Thursday, 15 September 2011

When Ejector seats fail & other technological problems

I am sure in the early days of Channel 5 there was a program called 'When Ejector Seats Fail' which always struck me as a very odd thing to fill an hour with! Well here I've had various technological breakdowns and let downs this week, although not quite as dramatic!
Firstly blogger; I can't post comments on any ones blogs, not even my own! Apologies, I'm not being stand-offish, it just keeps telling me I need to log in, logs me in, then tells me to log in. After five times around the mulberry bush I give up and forget what I was going to post! On my last post 'Traveller' asked about Murano visits, sorry for the delay, I really did try to reply! Do check this out for the ultimate 'where to visit list'
I hope you enjoy the trip!
More desperate than blogger is my oxycon dying. For non-glassy people an Oxycon is an oxygen concentrator which takes air, and filters out the oxygen which I use to run my torch to melt the glass. I have two of these, as boro needs alot of power to melt and to keep the colours bright as lack of oxygen in the flame 'steals' oxygen from the glass making the colours change. Like many lampworkers I use refurbished ex-medical ones which are still working, but aren't quite good enough anymore for hospital use. They are cheaper and safer than having bottles of oxygen.
The oldest one of these has been playing up, and has been a bit wheezy for a while, it's over three years old, and lately has struggled to keep pressure. Last night the 'red light of death' came on while I was working, and it conked out. I let it cool down and tried again, but after a few minutes it stopped again.
I moved it today to a more open position, so it can get more air to cool it, but once again after five minutes it stopped dead. I half expected to hit the credit card and order a new one, but first I opened it up, hoping it was just the cooling fan that was broken (apparently one of the more common faults. I found one loose pipe, tightened it up, and turned it on. The fan was fine, and that seemed the last hope was gone for it - then a few minutes later I felt a breeze from inside the unit. Investigating I found the real fault was a short piece of tubing that had aged and split! A quick rummage in the shed for a new bit, and it was back working again, even better than it has been for months! Maybe it's not quite an ejector seat, but it's a real relief to have it working again!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

New Work Space

Excuse the lack of blog update for the past few weeks, but
I've been moving! No, not house, but workshop.

I hadn't realised how little space I've been working in,
until I wanted to find somewhere for the new kiln, and find somewhere to spread
out the parts for some Steampunk sculptures. Until now the only spare space has
been the top of the kiln, not really an ideal workspace! It was actually on
suggestion from "the other 'alf" who felt that as I was working in
there 24/7 it only made sense I took over the spare bedroom/study which was
being used more for storage than any work! She also rather fancied this smaller
room as her office too. A quick advert in the local paper and the sofa bed was
gone, and then the grand move around could begin.

It's still work in progress, I've spread out a bit but I
still realise there isn't quite as much room as I thought, but I have managed
to put in a massive 6x3ft table to work on, in addition to the lampworking
bench! My old room is finally getting a makeover and decorate, and is already
filling up with books that until now have been spread around the house.

I've been able to drag out some old bits of treasured
electronic 'tat' too, including my Denko 1946/7 shortwave valve radio. It's an
amazing radio, I snapped it up years ago for £5.10 when I was still at college;
it really should have cost a lot more, however I got it in an auction and the
guy I was bidding against seemed to have got distracted and didn't realise he'd
been outbid by 10p! I remember listening to radio Australia
in the mornings between 8 and 9.30am
before the signal faded as the sun interference increased and the signal faded

One thing I haven't set up yet is a photographic corner, so
still no new listings yet, but I've been working like mad so it shouldn't be
too long before I can start refilling my Etsy shop. I have been playing with
the new kiln, and have managed to try out a few kiln casts.

Its quite exciting
and nerve racking to do, I feel like I've got lots to learn, but have managed
to make a few nice casts already. I will hopefully add a new dimension and
styles of glass to add to what I already make, there will be much more about
this to come!

