Studio Building - Equipment and Tools Discussion

Rev.: 2004-02-08, 2005-12-09, 2006-06-03, 2007-04-25, 2008-01-04, -03-31, -08-10, 2009-05-03

Studio Building  Reference Center

Why it costs so much

I don't know anything about glassblowing, but I want to do it.

really really cheap

cheap choices (REALLY)

reasonable skills

reasonable choices (and costs)

working up the scale

high end studios


The purpose of these pages is to provide a discussion of building a studio, from very cheap on up, While looking at equipment, there will be links to other pages giving specific suggestions and plans for building.

If you would prefer to explore via a brief tour of a "typical" glassblowing studio containing links to other parts of my site, then use this link being aware that a number of the links on the tour and this discussion will end up at the same places (eventually.)

What you are going to find here is information about studios at the lower end of the price range for glassblowing, which can be very very expensive. What I am going to describe is not particularly unusual. Reference here will be made to Henry Havens' book Glass Notes which covers heavy duty equipment.

You might wish to read the rest of this page, perhaps at a fast clip, before following the links, but if you don't you can always come back here. Besides a discussion, it is also a narrative index to what is happening around my site.

The legal stuff: Working glass is inherently dangerous, involving heavy materials that can be razor sharp, so hot that damage can be done before feeling occurs, with chemicals immediately poisonous, dusts that can damage the lungs, and heat sources that can wreck the eyes. Understand the safe practices required and use them to blow good glass.

Why it costs so much

The chemicals used in making glass and the temperatures involved push the upper limits of what man can do with materials.  Therefore, selecting materials to hold the glass and melt it involve costs vs. care.  The crucibles used for melting glass must not introduce pieces of themselves into the glass and are expected to last for months at temperatures above 2000F.  The kinds of materials that will do this tend to be brittle and subject to thermal shock - if you heat/cool them too fast they will crack.  Therefore it takes a while (1-3 days) to bring a glass furnace up to heat without cracking the pot.  The mixture of chemicals (batch) that melts to form glass is corrosive to many materials and must be melted fairly quickly which means even higher temperatures (2400F+). The glass must "cook" at low viscosity (about the flow of olive oil at room temp.)  Depending on the size of the pot and the amount of glass blown each day, additional batch may have to be cooked each night or (taking longer) once a week. 

All this means that the normal arrangement for a glassblowing studio is not "Hey, let's blow glass!"  Rather, the plan must be to bring the furnace up to heat and to keep it hot for days and weeks at a time, melting more glass and blowing the glass level down.  Keeping the furnace more or less hot 24 hours a day takes money.  Since time is taken out to sleep, production time becomes a matter of making enough of what will sell to cover the costs.

Beyond the cost of equipment and fuel, most glass artists are self-employed, small business people, who have to cover their own taxes, insurance costs, mortgage/rent on the site, etc. which are proportionately more costly for smaller businesses. This means the "nut", the amount that must be made/sold just to cover expenses, is substantial.   Many of them hold regular jobs and blow glass a couple of evenings a week and weekends.


I don't know anything about glassblowing, but I want to do it.

Well, start by taking a class, someplace, a weekend at least, a week if possible. You may have to fly or bus to the east coast, Gulf Coast or Seattle to do it, but there is no substitute for handling the glass and seeing other people handle it while having the chance to ask questions while looking at the tools and equipment. Read everything you can, especially the first few books on the book list. Besides a class, perhaps the most rewarding few hundred dollars you can spend is to attend the Glass Art Society Conference held in April, May, or early June each year.  Several large cities around the country have open glass studios where classes are sometimes taught but which exist primarily for members or the public to rent several hours at a time to blow glass.


really really cheap

First let me describe what I did to be able to blow glass. This is basically a summary of what I published in early issues of Hot Glass Bits. I don't recommend these choices. See below for cheap and reasonable choices. I will point to reasons for more expensive choices along the way.

