No one can argue that glassblowing is an art. Whilst glass itself is believed to hold itself to human creation as far back as four thousand years ago the spectacular craft of glassblowing is a much younger two thousand years old. Originating in the Middle East it was then the Romans who founded mass manufacture for both functional and decorative purposes.
Whether blowing glass as a hobbyist or as a handmade manufacturer it cannot be denied that this specialized skill is nothing short of spectacular. However, how difficult is it actually to undertake? Let’s be honest, it looks pretty easy but is that because it is, or because those who can are so skilled, they make it look that way? In this article, we endeavor to find out just how difficult glass blowing really is.
Blowing glass is one of those skills that the experts make look easy. In all reality, it takes years of training and practice to become an expert in the field. Invented in the 1st century by Syrian Craftsmen both lavish and practical items were manufactured and traded all across the Roman Empire.
How to Blow Glass
Blowing glass takes expertise, knowledge, and years of practice. To condense this into a single-page article on the internet would be unfair to those who are masters at the craft. However, we can provide you with a rudimentary ‘how to’ on safety and methodology.
Safety is paramount, remember you are working with molten glass which reaches temperatures of 2800° F. As a minimum, the protective equipment that you will require is:
- Goggles or glasses with side shields.
- Heat-resistant gloves.
- Heat-resistant apron.
There are also certain safety measures that you should always take into consideration. Some examples are:
- Never hold the pipe higher than your head
- Never swing the pipe higher than shoulder height
- Always angle the glass end toward the floor when moving around
Glass blowing is an art that uses basic tools to create incredible results. With fire, your breath and a few simple tools, lavish and luxurious vessels have been produced for almost 2,000 years.
Firstly, the glass is melted in a furnace which reaches temperatures of up to 2150°. A blowpipe, which is a hollow stainless-steel tube, is then used to retrieve the molten glass from the furnace. At this stage, you can roll in crushed colored glass which will create decorative patterns on the finished product.
A reheating chamber called the ‘Glory Hole’ is used intermittently to reheat the glass in order to keep it malleable enough to manipulate. The ‘Glory Hole’ will typically be around 2000°.
A marver, which is a piece of flat steel is used to cool and shape the glass once it has come out of the ‘Glory Hole’ then you form the bubble [shape] by blowing through the end of the blowpipe whilst twisting.
To cool and set the finished product is placed in a kiln with a temperature of about 900°. This will cool your product over a period of around 24 hours.
Some other tools which are often used in the glass-blowing process are:
- Tweezers – these are used to manipulate the glass into different shapes. At this point, it will have toffee-like consistency.
- Blocks – Usually wooden and soaked in water they are used to create a defined shape.
- Jacks – Similar to a pair of tongs jacks are used to remove the fixed piece from the blowpipe.
Take a look at this YouTube video produced by the Chrysler Museum of Art in VA where they have a specialized glass studio that offers classes and workshops.
What skills are needed for Glass Blowing?
Whilst many skills can be learned it is often the case that an inherent talent for the subject, we are learning will help our abilities develop. For example, some of us are arty, some of us are sporty and some of us are academic. We can all learn the art of glass blowing if given the correct tools and have both the desire to do so and the willingness to put in the hard work needed. However, inherent flair is likely to also play a major part in how successful you will become.
The most important skills needed to be a competent glass blower are:
- Attention to detail
- Health and safety proficient
Someone who blows glass is known as a glassblower, a glass smith, or a gaffer.
Can you teach yourself Glass Blowing?
Despite the complexities surrounding glass blowing proving that you have the right equipment and safety measures in place, you can teach yourself using specialized online courses. This however isn’t the recommended route. Experience is needed when handling the tools required for glassblowing. A beginner without the right training could soon find themselves heading to the ER or replacing household fixtures and fittings.
We would recommend finding your local glass studio that offers classes and taking these up with a Master Glass Artist. Not only can they teach you the correct skills but their knowledge and experience can ensure that you are practicing the art safely too.
Once you have a robust ability you can move away from the classes and into your own studio. However, if you’re looking for a short-term program where you are a master at the art by the end then you are looking at the wrong expertise.
How long does it take to be a Glass Blower?
You may be able to learn the basics and the processes involved through online or in-person lessons but to achieve perfect, or near-perfect results takes years of work and practice.
This shouldn’t put you off though if you are looking into learning glass blowing as a hobby. There is nothing more satisfying than using or displaying an artifact that you have created yourself.
Qualifications can be gained in glass blowing right up to degree level. You can expect to spend up to five years studying and practicing the art (depending on whether you chose a full-time or part-time course) until you are qualified. Continuous professional development will then continue for as long as you practice glass blowing.
Do Glass Blowers make good money?
Very few glass blowers will go on to earn 6 figure sums. Of course, being an artist there is always the opportunity to go on and sell your work for millions of dollars. However, the luck needed to accomplish this goal far exceeds the skill. Only a small handful of artists, glass-blowing or otherwise, will manage to achieve this level of monetary success.
However, if you are more focused on honing your talent and embracing your creative side then there is no reason why once qualified that you can pay the bills whilst enjoying a career that you love and enjoy.
At the time of going to press (March 2023) the average wage for a glassblower in the United States was $44,626 with those living in San Francisco being the highest earners.
To conclude it is safe to say that glass blowing is not only not for the faint-hearted but that it is far from an easy ride. It can and does take years to become a proficient glass blower and if you are looking at making it your career it doesn’t pave the street with gold.
However, it can be highly rewarding be it your occupation or your hobby and much satisfaction can be gained from the items that you produce. Just think of all those dollars you will save on buying gifts when you can make bespoke pieces yourself!
Whilst you don’t need a myriad of tools, and the skill remains comparatively how it always has been without being taken over by the technological world it’s not a hobby for your front room. You will need a dedicated workspace or studio, lots of safety equipment, and a solid risk assessment in place to operate.