Studio Tour and Equipment Discussion

Rev. 2002-08-08, 2005-05-02, 2006-06-02, 2008-01-04, 2009-05-03

Studio Building  Reference Center

The purpose of this page is to provide a brief tour of a "typical" glassblowing studio containing links to other parts of my site, to show more about furnace glassblowing, and links to other sites that go beyond what I cover and cover what is beyond my interests.  If you would like a description of a glassblowing session, go here.

If you would prefer to explore via a discussion of building a studio, from very cheap on up, then use this link being aware that a number of the links on this tour and that 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. If you were to travel around, as I have done, [hot walls page] and read, and exchange pictures, you would probably see just what I will be talking about, with a few improvements here, a few cheaper choices there.

There are several distinct levels above what I am discussing. One is the permanent full-time multi-person studio operated as a income producing operation. This is only a small step of scale from my description and I will refer to the choices leading to it. The next step is studio operated in a public building such as a school or arts center where strong insurance and code requirements drive the cost up and where equipment must be built to withstand people who have not built it. Reference here is made to Henry Havens' book Glass Notes which covers heavy duty equipment. The next step up is so rare it almost does not exist in the U.S. - the manual glass blowing factory, two examples of which are Blenko and Steuben (via glass museum).

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 tour, it is also a narrative index to what is happening around my site.


The Tour

the building

In going to visit a glassblowing studio, it is likely that in order to find it, you either drove to a somewhat older part of town or headed out to a more rural area or small town. The simple reason is that the nicer and more urban the area, the more likely that building restrictions exist and building codes are enforced, driving the cost of the studio up. Safety is a pivotal idea, but the cost of a system that can reside politely in a building with other activities going on with fire inspectors and insurance reps wandering through is thousands of dollars higher than one in an older building by itself. In urban areas, such as Dallas, the studios operating at this writing are in an old (1920's) car repair building with other artists; in an old (1910's) long narrow former store; in a modern warehouse building in an industrial district and in an updated farmers market shed.  If, on the other hand, you find someone blowing glass under the roof of their own home, observe everything you see as possibly something to avoid, in my opinion.

the entry

When you come to visit a small glassblowing operation, it is common to enter through a space with some or a lot of glass on display. Some studios with considerable traffic enhance the display to a serious gallery and may feature other artists. You may pass a small permanent setup for photographing the glass. On the way to the actual blowing floor, you are likely to pass spaces for packing and shipping glass, which holds the dry and bulky materials needed; for grinding and polishing glass, which is a wet and somewhat dusty operation; and perhaps a storage area for glass awaiting final finishing and shipment. These three areas can easily be bigger than the blowing floor.

the blowing floor

Entering the door to the blowing floor proper, perhaps the first thing you notice is a set of bleachers, benches or folding chairs. Most glassblowers end up with an audience at some point, so most provide a bit of convenient seating that is out of the way when working the glass. This may be as few as 3 or 4 folding chairs and as much as permanent raked seating behind a protective wall as at Vetro or Corning Studio.

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.

Examples: The Studio at the Corning Museum, Grapevine TX Hot Glass, and others in the Tucson GAS show, and Desert Fire AZ A collection of Hot Wall pictures with comments

In the normal production studio, the furnace is kept running all the time, turned down a few hundred degrees to about 1800F each night that new batch is not added to create new glass. Each morning, the glory hole is turned on, the furnace is turned up, and the annealers (below) are brought to temperature.


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 gaffers bench, pipe storage, knock off boxes, cooling rigs, tool shelves and buckets, molds, optics and color pickup points.

Despite this long list, the area is actually usually neither very large nor very crowded, most of the items listed are small and often rest on something else. Commonly, the gaffer's bench faces the hot wall with about ten to fifteen feet of empty space between. Behind the gaffers bench is an area a couple of feet deep filled with buckets holding wet tools and stands holding torches. The most commonly used tools on are at the end of the bench on an extension of the seat or on a separate small table. The edges of the blowing space are usually defined by a marver and perhaps a color pickup space if the marver is not used for this. If the worker is using molds to assist in shaping the glass, they will usually be at the other side of the space, since many workers need one or more steps up to blow down into the mold. Some workers shrink the space to save steps. Often a space has two benches because that is about the width that a glory hole, pipe heater and furnace take up. If a gaffer usually works with an assistant, more space is provided so the tasks done by the assistant can be done without banging pipes or bumping on each other.


the annealer wall

it may be pushing a point to refer to an annealer wall, since most shops put the annealers any place they are out of the way, with other equipment stashed in between. An annealer is a box insulated and heated to about 900°F to hold glass after blowing so the strain will be released. Besides the annealers, there are usually some kilns included. The differences between an annealer and a kiln are the controller and the temperature reached. An annealer normally does not have to go above 1000°F, but requires careful ramped control of the temperature going down. A kiln normally is thought of as getting hotter for slumping, fusing and casting, but a color kiln is usually just a fixed temp. However, the controller is what is needed for annealing and when high temp casting is done, the unit has to be built like a kiln.

A shop will normally have at least two separate annealers and a small color heater that may be a used ceramics kiln. Two annealers are needed because some thick glass needs more than overnight to anneal and the worker to wishes to blow every day needs another annealer to put later work in. Normally, the size and number of annealers is determined by how much and how big the blown glass will be.  A blower who does large hollow pieces needs more space than one who does smaller ones.  A blower who does flat pieces needs different space than round.  A solid glass worker will need more smaller spaces because of the longer time to anneal than the worker making hollow ware. It is common for a blower to still have the first, smaller annealer, ever built, using it as a garage (place to store hot pieces to be used somewhat later in the day) or color kiln (place to store hot color bar to keep it from shattering when touched with molten glass.) One of the more popular controllers, from Digitry, will control 5 units, which might be two large annealers, one smaller annealer, a color kiln and a garage.


the cold working space

cold working involves grinding away part of the glass, as for providing a flat bottom or as part of the design and polishing the result. Water must be used, so the cold working area is normally separated from the other spaces. The space may have grinding laps (flat wheels), belt sanders, upright disk polishing wheels, and other more specialized tools such as a lapabrade which rotates and oscillates so pieces are polished randomly or engraving tools.


the gallery space

having a space to show glass, including for impulse buying of people who have taken the trouble to visit, is common and perhaps vital to a complete visit.  Taking home a piece may lead to bigger sales later. A gallery may consist of a few well lighted shelves, a separate space used as an entrance way, a major gallery space where work of other artists is shown or even a building across the drive. The more serious the gallery, the more people needed to support it, as the blower can not pause in the middle of a piece to do a sale or talk up a piece.




packing and shipping




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