Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Why Sell Online?

"Why not? Everyone else is doing it."

The more interesting question and response is:
“Why do it at all? There are lots of other ways to sell.”

The first thing you need to help you decide whether online is for you, is a plan for selling.  You need to think about how you sell. Selling needs to part of whole strategy that can involve multiple ways and avenues of selling. The ways you sell your goods needs to be integrated into social media - whatever platforms you decide to use to sell.  One platform will not be enough.  You need to look at where the main effort will have most return.

Planning a selling strategy


Even before you have a whole selling strategy worked out, you need to be using social media to promote your work.  A blog about you and your work is a good place to start.  It gives you a presence, a personality, a brand. Write regularly about your craft life.  Share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and ask them to share it with their friends to get it known.

Linking to and from that blog using Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social media platforms help to spread the knowledge of who you are and what you do. These are the things you need to do whether you decide to join an online marketplace, a stand-alone shop, or stay with physical sales points.

Making an online selling plan:

The first part of the planning is to decide why you are going to sell online, rather than stick with just bricks and mortar sales locations. These physical locations include galleries, museum shops, gift shops, craft fairs and exhibitions, etc. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • What do you gain by interacting with shop owners and direct customers? 
  • What might you lose by going online?
  • How does online fit your products?
  • Will you need to put in more, or less, effort online rather than selling in physical locations – shops, craft fairs, etc.?
  • Where is your market located? Local? Dispersed?
  • Is your market a specialised or a general one?
  • Will your products stand up to delivery company handling?

The answers to these questions will help you decide if online will help sell your products.  It may of course throw up ambiguous answers – on one hand, on the other hand kind of answers.  This would indicate a mixed platform approach is desirable.
But, just a minute!

Don’t sign up to an online marketplace just yet.  There are some things you need to prepare before searching out the appropriate site or sites for your work.


Yes, you have a lot of different things you could sell. Think about where you want to concentrate your efforts.  A few key products will help to give your work an identity.  It will help you define, and so reach your customers.  It will focus your marketing and build your experience and reputation. 

Online enables you to concentrate on niche marketing more successfully than bricks and mortar can.  It is one of the main advantages of online selling. Once you have identified your products and therefore your market, communicate with them.  Think about their interests, needs and desires as you write.

Work on describing a strong identity – often called a brand. This should be accomplished in a short sentence. Know who and what you are. Tell your values, your story to the world. But especially to your potential customers.  Follow this description up and re-enforce it with photos and descriptions in all areas of social media. This will then be a style to carry over to the online shop, if you decide to set one up. And even if you don’t it will improve your selling at physical locations.

Prepare product titles and descriptions:

Clear titles and descriptions are needed for each item. These should be direct using simple language making it possible for the viewer to understand immediately what is in front of them. These titles and descriptions should include specific words - terms, tags, keywords - that the prospective buyers might use to search for your products.  You should include lots of tags for the photos and descriptions, but they must be relevant.

Include all the detailed information – size, colour, materials, price, delivery mechanisms and costs, projected arrival time, etc. – in the description, but toward the end when they have probably already almost made up their mind. 

Excellent photos are required.

The main descriptive element when the buyer gets to your page or listing is the pictures.  They must be descriptive of all the elements of the piece – several images per item is a good idea.  Consider a professional photographer to make these images.  They have an independent eye and can see things from the buyers’ viewpoint.  In addition, they can take better pictures.

Share these descriptions and images on social media.  This all needs be done before you join a marketplace website.  It helps to test your abilities to present your products successfully before you commit to online.  It will help you in your presentations of your work where ever you place it.

Costing and pricing:

Of course, there is the boring bit – deciding on the price.
These include factual elements:
Costs of production - materials and time, overheads, administration of the materials buying and the object’s selling processes.
Applying this cost information to each item will give you your break-even price.
You then need to consider what profit you want to make for your effort. This might be done as a margin on each piece, or as a part of your desired annual income.
The break-even plus the income or profit factor will give you the wholesale price.  The retail price is at least twice the wholesale.
Will the market bear that price?  Compare similar products and test your pricing with potential customers. If your price is too high, return to the design of the item and consider how it could be simplified. Alternatively, consider how it could be enhanced to achieve an even higher price for little more effort.
If your product is the kind where purchase of multiples is possible or likely, give yourself enough margin so that you can offer discounts for quantity purchases.
Also think about whether yours is a luxury product. If it is, the price needs to be higher than for general work.  E.g., if your jewellery is set in silver, it needs an extra margin for the luxury element of the item.
Cost of delivery – packaging, time, delivery charges. You need to decide if you are you including this in the price, or is it separate?  This will need to be reflected in the price, or the cost of delivery must be stated in the description.


