These are some of my best pipes I've made since getting started glassblowing.
Like many kids raised in the midst of the Grateful Dead scene of the 90s, I was carted around from festival to festival left to amuse myself as my mom went and partied. I was generally found with the venders, looking at the pretty rocks or watching the glassblowers which was my favorite. I've been fascinated with the art form ever since, and have long planned on being a glassblower. When I was 19, I had an apprenticeship with a local glassblower who was just getting started himself. While the apprenticeship didn't last, my glass fever did and I've been trying to get back on a torch ever since. Only since moving to Mexico has glassblowing become economically feasible, mostly due to the fact that the cost of living here is ridiculously low.
Now I've got my own setup, having only spent a fraction of what many spend to get started. John found an old scientific Fisher glassblowing torch on Ebay for a steal that we jumped on, it had the capabilities of many of the torches available for 1000 dollars or more, at less than half that cost. We ordered a few tools we felt were essential, our first order of glass and special insulation with which to build our kiln. A friend of ours in the states helped with this, both with a donation and by driving our supplies over the border and to Acapulco for us, in what was a mini-vacation for him. Due to financial struggles, we had to put the glass business on the back-burner for months, just recently getting started due to some donations and investments. It's been a very awesome but humbling learning experience.
When Just About Everything Goes Wrong....
The top four from the left are broken blanks, which is just a start of a pipe pulled off the end of a tube, ruined before they ever got turned into anything. All but one is due to blowtube troubles, either by incorrectly welding the blowtube onto the start. When you join two pieces of glass, you have to get each piece equally molten at where you plan to join them, then attach them on center. With a slight pushing and pulling action, you realign the molten crystals so two pieces become one. It's quite startling when you're heating the end of a piece and it just pops off the blowtube and falls to your feet. One of them was destroyed by me putting hold glass in a hot flame, shocking a crack in it which eventually caused the end of the start to pop off. If you introduce glass to the flame too quickly, it'll crack and could explode from the shock, sending bits of hot glass all over the place.
The clear pipe at the bottom is my first since getting back on the torch and the blue striped one is John's first ever. When I had that glassblowing apprenticeship, I made a pipe with the help of my teacher and vastly overestimated my skills. What I didn't realize was that the guy that taught me glassblowing did all the hard parts, like picking holes which involves removing glass bit by bit from one spot until you open up a hole. The reason these pipes are so squat is because neither John or I had that skill mastered at that point. You can see that these holes ended up having to be brute forced with metal tools, a terrible way to go about things.At this point, its something I do without difficulty.
Getting My Bearings...
These are some of my originals as well. I sucked at cold seals and the ones where it looks like I did it correctly, were probably cheats in which I used tongs where cold seals were necessary. Cold sealing is when you attach a hot rod to a piece that is a lot cooler. The end result is a seal that can support the weight of the piece, a sort of temporary handle. If you do it right, it just pops off when you need to remove it, leaving no glass or marks. If you don't you break holes in the glass like I did in like half of these, or leave a weird little nipple of glass. The other half of these I probably cheated on, using tongs where cold seals are necessary. You can visibly see some pretty scary looking mouthpieces in this photo as evidence of my inability to pick holes, something I laugh at now. I was not very good at putting the carb hole(a hole on the side of a handpipe, used to let air in to clear the pipe whenever the smoker moves their thumb off of it) in a good location, sometimes putting them too low or on the front of the piece.
Writing on Pipes, Really Not As Easy As You Expect...
These are my attempts at the Aca, short for Acapulco, line. As you can see, getting the writing legible is not nearly as easy as you'd think. Some of the worst ones, the really thick and blotchy ones, I tried to do with a rod, that is a thick rod of glass. At this point I've realized that you need to write with a stringer(thin long string of glass, used for all sorts of techniques). That being said, it's not always so easy to get the writing neat, especially when you aren't used to the way molten glass moves. It's been awhile since I've attempted one, I feel I might have a much better time of it now.
This Is What Happens When I Get Overexcited and Overestimate My Abilities..
Sometimes, generally when pretty stoned and optimistic, I get swept by glass fever and I take to the torch to try and create something different and cool. Much to John's horror at the wasted gas, glass and time wasted to produce these, they generally do not turn out right. The photo above is several different things in which I vastly overestimated my abilities The funny looking brown and green one is my first and only attempt at a tree piece. I had trouble joining the two different pieces and was left with a hole in my weld. In an attempt to fix it, I started wrapping black around the joint....a lot of it in fact. Despite my efforts, I didn't seal the hole and the pipe is unsellable.