Monday, 8 August 2011

New Kiln, New Horizons

The trip to Stourbridge gave me inspiration in unexpected
ways. It gave me a new appreciation of techniques like fusing, stained glass,
and casting, as well as ideas of ways I could incorporate some of my lampwork
into these varied disciplines, in fact I was brimming with ideas!

One serious restraint (along with cash for materials!) was
that my current kiln is ideal for annealing, which is what I bought it for, but
it won't go high enough for fusing, let alone casting, and new kilns aren't
cheap! However last week I saw this old kiln for sale, and got it for a song!

It's an old ceramics kiln, but has a controller which is
suitable for glass which needs greater control. However it was in a sorry
state, and the two elements were broken and hanging in pieces inside the kiln,
plus I didn't know if the controller was still ok, but took a punt at it anyway
from only seeing a few blurry pictures!

First job was the new element; a quick call into Kilncare Kilncare
whom I know by reputation as being first rate at sorting out elements. They'd
never made elements for this kiln, so I sent them the best remaining element,
which was in about three parts! I wasn't sure if there was more missing! As it
was they thought the element with it was too long for the rating, so made
elements to match what they felt it should be. I can't praise their service enough,
I posted the element out on Monday morning, and Thursday morning I had two new
elements in the post, and at a reasonable price too! So much quicker and easier
than trying to get 240v elements in from USA!

The next task was getting out the remains of the old
element, which turned out to be a much trickier job than I expected. I am not
sure what had happened to the kiln, but a lot of the coils had become firmly embedded
in the brick lining. Working away I also realised that much of it had also
melted into the bricks, leaving a metallic coating. I really needed to get that
off, as putting a new element on it would either short it out or cause hot
spots which might also damage the element. This took ages to do, and caused
more of the fragile and battered lining to come away. I had to turn and move
the kiln around to make sure I didn't miss any, a mirror came in use here
spotting bits of element that I originally missed.

When I finally got it all out, and hovered out the dust and
debris, I installed the new elements, which took no time at all and fitted

The only thing that worried me was that one of the channels in the
kiln-bricks had come away, so had to prop a bit of brick in case the element
started to sag when heated. I then fired it up, which a very slow rise to 200
degrees, which went fine, so did it on a full rapid fire to go up to 400degrees
C. Not a problem, it actually overshot the temperature, probably because it's
so well insulated. I am used to my fibre lined kiln, so was amazed how quickly
it got to temperature.

It still needs a little more work, the feet on the base are
bent, and I've ordered some kiln cement to sort out the damaged channel plus
some kiln furniture like props and boards, but now that I know it works I don't
mind spending a little more to get it up and ready for the next phase - melting
glass in it!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Stourbridge Busmans Holiday Continued

Continuing my day out at Stourbridge, here are some more pictures of the day out, starting with some more of resident glass blower, Charlotte, making a glass heart.

And organiser Julie Fountain of Lush lampwork, who organised the day out! Here she is finding that wet newspaper is enough to stop your palm being burnt by hot glass!

After a look around at some of the wonderful glass at the cone, we stopped for a bite to eat in their tea room before heading to Broadfield House Glass museum.

We started with a look around some of the contemporary glass on sale in the shop, as well as a quick visit to resident glass blower Allister Malcolm
who was working on some glass restoration work making a new foot for an old vase - right down to putting a punty mark like the original.
After a look at the contemporary sea themed exhibition,
it was time to look around the collection, including the amazing world of cameo glass.

Stourbridge was where the way of re-creating the Portland vase was discovered. The Portland vase is a dark blue Roman vase with raised white relief, and for a long time no one was sure how it was made. It was found by putting a small cup of dark glass into a larger cup of white glass, then blowing it into a vase, a blank could be made. From there it was a long task of slowly engraving though the white glass to reveal the dark glass bellow, in the process creating some amazing cameos. At Broadfield they have some of the finest works, including three vases thought to be the best works ever produced using this method.
I have to say, they are breathtaking. The photos really don't do them justice, one has a figure with a cape where the layer is left so thin it's translucent, allowing some of the colour though.
Unbelievably the museum gets no real funding, and was nearly closed down recently because of local council cuts, despite having an international important collection.

I even managed to find a 'flip flop' in the collection! A customer at the stall told me how she played with these as a girl growing up in Stourbridge. At end of day glass makers might make 'friggers' - fun and silly obects such as glass canes and animals - and this was like a glass goblet with a hollow stem. Over the goblet end would be a very thin glass bubble, when blown into it would expand slightly, then fall back, making a 'flip, flop' noise!

Of course, I also found a 'little' valve!

From there we went to The Ruskin Glass centre, which has several studios for glass artists, and has both a strong educational element, along with helping glass artists to develop and launch their businesses. I wish I lived closer, I'd certainly be up for a unit there myself! We met quite a few of the artists there, although we were all starting to flag by this point! One of the most amazing ones we met was Terri-Louise Colledge.
Along with painting directly onto glass, she also engraves cameo glass with nothing more than a dentists drill, making stunning works of art. Again, the pictures really don't do them justice. One of these vases (the blue one with ivy leaves and a chameleon - the photo of the lizard side didn't come out!) took her seven weeks to cut away the white surface to make the design. She showed us a previous unfinished version, which two and half weeks into it chipped! It was on a critical part of the work, so she just started again! We all gasped at that, some pointing out we get annoyed if an hours work on a bead goes wrong, let alone weeks of work!

Outside we found a relaxing area, this wonderful pond,
where the waters trickles down the layers, spiralling around in each before running down into the next. Of course, it's all made of glass, each section is a screen of an old TV that has been slumped into shape in a kiln - I can't think of a better use of an old TV, or ever seeing a program more relaxing that this.

As everyone slipped away I popped off for a quick pizza with some of the lovely ladies from the forum, before getting back to the hotel and getting my boots off! It was an amazing day out, and left me wanting to try out a whole host of techniques. Mostly it has left me with loads of ideas and inspiration, and filling up notebooks of things to try and equipment to buy! I am already organising a workshop move around so I have more room to work! Many thanks go to Julie who organised this trip, and our tour guides who kept us amazing and interested thoughout a long and fruitful day!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stourbridge Busman's Holiday

Last week I went on a Busman's day out to Stourbridge to meet up with some fellow lampworkers from Frit Happens Forum, and for a whirlwind visit of some of the glassy attractions there. Stourbridge was (and still is to some degree) the centre of glassmaking in England, and is jam packed with studios, factories, workshops and museums.

Of course it's no short haul for me, so finding I could get a bargain room at £15 for a night in a nearby hotel in Dudley I decided to go up the afternoon before so I'd be fresh for the 9 am start, then amble back the day after and give myself a little break in the process.

Despite the confusing buses, and a change at a bus depot, I managed to find my way there. I think Dudley must be one of the Midlands best kept secrets, I took a wrong turning coming out of Dudley Port station; one minute I am in the middle of houses, noise and traffic, next minute I'm standing by a canal with nothing in site either way!
View left, view right!

The hotel was similar; it was right on a main road, but when I wandered off looking for dinner I found this;

Next morning was then a ten minute bus ride into Stourbridge, and meeting up with about 24 lampworkers and jewellers who'd travelled from all over for the day. We started at Ploughden and Thompson's, a glass factory that still makes raw glass, using a traditional cone chimney kiln as their factory (although the top of the chimney was removed in the 1920's). However they use modern techniques and kilns now, while we were there the glass blowers were making very high grade glass for a neutron detector array that's being built under the alps.
Neutron array detectors freshly made!
They explained how they have to use a low background radioactivity sand from Norway that costs about £4,500 per tonne, unlike the normal sand which is about £400 a tonne! Most of their work is producing glass for scientific, medical and military use; they showed us an array of goods from light covers that go in submarines, on fighter aircrafts, high power microwave generators for cancer treatment machines - it was quite an array! They even showed us what looked like flecks of glass, but were tiny glass tubes with a 12 micron hole for use in IVF treatment!
An array of their wares, top right is the finished neutron detector with a selienum internal coating, bellow that the cover from a fighter jet wing indicator lamp, centre is a high power microwave generator from a cancer treatment machine.