I began by building an annealer. This is a logical choice, since any blown glass won't survive without one. I built a box from one roll of fiber blanket, bought a prepared heating element from Dudley Giberson using his advice, built a Solid State Relay (SSR) from scratch following a book from Teccor Electronics, and bought a commercial ramping controller from Love Controls. I did a pretty good job overall and used the annealer for fusing/sagging before I got my "furnace" built. Better choices would have been to make the annealer bigger (too much insulation, too small floor space in mine), buy a SSR (good knowledge in making one, but not a great savings) and probably fake a ramping controller using a $12.50 chip that I knew how to use but others might not. A good choice was to make the annealer run off 120 volts.

I built my first furnace from a box of insulating fire brick, a T-pipe burner, a blower from W.W.Grainger, and a standard 20# propane tank. I tried a variety of items for crucibles. I made a several of bad choices here. As stated below, I now strongly recommend learning to use insulating castable as it is more durable (the fire bricks broke) and more flexible (I did not frame up the bricks, as I would have had to do to go bigger.)  The T-pipe burner and blower were fine, but the propane tank was way too small and my solutions - adding a second tank and manifold pipes - wasted money. Getting a bigger tank was a better choice. Trying a variety of possibly refractory items for crucibles was educational, but wasted money - making crucibles from clay mix (which I did not because early recipes I found required slip casting techniques, did later on) or buying small crucibles would be better choices.

I got a gas welding rig early, almost by accident, and it served me very well. Getting a low end gas welding or MIG arc welding rig is strongly recommended.  I bought a reciprocating saw for an entirely different purpose and found that it ripped through metal in a remarkable way.

In learning about materials, I explored used steel yards and found a lot of useful stuff, including pre-trimmed steel plate, usable slightly bent angle iron, pipe sections that made good bucket bases to hold pipes and stainless steel for pipes and punties. I think these were good choices.

Tools for glassblowing can cost a fortune. In going ultra-cheap I did the following: I made jacks by twisting a piece of 1/2" x 1/16" flat steel bar stock. At the metal yards, I found stainless steel -1/4" water pipe (1/2" OD) and 1/4" and 3/8" rod - from which I made punties and pipes. I bought at the hardware store long tweezers and long needle nose pliers to pull the glass around. I bought some duck nose sheet metal shears to trim the glass. One tool I could not duplicate or make myself was diamond shears, about $60.

I set my rig up outdoors, in the back yard, without any roof overhead at first. I think these are good choices for starting cheap. They are a lot easier choices if you live in Texas, as I do, than if you live in, say Vermont, and expect to do anything in the winter or if you live in North Carolina and expect to do anything in the spring rains. Adding a roof is a good choice, but frame the roof with metal as I do not think wood framing is safe in the long run as it dries out and becomes less heat resistant. Wind breaks and walls are nice, ventilation is good.


cheap choices (REALLY)

I have been asked what would be the best way to make a cheap glassblowing rig just to try it out, and I have taken a long time trying to come up with a combination that doesn't get out of sight in cost or difficulty. Please understand that these are not offered as reasonable choices (next section) for people who want to gradually build a studio and start low cost without wasting too much money along the way. This is for being REALLY CHEAP!! without being too stupid.

The only three ways I know of to save money on glass furnace operations are to make it small, combine functions, and eliminate automation. Yet, the best way to waste money is making something that will never be used again. So a well built small annealer can be used as a garage or color kiln in the future. But furnaces tend to die after a year or two at best. At the beginning, the furnace is not going to be big enough to hold glass for days of blowing (see below) and annealing is not going to run on for days so several costly automation steps can be eliminated or reduced.

As mentioned in reasonable choices (below) a combination of glory hole and furnace involves compromises. Yet that is the only cheap choice - one burner, one regulator, one tank, one set of plumbing. I vote for a special shape, kind of a miniature furnace with a large opening or a glory hole with a pit in the bottom. This will also give experience working with castable.

I personally favor an almost standard glory hole with an odd shaped pot in the bottom, rather than a standard pot below an oversized opening to serve as a glory hole.  The glass is always going to be too hot and the glory space not as hot as it should be, but making a glory hole useful in the future and melting a small amount of glass seems better than melting a bunch of glass and using the cool space over the glass for reheating.

