There are lots of books on how to use a wood lathe or a metal working
lathe. I don't know of any book on how to use a glass working lathe.
Are there any, even if out of print, and if so can someone mention
a few of them.
Since glass working lathes are a totally different operation from wood or
metal working lathes - being used primarily to turn pieces of large tubing
in synchronization for heating and joining - and very costly, it is unlikely
anyone has written much of a book about them. Contact a scientific
glassblowing site and see whether they have a paper or video showing the
action. In the US this would be
and in the UK
I have temporarily posted (for a few days) two images of a very largelathe in use at last year's Glass Art Society meeting in Seattle, takenunder poor lighting conditions. One image
shows an overall view of thelathe with one piece of large tubing mounted in one of the heads. If youare using IE, you may have to select enlarge if it automatically reduces itin display size. At the right end of the 4-5 foot glass tube can be madeout a rubber stopper and air hose to a pivot for blowing. The other image
shows theunit being used. Note that the flame, as large as it is, covers only abouthalf the end of the tube, yet it is all hot because it is rotating in theflame.
Although there are some books dealing with scientific glassblowing, I don't
believe I've ever heard of one specifically for lathe use. I own five lathes
myself. There are a few different manufactures of lathes such as: Litton,
Woodland, Heathway, Arnold, Bethlehem. They basically work the same way.
Some main differences would be reversing motors, and disengaging tail
stocks. There are also different styles of chucks that are used like
planetary, scroll, and Jacobs chucks.
Usually as an apprentice you would be concentrating on developing your hand
skills first. You really need to understand the nature of the beast before
you can master it.
The main thing a lathe does for you is takes the hand skills out. It will
turn your glass evenly while supporting both ends of the tube of glass. Mike
referenced a couple sites where you see a large Litton K model lathe being
used. When the glass gets to big for you to possibly hold it, and deal with
the heat, a lathe is mandatory. Many smaller jobs can be done without a
lathe if you have developed good hand skills. Rollers can be a great help as
A site was referenced to build a lathe. It shows a finished piece of work in
it. They welded two different sizes together making a nice transition.
Personally I would not use a lathe for diameters that small because I have
developed the hand skills.
However in a production setting, a lathe will definitely speed up the
process of making such butt welds.
If you have a lathe at your disposal my best advise is to just try it out
with small tubes a first and work your way up. If you do not have a lathe
available, A book could only help you understand basic safety and
operational issues. The rest, just like learning hand work, is a matter of
practice and time spent on the burner gaining experience. On most jobs you
only get one chance at it. There are so many things that can go wrong that
can ruin your piece. You really need to be on top of it. On larger jobs
that one mistake can cost you (or your boss) lots of money. I have seen
pieces work itself lose and simply fall out of the lathe, pieces get crushed
by the chucks, crack because it got to cold, crack because they were heated
to fast, cracked because they hit it with their hand torch. You can burn out
the glass by over working it. Warp it from to hot of an annealing fire. Have
it crack in the oven because it wasn't flame annealed well enough. Lathe
speed is crucial, centrifical force can be a tool to be used , or a problem
to deal with. Go to slow and your hot glass will begin to lobe out of
center. Get your graphite paddles to hot, they can stick to your glass. You
don't want to contaminate your hot glass with smoke from burning corks,
tapes, wraps, or metals. Unless you are doing production work, every job is
different, with different sets of problems to deal with.
I hope this helps, Good luck,
SC Glass Tech
Scam Diego, Comi-fornia
is a link Ohio States glass shop. Tim has some great shots of his workalong with some on the lathe.
In the case of metal lathes, some of the best books were written by
the manufacturers for use with their own lathes, e.g. The South Bend
Lathe book. I think they were used in their own factory. In the interests
of quality control, maybe some manufacturers of glass products with glass
blowing lathes put together similar documents for internal use.
With hand skills, one still has to learn the nature of the beast a little
at a time. What would be wrong with learning that on a glass lathe instead
of with hand turning? Naively, it seems that there would be the advantage
of not having to worry about your hands while you learn the other stuff.
I agree with all your points about the economics of it, but what I have
in mind is not a business enterprise or a job.
Since you have experience with a glass lathe, maybe you can address
one other issue regarding metal work versus glass work. On a metal
lathe, one often has to worry about very close tolerances, e.g.
a ten-thousandth of an inch or less. What kinds of tolerances come
up with a glass lathe?
Also, there are now numerically controlled metal lathes. Are there
CNC glass lathes?
Lets see if I can make any sense here....
Not really other than "here's the on/off switch, and here's the speed
control" They're pretty basic.
Most of the skill of glass blowing is using your hands and eye hand
coordination. Learning the nature of the beast entails understanding how it
moves with gravity. Learning how to move a lump of glass and spread it
evenly, to make it flow. The sign of a good scientific glassblower is how
the transitions look. From a large tube to small tube it should look like
one tube just grew out of the other. The wall thickness should be uniform
and even from one to the other. Even if the walls vary in thickness there
should be an even transition. It will look like it grew out of it. No lumps,
bumps, thin spots, folds, pin holes, cracks, ect. As easy as it sounds, it
takes years to get really profficient at it.
