As many know, I've been glassblowing a lot here up on the hill lately. I had a large order of pipes, which I actually ended up failing at. I was unprepared for the job in many ways; I didn't deliver in quality or quantity. Glassblowing is a lot harder than it seems. I love the ways it challenges me, but it has a habit of teaching hard lessons, often in the form of burns or broken glass. My intended path as a glassblower has always been to eventually be what I call a "bongsmith", a glassblower focused primarily on bongs.
I knew that I loved bongs from the first one I hit. It was a fairly obnoxious clear thing with too many attachments, but it was enough to get me intrigued in the concept. I hit the thing once and was honestly the highest I had ever been up until that point. I went home and found myself sitting in bed eating a giant rice crispy snack, one almost the side of my torso. It was a gift my friend had brought me for my birthday, which was around the same time. I've owned several bongs since then, and if given the choice, I'd only smoke bongs. The one photoed above is my first real bong I've produced. It's earned the name "Quarky McTipperson" for a reason, but it works.
As we were running out of weed, John suggested I make a bong. This is partially to get me to practice doing bigger stuff, with the bigger flame. For most of what I do with pipes, I only use the center pre-mix most of the time. But my torch has a decent surface mix torch which allows me to have a really big showy flame, fairly good for making decent size bongs.
We discussed how to make it happen, as I only have a few legitimate glassblowing tools. My bowl push is a copper fitting with vice grips attached as a handle. I have a tiny graphite paddle. My glass shears are actually haircutting scissors...and they work pretty well! Eventually we figured it out, it all sounded simple in theory. Things are never what they seem as you start out glass working, as any other glassblower will know.
It took two attempts, and this is what's left of the first one. I cut off an obnoxious amount of tube for how big the bong was actually supposed to be. It would have already been broken by this point with the size of base I intended for it and the height of the neck. This cracked as I was working because I allowed most of the bottom to cool as I was working on the area where the green down stem is. The flame hit it right and it cracked. I did what I could to bring it back, and eventually gave up by twisting off the end and starting over.
As you can see, it works. We've used it for the last several days. It's got it's issues, it wants to tip over because it's got a long stem with a tiny bottom. The bottom is uneven and tiny, actually somewhat squared off in places. Regardless, I love the damn thing. The day it breaks will be a sad day, but it's a day I expect to come.
We have a good friend here, the lovely @erikaharris here on Steemit. She's been pretty open about her love for cannabis. As glassblowers, we provide a service she uses and respects. She bought my first bubbler, a miniature bong. We've given her a few (slightly funny looking) pipes, but with the coming holidays we decided to make her a bong. It was an excuse to practice making bongs again, with an intended person in mind. It had a home already, which motivated me to keep at it even in the hard times...and there were hard times. I wanted her to have the advantage of a bong at her disposal, as she likes to remain highly functional just like we do.
I did the same thing to her bong that I did to ours, only it wasn't salvageable like ours was. In ours, the crack stayed in the bottom of the piece, which made it easy for me to just twist it off and start over with the same piece. This one cracked most of the way up the shaft, making the piece pretty much waste at this point. Glass teaches hard lessons, sometimes twice.
The second was silly, although it'll be salvageable when I have the time. We discussed either writing her name or at least an E, to personalize it a little. I fumed the mouthpiece with silver and wrote her name, pretty neatly. It surprised even me. I was all confident until I realized I spelled her name wrong, it's with a k, not a c. I cracked the mouth piece in the process of fixing it, and I did a bad job with the fix.
I set out the next morning on one more attempt. We discussed what went wrong and devised solutions. John suggested I attach a handle to the mouthpiece with a flared end, so I can work easier with the large flame. I was attempting to use the mouthpiece itself as a handle, honestly out of laziness. I made a sturdy handle with a sturdy flare. I joined them together after writing her name and spelling it correctly, this time. A bit of extra attention to the seal made for a strong seal that didn't give me issues.
While it's got it's quarks as well, the last attempt gives me hope as a bong smith. It's not as easy as people like Redbeard make seem. Lots of time and practice makes for good bongs. These bongs are honestly crap, but they're functional. Everyone's got to start somewhere.
One of the biggest differences between glass as an art medium and literally any other, is that at any point, something can happen and your piece is ruined. A handle can break, sending your piece crashing to the floor. Getting tripped on the way to the kiln, ending in dropping the piece. Sometimes they just explode. Sometimes you leave them out of the heat too long and ruin hours of work in a second with a brush of the flame. Sometimes wind blows your torch onto your hand, burning it pretty badly. Life happens. Glass is unforgiving but quite possibly the most rewarding substance to work with that I know of. When talking with Erika about this, we compared it to if a painter spent days on a masterpiece, only for someone to take a flamethrower to it right after they finish.
I've built a thick skin over these past few years, partially due to my love for wood stoves. I can deal with burns pretty well, I've found. Anything severe gets my comfrey plantain healing salve, and I just keep working through the pain. It's rewarding, but it hurts. Having a freshy burnt hand close to the flame is not fun, but it sometimes is necessary. Nothing good comes easy. If I stopped blowing everytime I got a burn, I'd never be on the torch.
So there you have it, my crappy first attempts at a bong. I share these to show where I started. Many consider glassblowers to be these magical beings, destined to wield a torch. Many never see the often ugly route many glassblowers have to take to get where they are. Nothing ever really goes quite how you'd expect with glass when you're starting out. You've got to make a lot of mistakes, they generally teach you what to do. And many mistakes end up revolutionizing the glass world, like silver fuming. Without mistakes in glassblowing, color changing pipes wouldn't exist. What fun would that be?
So after lengthy buildup, we convinced our friend to give us a bit of time out of her busy schedule to meet with us, for her new bong. Right as I was packing it up, I dropped the slide on my tile floor. Needless to say it exploded. I had to make a new one, and it honestly was inferior to the first one. I plan to make her a few replacements soon, so she can experience her bong to it's fullest potential.
But she loved it the way it was, and that made it all worth it. She was surprised at the difference between smoking the same cannabis out of a bong to a pipe. Now she's got a personalized bong that will change colors as she smokes out of it. Last I heard, it changed the game with her productivity. That's all that matters at the end of the day. If it breaks, I'll just make her a newer, better one.
Good friends are hard to come by, so it's best to give what you can when you can. I knew this bong wouldn't be high quality, but I knew that she'd appreciate it. While it lasts, it'll serve her well. I've got respect for anyone that likes to remain highly functional, as it's how I've centered my life. My favorite way to remain highly functional is with bongs, what's yours?