Day 149-Marine Crystal
This is another Marine Crystal “clunker.” I love the bubbles and the heavy glass. If I had the space, I would own a hundred of these.
A request for a picture or two of the cullet piles at Blenko came back to me 100-fold. As a Memorial day treat, and due solely to the efforts of WVGlassGal, I am able to provide you with a pictoral account of the way that water bottles are made. Remember to click on the photos to see an enlargement.
Keith Morris, who just happens to be the one who makes the majority of the water bottles that we all love, has just been handed a gather of glass (Ricky Chapman is in the background.) The specialized chair he sits in has two metal rails projecting out from it. The blowpipe is rolled forward and back, along these rails as the glass is worked with the wooden cup.
Keith uses the wooden “cup” to shape and smooth the gather of glass before it is blown into the mold. This process is the first step on most of the glass at Blenko. The cup is soaked in water in the white pail to his side to prevent the wood from being consumed by the intense heat of the glass. As the water turns to steam it also cools the glass slightly.
Because the water bottle is flat and elongated in a sideways direction, the gather of glass is flattened on opposite sides by lowering it onto the gray rectangle (of graphite?) This will encourage the glass to expand evenly into the mold. For glass that is round, this process would be skipped.
Keith has now climbed up the steps and lowered the glass into the mold. The mold has been closed and the blowing process has been started.
This is the water bottle being blown into the mold.
Now the blower has pulled the blowpipe away from the mold and to the side while keeping the blowing pressure on the blowpipe. This creates a super thin bubble and a tube as the blowpipe moves away from the water bottle.
Keith has completed his part of the multi-step process of creating a water bottle. He will return to his “chair” and receive another gather of glass and start the process over again.
Here you see a newly formed Topaz water bottle with the thin bubble and tube attached, still sitting inside the mold.
Look closely at the “tool” in the man’s hand. This is essentially a pair of tongs with asbestos (artificial heat resistant cloth-asbestos is outlawed) cloth wrapped around the tips. The tongs allow the worker to lift the water bottle out of the mold and place it into the custom built holder which holds the water bottle while the lip is being fire polished.
The water bottle is placed into this holder with a fire resistant bottom and sides so the bubble can be removed and the lip can be fire polished. Normally, a glass piece would be transferred to a pontil rod, a special metal rod with a small gather of glass on the end. The hot glass would adhere to the bottom of the piece so that the finisher can complete his work. The pontil rod is then broken off the bottom, leaving a small scar (the pontil) where the glass was attached. Because this custom holder is used instead of a pontil rod, there is no pontil scar. Most people are of the opinion that Blenko glass can be identified by two things, the pontil scar and the lack of seams. As you know now, water bottles do not have pontils. They also have seams. Any glass blown in a mold will have seams unless the glass is rotated inside the mold to “erase” the seams, which Blenko normally does. However, the glass can only be spun inside the mold if the glass is round. Any Blenko piece that is not round will have seams. In addition, most hand blown glass, whether Blenko or not, will have a pontil scar unless it is polished off. These two attributes cannot be used to definitely identify Blenko glass.
Seconds prior to this shot, the bubble was broken off the water bottle and the lip was scraped along the edge of the metal plate on the floor to remove the jagged edge left when the bubble is broken. The pieces (which are thinner than cellophane) on the floor must be swept up before the next water bottle is scraped. If it is not cleaned up, the super light bubble fragments can adhere to the “hot” water bottle and what was the jagged edge of the last water bottle would become a jagged spot on the current one. I am not sure if air currents move the glass fragments or if there is static electricity that would attract the glass fragments to the “hot” water bottle. I have seen some water bottles with the small fragments on the inside.
A Blenko employee (Terry Rakes?) takes the water bottle in the custom holder and returns it to the glory hole to re-melt the remaining rough edges on the lip of the water bottle.
This is called fire polishing.
Still in the holder, Donnie Garrett uses a length of 1/2 inch copper tubing to smooth the edges of the water bottle.
Donnie uses the same piece of copper tubing to add the spouts.
Once the spouts have been added, the peg is moved one hole in the production counting board. It looks like 17 water bottles have been made at this point. The manual counting system is efficient and cost effective.
The cooling process lasts for 4 to 5 hours. The lehr is hotter at the beginning end and as the glass travels through the long tunnel, the temperature is gradually lowered. This slow cooling process reduces the internal stresses in the glass. Pieces with too much internal stress, fracture (or explode) and end up in the cullet pile.
Again, I have to thank WVGlassGal for the great photographs. A picture is worth a thousand words and her photos spoke volumes. If you have not been able to visit Blenko to see this process, I highly recommend it. I have identified the Blenko employees that I am familiar with and apologize to those I do not know. As you can see, this is a multi-phase process and each employee adds their touch to each glass piece. Perhaps the good people at Blenko can identify the employees that I missed and I can amend the post to include them.