Blocks, Paper & Wood

as tools for working hot glass

Rev. 2002-11-06, 2003-01-19, 03-07, 05-28, -09-24, -11-22
2007-01-21 (wood), -01-31, -02-04, -11-24, 2008-04-13, 2009-05-04, 2010-02-24, -09-03, -10-24
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Blocks in Metal


In manipulating hot glass, many of the tools are made of metal, now usually stainless steel, iron in the past, but many are made of wood and paper. There is a kind of jack that uses rolls of paper or wood dowels for the ends and blocks of wood are used to make, well, blocks as well as molds. Almost always, these flammable materials are soaked in water before use and the layer of steam from the water helps preserve the material.

Drawing of steps in folding newspaper to make a padThe simplest tool for maneuvering hot glass is wet newspaper. The pad is created by taking 2-5 full sheets of newspaper (the number depending on personal choice) laying them down as if reading the full front page. Fold the sides in (A) so they overlap and the fold is on top (B). This makes a long narrow shape. (If using tabloid style paper, use it with pages open as if reading inside.) It helps if one end is somewhat narrower than the other.

Taking the ends of the shape, fold at about the 1/3 points (C) further bending the narrower end (D) to fit it inside the other end and tucking it in and patting it flat. After forming the pad, cut the corners off (E) which allows much more flexibility in shaping the wet pad to the shape of the hand. Soak in water and keep wet by putting a handful of water from the block bucket or by squirting from a handy water bottle.

The pad is used by shaping it to the hand and cupping it around the glass. Normally, once shaped, it is laid on the bench face up and water is added as mentioned above.

The New York Times is legendary for being the best newspaper for working glass.  "Bad" paper turns to pulp when wet, while "good" paper retains its shape and layers.

Paper V-Block - Wet newspaper is placed in a V made of two boards nailed edge to edge with a triangle of board filling one end.  The paper is molded to shape and used wet to blow cylinders with the pipe and glass aligned to the length of the V. "Like having 6-8 hands to block with newspaper."  (CraftWeb) 2007-11-24

Paper Marver - Wet paper, 10-15 sheets, is laid on a flat surface to roll glass in place, primarily cylinders. Lasts a month or so. Reasonably damp, not too wet.

is also used rolled up to an almost solid rod
in Pacioffis rather than wood rods. Not sure of choice of paper and whether paper is soaked to wet it or just carbonized.

is used in the form
of wooden blocks - giving names to the paper form and this page - and in the form of flat paddles and wooden rods, alone and in Pacioffis as well as steam sticks.  Normally the wood is one of the fruitwoods, cherry primarily in the U.S. although pear and apple are used also. Fruitwood is close grained, lacks sap, and smells good when burned. The wood is used water logged, stored in water and kept there during use, and will commonly crack if allowed to dry. It is normally transported in plastic bags with a bit of water slopping around.

Blocks Wood Molds Marble Molds Footers Paddles Steam Sticks

Blocks in useare chunks of fruit wood, usually with a handle, carved for a smooth inside surface. Cherry wood is a traditional wood but any fruit wood, pear, apple, etc., can be used [a guy just recently is promoting guava that he has to sell] Walter Evans makes wood molds as well as blocks and has said he prefers pear but cherry is easier to obtain. [Walter in Glossary of Tools & Equipment for Glassblowing & A Class at the Studio at Corning Museum of Glass ] Blocks must be soaked in water until water logged (they sink) and must the carbonized on the surface, normally by taking a couple of gathers of glass just for the purpose of turning against the wood. Keep wet as blocks will crack if they dry out. Walter says a bit of detergent (but not bleach) is best to keep odors down in water, but I have found the tannin darkens the water and keeps the algae at bay. Common form of blocks, picture from Harvey Littleton's book

Blocks in Use
The images at right, show blocks in use.  For a more detailed discussion go here, with a bigger version of the same image or click image.


I have made a few blocks from pear wood from an old hard pear tree taken from my backyard. Mine are without handles.

The following woods are listed as safe on this site  Just because they are safe doesn't mean they are good for tools - bois d'arc withstands weather for a long time and I would expect that to mean it is water resistant.
arbutus/ aspen/ bamboo/ barberry/ bois d'arc or horse apple/ chinese dogwood- cornus species/ cottonwood/ dogwood/ elm/
fruit trees: apple, pear, kiwi, grape, lyches, loquat, longan-
 java wood- ref/ horsewood/ hazelnut/ hawthorn/ larch/ magnolia/ manzanita/ mulberry/ pecan/ pine that's kiln-dried, pine cones that have been washed, baked and dried- ref/ poplar/ willow 2007-01-31


Home made cutters for cutting hollows in wood.MARBLE MOLDS -These three cutters are home made and have been used to cut hemispheres and a trough to support long work (picture coming). The one on the left is a spade bit, heated to red heat and slowly cooled, then ground to a radius, reheated and cooled quickly in oil. Using a grinding wheel in a drill, it was shaped.
  The semi-circle was cut from an old hedge trimmer blade, after heating, then tempered again.  The disk on the right was cut with a hole saw (slowly) from tool steel bar stock.  Both of the right units are mounted in slots cut in the end of 3/8" steel rod.

