If you don’t know how to start with glass blowing it’s most likely because you don’t know where to begin (it does happen a lot), or that you’re not mentally prepared for it. After all, glass blowing is a tricky art indeed.
Don’t worry, though! The beginner tips below will clear out your confusion and guide you in the right direction.
Before starting with glassblowing – and in order to avoid many failures, frustrations and unnecessary expenses, or to avoid burning the place down – you must first know a few things. Not many instructors might tell you these things, but not because they don’t want you to know them, but because they are too obvious to them that they forget to mention, or they assume that you already know them.
These are the exact things we are going to discuss in this article, so if you’re new to all these and are considering becoming a glass artist give them a read. They might help you understand what you’re getting into and how to start with glass blowing correctly.
Even though this tip is pretty obvious, we are still putting it at the top of the list to emphasize its importance. And to also make sure that you understand, and follow it.
So, always start with simple objects like beads, bowls, tumblers, or simple ornaments, so you can build up your hand-eye coordination skill, and to pick up, and improve the very important skills of spinning the rod, shaping the glass, as well as other important techniques.
Once you’ve mastered these basic skills you can then move on to more complex projects, but in the beginning make small objects only.
One of the most important things to understand as a glass blower is that you can never rush things. Apart from being an art, glassblowing is also a science, and in order to make glass behave the way you want (to have it melt, for example, or to cool it down without breaking it) you must always follow exact procedures. Rush any of these steps and you will end up with broken pieces, or you’ll need to start over.
Have Everything Ready
Glassblowing is a delicate, time sensitive art, and the reason this matters is because you don’t want to be caught off guard in the middle of the project.
When you start a project be 100% certain that you have all of the tools you need to complete it right there with you. Ignore this and you’ll run the risk of running out of a certain item when you need it the most. And, given what a time sensitive art glassblowing is, it’s very unlikely that you’ll have the chance to stop what you’re doing so you can get more of what you need. By the time you are back with the new supplies your pile of molten glass will already be unusable.
This being said, at the very least, you should have all of these tools ready when you begin working on your glass project:
- a blow pipe;
- annealer (to cool the finished object down);
- a marver (a metallic table – preferably made out of steel – to shape the glass on);
- a furnace (where you heat or melt the glass);
- tweezers and wooden blocks;
- a glory hole where the glass will be reheated after shaping;
- a punty for adding pieces of glass to your main object;
Now, if you take the glassblowing at home route you will probably not be able to install any of the important furnaces in your home, so some exceptions do apply (in this case you will have to work with a torch). But other than that, the aforementioned tools are pretty much mandatory no matter which piece you are aiming to create.
In theory, glass blowing is not hard. Yes, you still need to learn the basics (which ingredients to mix in the furnace, how to use the tools, the safety measures, which tasks to complete first and in which order, and so on), but once you get these things right it all comes down to practice.
But to come up with great pieces of art that won’t break down you need to get “down and dirty” with this art yourself. However, glass blowing is a risky activity that involves handling glass that’s been heated at over 1100 °C (2000 °F), it also involves handling, cutting, and clamping tools, fumes, and other things that can always harm you if you’re not careful.
That’s why, before performing this art at home, you must first undergo an apprenticeship program, attend a glassblowing college, or take some classes. Basically, you need someone who knows this art perfectly to assist you and hold your hand until you can practice it yourself.
Of all the 3 options mentioned above taking classes is probably the best option since they’re the cheapest and most down-to-business type of lesson you can have about glass blowing. But they do require you to pay the fee upfront, so be aware of that!
But other than this, there’s many reasons you will want to take glassblowing classes, like for example:
- the fee usually covers the supplies you’ll be working with, the tools, as well as any other necessities (safety gear for example). All that’s left for you to do is attend, pay attention to your instructor, and start practicing;
- most good instructors will teach you the very important rules of glassblowing safety in the first few classes. You will learn how to avoid injures, how to avoid getting asphyxiated, or how to avoid burning the whole place down (really important stuff, no matter how you look at it);
- last but not least, attending classes will give you the much needed chance to practice. It will help you get a feel of this delicate, but tricky art that requires speed, dexterity, strength, creativity, and focus. You can’t master these skills without practicing, so taking classes in the beginning is well worth the time and monetary investment.
