Watching a master glass blower at work is like seeing magic transpire before your very eyes.
It’s no wonder so many people are enthralled by the art and want to learn how to do it themselves.
How do you get started in glass blowing? The best way to start glass blowing is to take instructional classes to learn the basic techniques and safety procedures. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can rent studio time to work independently or set up your own lampworking station at home.
Without certain knowledge, equipment, and tools, glass blowing is simply not possible. Don’t lose hope though!
We’re about to examine what exactly it takes for a beginner to get started, and – spoiler alert – it’s not as hard as you might think.
Glass Blowing for Beginners
Many would-be glass blowers are stumped when it comes to figuring out how to get started.
Let’s look at the basics of the glass-blowing process and discover what your first steps should be to get your new hobby off to a great start.
The Basics of Glass Blowing
Glass blowing begins with molten glass and ends with a totally unique, handmade glass creation.
The artist uses various tools and devices to carefully shape the molten glass into whatever form desired.
While being shaped, the hot glass is kept in near constant rotation to prevent gravity from pulling the glass out of shape.
The glass must also be kept quite hot in either a glory hole or a torch’s flame because cool glass cannot be shaped.
A huge variety of objects can be made through glass blowing, such as:
- Vases, pitchers, bowls, and jars.
- Drinking glasses, goblets, shot glasses, etc.
- Decorations, ornaments, and jewelry.
- Sculpted figurines and artwork.
If you weren’t all fired up about glass blowing already, check out this short video of an expert creating a multicolored glass pitcher from start to finish.
The Difference Between Offhand Glass Blowing and Lampworking
Offhand glass blowing and lampworking both involve manipulating melted glass into a desired form using a variety of shaping tools and techniques, such as blowing through a pipe.
However, although the two crafts are similar, they each utilize totally different methods for melting and shaping the glass and are considered to be separate art forms.
Offhand Glass Blowing
Offhand glass blowing is done in a large studio often called a hot shop for reasons that will be obvious once you see the large furnaces with shimmering heat radiating from the open doors.
When practicing offhand glass blowing, the first step is to gather molten glass made from a batch of glass mix from the furnace onto the end of your blowpipe.
Using the blowpipe and shaping tools such as marvers, jacks, wood blocks, punties, and shears, the glass is formed into a specific shape before being placed in an annealer to relieve stresses and slowly cool.
Lampworkers use a high-temperature torch to melt glass rods and tubes until they are soft enough to be manipulated.
The glass can then be shaped using mandrels, other glass rods, pliers, tweezers, crimps, and various other small tools.
The benefit of lampworking is that no large studio space is necessary, just a small work area that can be set up in your own home.
The drawback of lampworking is that you’re somewhat limited in terms of the sizes of your projects.
Marbles, beads, small drinking vessels, and ornaments can be made easily, but larger pieces are a challenge due to the smaller equipment and space.
The Best Way to Get Started in Glass Blowing
As with any new skill, you can expect to experience a learning curve when you first start glass blowing.
Of course, the more hands-on experience you acquire, the more proficient at the art you’ll become.
Until you put in plenty of hours, get a feel for the work, and develop your skills and muscle memory, expect to make some mistakes along the way.
Your initial projects may not come out quite as you had envisioned, you may drop a piece or two, and you might open the annealer to find your creation has shattered or cracked, but the important thing is that you are learning as you go.
So, what should you do first?
Sign Up for Classes
If you were to ask any professional glass blower their advice on getting started in the hobby, they would tell you that classes and/or workshops are imperative, whether you’re interested in offhand glass blowing or lampworking.
Classes not only teach you the proper techniques and how to correctly use the tools of the trade, but the instructors will also correct any flaws in your approach before they develop into bad habits.
There are certain hazards inherent to glass blowing, which I go into more detail about in this article.
Participating in classes will teach you how to enjoy the art safely and reduce the risk of injury.
Best of all, with most classes, you actually get to make your very own glass work to bring home.
Granted, because of the time needed to anneal the glass, you probably will need to come back the next day to pick it up or have it shipped to you, but the experience of making your first blown-glass item is priceless.
Head over to this article for information on average class prices.
Where to Find Classes
Many colleges, such as Ohio University and Rochester Institute of Technology, offer programs of study for glass blowing. Check with Collegexpress for more choices.
Most beginners, however, choose to take classes at a local glass-blowing studio. Washington alone has more than a dozen studios that offer classes, demonstrations, and more.
A quick online search will provide a list of glass-blowing studios in your area. Chances are good that you’ll have several from which to choose.
If you decide to pursue offhand glass blowing, once you’ve taken the prerequisite classes, many studios will allow you to either rent time and workspace in their studio or to become a member of the facility for a fee for access to their equipment.
If lampworking is for you, after you have an understanding of the fundamentals, you can set up your own workspace in your home or garage. You’ll need:
- A heat-proof surface to work and attach your torch.
- A hot head torch (good for beginners) or a gas/oxygen torch.
- Glass rods for melting.
- A programmable annealing kiln.
- Eye protection.
- Tweezers, pliers, and shears.
- Marvers, molds, crimps, and paddles.
Be sure to check out my lampworking supply list for more details.
Watch Video Demonstrations
Sites like YouTube can be a wealth of information, not just for beginners but also for those wanting to learn a particular technique or those struggling with a specific aspect of the craft.
For example, the following video demonstrates how to add colors to marbles and to create cool vortex effects within the marbles.
In today’s digital age, reading material related to your hobby may seem rather “old school,” but it is still a great way to immerse yourself in the intricacies of glass blowing at your own pace.
Don’t shy away from offhand glass-blowing books if you prefer lampworking or vice versa.
Although the book may not be aimed at your chosen art, it may very well be beneficial in helping you learn more about the properties of various glasses and how they tend to respond when used in different techniques – valuable information indeed!
Beginning Glass Blowing by Edward Schmid provides information on gathering hot glass, shaping and blowing techniques, health and safety, and all other concepts involved in offhand glass blowing.
It is fully illustrated and highly recommended by experts for both beginners and those with prior experience.
Life on the Rails: Intermediate Glass Blowing Techniques covers the basic skills like gathering and shaping and also gives detailed explanations on topics such as the effects of gravity, keeping the bubble centered, transferring, and applications with color.
Complete with 837 colored illustrations and troubleshooting advice throughout, this book is a must-have for anyone seriously interested in learning more about offhand glass blowing.