Archive for October, 2008

It’s truly a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we can have a lie-in every day for the whole week, and goodness knows we need it. I personally think we could hibernate for the week and benefit, but the little ones don’t agree, and insist on getting up and bouncing off the walls all day long. They do this because the weather is too foul to let them out of the house anything like enough for them to run off their energy. We’ve got to the park a couple of times and every single time have been immediately and comprehensively hailed upon. Small hail, unlikely to wreak permanent damage on a 21-month-old, but still more pleasant to be in from rather than out in. As it were.

On the other hand there is somehow even less of a chance to get to the kiln. I don’t really know why this should be so. After all, only one child is in full-time education, another has a pathetic two and a half hours a day at nursery and the littlest one is underfoot all day as it is. Yet, there you have it. The oldest one is away, and that only makes the little ones more fractious. They miss her. Quite reasonably. So do I. And not just because she helps keep them happy, so they don’t keep trying to kill each other (or I them). I seem to have spent the whole week policing (“who had it first? What did you do? Why is she crying/covered in this/wearing that?”) And being an old-fashioned regimental sergeant-major, barking orders at them (“put that down, give that to him, share it, don’t touch, do it NOW…”

2 inch robinAlso I’m not feeling inspired because I’m deep in Christmas decorations and I’m SO sick of them already.  I know I shouldn’t complain: if these things do well for me, then I should be happy. After all, I only have to make them for another month or so and then I can get into all the more interesting experimental stuff I want to do, hopefully with a little cash put back into the closed loop of the glass cycle at the center of my life –


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I’m afraid the fact that my kiln is called Kelvin seems to have drawn more physics interest to this blog than I’d ever anticipated, despite it being of no obvious relevance or utility to the world physics community.

Kelvin having also apparently contravened the laws of the physical universe can only have attracted more unwarranted scientific attention, and he and I would both like to apologize for any distress caused. I am pleased to report that he is now behaving more normally and provoking less anxiety both for me, and – I imagine – any passing scientists. If, however, any such passing scientist would like to point out any errors made by Kelvin or myself, we would be delighted to be given the opportunity to rectify them.

Also, if any competent, suitably qualified person would like to explain the whole surface tension thing in words of one syllable* (*all values approximate), I’d be extremely grateful.

In the meantime, I made a blue bowl the same size and shape and thickness as the red one posted recently. I’m enjoying the contrasting white opal segment thing I’ve got going.


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This is the finished peacock made with the fused bits from the other day. I’m pretty happy with it, but I wasn’t until I’d blacked it. I thought I’d hold off for a little and mull it over. After all, once done, it can’t be undone (at least, I don’t think so). In the silvered state it was so-so in the daylight, but began to look really bilious under artificial light, so the dread decision “to blackit, or not to blackit?” was easy in the end. I think I will still add a lead frame around it, but for now, it can hang in the kitchen as it is. A bigger one combining fused and leaded glass would look spectacular in a door, say. Maybe one day.

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There is nothing more disturbing than this.

Luckily it is unusual to wake up and discover that the laws of physics have been contravened during the night, but believe me, when it does happen, it puts a kink in your day, not to mention the universe. A serious kink not straightened out by the suspicion that the reason might be that the kiln is sick. Universe-bendingly sick.

OK, so what happened exactly? In your own words, ma’am. Take your time.

I went to the opera with a friend (Barber of Seville, since you ask, sung in English with the most fabulously witty libretto), came home, shoved some stuff in the kiln and went to bed. On the bottom was a red and white two-layer disc to go in the dog bowl mold, on top was a 30cm disc. The details of this are important. The bottom layer was Bullseye 2mm transparent glass in charcoal gray and dark plum covering approximately the surface area shown in the somewhat dodgy illustration to the right. Over it was a 30cm disc of 3mm Bullseye Tekta (clear). I set a top temperature of 1345°, for 15 minutes. I reckon the total thickness was 1½ x 3mm layers.

Now one of the few things I thought I really knew about glass was that when you heat it up to fluidity, it will look to be around 6mm (two standard layers) thick when left to its own devices. A thinner disc will tend to contract (to a footprint that will allow it to be 6mm thick), giving those characteristic needle-sharp projections where the glass is said to have “grabbed” the shelf (clinging on by its fingernails?) in contracting. A thicker disc will likewise tend to overflow its footprint until it reaches the 6mm level. Simple. I understand it to be something to do with surface tension.

