Puddle Melting

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I've just completed four firings in 3 days, and two of those firings were to create some awesome puddle melt pendants.  Every time a firing is finished, I'm stoked to open up the kiln, but this last run was especially cool because I really didn't know what I'd find.

 

Step 1:  Making the Puddles

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First step was to make the puddles that would later be broken up to make the pendants (and other things - I have reserve puddle chunks for another day!).  I stacked up 6 3"x3" squares of glass, and put them in the kiln.  I made two piles, one with blues/green/white/grey, and another with pinks/purples/white.  I put them in the kiln on top of some shelf paper, and left plenty of room around them so they could spread out.  

 

When the glass is fired, it spreads out - the photo above shows the bottom of the resulting puddle - each layer flowed over the edge of the one below.  Size of the final puddle was about 5"x5" and 7/16" thick in the middle.  I used a full fuse firing schedule, holding at 1500F for 30 minutes.  This fire took about 6 hours.

Step 2:  Puddle Smash

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To turn the puddles into usable chunks, they need broken up.  I tried score-and-snap, but it was way too thick for that.  I read people had luck scoring and hitting with a hammer, but for me that didn't break nicely and just shattered the puddle into 8-10 pieces.  That was fine though since it gave chunks I could start working with - but wouldn't be optimal if I was trying to get a lot of nice slices. 

 
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I also ran the pink square thru the Taurus ring-saw, and the saw cut it like a champ.  But I don't want to use up my blade on these, so I probably won't try that again.  We do have a tile saw so I think I'll give that a go on some of the leftover puddle chunks.  

Anyways.  Use a hammer to break, or then I found that my mosaic tile-nippers worked well to break off the pieces for the pendants.  Whatever you do, wear your safety glasses!

I made a bunch of smallish pieces to fire as pendants.  It was hard to tell from the chunks how big the pendants would be so I weighed them as I broke them off - tried to aim for 6-15 grams in weight to get a variety of sizes.  I think I broke up about half of each puddle and I have other plans for the rest.

 

Step 3:  Second Firing

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I put shelf paper on the bottom of the kiln, and on top of that, placed the chunks up on end (so the stripes are visible from above, and fired again to a full fuse.  I wasn't sure how close to place them to each other so I left some space around them. 

Over on the left-hand side, I tried some other ideas with pieces of sheet glass topped off with dots or some of the skinny shards that came off the puddles when I was smashing them up.

 

I read on someone's page that it would be better to use shelf primer instead of paper since they'd round better - but I wanted to make max use of my kiln space and just put paper directly on the kiln floor (my shelf is a smaller area so I could only have made about 2/3 of this number).  And I like the irregular shapes!

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The above 2 pictures were taken before pulling these out of the kiln so I can see how the different pieces melted - it was about like you'd expect, if the piece was on an angle then the top color is the primary one in the final pendant.  I might add decals to the ones that are more solid colored than the others.

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This was a fun project and I'm really happy with the results!  A couple of links that I referenced for making these are below:

And of course the possibilities are endless here - these will be necklaces or I think I'll try turning a couple of the smaller ones into pairs of earrings.  You could also use them in mosaics, stained glass, etc.  And I plan to make some more even slices out of the rest of my puddles to use in a plate project.

First Fused Glass Projects

I learned to make stained glass by taking a class, but I'm figuring out the basics of fusing glass on my own with books and websites.  I'd like to take a class at some point, but for now I think there's enough info out there to pick up the basics.

Project 1:  Square Pendants

After getting the kiln and new controller board all hooked up, I thought I'd start with something simple to make sure everything worked.  I have a "offset square pendant mold" that I got as a birthday present, and had bought 5 colors of frit to try.  I had bought fine frit almost at random for the colors and also had gotten a jar of medium clear frit.  I guess I didn't read up ahead of time to see that the firing schedules for the different grits are different, and so I'm assuming they shouldn't be mixed in the same piece?  Something to look into...

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I followed the mold instructions, and applied 4 coats of Primo Primer, drying it with a hairdryer between each coat.  I definitely mixed up too much primer, so will use less next time (can you save it once it's mixed??).  This must have worked, because after firing, one of the pendants came right out, the second came out when I turned it upside down, and the last just needed a nudge from my fingernail to pop out.  

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I had a few colors of frit, and wanted to try all of them to see their fired colors - Kevin made the blue striped pendant and I made the other two.  We finished up the mold prep and pouring in the frit around 7pm on a Sunday evening.  We were feeling paranoid about leaving the kiln on its own in the basement, so one of us sat with it for the first couple of hours.  When it became clear that it wasn't going to spontaneously combust, and that the temperature around the kiln wasn't getting very high, we progressed to hourly check-ins (I started napping on the couch in between!).  Max temperature for this fire was 1420F, and I found that the hottest the surface of the kiln got was around 320F.