The most important way to save money is to not pay other people to do things. I am a person who considers it reasonable to do things myself* (and I am very cheap) and I have little trouble learning new things. If you are not good at certain tasks, then you can still get them done without paying for them at premium rates by
1. Using sweat equity - learn while you help others do things and then ask those others to help you.
2. Using social equity - if you are a lot more social than I am, just knowing people and asking politely will get good results - people often like helping other people - they have certainly helped me as asocial as I am.
3. Using barter - trade things you do well or don't mind doing for things you do not do well or hate doing - cold working glass for welding, home cooked dinner for casting advice.

[* I once read a newspaper article that praised local people for working on their own homes, one had installed new sewer lines, another had redone the plumbing including relocating the hot water heater, a third had shingled the house, another had bought an old house and leveled it, while the last had rewired a house. As I read it my virtual mouth dropped open because I had done all those things and considered it reasonable and proper, not exceptional before reading the article.]


reasonable skills

I think the following skills are worth having and not difficult to develop.

  • Welding - whether torch (which I prefer) or arc - common welding on common steel is not difficult. I learned arc welding as a theater tech in college and taught myself torch from books. Some community colleges offer continuing education courses in welding as do some craft centers, usually a one day course. welding.htm
  • Castable - working with insulating and hard castables is not difficult as moderate quantities can be mixed, while learning its limitations and advantages can be very useful. Look for excuses to work with hard and insulating castable. It behaves a lot like concrete while reacting more quickly to water amount changes. refracto.htm castables
  • Concrete - handling lots of concrete is backbreaking, exhausting work. Knowing how to frame for the weight of concrete, how to reinforce a slab and how to make moderate sized pieces, will be valuable whether you pay odd job guys with money to push the mass around or pay a bunch of friends with BBQ and beer to help do it. There are books in hardware stores and home centers that will help. I got my concrete mixed in a trailer by the 1/2 yard and hauled it myself to do my garage floor in sections over several weeks; I would not repeat doing it alone. [Yet, I rented a small mixer and hauled in 12-16 bags of concrete mix to do a 5x6' slab, half killing myself on a too hot day.  I should not do it again.]
  • Electricity - is worthy of a healthy respect and if you are willing to follow the rules and learn the code choices, you can save a lot of money, fix problems in the middle of the night, and talk better with the electricians and code people you deal with even if you do not do the work yourself.  I do all my own, after passing a test given in Dallas to allow homeowners to do major electrical work, subject to inspection, without an electrician involved. electric.htm
  • Plumbing - Piping water and gas is basically a skill of planning and fitting the parts then testing for leaks.  While plumbing that is buried in walls can be expensive to get at, virtually all the plumbing in a glass studio is exposed and available for checking.  So it is a matter of terminology, choice of materials, and not wasting money. plumbing.htm


reasonable choices

The studio described here will be a middling sized pot furnace studio, perhaps the most common, scaled down and made cheaper: A section below on high end studios discusses some of the equipment choices in more costlier studios. Perhaps the most important choice here is that the glassblowing is NOT going to be done for weeks on end.


Most glass blowing studio floors can be marked out in three areas, which I call the hot wall, the blowing area and the annealer wall.

the hot wall

contains the furnace(s) and glory hole(s) and may contain a garage, pipe heater, and color kiln. Most commonly these are arranged side by side with the gas and plumbing behind and metal shielding in front for controlling the flow of hot air and ventilation which is provided by fans and blowers. The metal wall should have insulation on it to keep it from being a radiator of the heat behind it and there should be separate ventilation (in and out) for the area behind the wall. many pictures

the blowing area

contains the actual working space - the blowing floor - and the accessories surrounding it to make glassblowing possible. Here you will find the gaffer's bench(s), pipe storage, knock off boxes, cooling rigs, tool shelves and buckets, molds and optics. Most blowing floors have some kind of viewing gallery over looking them, at least a few chairs behind a rope or a set of bleachers.

