Fused Glass Jewelry: About the Process

Many people ask how glass is fused. Although much more information is available on the web, I'll go ahead and tell you some of the basics here, in my own words.

Glass fusing is a process that was developed years ago. In fact, I understand it goes back to ancient Egypt! Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and today it is one of the most exciting media to explore. The beginner can start off with one class and feel like he or she has made something really cool. And the experienced glass fuser can go back again and again and discover something new.

Basically, glass is cut up, piled on top of itself, put in a kiln and melted together. But is it that easy? No.

One of the most important aspects of hot or warm glass work is compatibility. If you take any old glass, say a broken bottle, and stick it in a kiln to melt to itself, that will work out just fine. But try to take that same glass and melt it to a broken piece of your window pane, and that spells trouble. Why? Compatibility. [Not to mention the toxins, like lead, in some windowpane glass that can be released in the air when melted.]

Each time a person makes a piece of glass, he or she is using a formula. It's sort of like brownies. I make brownies, my mom does, my sister does, my best friend and neighbor do, but every brownie tastes unique. They each have a different recipe. Glass is the same way. Each time a piece of glass is made, it's made with a formula. A little more of this, a little less of that. So when you take two pieces and then melt them together, sometimes the formulae do not fit.

As glass heats up and becomes liquid, it expands. As it cools and hardens, it shrinks. Each type of glass made does this heating/liquefying & cooling/shrinking thing differently. It's called the Coefficient of Expansion, or COE for short. Two pieces of glass must have the same COE (or be very closely within range) to stick together permanently. You may fuse your glass bottle to your windowpane together today and it may explode in the kiln. Or it may melt just fine, but it could break apart in a week, or a month, or a year. No telling. But if you work within a system (that is, know where all your glass comes from and what is compatible with what and keep all your compatible glass together in your studio and never mix glasses), you usually have success.

The glass is taken up to temperature, usually 1200° - 1500° F, rather quickly, but then needs plenty of time to cool, so it anneals properly. If it is not annealed over a long period of time, the glass will crack. Finicky stuff. You have to love it to work with it. It owns you.

Dichroic glass

Now, to the dichroic definition. If I had a dollar for how many times have I heard someone say, "I want to learn how to do dichroic," I'd be rich (well, maybe not exactly, but I'd at least have a few more dollars in my wallet). You can't do dichroic. Dichroic isn't a process. It's a coating. Attributed to being developed by NASA for use in the space program, it's a coating that is put on by the glass manufacturers to produce the most yummy eye candy on the planet. How is it done? Briefly, the manufacturer sprays metallic oxides on the glass in a vacuum kiln. The coating takes on different colors when viewed from different angles, thus the name di (two) & chroic (color). It is really hard to photograph because it changes constantly. Think of a holograph and you are very near to the way a piece of dichroic glass appears.

Dichroic glass is not only the most yummy glass on the planet, it is also the most expensive. That's why you will see it used primarily in jewelry or as small accents in larger art or architectural pieces.

Henry Levine's glass

I am mentioning Henry here because his glass is wonderful. (He and Rae Ann are certainly wonderful, too, but I'm talking glass here.) He has a studio where he blows vases, glassware, bowls, you name it. And when his glass pieces break (as glass tends to do, all glass artists have scrap that gives birth to itself just sitting there, sort of like quilt artists' fabric), he tosses it in a box and gives it to me. Working with his glass is different because it is handmade and not rolled by machine the way the dichroic glass is. His glass has different thicknesses, and because he layers color upon color, it is usually completely different on each side. And it is rounded, so when I melt it, I end up with more surprises than I do with factory-produced glass. It's one of the reasons I enjoy his glass as much as I do.

On this website, if you see the letters HL before the description of a piece, you'll know it's made from Henry's glass, and probably started out life as a vessel.
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