The Bern Gallery

How to Blow Glass (Equipment, Tools & Techniques)

Index

If you admire crafty endeavors and working with your hands, learning how to blow glass could sound like an interesting objective. The people that bring those gorgeous glass pipes, colorful glass bongs, and creative smoking accessories to life are true artisans for sure. But, before you decide that you want to figure out how to blow glass at home, here’s a crash course on some of what’s involved.

Once upon a time, glass blowers simply heated glass over an oil lamp, but this technique was inefficient and severely limited their results. Today’s glassblowing torches burn a variety of gasses and feature an adjustable blend of fuel to oxygen to create the correct flame for their needs.

How to Blow Glass

Glassblowing involves using clear glass that is first melted in a kiln inside of a crucible to form and shape functional and/or artistic glass pieces. Working with molten glass is hot—the glass needs to be kept at 1,000 degrees just to be able to work with it. And, the glass piece must be in constant motion as you add color and roll the piece into shape.

It’s important to note that there are different types of glass a glassmaker will work with. For the sake of clarity, here, we will be covering borosilicate glass, which is what we use at Bern Gallery.

Want to Blow Your Own Glass Pipe at Home? Not Recommended.

Glass pipe blowing requires creativity and talent, but creating exceptional glass pipes requires the right glass pipe blowing tools and techniques. DIY glassblowing is never recommended. You need a lot of tools and a lot of knowledge to blow glass pipes safely. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll need and some of what you’ll have to know.

Glass Blowing Equipment

Lathe

If your goal is making bongs and large tubes, you will need a piece of equipment called a glassblowing lathe. These will keep the piece you are working on rotating steadily leaving you free to use torches and tools with both hands.

Gas & Ventilation

At Bern Gallery, we use oxygen and propane gas, so ventilation is EXTREMELY important. The fumes from the gases and glass frit (crushed color) are extremely dangerous. Plus, glass dust is definitely not something you want in your lungs. The best setup for glassblowing has an industrial ventilation system, not just a box fan in a garage window. Another tip, make sure lines and connections are in good shape and use quick-connects on your gas lines.

Workbench

A good workbench is also a must, preferably tiled. You will drop glass, and if the surface is wood, you can create a big mess because the wood will burn.

Kiln

Ensures the glass is properly annealed and cooled to prevent breakage as the glass cools.

Raw Materials

Almost all borosilicate glass pipes start out as clear glass tubing. Finding the right tubing can take some trial and error. Every brand has its perks and pitfalls when it comes to fuming and melding well with colors or even price. Schott, Pyrex, and Simex are a few good examples. At Bern, we stick with Schott, a German-made tubing, because it is pretty superior in all respects. Different brands of clear tubing also have different fuming properties.

Color Additives

The best color manufacturers will offer either rods or frit, so you can add color to either inside a glass piece or outside of blown glass pieces with a wrap and rake method. Glass Alchemy is our favorite color brand, but we also love Northstar, Molten Aura, Trautman, Momka and many others!

Tubing

You can get premade color tubing from a variety of sources. From basic blue, green and amber tubing made overseas to incredible multicolor Golden gate vacstack tubes, crucible pulled color from small batches and more!

Fume

Fume is a metallic (24k gold or sterling silver) gas that is used to change the color of the inside of a glass tube. A rod of metal is essentially burned to release the gases and those gases slip inside of the glass piece. This is one of the original pipemaking techniques, pioneered by Bob Snodgrass and a few others in the 70s and 80s. Classic “chameleon” or “color changer” pipes are mostly made using this method.

Glass Blowing Tools

Torch

The glassblowing torch is one of the number-one tools you’ll need as you learn how to get into glassblowing. Glass Torch Technologies makes some of the best.

Graphite pad, paddle, or marver

flat surfaces used to shape and form hot glass.

Graphite bowl push

Used to push, press, shape and form soft glass and borosilicate.

Claw grabbers

Used to hold onto hot glass.

Reamer

Used to shape pieces and to puncture small holes.

12-inch Tweezers

Much larger than household tweezers, these tools are used to transfer glass onto the work in progress.

Tungsten pick

Esed to poke holes in glass, rake and drag glass in feathering, make small bubbles, marbling, and other detail work.

Didymium safety glasses

This could be deemed as the most important and expensive safety tool to protect your eyes from sodium flare; sunglasses will NOT offer adequate protection and can actually worsen the damage by dilating your pupils while not blocking the sodium flare. Keep silver sulfadiazine cream and bandages on hand for burns and cuts, which are bound to happen.

Glass Blowing Techniques

Artists use a wide variety of glass pipe blowing techniques to make their work really stand out from the crowd. Some of these techniques include:

Blow In

A type of bubble trap that gives glass an otherworld appearance. A layer of silver and gold fume is blasted onto the inside surface of a piece of tubing, which then has another piece of hot tubing inflated into it to trap the fume between the two layers.

Coil pot

Coiling glass around a blow tube to create tubing. The technique looks similar to what a potter does to clay to make a pot.

Filigrana

Superimposing or casing glass rods within other glass to create a striking two-tone effect.

Fillacellos

A modern technique created by filling in spaces between reticello lines to create an almost stained glass appearance. Designs can range from simple sections to complex sacred geometry.

Stick Stack

A method for creating tubing by stacking evenly lengthed sticks of color rod around acurcular handle and melting them together into a piece of tubing. A simplified “dirty” version of the VacStack.

Retticellos

Spiraling patterns of lines drawn onto tubing, frequently then flipped inside out using the Diskflip technique to create pendants or marbles/cabochon accents.

Vacstack

A method for creating colored tubing using clear tubing and colored rod. Small tubing is nested inside of larger diameter tubing, and then color rod is fitted into the space between the two tubes. Once tightly packed, the entire assembly is connected to a vacuum pump, heated and spun until all the air is pulled out and the pieces have melted together into one single solid piece of clear jacketed color tubing.

Diskflips

Diskflips are the primary way to draw patterns, images and geometry on glass. Pioneered and perfected by artist like Scott Deppe, Eusheen and Punty, they can range from simple smiley faces to complex sacred geometry.

Wigwags

One of the original heady techniques, used to create explosive tiedie and trippy psychedelic patterns. Many artists like Jason Lee, Natey Biskind, Mike Fro and Dave Umbs are well known for this style. Lots of intricate and specialized patterns exist within the wider “Wigwag” family, including zippers, spirals, reversals, bitchwindows, beachballs and more!

Inside out work

Heavy duty fumed tubing with color or cane laid into the inner surface of it to add more depth and thickness in addition to color and patterns. Can be done with basic color stringers or with Zanfirico or Laticello cane, fumed stringers, dichroic strips and many more materials!

Bubble Trap

A technique usually using a “pineapple” or “hedgehog” tool made of graphite to push evenly placed patterns of bubbles into a surface.

Zanfirico

A type of polychrome cane made by assembling a bundle of rods of different colors, and heating it until it is soft. The bundle is then attached to two pontils and elongated by drawing. At the same time, the bundle is twisted to produce a spiral pattern. Zanfirico, which is a synonym for vetro a retorti, takes its name from the Venetian dealer Antonio Sanquirico, who, in the 1830s, encouraged the revival on Murano of this and other traditional techniques.

Latticino

An older term for caneworking.

How to Start Glass Blowing

Do your research, watch videos, and read articles to get a good feel for everything involved in the practice. Flow Magazine is a great resource for prospective artisans looking to get into working with glass. There are many glass blowers who post videos of their work, or even specific tutorials!

Most of glassblowing is about muscle memory and getting the methodology down. The more you have hands-on practice, the better you get. With that being said, it’s best to practice with clear glass dozens of times before trying to add color; coloring additives can get really expensive and you don’t want to waste a lot of money as you learn.

Ready to learn how to blow glass for beginners?

Glassblowing is a combination of learned skills, good materials, and creativity. The process requires extreme safety consciousness, excellent tools, and a watchful eye, so it’s not something most people can simply start doing at home. The good news, if you are looking to learn how to start blowing glass pipes, the Bern Gallery has its own Glass School with one-on-one instruction to help you learn.

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