the annealer wall

is the location of the boxes for cooling the glass in a controlled manner. A glass studio will normally have at least two, often more. An annealer may open from the front or have a lid on top. It may be small and alternately used as a color oven or garage or it may be large enough to hold the biggest piece imagined. It may be capable of a high enough temperature for fusing and sagging or the even higher temperatures needed for casting. Often the annealers show the history of the glassblower, because, while a furnace undergoes a lot of stress and is heavy to move and a glory hole is somewhat easier if awkward to move, a well built annealer may travel with the artist, being reduced from the best to second best to backup to color holder as bigger and better are built.


cost estimates

While it is difficult to keep up with detailed costs, here are some suggestions as to what it might cost

Cost Item Cost Each Item Count Total Cost Note
Slab, 20x30 feet, 4 in.thick $50 per yard with rebar 7.41 yards all costs $370 1
Simple Metal Barn, insulated $30 per sq foot 600 sq ft. $18,000 2
Electrical Connection 200 amp, 1 phase $600   $600 3
Gas Connection $600   $600 4
Internal Electrical        
Build two annealers with frax, 3x5' Artist labor, materials Sheet metal, frax blanket   5
Build furnace and glory hole housings Artist labor, materials Castable, insulating, pot, barrels. $500 6
Buy and install gas train   Safety hardware $2500 9
Torches, wood block, molds, misc. Varies   $200  
Pipes $110 6 $660 7
Punties $60 9 $540 8
 1. Will vary depending on professional help and paying for premix. Rough estimate
 2. Greatest variable. One person built an isolated wooden pole building and contents for under $6,000 several years ago.  Using an existing building, giving up full closure from weather,  accepting non-working days due to cold or heat.
 3. Assuming no service and no use of three phase power.  Can be much higher.  3 phase needed for electric furnace and large annealers used as fusing kilns.
 4. Adding a separate meter and bringing trenched line to site or installing propane tank.
 5. This assumes sheet metal (18-20 ga) is bought and bent at shop and assembled with sheet metal hardware by artist.
 6. This assumes artist can weld frames and will form and pour the castable.
 7. Pipes can be made by worker but usually are not.  Six is a moderate number. 2-3 is minimum, 8-12 are often found.
 8. Punties and bit rods can be made from scrap rod or can be nearly as expensive as pipes, so middle price and moderate number.
 9. The gas train is all of the automatic cutoffs and flow controls for gas firing of the furnace and the lower level ones for glory hole. Second most costly variable.  With a venturi burner and high pressure propane, almost goes away.  In modern academic or commercial building, can double.


working up the scale

There are actually several choices that might lead up from blowing glass when possible. The first choice comes when working thick enough glass to require annealing for several days. As soon as that decision is made, a number of annealers are needed, otherwise glass working stops as soon as one is filled and programmed.

The other choices have to do with furnaces. How big a furnace should come next? If a studio worker can blow 30 pounds of glass a day, then 150 pounds melted at the beginning of the week will give 5 days of blowing. If several people are working, doing bigger pieces and blowing longer hours, then 100 pounds of glass might have to be melted every night to keep up. And if classes of students are working and big projects are planned, then a continuous tank melt might be advisable, adding glass batch all the time to the back of the tank. Somewhere in here, adding recuperative features might be useful to save energy.

Planning can go another way. If I am going to blow glass for a weekend, how big a rig to I need - melt on Friday night, fine in the morning, blow all day Saturday and Sunday, clean the pot Sunday night, shut down. Or even shorter: melt glass in the evening, go to bed early, get up at 2 am and blow for 4 hours, shut down and go to work. In the south, the summer is too hot to blow with cheap ventilation. In the north, a glass furnace can keep a person warm on a cold night. The Glass Gaffers of New Jersey are reported to have set up their furnace to blow for two weeks from a ton of glass  in the spring during the 20's and 30's.


high end studios

Here are the kinds of choices that might be made in going to a serious studio. Most of these choices are based on how much glass is to be melted and how much time is spent annealing. Also, most of these choices are out of reach of my expertise, so I will point at other sources.