I know this is why, when your toddler upends a glass of milk, it doesn’t just conveniently fall on the floor in an upside-down glass of milk shape but spreads out into an unholy mess over an area several times the size of the kitchen, covering all available surfaces (including, but not limited to, the dishwasher door, the walls and the ceiling). This is because spilt milk has a surface tension equal to parental tension/infinity -1. Mercury has a much greater surface tension, which is why a spilt thermometer will roll around forever like poisonous marbles. All it means to me in glassworld is that a dichroic pendant comes out a nice even 6mm even though it’s made of several different pieces of glass and would otherwise come out in lots of little lumps and bumps, or flow into a flat and fragile disc of immense thinness. So this much I thought I knew.

Why then, did the glass disc on the top shelf spread out to a thickness of about 2mm, such that it flowed right over the edge of the shelf on one side? And it split in half, to boot. As I say, worrying non-conformity to the laws of physics.

Except of course, it wasn’t that at all. Rather more mundanely, I think the kiln wasn’t level, because the floor isn’t entirely level (I’ve now pulled out the spirit level and am planning on checking obsessively before every firing). Also it almost certainly overheated because I may have had the shelf edge too close to the thermostat, baffling it in both senses of the word. The red and white bowl also came out not level, and needed to go back in. Now it’s fine: I’m fabulously pleased with it.

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A few months ago, back at the beginning of what we laughingly refer to as the summer, I started work on a project to make a peacock using a combination of tiffany copper foil work and fusing. Then I moved onto other things and forgot about it. But now the glass class at the local adult education center has started up again, and I like to go along, so I had to find something to do. I’ve made a couple of windows there, but I don’t have anything to do in lead at the moment, so this is where the peacock plan came from. Last night I decided it really was time to get on and do the fusing part of the project. The idea was to have all the feather strips, with dichroic and art glass decorations on them, tack fused together and inserted into the copper foiled part of the design. I had to back the strips with a layer of thin clear glass, or else they would have drawn apart instead of together. I kept the heat low, as I wanted there to be a lot of texture on the decoration. I also used my very beloved Bullseye steel grey opal glass for some of it. This is an amazing glass. Above around 1400° or when capped with clear glass, it becomes a sharp teal-turquoise, but at lower temperatures – assuming it’s uncovered – it gets a matte metallic pewter sheen. Judicious use of capping can give you both effects together, which is something I quite enjoy doing when making jewelry. It can be strange to fuse something and have the bright effect, and then slump it and have the matte effect appear. Jewelry-making I’d normally do at the higher temperature, so if I want the pewter effect I send the piece back in for a little fire-polish – or do I mean fire-tarnish in this case?

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Shelf life

My replacement shelf arrived today while I was out. My kind neighbour took it in and neither of us was terribly impressed by the packaging. I for one am all for recycling, but I think one of the larger stained glass supply shops should actually get themselves proper boxes, not random, odd-sized and pre-damaged not-terribly-strong-looking boxes from the supermarket. In other words, my shelf and the precious glass I was unable to resist ordering with it should NOT have said “Asda coleslaw x 24” on the side of it, and more importantly SHOULD have said FRAGILE. Ideally instead, but at a pinch I would have settled for alongside. So far, so not fanastic. According to my neighbour the Fedex man bowled it into his hallway in a way that just might have been suitable if it’d been a case of cotton wool. Well, I checked it and miraculously everything seems to be intact. Now I just have to find the time to kiln wash it. Before I forget whether I did or not. At the moment I have some molds prepped with Paragon kiln wash which starts pale cream and turns dark, new-plaster pink, and other molds prepped with Bullseye kiln wash which – yep – is the other way about. As the bisqueware and unprepped molds are also pale cream in their unwashed state, I am currently a little uncertain about what is in what state. And I’m pretty twitchy about it since I’ve already had one disaster with an unprepped mold (just when I was switching kiln wash, so I wasn’t too aware). In short, I lost the mold (I think) and the glass. Actually I managed to get most of the glass out (with a hammer, no less) and the mold is only a little bit chipped and may still have some utility so every now and then I prop it upside down on kiln posts and fire Kelvin up to see if he can persuade the remaining glass to drop out. And if he does I’ll have rescued the mold. Value about £7.50 I think. But it will be most unsatisfying if I have to throw it away unused. At least it was one of the cheap ceramic cafe molds.

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