How To Save Time And Money
When it comes to glassblowing you can’t afford to put price over quality. Even tight budgeted artists can attest to the fact that it’s not a good idea to pinch pennies when it comes to getting the necessary supplies. Doing so may result in a blow pipe or a rod breaking down on you when you need it the most, and with a hands-on, painstaking art like glass blowing, that’s not something you want to happen.
At best, you’ll have to scrap your project and start over again. At worst, you could end up seriously hurting yourself. Besides, when you buy an expensive tool, it’s likely that you’ll actually end up saving money in the long run, as you have a much better chance of it lasting for years to come.
Advising you to invest in steeper items for your hobby may seem like anything but saving money, despite of the fact that the superior quality of these tools will usually make up for the extra investment in the long run.
However, there are ways for you to directly save money on glassblowing, and one such way is by buying kits instead of separate items. If you know for a fact that the project(s) you’ll be working on require the same tools over and over again, and that these projects will keep you busy for months you should really go for a glassblowing kit.
There are 3 reasons for which you’ll want to get a glassblowing kit:
1. It will actually save you money because you’re purchasing the items in bulk, rather than paying for them individually;
2. You get all of the items you need to finish your project in one place, all figured out for you. This will save you time (especially when you’re a newbie) that would otherwise be wasted with doing research on the tools you need for your projects, or where to buy them (your favorite supplier might, occasionally, not have the tools you want but with a glass blowing kit you are guaranteed to get everything, all packed nicely in the same box).
3. Regardless, no matter if you’re in this art for fun, or to pay your bills it’s always important to keep your inventory well stocked. And glassblowing kits are perfect for achieving just that.
Be Ready To Commit
Glass blowing is a demanding activity, both financially, and physically.
It is financially demanding because the tools (also includes the safety gear) cost money, and quite a lot of it if you’re going for the best quality tools on the market (which most artists do), and the classes cost money, as well.
And it is physically demanding because it requires strength and dexterity in your arms and hands to properly handle the rods and to shape the glass. With time and practice these skills will stop being difficult, but when you’re first starting out they could be a struggle;
Additionally, you also have to keep focus on your tasks at all times, especially when you’re working on pieces of medium to expert complexity (pipes, certain sculptures, etc). Some of these pieces will need your full attention and dedication. One quick slip of attention and you’ll need to start over. And, believe it or not, these things do happen frequently, and it’s one of the reasons why many gaffers hire assistants to perform certain tasks for them that need immediate attention or which are too delicate to handle alone.
So, as you can see, glassblowing is a fully hands-on activity that requires constant focus and dedication from you. That’s why it’s very important that you know with 100% certainty whether or not you want to get involved in this pastime. And if you do want to get involved in it it’s important that you learn all about it and stick to it, otherwise you’re just wasting your time and money.
Learn How To Use a Torch
Torches are one of the most important tools in glassblowing, and knowing your way with them will help you tremendously, especially if you’re going to perform this art at home and are unable to mount furnaces in your living place.
You must learn not only how torches work, but also how to handle them, and how to tell if they are malfunctioning, or need adjustments. Needless to say that a malfunctioned torch is a big threat to your safety, so learning everything you can about these tools before firing them is extremely important.
Glass Blowing For Beginners
To learn more about torches (and about the art of glass blowing) check out our “Introduction to Glass Blowing” guide that goes into more details on how to make your own glass art at home. We cover simple glass blowing techniques such as spinning the rod, shaping the glass, or adding colors into your project, we also cover the types of glass and supplies you’ll be working with as a gaffer, safety rules, a short glass blowing history, step by step instructions on how to make pipes, beads, vases, and tumblers, and more.
If you’ve decided to tackle glass blowing and wish to get started on the right foot our beginner’s guide will be of great help for you to understand what you’re up against and how to approach this art properly. Additionally, make sure you also check out the FAQ page, which answers some of the most popular questions you may have as a newbie.