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I waited until the next morning to open her up, here is what I found!  This was basically the easiest project that could be done - pour frit in mold, turn on kiln - but it was still really fun to open up the kiln and find pretty pendants.  Will try some more exciting designs next time!

 
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After I popped them out of the mold, they did need a little sanding to remove some rough edges, then I strung them on lanyards and have worn two of them.  Will be fun to try this mold again with some different colors and designs.

 

Project 2:  Coasters

For second project, I wanted something more creative, so I made four different 3" square coasters.  I tried a few different ideas just to see how they looked after.  

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Glass wants to be about 1/4" thick, and my sheet glass is closer to 1/8".  If I'd made my coasters one layer thick, then the glass would pull in and "shrink" to make the a thicker piece.  I wanted this to stay truer to size, so for the sailboat coaster, I cut two blue squares and then put the decoration pieces on top.  The bottom square is slightly smaller than the top, so the glass will flow over the sides and make a nice rounded edge.

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The only other one that was 2 pieces thick all the way around is the transparent green/yellow/blue wavy lines - the lines are all cut and put on top of a clear square.  The hearts were just put on one square of white (should have used 2 since the edges did indeed pull in), and then the vertical stripes were also placed on a single white square.  These are mostly cut glass, with some stringers and then the inner part of the dark blue heart is frit.  I did use Bullsye glasstac to hold the pieces in place for transfer to the kiln and then for firing.

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Final results above!  I'm happy with how they came out and that I got to see how the different glass and ideas looked after firing, but I'd make a few changes next time.  

1.  I'd make everything at least 2 layers thick.

2. The wavy lines one - the lines are a little separated if you look closely.  After making it, I learned I should have had the clear glass as the top layer to have everything flow together.

3.  There is still some sharpie residue from where I outlined the pieces to cut :(  Thought I did a good job cleaning the glass but will try harder next time.

4. Vertical lines one - A tip from the woman that runs the glass shop I go to - since I wanted more separation between them, I could have put clear frit in between the lines to give more separation.

I think that's it!  Oh, and for these I used a full fuse schedule and it is indeed a full fuse - the sailboat is at the same level as the blue glass post-fire!

Getting Started in Glass Fusing

For a while now, I've been wanting to try out warm glass - fusing, slumping, jewelry making, etc.  I'd also like to try metal clay, enameling, and flameworking too at some point.  But Step 1 for me was to get a kiln and some supplies to get started.

Meet Esmerelda - My Kiln Setup

I've been keeping a lookout for kilns on Craigslist for a while, and last Spring I saw this one listed for $300.  It was the perfect size, and the owner was just selling her to move up to another model.

I named my new kiln Esmerelda.  She's a hexagonal shape, 24" exterior diameter, and 11" exterior height.  She fits right into a good spot in the basement, and is big enough to make all the pendants and plates I want.  She is an older Jen-Ken kiln, maybe from the 80s?  Her last owner bought her a new Paragon DTC 100 controller.  The controller didn't quite do everything I want - it didn't seem to allow for a controlled decrease in temperature, and it doesn't allow for a multi-stage program (so you need to visit the kiln after every firing stage and reprogram for the next one).  The previous owner mostly used her for ceramics, so maybe that controller worked fine for ceramics, but it seemed like it would be hard to make it work for some of the complicated glass firing schedules.

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I ended up ordering a new controller board from Bartlett Instrument Company,  and I got the Genesis Model LT3140 for $329.  This is just the board, which we installed into the controller box for the DTC 100.  It fit, but the holes weren't in the exact right spot, so we had to drill 2 new holes for the bottom screws.  The photo to the right shows the box hanging on the wall - the darker grey part is the new controller board.  

 

 

 

 
 Kiln all setup and ready to fire.

Kiln all setup and ready to fire.

My total cost for the kiln and controller board was $629, and it looks like a similar new kiln runs about $1000 today, so I'll call that a win.  I have definitely invested that extra savings plus some into other supplies and glass, so it was nice to save where I could.

The kiln fits perfectly in our basement between a brick wall, the furnace, and the hot water heater.  It's placed on some cinderblocks.  During the first firing (which had a max kiln temp of 1420F), we used a laser thermometer to keep track of the temperatures all the way around the kiln and found that the hottest point was the surface of the kiln, which recorded a max temp ~300F.  The bricks, furnace, etc, didn't go up much in temperature.

Additional Fusing Supplies

The kiln is the biggest and most critical item needed, but I've also been getting a bunch of other supplies too.  I decided to go with all COE 90 glass - I read that it's a little harder to work with than COE 96, but since there was more selection in colors, I picked 90.  I don't really want to have to store both types, so I will probably stick exclusively with COE 90.  I bought one of the Bullseye class packs from Delphi (link isn't to the exact one, there are several different mixes), 6 jars of Frit, and some stringer rods - all Bullseye.