This process of preparing for online selling will benefit your selling, even if you decide against online selling.  It will clarify your offering to the potential customers.  It will help to define you as a producer and develop the awareness of your products. It will assist the customer to understand your story and your work, so encouraging them to buy.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Preparing for a Craft Fair

“What should I take to the craft fair?” 

This is a frequently asked question.  The question gets a variety of answers from the materials to make the stand out of, the variety of supplies, to taking a variety of things to the show with different price points.

I’m sorry to say that the last piece of advice leads to set ups that look more like a jumble sale rather than a display of finely crafted works.  These stalls have a lot of closely arranged pieces to fill the space.  They have a lot of price points.  They have a wide choice of colours in each range.  What is the potential buyer to make of so much choice?

It is important to have an identity on display.  Are you a maker of votives, table ware, suncatchers, garden objects, panels, recycled and repurposed glass, etc.?  If they all are displayed, it is difficult for the viewer to determine what it is that you do.

This identity can be a unified colour range throughout the items you are selling.  It could be a range of bowls, platters and other table wear with a consistency of colour or design.  It could be your concentration on making objects from recycled glass. Essentially, you are telling the viewer what you are about.  It could be from “I make jewellery” to “I make glass objects in a range of blue green” (not that I think the latter is a real identity, but it is a possibility).  This “identity” can change from venue to venue, of course.

The usual way shops and stores distinguish their important items, is to give them display space.  This is vital for craft shows too. Space around items allows each item to have its own significance.  It is possible to give this space by concentrating on just a few lines of work.  You can always have spare stock under the table or out back to fill the gaps caused by purchases.

You may decide to go for the jumble sale approach. One of the reasons might be the people coming will be looking for lower priced objects. (Should you be selling your pieces at bargain prices?). You may be unsure of the nature of the visitors to the show and want to appeal to a wide range of people. You still need to give each piece its space.  You may have a range in multiple sizes and colour ways.  Display only one product in the full range of sizes and only a single item in each of the colour ways.  Your “under the counter” stock will fill in the sizes for the colour range.  In this kind of way, you can make space for each item even when you bring a multiplicity of objects.

So many times, I see little evidence of descriptions relating to the object or range of products.  You need to illustrate the thought you have put into the creations by the descriptions you give to the pieces.  Simply putting the pieces out in a nice arrangement is not enough.  You need to tell people what it is, the concept that led to its development, possible uses, how it might fit into a life style and its benefits – unique art piece, display of the owner’s ability to choose beautiful objects, etc.  And of course, you need to give the price.  You might also want to make it possible for a buyer to have it shipped, so you need information about delivery costs as well.  In giving this kind of description, you are showing you have put thought into the piece and into the buyer’s needs too.

It is very unusual to see anything about the maker.  Unless people are looking for bargain basement items, they want to know about the maker.  They are buying your story almost as much as the object. You have a story relating to your life and your approach to making.  Tell it. Display it prominently.

Where else can your products be found?  People want to be assured that they are buying things in demand. Telling where else your creations are sold helps assure them that their choice is validated by other people’s interest (even though they are buying a unique piece).  Put this information in a few sentences and put it up somewhere on your stand.

Telling people about where you can be found in the real world, on social media, your blog, and any online marketplaces is important.  Often people can turn into repeat buyers through maintaining contact. At the least it can promote continuing relationships, which may turn into commissions.

Research the market. You need to look at the profile of people that will be attending the event.  If it is a gardening event, you might take garden-based objects, or set your pieces in a garden-like atmosphere. If it is a school event, think about the background of the parents.  If it is a stand-alone event, then you need to think about the population of the area, or the people that the event will draw.  The organisers in all these cases should be able to give you information on the people who are likely to come. 

Take things that will appeal to the people who will be browsing and arrange them appropriately to the event as well as getting the display right.  This might involve different table coverings, or backgrounds to reflect the ethos of the event to which the craft fair is attached.  You need to make a connection with the potential buyers.  Show that you are tuned into their lifestyle.

Preparing for a craft selling event is much more than what structure to hang or display your work on.  It is about reflecting the environment of the event. Will the people be browsers that need to be converted to buyers, or are they going to be coming to buy? Those two groups have different display requirements. What your identity will be in relation to these buyers will determine the range of material you bring to the show. 


