Setting Up a Studio

Setting Up a Glass Fusing Studio
By Gil Reynolds

This article first appeared in the Kiln Crafting section of the Stained Glass New, issue #71, December, 2005

We are currently in the middle of adding on a new addition to our workspace and I remembered talking on the phone to a glass artist named Howard who said, ‘Hey, you ought to do an article on how to set up a glass fusing studio.’

Well, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how everything is going to go together and I thought I would share my process in hopes that some of my considerations will be of value to my readers. Whether you are going for a new studio, thinking about remodeling, or just putting together a wish list for down the road, I hope some of these tips will be helpful.

As for setting up your own studio, there are three considerations that are critical: safety, convenience and flexibility. It doesn’t matter what size studio you’re planning--a one car garage or a big warehouse--all three of these aspects are interrelated and work together to make a safe, fun and efficient workspace.

Let’s get started.

I start by making a plan, that is, taking the time to do a scale drawing of the work area marking all of the walls, windows, doors and any other fixed or known items…things such as posts, an electrical breaker box, sinks, cupboards, restrooms, where the car gets parked and so on. Then I make a list of everything I hope to have in the studio, such as glass racks, scrap bins, counters, kilns, grinder, cold-working areas, work tables and shelving for finished and ongoing projects. I realize that I can’t afford everything right now but I don’t let that limit my wish list. I go ahead and add extra kilns, a compressor and storage, even though I may have to wait until later to make them a reality.

Next, I cut out pieces of colored index cards to represent these various items. It’s much easier to move things around when they are pieces of paper than when they are actual furnishings. I don’t want to be like the home decorator who says, ‘Let’s put the piano over there…no…that doesn’t look right, move it over there…no…how about over here.’ I also lightly shade around known traffic areas marking access to doors or anything else I don’t want blocked.

Further, I organize similar items in close proximity to each other. My glass racks, scrap bins and shelves for jars of frit are close together. Grinders, lap wheels, diamond saw, belt sanders and other cold working tools are near a sink and next to a wall covered in old sheets of Plexiglas to catch the overspray. For the sake of cleanliness, I try and keep non glass activities such as woodworking or pottery as separate as possible from my glass working area.

Because I never know what the future holds, I try and build as much flexibility into my space as possible. This translates into putting everything I can on wheels. I like medium-sized work tables (36” x 60” maximum) on heavy casters so I can move them around as needed. A couple of tables of the same height can be pushed together for those tasks requiring a larger work surface.

At some point a decision needs to be made on how the space will be wired. Because mine is a new space, I get to design the placement of all of my electrical components. If your space has existing wiring, you may be all set, but I find that even with existing wiring, it’s often worth the expense of rewiring if it gives me the optimal studio layout. The main electrical items are our lights, outlets, ventilation systems, compressors and kilns. Here are some of the things I consider when putting together the electrical wiring part of studio plan.

Lights – A well lit studio is as much a safety issue as it is a convenience. I don’t want an under lit studio. Natural light, from the north if possible, is a great asset. Artificial light should be plentiful and located not just in the general work area but in specialized spots such as over the grinder or around the kiln.

Outlets – My thinking is the more the better. I like them on the wall every 8-12-feet if possible. It’s really advantageous to have at least three or more separate 120 circuits so you can operate several high amperage items like mini kilns, heaters and blow driers at the same time. If putting in a floor, have a couple of outlets, complete with metal screw-on covers, installed in the center of the studio.

Ventilation – There are going to be times when I want to vent the fumes from the kiln. The low tech way is to have windows with fans that can pull bad air out. The best is a range-style hood over the kiln with a fan and drier (or better) ducting to remove the fumes. One neat product is the Orton Downdraft System. It consists of a fan that pulls exhaust out through a hole in the floor of the kiln.

Compressor – This optional tool is darn handy for sandblasting, spraying on overglaze and kiln wash, air powered grinders or even putting air in a flat tire. Because they are noisy, I like to have them as isolated as possible. I will then use hose and quick release connectors to pipe compressed air to several locations in my studio. The better compressors require a 240 volt electrical outlet so its wiring is part of my electrical plan.

Kilns - We need easy access to our kilns. They need to be 18” away from any flammable surfaces, even more (I like at least 5-feet or more) if we are talking about overhead shelves, cupboards, or low ceilings. They also need a 240-volt electrical outlet and should be close to a wall for best venting. I also like them up on cider blocks so they are easy to load. I will usually make some kind of counterweight for the lid for ease of opening and to help keep me from slamming the lid.

Now, with all of these things in mind, I can start arranging several versions of my dream studio. What usually happens at this stage is that the limitations start dictating my decisions. I may only have enough amperage for two kilns or I may only have one wall that is suitable for storage racks. As my options become limited, I need to start committing to certain aspects of my plan. I move my cutouts around, ponder the advantages and disadvantages of different configurations, and my studio design slowly comes into focus.

Because I spend so much time in my studio, I really like the space to feel like it’s the best it can be. It needs to flow smoothly with the least number of obstacles. If your space is too crowded or it limits your productivity or creativity, maybe a makeover is in order. For me, I just finalized my layout, so it’s time go to work building my dream studio.

Until Next Time,
Keep a Warm Kiln,
Gil Reynolds