I already had all the essentials for glass cutting, but did invest in a new "non-essential" - a Taurus 3 ring saw.  I had been doing the score and snap method, which works fine, but I've been drooling over the idea of a saw for a while so I could make more intricate shapes.  And I'd tried using COE 90 glass in a stained glass panel, and found that it was much harder to work with - I broke a LOT of pieces while scoring/snapping, and so I thought it might be a lot nicer to have a saw.  I'll need to do a whole other post on the saw, but let me just say that it has been GREAT to have !

Kiln Furniture and Molds

My research said that you want to have your work in about the center of the kiln.  I got 3" kiln posts, and a 12" round shelf to place the work on top of.  I also got some fiber paper and Primo Primer for mold prepping.  

I wanted to start out with smaller molds, so my first project uses a square pendant mold - I also have a mold for small square dish, and a couple other pendant molds I haven't tried yet.

Of course, I still have a wish list of stuff to get and try -more frit colors, I'd like to try decals, I need some thicker fiber paper, and of course more molds and glass too.  For now, I just need to focus on trying out some easy projects with what I have but it's really hard to go crazy buying piles of supplies!

Next post, I'll talk about my first two projects in the kiln - #2 is firing as I type and I'm hoping it turns out well!

Glass Grinding Guidelines

This is part of a series of posts about tips I've learned while working on my projects; hopefully they will be helpful to those just starting out.  These lists aren't meant to cover everything, and if you have additional tips, please share in the comments!

Last time, I talked about glass cutting; the next step after all your pieces are cut it the grinding.  This topic should be relevant whether your interest is in stained glass, fused glass, or just in using stained glass sheets in your mosaic projects.  

My Essential Glass Grinding Tools

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Of course, the number 1 essential tool here is a grinder.  I'm sure many grinders out there work great, so I'm not suggesting one over another, but the only grinder I've owned is my Gryphon Gryphette grinder, and it is great!  It's small, but I haven't found that it's too small for any of my projects, and it's perfect for my small workspace.

You can buy an optional face shield that will mount over the work area; I don't have it, but I always wear safety glasses.  In fact, I store them as shown in the picture; on top of the grinder - that way I never forget to put them on.  It's super important to wear them, as little shards can fly around, especially for certain textured glass, and especially when you have a new bit.  I like my eyes so I never grind without my safety glasses!

I clean out the water reservoir of my grinder every 4 or 5 projects.  It always amazes me the amount of glass dust that collects in there.

 

The grinder is the main tool you need, but it needs new bits sometimes.  I use these bits for my grinder, and they last a good long time.  You also need good old H2O to fill the water reservoir (you can see my old Nalgene bottle in the background here.  Our slop sink is in an inconveient spot, so I use it for my water needs while working.  And last, you need little bits of sponge to insert behind the grinder bit to keep everything wet while you're working.

So that's it for the tools; on to the grinding tips:

1.  Order Matters!

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My first tip is in the order of the pieces you choose to grind. You're always going to have to do some touching-up to make all of the individual pieces fit together well, but the main pieces of your design will need to have specific shapes in order for the panel to come out the way you want.  So, I always start with the "essential" pieces to grind first, and get those to look exactly how I want.  Then, I grind the ones that are part of the background - and if they don't fit perfectly in their spots, I can always remove a little here or there and it doesn't matter since it was just a background piece anyway.

For example, check out the piece to the right, which had just gone through the grinding stage when this photo was taken.  I ground the sun, boat, and frog first, then made the background yellow/orange, blue, and green fit around those main areas of the design.

 
 Would it be faster to cut away or grind out that inner curve?

Would it be faster to cut away or grind out that inner curve?

2.  Minimize Grinding

This is probably more of a cutting tip, but one thing I find to really speed up how quickly I can make a project, as well as minimizing cost (grinder bits are pricey!), is to really make sure I've cut away as much glass as I can before I grind.  I want to make sure I only have to do a quick pass with the grinder to remove those sharp edges, and MAYBE do a little extra work on a tricky inner curve.  

But poking around on YouTube, I found videos that tell you not to even try cutting away the glass on an inner curve, and instead to grind out the whole area!  You'll go crazy, it will take forever, and your husband might threaten your life if you don't make that grinder noise stop!  (The last happens often enough to me even with my strategy to maximize cutting and minimize grinding...)  Take the time to get comfortable with glass scoring and breaking, trust me, it will be worth it!

 

 

3.  Change/Move Grinding Bit

Grinding bits wear out, but they do so slowly, so sometimes I don't notice that the area of the bit I'm working with is getting dull until it's doing nothing at all.  I usually put on a new bit so that the bottom part is the grinding surface, then slowly move it down the shaft as it gets dull.

