Imagine if welding and ceramics both went to an unchaperoned Charlie Sheen party. Then they had a baby. That baby would be glassblowing: A little bit welding, a little ceramics, a little something completely out of this world. So, hold onto your butts, because you’re about discover what glass blowing is all about.
Before glass blowing was invented, glass was worthless. It was fragile, incredibly hard to control and served next to no purpose. Then the Romans discovered that by blowing air into the glass, it created a pocket. This pocket could then be manipulated to form bowls, vases, cups, vials and more. Suddenly glass had a purpose and glassblowing became a much needed skill.
Today, there’s a key characteristic to understand with glassblowing: it’s an art. While welding does have its own artistic side, it’s also very much used for functionality. That’s not to say it was always this way with glass blowing. 100 years ago, handcrafted pieces were a functional backbone of society. If a doctor wanted a set of medical vials for his patients, each one was individual created by a glassblower. But with the rise of factories and robotics, many of the functional glass pieces we use today are not created by people’s hands. However, machines haven’t been able to replace the creativity and sheer artistic skill of human glassblowers. As such, it still remains an important art in our world today.
The process of glassblowing has many similarities to both welding and ceramics. Like welding, glassblowing is quite the industrial process. Glass is heated up to 2,000+ degrees Fahrenheit. Just like when metal is heated, glass at high temperatures becomes much more malleable. Once the glass is scorching hot, the actual forming process is very similar to a pottery wheel. The real trick is keeping everything symmetrical. To do this, glass blowers are constantly rotating their work which is generally attached to a hollow steel tube.
Once the glass is formed into the general shape wanted, air is blown into the steel tube and then sealed off. As the air tries to expand, it pushes out on the glass causing a cavity in the center of the piece to form. Then a hole is formed in the top of the piece to act as an opening. The rest of the design is formed and finished by cutting the piece carefully off the steel tube.
That, in its most basic description, is a toe dip in the world of glass blowing. If you think this is interesting, our posts on welding in space and underwater welding will blow your mind. Check them out here: