Watching a master glass blower at work is fascinating and inspiring. It’s so inspiring, in fact, that many spectators wonder if they could reproduce a glass-blowing studio in their own garage or shed at home.
Can glass blowing be done at home? A glass-blowing studio may be constructed at home but is expensive. Required equipment includes a furnace, glory hole, an annealer, a bench, and various tools to blow and shape the glass. An alternative is lampworking, which uses smaller equipment and less space.
It is critical that you are well aware of what it takes for the initial setup of a home-based glass-blowing studio.
There are numerous factors, most of which are quite expensive, to consider before launching into this venture.
What’s Required to Blow Glass at Home?
A glass-blowing studio can be set up at your home, but you should be aware that it is a costly endeavor.
It can be done, but you should be absolutely certain that you are totally committed to the hobby first.
If you are seriously interested in setting up your own glass-blowing studio, take the time to carefully consider all that is involved before making the commitment.
The proper equipment for glass blowing takes up a lot of room.
You will need a fairly large building to not only house all the equipment but also to allow yourself enough room to maneuver while you work.
Remember, you’ll be carrying a long tube with extremely hot molten glass on the end of it, so cramped quarters could lead to a dangerous situation.
Your workspace will need to be large enough to accommodate not one, but three separate furnaces (a large furnace, glory, and an annealer), in addition to a workbench, a marvel, and the various tools of the trade.
Maybe it goes without saying, but be prepared to deal with various permits and licensing requirements.
Laws vary greatly depending on where you live, but expect to deal with meeting certain fire/safety codes, inspections, etc.
Research the laws for both state and local requirements thoroughly before considering this venture.
Instead of installing an entirely new structure on your property, you may want to consider renting a studio location that is already “up to code” and large enough to house your setup.
If you can find a couple of other like-minded people to share the rent and expenses with you, this could be a very affordable option.
Safety should always be your top priority. For this reason, you should not consider attempting to establish a dedicated glass-blowing studio unless you have received quality instruction in the craft by an expert.
When working with furnaces that maintain a temperature of about 2,000℉, there is plenty of opportunity for serious accidents to occur.
You must be confident in your skills, and always try to have at least one other person in the studio with you when you’re working so that in the event that something goes wrong, help is available immediately.
Glass-blowing machinery is not cheap. One could easily spend upwards of $25,000 on equipment alone.
If you don’t mind purchasing used equipment, this could cut your costs significantly. Check with your nearest glass-blowing school to inquire about used items.
To operate a modern glass-blowing operation, you will first need a large furnace capable of reaching temperatures exceeding 2,000℉.
There are smaller furnaces available, such as the portable Minimelt, but if you’re truly serious about the hobby, I’d recommend a large, permanent model that will last for years to come.
Know that some larger furnaces can take up to a week to reach optimal temperature.
Some people have attempted to build their own outdoor furnace for glass blowing, with varying degrees of success.
The following video demonstrates one homemade furnace that didn’t exactly produce the desired results.
In addition to the furnace, you’ll also need what is known as a glory hole or a reheating furnace.
This is a smaller furnace, usually cylindrical in shape, with a small hole used to reheat glass on the end of the blowpipe to keep it malleable so that it can continue to be worked and shaped.
Glory holes are typically heated to around 1,500℉, sometimes more, to enable the glass blower to quickly reheat the piece and continue working.
An annealing oven is used to safely cool the glass. This piece of equipment is necessary to relieve the stress on the glass and to prevent shattering.
When the glass piece is first finished, it is somewhere around 1,400 – 1,500℉, but some areas will be cooler, and some might be hotter.
An annealer brings the entire thickness of the piece to the same temperature, usually around 1,000℉.
It then slowly cools the glass down over a period of 12 – 14 hours, though times can vary based on the item’s thickness and type of glass used.
Other Tools of the Trade
The big equipment is only some of what’s necessary to set up a glass-blowing studio. Glass blowers use an assortment of tools to help collect, handle, blow, shape, and cut the glass.
The number one tool in your arsenal will be your blowpipe. It is a hollow steel tube used for collecting, holding, and blowing into the glass.
The blowpipe must be kept in constant motion to prevent the force of gravity from misshaping your molten glass.
Additionally, you’ll need:
- A Marver – metal table for shaping glass.
- A Bench – provides seating for the worker, a place to rest tools, and rails to support the pipe while being rolled.
- Jacks – to shape side walls of the glass.
- Tweezers – used to hold the glass when transferring it to the punty.
- Punty – metal rod attached to the bottom of the glass to free up the top portion.
- Crimp – tool used to add decorative elements.
- Paddles – wood boards used to flatten sections of glass.
- Straight and diamond shears – to cut glass.
- Different size blocks – wood tools soaked in water that produce steam when they contact the hot glass, allowing the glass to slide easily while shaping.
In addition to the initial cost of buying all of the necessary equipment, you should consider the ongoing expenses of keeping your operation functional.
The furnaces will require fuel to run, of course. Most modern furnaces are powered by propane or natural gas, though some are electric (expensive to run) or wood burning.
In order to blow glass, you’ll need a steady supply of a raw glass mix (called a batch) to melt in the furnace to produce the molten glass.
There will also be the usual assortment of monthly and yearly bills – permit and license renewals, electricity bills, insurance, etc.
Two Less Costly Alternatives to Glass Blowing at Home
Those who enjoy working with glass but who do not have the means to set up an at-home studio have two viable, more affordable options, either of which will still allow them to pursue the hobby they’ve grown to love.
Join a Local Glass-Blowing Facility
There are numerous glass-blowing studios that offer classes. You can increase your skills while under the guidance and tutelage of a professional.
Best of all, all equipment, licensing, inspections, etc. is taken care of for you.
Some facilities will even allow you to become a member for a monthly or annual fee.
You will be given access to all of the equipment that you need, and you’ll be surrounded by experts in case you need some pointers or help with troubleshooting.
Rather than the large, expensive furnaces of a typical modern glass-blowing studio, lampworking, also called flameworking and torchworking, uses a small torch that is fed by both oxygen and propane.
The torch is used to melt the glass, most commonly borosilicate, though soda-lime or lead glass can be used as well, which is then wound around a coated steel mandrel.
Lampworkers can make a variety of small glass items, such as beads and decorations, and they can even incorporate glass blowing, on a smaller scale, into their creations.
The advantage of lampworking is that it can be done with much smaller start-up costs and in a much smaller location compared to standard glass blowing.