4.  Work With Direction of Rotation

Grinding bits rotate counter-clockwise on the grinder (at least on mine, and google says this is how most of them work).  So, if I am pushing my piece to the left under the spinning bit (against the direction of spin), it will grind away more of the glass than if I push it to the right, with the direction of spin.  This is useful to know, because if you have a big chunk of glass to grind out, then going against the spin will have more of an effect than going with the spin.  And then do the opposite when you're mostly done but just want to take that final smoothing pass.

5. Perfection is the Last Step!

Last tip - as you are grinding each piece and fitting them together, don't worry if it's not perfect.  I'll do my first pass at grinding, and often still have a bunch of pieces that aren't fitting nicely.  Once I've given each piece one go at the grinder, I'll look over the whole thing and figure out where I still need to trim away some glass.  By waiting until the end, I find that I can make sure I'm trimming those background pieces and not the ones where the shapes are more critical.

Those are my top 5 grinding tips!  The final step after I finish grinding a piece is to see if it fits in the bigger glass puzzle; before I do that, I always dry it off so it doesn't get my pattern paper all wet and blotchy.  And I keep a Sharpie close by; if I end up needing to trim a piece down in multiple spots or don't want to lose my place, I'll mark the problem area with the Sharpie, do another grinding pass, and usually the water in the grinder is enough to clean up that Sharpie line.

My Top 4 Glass Cutting Tips

This is part of a series of posts about tips I've learned while working on my projects; hopefully they will be helpful to those just starting out.  These lists aren't meant to cover everything, and if you have additional tips, please share in the comments!

This topic should be relevant whether your interest is in stained glass, fused glass, or just in using stained glass sheets in your mosaic projects.  

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First, lets start out with the tools you need. It's not much!  I have found that I can do everything I need with the three tools in the picture.  One of these days, I will get one of those fancy schmancy glass saws (and don't worry, I will blog ALL about it!), but for now, I am doing everything the old-fashioned way.  I am using a grip cutter, running pliers, and breaker/grozer pliers.  Those three tools together will cost about $40.

Glass Cutting Tip 1:  A Waffle Grid is Essential

In addition to the tools, I also find that a waffle grid like that in the above picture is super-helpful for keeping glass shards <mostly> contained and to help avoid injuries.  I didn't have one at first, and find it to be useful for two reasons.  First, the shards fall into the grid, so you're not as likely to end up with them under your skin, on the floor, or underneath the glass you're scoring (and then scratching the bottom or worse, causing your glass to break).  

Second, a lot of times, you need to make a long straight score in a piece of glass.  If I can see through the glass, I line up where I need to make the cut over one of the lines in the waffle grid - giving me a line to follow.  

Glass Cutting Tip 2:  Take Your Time 

Go slow and don't try to do too much in one cut, unless it is a straight line.  This doesn't come naturally if you're impatient like me, so I've had to learn this lesson a few times.  If you're cutting any kind of curve, make sure that any one score isn't too complex.

 My first "real" project - those half-circles I had to cut into the clear pieces were a pain!

My first "real" project - those half-circles I had to cut into the clear pieces were a pain!

This also goes back to your design-- don't make the same mistake I did and draw a first design that involves cutting half-circles into your glass!  It's definitely possible to be able to do that with the tools I have, but it's tough and requires a LOT of patience to slowly score more gradual curves and chip away the glass, a piece at a time - and wasn't easy for a beginner. That glass saw will open up lots of new possibilities, but I have found that with a combination of careful design and patient cutting, I have been able to accomplish almost everything I want.

Glass Cutting Tip 3:  Beware of Curves

Too many sharp inner curves in one piece of glass has been a recipe for disaster for me.  I always do a final pass over the drawing to look at each individual piece, after all the lines are in place to double check for anything that would be un-cuttable.  Even after doing this, I'll sometimes still find a hidden scary curve when cutting out the pattern.  This happened with my alien panel, I'd originally had the sides of the face drawn as one piece instead of two.  This one worked just as well with cutting each of them in half, so I did.

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To the right is a photo of the lemon rind from the lemonade panel - I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make this cut or not, and had a backup plan of splitting the rind into two pieces if needed.  But by slowly scoring and chipping away at the glass, it worked out!

(BTW, pay no attention to the red smudge in that pic; every project needs a little of my DNA in it to personalize it...)

 

Glass Cutting Tip 4:  Curves Part Deux

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Lastly, if you're cutting an inner curve that will end in a point, I find that it usually works better for me if I cut the curve first, while there's still some extra glass hanging out on the other side of the point.  This is hard to explain, so see the pic at the right.

 

I first started working on the inner curve, then removed the glass to the right of the point.  Scroll thru the pix below to see the order of my steps.

That's it for today - if I think of more essential cutting tips, I'll add another post.  If you've got anything to add, please share in the comments!

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