Glassblowing - Playing with Fire

January 12, 2016

An ornaments time to shine is usually around the Christmas season, but like all traditions, they evolve. People display trees year round, often changing the decorations based on the season or holiday. It has also become common to display a single ornament on a stand that may have a special place in your heart. We were fortunate enough to begin working with glass artist, Jim Downey right before the season begun and we have all fallen in love with his intricate, handmade glass ornaments and now he gives us some insight into his process...
lamp working   lamp working
 

The glassblowing process I use is called, "lampworking" or "flame working".  It involves heating and shaping glass rods with a torch and various tools such as tweezers, pliers, and graphite rods and paddles.  The glass I use is borosilicate glass; the same formula as Pyrex.  However, my borosilicate comes is clear rods and tubes of various sizes (all in lengths of 4-5 feet) and color rods (usually 20 inches long and about as round as a #2 pencil).  There are also color tubes that come in 4 foot lengths.

lamp working      lamp working

Using the torch to melt and shape the glass, using tweezers to pull off excess glass, and using graphite paddles to keep the glass flat and sharp-edged where needed, I craft many different figurines (birds, mammals, sea creatures, and fantasy sculptures).  All of these figurines have to be annealed after they are created.  This means they get "baked" in an oven at 1040F degrees for at least 15 minutes and then slowly cooled over a several hour process.  However, before each figurine is annealed, I check to make sure it fists into a 34mm tube.  In order to become an ornament, each figure has to fit.

lamp working    lamp working

After annealing, the figurine is slid into a 34mm "test tube" with a hole in the bottom.  The hole is as big as the base of the figurine so a nice air-tight seal can be achieved.  I heat the outside of the test tube and get it hot enough to melt the base of the figurine into the bottom of the test tube.  Once this is done, I put the tube in a lathe which spins the glass allowing the entire piece to heated evenly.  There is a cork in the tube with a rubber hose so I can blow into it.  I heat the entire piece and blow into it to get the shape I want.  Some ornaments are round, oval, heart-shaped to tear-shaped.  Once the desired shape is made, it goes into the annealing oven. The final step includes pulling off excess tube and a glass ring is added and melted into place.  This serves as the means to hang it from a hook in the tree, or ornament stand.  And once again, the completed ornaments gets one more annealing.  Other steps include: Inspection (for defects), Signing (every ornaments is signed, dated and numbered), Recording (I keep track of every ornament), and Storage (where they safely rest until they are shipped).  On average, each ornament takes about 2 hours to be completed.  I have been using this process since 1987 and have made thousands of ornaments so far.

lamp working    lamp working

lamp working




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