Glass blowing has been around since the 1st Century B.C. This particular practice can be dangerous, as it deals with raw materials melting at extremely high temperatures, but the results are unrivaled as you can create amazing works of art and practical tools like glasses or bowls.
Glass is made mostly of materials such as sand (which is the most commonly known ingredient in this form of art), but lime could also make glass.
Below we will take a look at some of the most iconic techniques, some of which you can use to create glass art and objects for everyday use yourself, but please note that some of these techniques are no longer current and you shouldn’t bother with them anymore.
When talking beginner techniques with regards to glass blowing we usually mean the truly basic techniques of spinning the rod, shaping the glass, blowing a bubble into a chunk of molten glass, or adding handles, colors and other ornaments to the various projects that we make. All these techniques are greatly explained in our beginner’s guide to glassblowing, so we won’t cover them in this article.
However, apart from these basic techniques, there are also some other methods you can use, as explained below.
Lampworking – also known as flameworking – is the process of manipulating molten glass over a small torch. This method is used to create beads or other smaller objects, such as paperweights.
Flameworking involves the use of a torch to substitute the furnace and it’s mostly used in home glassblowing for this reason alone, Also, the process of creating glasswork used in lampworking is similar to the one using furnaces.
If you are thinking about making small glass objects like beads, tumblers, ornaments and figurines lampworking is perfect for what you have in mind, and definitely the most user-friendly beginner’s technique used by glass blowers today.
One of the earliest techniques, core forming was done by glass makers who would shape the body of the glass vessel around a ceramic-ish, clay-like material acting as the center or core on the end of a metal rod. It would be dipped into the hot glass to create a sort of elongated bulb, and then cooled slightly on a flat surface by rolling the rod back and forth to create a bulb-like, elongated object. Then, colorful tails of hot glass would be wound around the vessel, and finally handles would be added as adornment, and a rim.
Once the vessel had cooled, the core would be removed. Examples of core forming were containers that would house perfumes, or oils. Many articles made by core forming would often imitate marble.
Core forming is considered an ancient form of glass blowing, and is rarely used by modern glass makers today.
Glass casting is another technique of glass forming, and was done by pouring molten glass into a mold, often made of sand, graphite, or metal. The molds were often two or more interlocking pieces that would be used to form things such as glass dishes or bowls, or even pendants.
After the glass inside had cooled, the mold would be chipped away to reveal the precious article inside. This technique dates back to the Egyptian period.
Glass casting would also be formed in hot clay ovens called kilns, which you may recognize from clay baking techniques. This method was also used to create figurines of animals, pieces of jewelry, or trinkets that would adorn shelves in houses the world over. Your grandparents might have some lying around their houses, as well.
Mosaic glass is begun similarly to core forming, but instead of a vessel being formed, a long cane of glass would be stretched and molded, and wound and twisted to create long strands that would then be fused with other long strands of hot glass to create small pieces, which would then be cut, arranged, and melted back into each other to create unique works of art. For example, these small pieces would be melted into tiny discs, or cut into curves, wedges, or triangles and would then be melted together in a kiln before being stretched over a half sphere mold to create a bowl.
When thinking of mosaic glass, stained glass windows come to mind, as a similar technique is used to create such works. You may find examples of mosaic glass in church windows or lining antique shop shelves in the form of animal or insect figurines, or statues, or decorative dishes.
Free Blown Glass
Free blown glass is probably what most people think of when they hear the term “glass blowing”.
Jerusalems in 50 B.C.E had discovered that they could blow bubbles into molten glass at the end of a long, cylindrical tube. The blown glass would then be rolled on a cold, flat surface to cool and shape before being reheated and blown again to add other shapes and pockets in the glass This technique of adding extra chunks of glass over the previous bulk is referred to as “gathering”.
This revolutionary technique would soon replace some of the older techniques as it was allowing glass blowers to more quickly and efficiently create fantastic glass pieces that would soon replace clay containers for household use. Blown glass was decorated in a variety of ways, including pinching, pulling, pressing, painting, and winding trails of glass around, much in the same way as core forming.
These are 5 of the most known techniques (not necessarily the most popular ones, though) of blowing glass, but definitely not the only ones. For example, there is also the furnace method (probably the most common technique used in studios), as well as the glass cutting method (which is similar to the ice sculpting technique, but working the glass instead).
For more beginner and advanced tips and techniques be sure to check out this “Introduction To Glass Blowing” guide where we go into more details on how to blow glass at home and create simple, or intricate glass objects like beads, pipes, vases, and more.