 Below the picture of the cutters is a montage of a  block of cherry with marble marver holes on one side and a groove on the other side.  The groove was cut by first drilling a series of bigger holes down about 1/3 deep then 1/2" holes centered on the big ones of about the right depth.  Then the wide cutter mounted in a drill press was used to clear out the U shape in several passes. 2007-02-04

> Hello Mike-
> I would like to construct my own cherry wood blocks (my mother is cutting down two old cherry trees from her yard and I thought what better use for the wood!). I realize the block will have to be water logged before use in the studio. My question since I'm only a hobby wood worker,
> does the cherry need to go into the water as soon as I've constructed the block?
> Does the wood need to be cured or treated first before working into the block?
> Thanks so much for your help.   Peace
> Marni

  I would save every piece of the tree larger than your thumb that you can store.  If you expect to work some pieces of the wood green, then you should probably put the results in water as soon as you have worked it.
 Otherwise, cut the wood into reasonable chunks and season it slowly so it does not crack on drying.  If you have the trunks and they are logs, you should probably cut them in about 2 foot pieces and store them separated by spacers, covered loosely with plastic (to keep rain off them) but in a way to keep air flow down so they can dry slowly.   Blocks are traditionally cut in the end grain.  I have made a couple without handles, reducing the bottom to fit in the palm of my hand.  A handle increases leverage - the handle is normally laid along the forearm being gripped near the block rather than holding at the end of the handle.
  For blocks, medium and large branches will be useful while dowels can be made from smaller branches for single use or as rods in pacioffis

These wood molds were made by Walter Evans, the man in the yellow shirt below, and are used to shape the glass for further forming. These are turning molds, having no design impressed in the glass and the glass is turned inside the mold to shape it.  These pictures were taken at a class in using them at Corning in 1999. 2007-01-21 Mold for making a bottle shape
Vase Mold

Vase Mold

Tumbler Mold

Tumbler Mold

Mold with Hot Glass inside, note steam

Mold with Hot Glass inside, note steam

Mold with Glass Coming out

Mold with Glass Coming out

Long view of blow mold use, glass coming out.

Long view of blowing into mold

Note the use of wood bar clamps for handles on the square outside.  Without these handles, more molds can be stored in one bucket and easier to transport in plastic bags. For several more pictures of wood mold at GAS 2003 Conference in Seattle with piece made in it, click link below pictures
Online Source
This video contains a number of wood tools and the making of a goblet with a cut off of rim.
The images below, from the video, show the shape of the parison going in and the over-inflation to give the rim shape 2010-09-03
Atelier Glass Works, 30 King St. East, Millbrook, ON Canada, LGA 1G0, 705-932-4527



PADDLES [Image at right from Littleton's book]
Samples of used wood paddles in Harvey Littleton's bookPaddles are used to shape the glass, especially for a flat bottom and for shielding the arms and hands of the gaffer while working large pieces. When a piece is turning on the bench and a paddle is held against the bottom a smooth flat bottom with a slight indentation in the center usually occurs.
Paddles are made from thin wood and I bought 1/4" thick solid cherry from Paxton Woodworking and cut my shapes with a coping and/or saber saw. I made mine just the size to fit in my flat Rubbermaid Tough Guy to permit a lid while in the water.. Those at right are used ones from Harvey Littleton's book.


FOOTERS for goblets are usually two thin flat boards hinged. Home made goblet footer The faces of the boards are formed to the profile of a foot, usually the bottom being almost flat and the top being a gentle cone and the top usually has an indentation for the stem to align the cone, the hinge being opposite to the notch.  The footer is used by getting a hot blob (or a cookie) on the stem of the goblet, sitting at the bench, bringing the board up from below with the hinge in the fold of the palm and the boards open like a book and then closing the panels while turning the piece. Shown in action in this video. At right are two views of mine in 1/4" cherry.  The hinge is formed by  nylon cord knotted on the other side.  Properly done, with hot glass and not too wet tool, it should be done in one step.  The best practice is just to put hot bits on the end of a punty to make feet without the goblet. 2007-01-31

There is no reason not to use plain wooden dowels or rods, soaked in water, to shape glass.  In the past these were often used to form the glass, as steam sticks.  I bought cherry dowels in several sizes from a woodworking supply firm and soaked them.  Two wood dowels fit in a handle (Pacioffis) that can also hold paper or graphite. Image
Cherry wood, partially soaked, to make an indented bottom when laid on groundI had bought a thicker flat piece of cherry some time ago and during the video tape made at Vitro Art Glass in Grapevine shown at the DMA 100th Anniversary saw them use a board on the floor to support a vase that had a very soft punty.  I have used a steel plate on the ground for some time, blowing a flat bulging bottom shape, but when I started thinking about the wood, I realized I could make an indentation to blow an edged bottom.
 I bought a 3/8" cove router bit, (about $20) which comes with a ball-bearing guide for edge work.  When I took the bearing off, I found it was mounted on stud which I had to cut and grind off.  Because of the shallowness of the cut and the size of the bit, I chose to use a 1/4" plywood template to edge guide the router base rather than a collar around the bit.  I cut a hole and two rings 1/2" wide from outside of the hole.  Screwing the ply to the cherry (a bit off center for the first hole, you see.)  I first used a straight 1/2" plunge bit to cut out the center of the holes to the correct depth.  I then replaced the bit with the much larger diameter (1-1/4") 3/8" cove bit, which will not cut straight down, and set the depth to the same and moved around the edges, to make a fillet edge at the bottom of the hole (you can see how a slight mis-adjustment results in the non-cutting center of the bit to burn the wood as it spins.)  The second hole was more carefully centered on the board and one of the 1/2" rings was added to reduce the size of the hole.  This board has been placed in the block bucket to begin soaking and was taken out to photograph before the bucket was refilled with water.

Wood steam stick and neck formerThese two pieces were glued up for specific purposes.  The wood attached to the aluminum is a dowel and cup to help form a neck of a bottle.  The dowel is screwed in place while the cup is only glued with Gorilla Glue

The steam stick is built up of three pieces.  It is used to inflate pieces by both sealing the mouth and carrying water to convert to steam inside the hot piece.  It has to be turned with the piece to maintain the seal. 2003-09-24

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