They do also make some decorative glass, and include Tudor glass which makes cut lead crystal.
Lesley has a go at glass cutting under the expert eye of Tutor Glass's lead crystal cutter
After chatting to the cutter and sandblaster, and having a go (I had a go at sandblasting, and was way too heavy on the controls! But I still want a sandblaster for xmas!) we had just enough time for a quick look around the storage rooms.
Sadly they'd had rain damage recently as thieves had taken the lead off their roofs, and at this point we just ran out of time. Probably a good thing, as I'd have gone shopping for glass at this point!

From here next stop was a tour of the Cone Museum, the last remaining intact glass cone in the UK.
This was a fascinating tour, seeing how glass was originally produced in what look an almost lethal environment! There was so much to see, and a chance to watch Charlotte, their resident glass blower, in action,
before being whisked off for a much needed sit down and lunch!

And that's only halfway through the day! I'll continue this in the next post, as I have some amazing pictures from the next two stops to come, of both old and new glass, and more from the Cone too!

In the meantime I am refilling my Etsy shop at the moment, and there should be a few more bits going in there, including some new marbles and paperweights, over the next few days.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Micro SteamPunk Adventures

One of my latest experiments has been adventures into micro-steampunk. Now, I don't know if such a thing exists, but it makes sense that it should! I've even seen film of nano technology where they made a simple cog and wheel that moved, it seems everything starts with cogs!

Doubtless you've been previously battered by one of my rants about 'sticking cogs on stuff and calling things Steampunk' and I tend to avoid using cogs just for the sake of it. However for some ideas I've been mulling over for the past year or two they suit it perfectly. And yes, there will be glass involved too.

I can't use glue for what I have in mind, so engineering wise it makes sense for me to screw parts together. Problem is there doesn't seem to be many tiny teeny nuts in your average watch or grab bag of steampunk watch components. So, as I always figure, if you can't buy it, make it!

First step is to making tiny thread, for which I needed a tap and die set to make matching micro-nuts and bolts. I thought the £20 I paid was rather pricey, for a faily unimpressive plate of steel and pack of taps, until I looked at 'proper' ones from watchmakers catalogues. A professional set a mere £395!!!!!!! I've given them a quick go, and they work rather well on soft brass, but a little stiff on stainless steel. I even managed to make a tiny thread using one of the larger cutters on an old thin mandrel! So far I've made a very good threaded hole and bar thats only 0.7mm!

I also figured a small watch lathe would help when boring micro holes neatly and squarely into the ends of brass rod to make nuts. (I am looking at sizes between 0.9 - 0.4mm) I had an old baby wood lathe, which although ok, didn't have a second chuck to hold work.
A quick scrounge around I found an old hand drill which had rusted solid, but the chuck was still good.
It took alot more to get free than I expected, but finally got it out, including cutting it out of the nice cast iron frame, which was a shame.
I was originally going to leave the bevelled gear on it, but it didn't mount very well. A look overhead and I found an ideal bit of old curtain pole (knew I kept that for a reason) which made an adequate stock holder.

Although I drilled the stock with the mini drill to make sure it's level, (that wood was harder than expected, it even started to smoke!)
the set up isn't ideal. I've given it a test drill, it needs refining such as a turned thread instead to ease the work into the drill, also I need to stiffen everything up as the mini drill isn't steady and can easliy be knocked off centre. However, it is a start!

The top quick pictures are of my first micro-thread; I used the plain end of a piece of threaded rod from an old watch. The thread is about 0.7mm to 0.74mm, so quite small, but I am looking at making it even smaller. That hole in the brass bar really is threaded, with a nice shiny penny for scale!