Sunday, February 08, 2009

Studio Tip: Keeping Glass Warm in a Coooooold Studio

I just had a thought - a borrowed technology thought. I know lots of folks set up their studios in un-heated (or underheated) garages, sheds, workshops, etc. After all - once you get going, the torch and the kiln help warm the space up, and you can schlep the concentrator inside (they don't like to be damp or frozen.) And, you can also haul all your glass inside every time too - but once you've accumulated more than 4-5 pounds - that starts to get old. How nice it would be to have all your glass, stacked and neatly organized, nicely kept handy, and at room temperature - even if the rest of the studio is cold. Because cold glass is shocky - really shocky. Sure - you can stick a few pieces on top of the kiln or run a hotplate to pre-warm. But what if it was just room temp - after all - not all glass needs to be warmed that much.

This is an idea borrowed from my hubby - who's hobby is also glass - but the kind that comes as a fabric and gets stuck together with resin. He's building an airplane - a fibreglass composite aircraft - and the resin for construction of the aircraft - that bonds the fibreglass - must NOT freeze - even though the workshop gets cold. This is what he, and scores of other homebuilt airplane crafters - which there is an entire thriving community of out there - do. They build a "hot box" and keep it warm with a lightbulb.

Here's how. It requires a little do-it-yourselfing.

Find an abandoned dead or dying fridge. Maybe you already have one - there seems to be an endless supply by the side of the road. It's a nice, sturdy, insulated box with a door.

Position the fridge within arms length of the torch, and with the door opening away from the torch. You are going to be leaving the door open while torching.

Take out the shelves. They won't be strong enough for serious amounts of glass. Cut up ABS piping, fabric roll inner cardboard tubes, downspout, fencing post tubes, and stack it inside. Lots of stuff at the home hardware store can be cut to lengths and stacked to sort and store glass. Cut it shorter than the lengths of glass. When it hangs out - it is easier to grab. Be sure the fridge is deep enough to close with the glass rods in it.

You'll need a little electrical knowledge for the next part. You are going to install two light bulbs - in sockets, on a thermostat, in the fridge - the kind of line voltage thermostat as is used for baseboard heaters. (OK - if you have a tiny little heater with a good thermostat - you could use that too.) This appears to be the sort of project that folks who are into electronics immediately say - "oh sure - that's easy." If that's not you, find one and bribe them - glass, beer, chocolate - whatever their price is. You'll want to put the thermostat at the opposite end from the bulbs - so that they don't turn themselves off before the whole thing warms up.

The reason you use two is so that if one burns out - the other one comes on and keeps it warm. This is critical for the resin - but merely inconvenient for glass - so you could skip it. Needless to say - you need to use an incandescent bulb that actually gives off heat - not an energy efficent, no-heat, fluorescent bulb.

So, this is a reversal to the regular fridge, where you use it to keep things cold and the lightbulb goes out when you close the door. You are using it to keep things warm, and the lightbulb stays on. I've been quite boggled at how good this solution has been for keeping the resin warm in the "hangar." Nice and toasty in the fridge, and minus freakin' 30 outside.

You can store your bead release, tools, etc., and other stuff in the door. Nice and handy.

Just a thought.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

More Dalai Llama and Tibet

I seem to be getting better with this glass! Following the formula of:

  • heat the snot out of it
  • cool with no reheating
  • strike lightly
  • encase

I'm getting better and better results. Or, at least, results that I like better - which is as good.

The pic of the ivory bicone - I didn't actually strike - I just kinda dug it the way it was. It also has fine silver wire. It is encased with Kelp - making the fine silver wire look like gold, or brass or copper.

This last bead is Tibet, labeled "Dk Grn" - a particular batch known as "Dark Green."

Now this is nice!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

R4 - 415 Abe's Ivy

Abe's Ivy - a beautiful dark blue rod - this reduces.

The bead on the left is all Abe's Ivy - reduced with a reduction flame that turns down the oxygen - creating about a 4 inch orange flame in the centre. The bead on the right is Abe's Ivy over Ivory. Notice that the ivory has crawled/bled into the blue. I'm quite surprised that there doesn't seem to be any secondary reduction effect on this - given that they were side by side and I reduced the one on the left.

This is a spacer made with Abe's Ivy - and reduced in a "Dragon's Breath" flame. To make the Dragon's Breath - turn off the oxygen completely, and turn up the gas until the flame is standing off the face of the torch about an inch or so - apparently completely disconnected. This is a big, wild and woolly flame. The bead did boil a bit - you can see the pitting. After Friday and Saturday's playing with the big torches - I'm now overdriving my torch and turning it up too much - trying to get a hotter and bigger flame. That darn mid-range may have ruined me.

This is a base of white, Abe's Ivy, heated and raked, reduced and encased (yes, I wrecked the encasing - see comment above about the torch). The ends are old familiar Dark Silver Plum - also boiled. Sigh.

Abe's Ivy reminds me a some ways of Double Helix's Triton - also a transparent blue and reduces to a bright silver. Abe's Ivy is a Precision glass, also known as R4, made by NorthStar. NorthStar is primarily known for it's Borosilicate colours - but also makes a line of interesting silver saturated colours. Some of you may know this as Rocio glass.

I think it easy to over-reduce this though. I made a bunch more and put them in the kiln all shiny and metallic, and they came out blue with patches of reduction - so I'm going to try again with just the briefest of reductions.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Beads from the Mid-Range

To follow up on my thoughts on the mid-range - here are some of the beads I made. They aren't lovely - but hey, test beads seldom are.

