Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sand and Fire

 This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper

The past couple years I've been “kidnapped” and take off on adventures for my birthday. It never gets to be on my birthday, since I always seems to be involved in something else on the actual day. But shortly after that, I am dragged kicking and screaming to my car and forced to drive to mysterious locations. Last year to the Integratron out by Landers. This year to Harmony.

Now Harmony lists a population of 18 people. Though I suspect a few of them to be commuters who don't actually live in the “town”. There's a winery, a potter, and a glass blowing studio. Which was why I was there.

My kidnapper had arranged for me to have a lesson in glass blowing. And after a little confusion, the regular instructor wasn't there, One of the other glass blowers (Christophe) stepped in and gave me a great lesson.

To get a handle on the techniques, the first project we did was a clear glass bowl with rippled edges. I think the reason he suggested it was the variety of techniques involved in making them. Now just to be clear, some of the processes involved are both too tricky and too dangerous for a first time student to be doing, so the instructor took care of a lot of what went into making the bowls, but that still left me a lot of things to do.

Now after we went through the basic techniques, it was on to a colored piece. I originally picked black, blue and green. And from there I was introduced to some of the chemistry involved in glass. Glass is mostly silicon dioxide, which is basically what sand is also, but other chemical/minerals are added to affect the melting temperature. In particular, adding some borax minerals lowers the melting temperature to a mere couple thousand degrees, which is, with some effort, achievable in a small studio.

Now the reason this came up, was the chemicals used to make the green color for the glass, cause it to melt oddly. So my second piece acted weird and ended up failing. But I learned a lot, since failure is a great learning tool. And then we went back and did one more without the green, and having worked on the techniques during the failure, the last one turned out well. 

The key thing involved in glass making is the heat. Even with the temperatures being brought down, the glass is still hot. A long sleeve shirt is recommended, though I foolishly chose not to weave one since it was a hot day, in a hot room. So I did have some discomfort from holding the tools being used next to the hot glass. But the lingering redness was not even as bad as a mild sunburn. 

Finally came the surprise. The pieces had to cool for twelve hours. Once again, the high heat, had to be dealt with. A quick cooling would have broken the glass. (It was disconcerting hearing the failed bowl cracking and popping the the metal trash can they drop the hot bits and pieces.) So it took a second trip out to Harmony to pick up the pieces and bring them home.

I don't know if I'll end up ever getting to do any glass blowing again, Harmony's just too far away. But I'm certainly glad I got to do it this time.

If you're interested in trying glass blowing yourself, or just happen to be over on the Central Coast, the Harmony Glass Works ( is a great place to visit.

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