Frequently Asked Questions
Answered by Karen Sutherland, principal of Sutherland Art Glass
Can you make blown glass at home? No. It requires a lot of special tools and expensive, space-hogging industrial equipment and a high-pressure natural gas or propane source.
Do you make blown glass animals or jewelry? No. Those are made by a different process, called “lampworking” or “flameworking.” It can be done at home, but it’s not something that I do.
Do you know Dale Chihuly, that glassblower with the eyepatch who is on TV? No, but I do occasionally blow glass at a hotshop where his work is made.
Can you make something specific for me? Sometimes. If it’s a shape I make a lot and I have the color on hand, probably. If you want something else, no.
Why does blown glass costs so much? U.S. - made custom handblown glass is expensive because of the cost of the equipment and labor involved. It also takes years of training to be a good glassblower or assistant, and many pieces break whole they are being made or do not turn out right and end up being planted in my garden instead of being sold. For examples of cost, 4 hours of hotshop (studio) time cost $125.00 to 150.00 When you add the cost of 1-2 assistants and color, those four hours cost about $250.00 to 350.00. The tools are expensive, too, because they are made specifically for glassblowers, in small quantities. They also wear out quickly because of the heat involved.
Is glassblowing dangerous? Yes. Getting cut or burned is a fairly common occurrence. Less common but still possible are retinal damage from looking into the furnace and toxic exposure problems from the glass color, the silica in the glass, and the gas that runs the furnaces and the torches. Heat exhaustion is a problem, too. At the bench in the shop where I normally work, it’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I do not know how hot it is in front of the furnace or the glory hole because my thermometer went up as high as it goes when I tried to measure the heat in front of the glory hole. My thermometer tops out at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so it must be hotter than that.
What happens if you inhale? Not much. Inhaling is an actual technique in glassblowing, used when you mold-blow into a mold with negative cuts, or to take out a crooked bubble and start over. There’s even a (not recommended) technique called snorkeling for pulling hot glass up a tube out of the furnace, which could be dangerous.
Why did you become a glassblower? I began working with glass as a child, collecting sand-polished shards on the beach and gluing them to wood. I later acquired a glasscutter and began cutting up bottles for candleholders and planters. I took stained glass in high school and made windows. I wanted to work with hot glass, though, because of the variety of shapes and colors that are available, so I started taking classes after my law career was well-settled enough to afford me the time and money necessary to pursue glassblowing. It is hard work, but a lot of fun, and a great creative outlet.