You can see the scale of the beads, because they are resting in my hand. And these beads aren't particularly large for me, or even larger than I generally make on the Mega - but they did make up faster and with less effort.

Both of these have substantial amounts of dichro in them. The first pic - the "Ocean Life" bead came out quite nice for that. There are other things I don't like about it - (didn't put enough goldstone in it - lost the reduction effect on the dark stripe.) And frankly, a different colour of dichro would have worked better - but all of that is irrelevant to actually putting the torch through it's paces.

This is a lentil-ish shape - made with Mor Kelp, encased in dichro, and encased in Kelp. Close examination reveals there is some wispiness (right of centre, below the bead hole) that I would prefer not to see - but overall - not too bad.

Verdict: I didn't think I was burning the snot out of the glass, and in fact, I wasn't. ;-)

Red Max Torch

Is that not a happy grin? Biiiiiigger Flaaaaame.

So, on Saturday, I got to play on the Red Max. Really - this torch is a bit much for soft glass - I think you would have to be really power-hungry to consider this torch for full time soft glass work.

That said, I did manage to make some beads.

This second and third pic gives you a better sense of the size of the flame. The flame gives off a LOT of ambient heat too. Glass laying on the table underneath the torch gets uncomfortable to pick up. Tools get hot, stay hot.

Glass fries. And spatters.

My goal, when I sat down, was to make the largest horse bead I had ever made. I don't know that it was particularly large. I was quite pleased that I managed not to melt the ears into little stubs.

You see the black "mud" marks on his neck - that's spatters of black glass flying off when I did the mane. And if you click on the close-up - you can see the bubbles in the encasing from my frying the glass.

And this bead is another exercise in excess. There are 3 x 13 inch rods of ivory in that bead. Hey - at least I had no problem getting enough heat to get all the colours out of the raku frit. Unfortunately, I couldn't cool it down fast enough. The glass stays hot longer, moves longer. Dots are harder.

This torch does have a top mounted torch - in this case, it is the Pre-mix. It gives you a needle-like flame. Boy - did I fry the glass with that!

And one more exercise in excess - a massive dichro honker that is more suitable as a paperweight.

You can see some burning in the glass. Course, the clear probably could have been cleaner. Overall - not too horrible actually.

OK - so I then tried some boro. Bear in mind that while I admire boro from a distance - I basically suck at it. This rather slug-like finial thing amazed me by coming off the mandrel. I actually burned THROUGH the mandrel - apparently the boro folks don't hold the mandrel IN the flame, and had to punty a glass rod onto the mandrel to finish it. It doesn't move anything like soft glass.

The Red Max - yes - you can use it for large soft glass projects - massive murrini cane comes to mind. And for boro. I would be inclined to say that this torch isn't really for the primarily soft glass oriented flameworker - but there are always exceptions to the rule.

There's another torch in the Nortel echelon - bigger still - the Rocket. I didn't try that one. ;-) Yet.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Bigger Torch: Trying out the Nortel Mid-Range and the Red Max

Friday and Saturday - Nortel Mfg - makers of the Nortel torches, and sellers of flameworking supplies - had an open house.

This was a great opportunity to go and try out new torches. I spent Friday working on a Mid-range and Saturday working on a Red-Max.

I thoroughly enjoyed using the Mid-Range. Despite it's rather unsexy name - this was really a joy to use. This torch comes with a torch mounted on the top - in this case - it is a Mega Minor, but you can get a Minor instead. As I am completely comfortable with the Mega, I think that is what I would choose. With this, you can work on finer detail, glass that is sensitive to heat, or just transition gradually from the torch you are used to.

The mid-range itself is the bottom portion of the torch, with separate gas and oxygen controls. Watch the video to see the torch running first just with the mega, and then turning on the mid-range. BTW - the procedure for lighting the second torch is to just turn it on. It should catch immediately by the proximity to the other flame - but if not - huff on the torch and blow it toward the other to have it ignite.

I personally have a burning desire to work larger and larger, and I run into the barrier of having enough heat to keep the entire bead warm. Working faster would be nice too - but the struggle of spending more time heating the bead evenly so it doesn't crack is frustrating. You will note that Susan, in the video, refers to this - "insurance heat."

This set up was propane and tanked oxygen. My question was, of course, if one is using concentrators - how many does one need? A quick poll seems to indicate, keep adding them until you are happy - but I would venture that 2 x 5-Litre concentrators would be a minimum. I understand that there is a gal in the area using 6 x 5-litre concentrators to run her mid-range torch. The work she does is big and awesome, and she is doing it for a living.

Using this set up, I did not have troubles with scorching the glass or over-heating it. I did successfully make a large bead with a nice layer of dichro in it. The flame is wide, but seems to be quite controllable. Moving up and down the flame gave me a lot of range for keeping the bead warm all over, without having it get soupy. I could still melt the rods quickly. I think that even for production spacer and smaller work - this torch would be an advantage in that you could just work faster.

As I have been experimenting with some glasses lately that need a lot of heat, i.e. TAG Dalai Llama and Tibet (remember the instructions to "heat the snot out of it") - this torch would definitely get you there a lot sooner!

I'll try and get photo's of the beads made so you can see the sizes. More on using the Red Max later.