By Gil Reynolds
Originally published in Stained Glass News issue #57 July 2002
Fusing glass has become more popular than ever before. At the resent Art Glass Suppliers Association trade show in Nashville, over half of the 60 some classes that were offered related to kiln work. It is not surprising to me that the most common question I get from my readers goes some thing like, "I have been working with stained glass for some time now and I am finally ready to begin playing with fusing, how do I get started in kiln crafting glass?" Well, as you might have guessed, it is not that difficult. So without further ado, Let me present you with Gil's Short List of Fusing Basics. (Feel free to take notes)
1. A Kiln with a pyrometer (temperature indicator) - Notice that I didn't say a glass kiln. Although there are advantages to using kilns designed with elements on the lid so the glass heats evenly, it is not essential. In fact most of the smaller "Mini Kilns" that are used for fusing only have side elements and they work just fine. If your only option is an old side firing ceramic kiln, it will work. But, don't be surprised if you soon find yourself shopping for a top and side firing glass kiln with a programmable controller. The controller fires the kiln automatically for you and they are handier than baby sitters.
2. Several Kiln Shelves - One shelf usually comes with the kiln, but it is nice to have an extra or two so you can be preparing one shelf while another is firing.
3. Kiln Wash or Shelf Primer - Two names for the same thing. Not to be confused with the kiln wash used in ceramics - the glass industry uses a different formula to keep the glass from sticking to the kiln shelf. Most of the half a dozen or so brands that are available work really well so many shops only carry their favorite which is fine. (I prefer Fuse Master Premium Kiln Wash, Bullseye Shelf Primer or Hot Line Primo Primer)
4. A Hake Brush - this is the best choice for applying the kiln wash to the kiln shelf. It has soft bristle and produces a nice even coating.
5. Fiber Paper - A multiuse product, when substituted for kiln wash it not only keeps the glass from adhering to the kiln shelf, it keeps away air bubbles that sometimes form between the glass and the shelf. It is also used to create embossed patterns on the back of the glass, is great for producing "pocket" between two layers of glass as well as many other high temperate applications. The dust it creates is quite nasty, so please wear a dust mask when working with ceramic fiber products.
6. Bending Molds - Unless you only want to make flat tiles or jewelry or such, you are going to need a selection of molds to shape the glass. Once a piece is fused flat and cooled to room temperature, it can be bent by placing it on a high temperature mold and heating it to the 1200 - 1300 degree F range. There are some small molds for the mini kilns just hitting the market, so you may want to ask your supplier to please bring some in.
7. Compatible Glass - Speaking in very general terms- Two pieces of glass that contract the same amount when cooling are considered compatible. If you want your pieces to come out of the kiln in one piece, you will want to use compatible glass. If you do not care if about them breaking apart, you can use any glass you can get your hands on. It is best to just start with one group of glass that is compatible with its self. You have four primary groups of glass to choose from.
- Window glass is not always compatible, but a lot of people use it because it inexpensive and readily available. The biggest disadvantage of window glass is the limited color options.
- Effretti (formerly Morretti), this high expansion glass from Italy is favored by bead makes and lampworkers. Primarily available as colored rods, it can produce some exciting visual effects when fired in a kiln.
- System 96 Spectrum and Uroboros is quickly becoming a favorite choice for fusing because it is easy to cut, it has a beautiful surface when fired, so it does not usually need any overglaze and it is very affordable. Although their ever expanding color selection is some what limited, they have some of the most desirable colors available.
- 90 COE Bullseye and Uroboros offer a wide selection of colors and some very popular
iridescent choices. Many people, including myself, started with Bullseye, and still use it although I have also been working a lot with the System 96.
8. A Fusing Class - Taking a class is the best way to get over you "fear of firing." There are some basic do's an don't that apply to firing a kiln and most local Art Glass Suppliers have a knowledgeable instructor on hand that can guide you thought the fusing maze and save a lot of trial and error.
9. A Good Fusing Handbook - I have my personal favorite, but there are several to choose from. They all have the key information and pretty pictures. Reading about a subject does not replace hands-on experience, but it can be inspirational, shorted your learning curve and introduce you to some exciting methods of working that you may not have considered. Well, I think that about covers it. I assumed you already have all of your glass cutting equipment: cutters, pliers, grinder, ring saw and what have you. I hope that my list gives a good idea of what's involved and what you will need to get started in one of the most exciting and rewarding ways to work glass - "Hot" in a Kiln. Oh, the most important thing, don't be afraid to make mistakes, there are no mistakes in fusing only "Successes" and "Learning Experiences," so, the best thing you can do is - Get Started.
Until Next Time,
Keep a Warm Kiln,