The green splotchy spoon is one of John's ideas, poorly executed by me. It was supposed to be a blue and black wrap and rake(a technique I'll talk about below in more detail), with clear wrapped over the top all melted in to smooth glass. The trick with that technique lies in getting the wrap even, which I still struggle with.
What Happens When The Red Doesn't Fire...And How Our Red Trolled Us Hard
In our first shipment of glass we got cobalt blue, black and red rod. When we got started glassblowing, we got trolled hard by the red, in front of guests. My intention was to jump on the torch(for the first time in years mind you) after a dinner party at my house and make a mushroom pendant in front of some friends. When I cut the clear rod with the flame, it turned red on both ends. The rod itself appeared clear however, so we assumed the gas we were buying in Mexico was dirty in some way. One of our guests asked if it was a color changing rod, and we said no, honestly not expecting it to be. I made a pendant anyway, which was a dark red and somewhat cloudy raindrop by the end of it, and we turned off the torch disappointed.
The next morning, John noticed a slight difference in color between two clear rods, turns out our guest was right. The red starts off as a slightly yellow clear, very close in color to our clear rod. They were the same diameter rod so it was easy to mix them up. After building a kiln like device, we realized that the red is what's called a kiln strike color, meaning that the longer it's in the kiln the more the red changes. It goes from a clearish pink to a bright red then to a milker blood red. It's my favorite color I have, and I'll miss it once it's gone. The pipes above are to show what happens if you don't have pipes with red accents in the kiln long enough or hot enough. The first four are ones fired incorrectly, the second three are ones that were successful.
Wrap and Rakes are Hard
Wrap and rake is a classic technique that if done right can make a piece look almost like it has a lacey pattern embedded into it. You do it by wrapping color stringers around a hot blank, then raking down perpendicular to the lines(which need to be molten) with a rod. The trick is getting even thickness stringers, having the blank hot enough to accept them and melting them in properly. If you have too much glass in one spot, it becomes damn near impossible to melt the lines in properly, which is something I struggle with. From my understanding, some glass workers don't even bother with this one, as it's one of the tougher decoration techniques out there. As you can see, I am improving but still have a long way to go.
Adventuring Into Making Sherlocks...
When adventuring into making sherlock pipes, I started small. My first ones are the ones with just one bend and feet to make it stand. I adventured further to make more traditional looking standing sherlocks, and not all of them stand. All but one of the pieces on their side were supposed to be standing pieces, not able to because they were top-heavy or otherwise weird. Shaping has been one of my weaker points, as I wasn't getting the glass molten enough before stretching and shaping the signature curves. In the words of Bob Snodgrass "You want to get it just on the edge of out of control." That edge can be a bit scary for a noob, I've collapsed a few pieces on that edge.
This picture displays my larger sherlocks I've made, in order of creation. The first two are two piece sherlocks. The kink in the neck of the blue one is evidence of not heating the glass enough before bending. The green one is my first encasement(melting a clear tube or clear glass around a colored or decorated tube) and while the encasement was successful, the shaping of the pipe was not. It's extremely top-heavy and falls over when you try to stand it up. The next one is a adventure into using frit(crushed colored glass applied to either the outside or inside of the piece), as well as a sherlock adventure. It turned out wonky at best, once again due to not heating my glass enough. The standing blue one is my second encased piece, as well as my best shaped sherlock so far.
Becoming a Bongsmith
I've made two bongs(sort of water pipe) and both of them have been tiny, inspired by a piece a friend owns. The first one was bought pretty immediately by a different friend. When I asked her how it was working for her, she responded "Great, so much so I tried to use my mouse as a lighter today...". The bong in the photo is the second one I made. As you can see, t's been used and it's served us well so far, despite being top heavy and the fact that the carb hole is too high, leaving the piece filled with smoke. It has interesting history as the tube it was made from was thick walled tubing filled with cracks, something that would have been a waste if I didn't fix it. I melted the cracks out and shaped this piece from it, narrowly avoiding it exploding all over the place.
Glassblowing has taught me to be more mindful of my abilities. It's encouraged me to think more completely, as I tend to have problems when I don't. I never thought about it before recently, but my hand eye coordination sucks. I've improved vastly and it shows. I've become a better problem solver since blowing glass, as problem solving is half of the job. Sometimes things go wrong on the torch and as the glassblower, I need to be able to handle those things without making them worse. I've heard many glassblowers say the mark of a great glassblower is whether they can fix their mistakes without the customer every knowing it happened. These things are all things I've struggled with in life, glassblowing is allowing me to look at my weaknesses from a different light.