of the digital are so great that you should definitely invest in this feature if possible. All it takes is forgetting to monitor your kiln temperature on an analog kiln one time to ruin a batch of work that would have paid for the price of the digital option. With a digital controller, you set the temperature and time to soak, and forget about it.
Do I need a ventilation system? What about working outdoors?
YES!!! A ventilation system is highly important! The by-products of melting glass are highly toxic, and not to be disregarded. In addition to the combustion of the gases, some of the ingredients in the glass you melt will produce toxic fumes. Many people work outdoors, but this can still allow fumes to linger in your work area if not encouraged away with some sort of fan. A good way to check if your fumes are dispersing is to light a stick of incense and see where the smoke goes.
I have natural gas running to my home. Can I run my torch with this?
Most torches can run on propane or natural gas, but it is not quite as simple as just connecting your hose. First you will need to determine what pressure the natural gas is coming into your home, and check the recommended operating pressure of your torch for natural gas use. Often the pressure coming into your home is lower than required to operate your torch, so you would need to boost the pressure coming in, and then put limiters on any other appliances that are using the natural gas. In addition, propane burns hotter thus is more efficient and is considered to be a “green fuel”, while natural gas is not.
Where do I get oxygen and propane, and what size tanks do I need?
You can find your local oxygen supplier by searching online for bottled oxygen suppliers or welding supplies. You will need to purchase or rent the bottles from where you will be filling them. Oxygen suppliers will not fill a bottle you may happen to have unless they can certify it is safe. You will pay a fee for this test. You should get the largest size bottle you can manage to transport safely to and from your studio, so you don’t have to refill as often. The most commonly used is a “K” size tank. Propane is used at a much slower rate than oxygen. Most people use the standard 20 gallon tanks that are used on propane grills, and can be picked up at any hardware store. It is also a very good idea to have at least two tanks of each, so you can change them out if you run out in the middle of a session.
What is the deal with oxygen concentrators?
Oxygen concentrators extract the oxygen from the air and can eliminate the need to purchase bottled oxygen. Larger torches have high oxygen demands that require multiple units, and/ or a storage tank. This combination is called a home fill system, which essentially is filling your own oxygen bottles by using a compressor. Small torches can run directly from a concentrator. It can be a significant investment to get set up on this type of system, but if you are working regularly it will pay for itself relatively quickly, and it is nice to not have to take the time and energy to lug those heavy bottles to and from your oxygen supplier.
Can I use my sunglasses as eye protection?
No! The flame on your torch will damage your eyes if you do not use the proper eye protection with a didymium or equivalent filter. All of the eye protection we sell, (with the exception of the PH31 shade 3 and PH32 shade 5 clip-ons) include the base didymium or equivalent filter. This will also allow you to see through the flame to the glass you are heating, so you know when the glass is ready to move and shape. Soft glass workers typically use just the base didymium or equivalent filter, while boro workers will often add a shade 3 or shade 5 welder’s filter to the base didymium for more protection, especially when working long hours and large pieces.
What else do I need?
There are a few basic tools that will be useful regardless of what you plan on making. In addition to your torch, kiln, ventilation and eye protection, you will need hoses, flashback arrestors and regulators to connect your torch to your oxygen and fuel supply. If your work bench is not fire proof, you will want to put a piece of metal or hardy backer board on top of it. Mountain Glass Arts has assembled starter kits that have all of the basic tools, eye protection and connection equipment you will need. Most of these kits include a graphite paddle, graphite shaping rods, tweezers, reamer, claw wire grabbers, tool and rod rest and glass cutters.
Can my mom afford this?
Doesn’t your mother want only the best for her baby? If she really loves you, she will find a way to pay.