One step up from a middling studio is to melt more glass and do it for more time. More glass may be done with a bigger pot furnace or with a tank furnace. A bigger pot furnace not only means a bigger package overall, but a much bigger investment in a fragile pot. The pot is very heavy and shipping charges go up to about the cost of the pot, so an installed pot is $400-600. The pot must be heated up very carefully or it may crack, so it may take two days to get to heat, requiring (practically) a good ramping control system on the furnace. It can not be allowed to cool rapidly or it may crack, so safety and recovery mechanisms are more important (and costly.) With this much time invested in heating and cooling, the blowing from the furnace had better go on for several weeks or months. With the increase in cost is spending more time at the furnace and producing more product, thus requiring more annealer space, usually in the form of several spaces rather than one large one.


detailed equipment and tools list
This list was originally posted here for the University of Texas at Arlington glass studio.  It is reproduced here because it is detailed and elaborate

The glass facilities consist of a climate controlled, air conditioned 2500 sq. ft. cold shop, with grinding, cutting, shaping and polishing capabilities, an extensive warm glass area with fusing and slumping equipment and a complete flame working area with various sized torches and annealers.

The glass hot shop consists of a separate 3800 sq. ft. completely equipped, six station glassblowing facility. The studio utilizes a state of the art ventilation and air conditioned climate control system. Furnaces, glory holes and pipe warmers are fitted with electronic ignition and extensive flame safety and temperature control systems.

The design and construction of this glass facility is entirely purpose built to create one of the most advanced and expansive studios in the country.

Kiln, Torch & Cold Working Equipment

  • (6) Evenheat 2'x4' fusing kilns with computer controllers
  • Evenheat 2'x2' fusing kiln with computer controller
  • Genisis 3'x 5' canopy style fusing kiln   
  • Genisis  30"x40" canopy style fusing kiln
  • (2) floor standing Sommer and Maca vertical wet belt sanders
  • Diamond blade 14" wet band saw
  • 14" wet diamond blade circular cut off saw
  • Sommer and Maca glass lathe
  • Denver Glass glass lathe
  • Denver Glass two station horizontal grinding machine with iron plate and smoothing stone
  • 30" horizontal grinding machine
  • 48" High pressure sand blasting cabinet
  • (3) Nortel "Minor" bench burners
  • Nortel "Midrange" bench
  • (2) Carlise "CC" bench burners
  • 18" x 12" dual opening bead annealing kiln
  • Large front load flameworking annealing kiln   
  • Small front load flameworking annealing kiln

Hot Shop Equipment

  •  Spruce Pine 87 glass
  •  450 lbs. Day Tank style glass melt furnace with Eclipse burner and electronic furnace temperature controllers   
  • 1000 lbs. Day Tank style glass melt furnace with Eclipse burner electronic furnace temperature controllers
  • Electric 120 lbs. Color melt furnace
  • Electric 60 lbs. Color melt furnace
  • Digitry GB-4 five channel computer kiln controller
  • Large single lid top load annealing kiln
  • Large two lid top load annealing kiln
  • (2) Large two door front load annealing kilns
  • (2) Small top load color preheat kilns
  • Medium top load pick up kiln   
  • Large Skutt roll up kiln
  • Propane fired Italian style garage
  • (2) Gas fired pipe warmers
  • Two door set 17" diameter opening glory hole
  • Two door set 21" diameter opening glory hole
  • Two door set 24" diameter opening glory hole
  • (3) One door set 13" diameter opening glory holes
  • Pipe cooler
  • (4) Pull down Exacta propane heating torches
  • (3) Pull down Oxy/propane "Ranger" hand torches
  • (5) Pull down compressed air guns
  • Miscellaneous optic molds
  • Thread wrap rollers
  • 18" x 24" steel top hot plate
  • Jim Moore hand tools
  • Spiral Arts and Cutting Edge blowpipes and punties



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