Types of Glass For Glassblowing & Lampwork 2020 [Updated]


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Types of Glass Used in Glassblowing, Lampworking & Bead Making 2020 [Updated]

Glass artists make use of many different types of glass, all with different properties and uses. Photo by HeatSync Labs CC BY-SA

Glassblowing and lampworking are two of the most common glassworking techniques employed by glass artisans today. Glassblowers work on a large scale, using ovens, blow pipes, and enough glass to make vessels, sculptures, and other decorative items.

Lampworking is generally done on a smaller scale using colorful glass and torches to make delicate beads. Regardless of which technique an artist chooses to create glass items, the material used to make them is important.

Glass artists depend on several types of glass to create beautiful and durable finished products. Glass has been developed and perfected to ensure versatility as an artistic medium, and each type of glass has its own benefits.

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General Glassblowing & Lampworking Glass

Glass without additives is called quartz glass. Petar Milošević / CC BY-SA

Standard glass is made by melting sand or quartz. Glass without additives is called quartz glass and has a very high melting point, making it expensive and difficult to work with. Additives called fluxes are used to lower the melting point of glass. Common fluxes are soda ash, potash, and lime.

While helpful in creating more workable glass, fluxes can make glass unstable and prone to forming unwanted crystals. Stabilizers like limestone and zinc oxide are added to glass to counteract the negative side effects of fluxes.

The two most common types of glass used in glassworking today are borosilicate, or “hard”  glass and soda-lime or “soft” glass. Each are readily available at online retailers and have their own pros and cons when used for glassblowing, lampworking and other glass art techniques.

1) Borosilicate Glass (“Hard” Glass)

Hedgehog from borosilicate glass. Photo by Amanda Walker CC BY-SA

Borosilicate glass is made of silica with at least 5% boric acid in its overall composition. It has a high melting point and is very resistant to temperature changes and chemical corrosion. Borosilicate glass melts at around 820 degrees Celsius and is easily worked at 1,200 degrees Celsius.

Borosilicate glass is a moderately priced glass due to its method of production and its durability. It is commonly used to make laboratory ware, bakeware, microscopes, and telescopes when used commercially. Lampworking artists use borosilicate glass for a variety of projects such as jewelry, marbles, sculptures, and decorative lighting.

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2) Soda-lime Glass (“Soft” Glass)

Soda-lime accounts for 90% of all glass production. Photo by Shagun CC BY-SA

The most common and inexpensive glass used in glass art is soda-lime glass, or soft glass. Made from 60%-75% silica, 12%-18% soda, and 5%-12% lime, this glass is chemically stable, hard, and workable. It also has the ability to be re-melted, making it very versatile in the studio.

The softening range for soda-lime glass is 696 degrees Celsius and the working range for this type of glass is 1,000 degrees Celsius. These relatively low temperatures make soda-lime glass a great option for lampworkers using torches. Soda-lime glass can be used for almost any project, and can be found at glass retailers for affordable prices.

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Specific Glassblowing and Lampworking Glass

Within the two broad categories of glass commonly used by glass artists, there are several varieties of glass that are more specific depending on the preferences and specializations of the artist. These variations are achieved through chemical and physical alterations, as explained further in each section.

1) Clear & Colored Glass Varieties 

Photo by Don DeBold CC BY-SA

Both borosilicate and soda-lime glass can come in clear or colorful variations. Clear glass has a simple composition and is preferred for scientific glassware, household drinkware, and vases.

Colored glass is made by adding a range of chemical compounds such as iron oxides, manganese oxides, carbon oxides, copper, and tin. The addition of these elements creates a multitude of colors from black to white and everything in between.

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2) Dichroic Glass

Photo by Julie Redmond CC BY-SA

Another variation of borosilicate and soda-lime glass is dichroic glass, which is commonly used for beads, jewelry-making, and vessels. This glass shows up as two different colors depending on the lighting. Color changing glass has been around since the 4th century.

Today, dichroic glass is made by layering metals such as titanium, aluminum, and magnesium and vaporizing them in an electron beam in a vacuum chamber. Finished dichroic glass can be made of 30 to 50 layers of metals.

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3) Frit

Photo by Mel CC BY-SA

Frit is a common material used in lampworking. Frit is created through physical alterations instead of the addition of certain chemicals. It is essentially just colorful, ground up glass.

Despite its simplicity, frit has important uses in creating decorative, multidimensional beads and jewelry elements. Frit comes in a variety of colors and is added to hot glass to make bright, unique swirls and spotted designs.

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