Tools of the Trade
You will never find someone more particular or in tune with their tools than a craftsperson. Skilled makers and artists know that having the right tools is essential in building and creating beautiful and lasting works. In glassblowing, like most trades, you can find a myriad of different tools that are used in the studio. Some are technical and expensive like molds and diamond shears, while others can be found in your kitchen drawer – we’re talking about your ever handy butter knife here!
Each of our makers has their preferred way of using these different tools. When you watch them in the studio it is like these tools are an extension of the craftsperson. They so masterfully move and manipulate the tools to create that it seems as if they are dancing.
If you haven’t yet, we hope that one day you will be able to visit the studio and watch our glassblowers create the beautiful products and gifts you welcome into your homes and gardens every day. Until then, to help you understand our making process a little more we’ve rounded up some of the most used tools in our studio and explained how they are used.
Pipes – blowpipes are probably the tool most associated with glassblowing. Glassblowers use this tool to gather glass from the furnace -just think dipping a stick in honey and twirling it to pick up a nice glob for your morning toast! They also use this tool for blowing air into the molten glass.
Blocks – blocks are tools made from hardwood (ours are mostly made from cherry wood) that are used to shape the molten glass after you have gathered it onto the blowpipe. When you visit our studio, you’ll see that all our blocks are stored in buckets of water – this is because the blocks MUST be waterlogged to work with the molten glass –otherwise they would go up in flames upon contact! While blocks help shape the glass, they are also used to cool the outside of the molten glass, preparing it for blowing. Cooling the outside of the glass before inflating ensures the piece expands at an even rate.
Jacks – looking like a giant pair of tweezers, jacks are an essential tool in our studio. Glassblowers use them to separate the glass from the blowpipe creating a “neck” where the finished piece can be tapped off the blowpipe. On our ornaments – this is where the hook would then be melted on. Jacks are also used to widen the opening of glass when making pieces such as vases and bowls.
Shears – we use two types of shears –diamond and straight blade. They have extremely sharp blades and are used to pull and cut the hot molten glass.
Tweezers – no, not the ones you use to shape those perfect eyebrows. Glassblowing tweezers are much larger and are used in our studio for pulling and manipulating glass to make swirls and other decorative effects. They are also used in the process of adding the glass hanging hooks to all our ornaments.
Callipers –This tool is our magic maker! You will see it used in the making process of every ornament of ours that has internal glass webbing. This tool works by pinching the hot glass edges together so they can then be stretched back out while leaving behind intricate and wonderous strands of glass.
Beeswax – not exactly a tool, but if you visit our studio, you will notice that each blower has a little chunk sitting on their bench. Every so often you will see them slide some of their metal tools through it to coat them in a thin layer. This helps prevent tools leaving scratch marks on the finished glass piece.
Files – when a piece is finished, and the glassblowers are getting ready to break it off the pipe, they will bring out this tool to use. First, they dip it in water, they then use the files to mark a line around the neck of the piece – this creates a stress mark in the glass so that when the glassblower taps their pipe the piece will break off cleanly from where they marked it. In a pinch you might see them use a butter knife for this – Stephen always has one handy in his toolbox.
Molds – are used to shape the molten glass into desired shapes and to create different textures on pieces. A perfect example of when we use molds in the studio is during the making of our Hearts of Glass.
Safety glasses, shoes, gloves and heat resistant sleeves –these are just a few of the essential safety gear glassblowers wear and use in the studio to keep themselves safe. High quality eyeglasses protect a glassblower from shattered glass pieces, UV and infrared light.
We could go on for pages and pages spilling details on all the different tools and tricks used in the studio, but for now, we will leave you with these few. We hoped you’ve enjoyed learning more about our tools and processes. We look forward to sharing more with you!