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Glassblowing 101

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There are two types of glassblowing. One is called offhand; the other is known as lampworking. Offhand glassblowing is the gathering of a gob of fused glass on the end of a hollow steel tube called a blowpipe or blowing iron. The molten glass is then fashioned into its final form by various techniques of blowing and shaping with hand tools or molds. Lampworking is the softening of glass rod and tubing by heating it in the flame of a torch. The softened glass is then formed itno a finished piece by blowing it, manipulating it by hand and shaping it with hand tools.

Before the advent of glass-drawing machinery, rod and tubing were drawn out by the offhand glassblower. His finished product became the raw material of the lampworker. Today most all of the rod and tubing are made by machine.

Although there usually is a big difference in the end products of the two types, the fundamental procedures of working the material are the same. Each type is concerned with the eefect of gravity, so the glass must be turned constantly to keep it on axis while it is still soft. The time it takes for the glass to set up is important for both.

The term lampworker comes from the alchemists of the Moddle Ages who, by blowing air through a tube and directing it across the flame of an oil lamp, created a hotter flame. This permited them to soften glass tubing to make their test tubes and other laboratory ware. The mixing of forced air and fuel to make a hotter flame is the basis of our present day toches. Toches are still often called blowpipes, and should not be confused with the blowing iron of the offhand glassblower. To this day the people who use torches to make items of glass are referred to as lampworkers.

Until recently the title of lampworker included scientific glassblowers, artistic glassblowers, apparatus makers and some quartz workers. During the last decade a growing number of artistic glassworkers have been producing a wide variety of impressive figurines. These pieces, made primarily in solid glass, are sculpted freehand by the artist, who uses only a few hand tools and the flames of the torch. They are classic examples of self expression and are called lampworked art, or glass sculpturing. The creativity of these artists, now known as glass sculptors, is becoming more appreciated. Their work is increasing in popularity and is displayed in many galleries, corporate offices and fine gift stores.

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