In scientific work most pieces are not simple designs like a vase. They
usually have things attached to the vase like inlets and outlets, joints ,
and side arms. These additions take the hand skills to attach them. The
difference being you use a hand torch and work around the glass, verses
using a stationary torch and working the glass around it. If you just want
to make vases, lathe work is not so hard. There's only so many things you
can do. You push the glass up and thicken it, or you can stretch it and thin
it. It would be like a wood working lathe, if all you want to do is turn
table legs, it's not to hard. If you want to build the whole table you need
more skills. In scientific we build the whole table in the lathe.....If
that makes any sense????
Learning free hand you can use gravity to the fullest. When a piece is
locked in to a lathe you are limited to what you can do using gravity to get
the glass to flow WHERE you want it. Not having a basic understanding you
would be really at a lose.
Glass working is not a true science. Most of the tubing you buy will have a
variance of up to 2 to 3 mm out of round on larger tubes. In fact if we want
exact tolerances we would use a machine lathe and cold grind or drill to
exact tolerances using diamond. Or you can re-extrude the tubing to exact
tolerances using mandrels and vacuum forming over them. In these cases you
have to figure into the equation the expansion and shrinkage of the mandrel,
the thickness of the release used on the mandrel, and the shrinkage of the
glass. You are limited to how long of run you do using this method.
Your biggest challenge is trying to get the tube to run center as you can.
Many time the chucks will warp from heat, and over tightening. You end up
shimming the chucks to get your to tube to run center.
Glass can be cut on a CNC as well as metal. There are computer controlled
lathes made by Litton. They can only do the most basic steps like a but weld
with some simple paddling or forming with a mold. The are great for making
test tubes, ampoules, and simple designs like a vase. Fortunately for me,
they will never be able to automate the skill of an experienced scientific
glassblower. There's simply to much hand work involved.
The man that mentored me most, "ol Freddie attack it Hacket", always told me
this " they can get any monkey to work a lathe, what will make you valuable
is what you can do with your hands"
He was so right.
SC Glass Tech
Scam Diego, Comi-fornia
One of the best dissertations on scientific glass
work I have read in quite a while! Right On! A very
good friend did all of our production and lab glass
work (for three different product lines and seven
different lab setups) in Manassas, Va. He was a
an ARTIST! He was always going to apprentice
me on his own time, but was sooo busy, we never
got around to it. Our semiconductor diffusion tubes
were 6" dia. and approximately 8 ft. long. They are
much bigger now.
I don't think Alan yet has a sense of the purpose of a glass lathe
compared to metal and wood working lathes. The closest comparison in metal
working is spin welding, if you have ever seen one of those, and that is not
With metal and wood working lathes, the material is spun fairly fast and a
tool digs into the diameter (ignoring the use of accessory cutters where the
lathe is basically just indexing the part.) There is almost always just one
powered head and the tail is a point or a free spinning center.
With glass lathes, the material is turned slowly and both head and tail
are powered to keep the pieces being attached in line as heat is applied to
weld them. A glass lathe is a fancy welding jig. It shares a name and not
much else with metal and wood lathes. As Randy says - if you want to
machine glass you do it with diamond grinders.
"Mike Firth" writes:
I'm sure I have a lot of misconceptions, but I think I do understand
the purpose of a glass lathe. What I'm less sure of are its capabilities
and that is one reason I asked for books.
Actually, I haven't heard of spin welding. I guess I should think of it
as something like using a glass lathe, except instead of melting glass,
one melts metal.
I had some hand glassworking lessons. I never got the knack of keeping
the two halves rotating at the same rate. One of these days I'll follow
the suggestion in Strong's book, Procedures in Experimental Physics,
and take two pieces of tubing joined by a tube of heavy metal cloth and see
if I can learn to rotate the two tubes, one in each hand, so that the
cloth doesn't get twisted up. One additional problem is that I recently
developed a kind of cyst in my left hand. I don't know how much it would
cost to have it removed, but the doctor charged almost $400 just to examine
my hand. He said there is a 20 percent chance that it will go away by itself
and only a one percent chance that it is malignant. I can't close my left
hand and I can't completely straighten my index finger when the hand is
open flat, but I can still do most of the things I'm used to doing, so
I've been betting on it going away by itself. One motion that is a lot
harder to do under the circumstances is the twisting motion that I would
have to perform if I were holding a thin tube in my hand and trying to do
glass blowing. I can do it, but it is easy to get my hand into positions
where it is very uncomfortable. So if there are mechanical ways to compensate
for this hopefully temporary disability, I'm interested in knowing about them.
Maybe I can learn to do it with my feet...
My Father had to learn how to turn glass without the use of his index
finger. One of the most devastating injuries you can do with glass is to run
it through you hand cutting a tendon. When he did this he didn't have
insurance. They stitched the cut, but he didn't have the surgery to reattach
the tendon. To this day he can't flex that finger. Where there's a will
there's a way.
SC Glass Tech
Scam Diego, Comi-fornia
I've taken some glass working lessons in the past and it is something
I would like to do again. I like to plan things like that very carefully
for safety reasons and for reasons of limited space and money. I believe
that the most important part of any experiment or any construction project
is the thought that goes into it. Also, as I mentioned earlier in this
thread, I have a cyst in my hand and that limits what I can do with
my hands. As Randy pointed out, one can in principle still do glass work
with damaged hands, but I think it would also be advantageous to know what
kinds of jigs and fixtures one can use. I read a book on the design of jigs
and fixtures for metal work and have no reason offhand not to expect that
there are similar devices for glass work, especially since a glass lathe
has been described as a fancy jig.
I've been particularly interested in literature on glassworking and I
would much rather read it than bother people on this group for technical
information. I've read Strong's book, Procedures in Experimental Physics
and that constitutes most of my reading about glass work.
It is reasonable to ask why I happen to have started asking a lot of
questions at this time. I'm not actually building something but I am
trying to understand in detail how a particular thing is built, namely
the Balmer series spectrum tube described the shop drawings for the
Apparatus Drawing Project by Marcley. I think that even with my low
levels of glassworking skills, I can probably make most of it, since
in the past I managed to make a sealed, evacuated tube with naphthalene
in it. What I don't have any experience or guidance with is making metal
to glass seals and attaching electrodes to such a tube. I also have no
experience with annealing.
At the moment, the only place I have to do any work is a tiny apartment
and I don't think it would be safe to do any work in it. I would be glad
to know of glass working clubs that provide space for people to work and
opportunities to learn more about glass working. For my purposes, the
best thing would be the website of an umbrella organization for people
interested in glass working and which has information about local clubs
that will enable one to find the nearest club in one's geographic area.
The American Go Assocation has such a facility, for example, for Go clubs.
I'm aware of some specialized programs in glass working. For example,
at Salem Community College in New Jersey, they have a Glass Center offering
a specialized program in glass work that apparently addresses many of the
questions I've asked about unsuccessfully here. For example, whereas I asked
in an earlier thread about shop drawings for glass work and gotten cursory
answers, Salem CC has an entire course devoted to reading such shop drawings.
They also have a course devoted to the glass lathe. I haven't been able to get
much information about their program, and in any case I have no way of
getting to Salem Community College or of paying for their program, but
I think it is likely that they use books. I've been unable to determine
from their bookstore's website what books or other literature they might
be using and I haven't gotten any replies to my email requesting information
To make a long answer to 's question short, there are
other alternatives besides those has listed. In my case,
I am trying to learn and to plan using the limited opportunities and resources
available to me.
I'm managing with what I have at the moment.
No one said it does. That doesn't mean it doesn't serve a purpose.
I'm not here to argue about the merits of reading and planning. If anyone
knows the answers to my various questions and feels like sharing them, I'll
be glad to learn from them.
Well, this thread has been pretty well beaten to death, but if it's technical
skills you want from a book, the best I've seen is (uh-oh, my brain went blank,
and the book isn't readily at hand - I'll try anyway) Glassworking by Hammesfahr
and Stong. It's probably out of print, but I've had really good luck searching
books on Amazon; they give numerous links for used books of the desired title.
Get a torch and play as you read. A Minor torch works well for getting down the
basic coordination, if that's where you're coming from.
Depending on what you need in the way of electrodes, neon electrodes are easily
obtained in several diameters, and even incorporate an evacuation/fill tube. In
the US the electrodes are in lead glass, but I believe that Europe uses
borosilicate for their neon construction.
Hope you get a chance to play.
I read a book by Hammesfahr about 20 years ago, published by W.H.Freeman
in San Francisco. At that time, it was a lot harder to search for used
books and I eventually gave up. Thanks for reminding me of this book
(if it is the same one) or pointing it out (if it isn't). I didn't read
it that carefully and it would probably be good to reread it now.
What do you mean by a "Minor torch"? Do you just mean a propane tank
or mapp gas tank with a torch attachment?
It really wouldn't be safe to use my apartment for this and I'm not
sure my lease would allow it. There is no yard to use. So, I'm not
sure I can provide myself a place to work. Best would be a club of
some kind that would provide such logistical supports.
When I'm better educated in this craft, I might have more sense about
what kinds of risks are reasonable. Right now, I think I need more
responsible people taking an interest in any glass working activities
I do before I try actually doing anything. Reading is a lot safer in
the absence of that.
That's good to know. I'll start looking into what is available.
Actually, there are probably places that make customized neon signs.
Maybe I should talk to them about this construction problem.
Thanks, me too.