Thursday, June 7, 2012

A day on the dark side

"Go ahead, push your luck, find out how much love the world can hold."

Yesterday I went over to the dark side.

In lampworker lingo, this means I melted borosilicate glass. I've never heard it called hard glass but it is the alternative to an array of glass called soft glass. Soft glass has a coefficient of expansion in the range of 90 to 120. The most popular soft glass, including Italian glass, some German and Czech glass and USA-made silver glass, has a CoE of approximately 104. Bullseye glass, made in Oregon, has a CoE in the range of 90, while Gaffer Glass, made in New Zealand, and the balance of German and Czech glass, also known as furnace glass, fall in the vicinity of a 96 CoE. Most glass frit that I work with, including all the blends I sell, is furnace glass, which is more saturated because it is intended to be blown into things like vessels by glassblowers.

Boro is a glass of a different color, so to speak. It has a CoE of 33 and requires more fire power to melt, has different flame characteristics and is favored for sculptural and off-mandrel work, marbles and paperweights. Pyrex is one brand name for boro. Boro can be purchased as solid rods or as tubing, in a wide variety of diameters, for different applications. It requires a higher temperature kiln schedule and annealing program than soft glass. Boro color can be straightforward, such as crayon colors, but it is wildly popular for its reactive and ephemeral hues. Beads made with Boro are usually encased in layers of clear and have hauntingly beautiful depth and mesmerizing jewel tones. Results can be highly variable, which may be considered frustrating or desirable, depending on, well, the results.

Because I needed to get around that wall I'd run into with soft glass, and because my collection of boro has mysteriously (erm) continued to grow, I figured I had to melt some sooner or later, which turned out to be yesterday. Let's just say you can't make a glass cake without breaking some stainless steel eggs. Yesterday I learned that if you want your beads to be round and you don't have a clue what you are doing, the end of your mandrel (and sometimes your bead with it) will wind up on your table.

One of the reasons I think I put off Boro experimentation was that I was afraid to love it so much and then what the duck am I supposed to do with the 300 lbs. of soft glass I am embarrassed to have amassed. Boro is famous for converting its users from happy soft-glass lampworkers to fanatical boromaniacs. Based on my torch fest yesterday, my fears are threatening to prove groundless. Oh, I am not done yet, it's just that after four years and change it doesn't exactly feel great to be a novice again. My husband thinks that should be a good feeling, a new challenge. But I see wonky beads and clumsy off-mandrel hearts and my own heart just doesn't soar.

On the whole, I got some pretty color from my first foray, but nothing that I couldn't have gotten with less work, less stress and less blistering heat from soft glass. Because summer in Texas just isn't hot enough, I naturally had to choose it as the time to work with glass with a higher melting point. But that begs the question, was it, is it, worth it? Where is that damn jury when you need one? One torch session doth not a decision provoke. I am intrigued enough by my very modest success to try again soon. Because the beads really aren't all that wonky, and the colors really aren't so very bad for a beginner.

Wall, watch out, I'm coming through.

Oh, you want to see the boro beads, well all right then. They really don't look so wonky after all.




"When I went to your town on the wide open shore, oh I must confess, I was drawn, I was drawn to the ocean ..." Dar Williams

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