A craft fair is very similar to a shop display or your offering on an online craft marketplace. 

  • Your display needs to immediately say what you do. This is assisted by the walls, coverings, etc. of the stand, but is most importantly shown by the selection of objects to show.  This is what tells people what you do.  It is your identity for the time being. 
  • You need to lovingly describe each object on display. This gives the buyer a feeling for the concept behind the item, an idea of the benefits and value of it to their life.
  • You need to tell your story. They are buying an idea of the maker as well as the object.  It is a good idea to tell people where else your work can be found too – even if it is at other craft fairs just now – but especially if you are on any online marketplaces such as Etsy.  Engaging them with your social media is also a good idea to help maintain the currency of your story.
  • You need to find out about who will be attending the event.  The social and economic characteristics, the age profile, the status of the event and many other things will be important to what you bring and how you dress it.

Finally, all these elements of an approach to selling your work apply to anything you are thinking of selling on an online craft marketplace.  Getting it right at craft fairs prepares you for successful online selling too.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Hot Spots in the Kiln

You may suspect you have hot spots in your kiln because of bubbles or one side of the piece being more fully fused than another. A good method for determining the temperature distribution across the kiln is given on the Bullseye site.  It does not require any sophisticated equipment – just supports equal distances apart and strips of glass equally wide and long – to be witnesses for the hotter and cooler parts of the kiln.  You fire slowly to a very low slump temperature – ca. 620C - for only 5 minutes.  Go as fast as possible to the annealing point and soak for 15mins. Then you can turn the kiln off, and let it cool as fast as the kiln can.

This test will show where the hotter areas are.  You will see from the test results that there is a gradual change of temperature across the shelf, rather than small hot areas that would be required for localised large bubbles originating from under the glass.  It will tell you where the cooler areas are, so you can avoid placing pieces in that area when you need precise profiles on the finished piece.

There is little to no relation between hotter areas of the kiln and localised bubbles.  Do not think hot spots are the cause of large bubbles.

Bubbles more often relate to:

Bubble squeeze

Do not be lead into the idea that mistakes are automatically art, or that all of them can be rescued.

Rapid firing rates
Firing rates need to be adjusted to the materials you are firing.

As fast as possible firing rates can cause problems.

High temperature rapid firings can also cause problems.

Rapid firings are more likely to harm the glass than the kiln.

Damaged shelves
Distortions or damage to shelves can trap air and so cause bubbles to form between the shelf and the bottom of the glass.

Volume control
Varying volumes within the piece can give problems.

There are a variety of related things that can cause large bubbles.

Glues and adhesives have a variety of effects and dangers, especially if generous amounts are used:

There are a variety of glues each with their own characteristics.

Uneven layers/layup
You must think of ways for the air to escape from the interior of the glass and from under the glass.  Most often we set up things in a way that creates bubbles. There are two main ways that we do this.

Encased items
When we put glass or other materials between an upper and lower sheet of glass we are creating conditions for bubbles to form.  The encased items hold the upper glass above the lower glass by an amount related to the thickness of the inclusion.  Routes for the air to escape must be planned. 

One of the ways to reduce the height of the space taken up by the enclosures, is to fire upside down with the inclusions on the shelf. This allows the glass -which will be the bottom layer - to form around the materials, reducing the air space between the bottom and capping layer.  This is known as flip and fire.

You then clean the face which will be capped very thoroughly.  Place the capped piece on fiber paper – which can have Thinfire placed over it, or coat with kiln wash.  This is to allow the air in the uneven bottom surface to escape from underneath through the fibre paper.

Even when there is no encased material, the weight of the glass pieces on top can create areas where the air can be trapped.  On a single layer the arrangement of pieces can create areas where the glass cannot resist the air pressure that cannot disperse from the pockets caused by the glass on top.  Very clear and generous exits for the air are required.

This can happen with two layers as well, although usually a higher temperature is required.  A means of avoiding large bubbles when there is glass – powders, frits or pieces of glass – placed on top is a two-stage firing of the piece.  First fire the base layers together at full fuse so they become one whole.  Then add the decorative elements on top and fire.  Remember to fire more slowly than for two unfired layers.  The main piece is now 6mm thick and needs a slower rise in temperature.  The additional heat work this entails may mean that a lower top temperature, or a shorter soak will be required than normal.  You will need to peek at intervals to check on the progress of the firing.

There is a multiplicity of ways that bubbles large and small can be created.  Careful layups, bubble squeezes, slower rates of advance and lower top temperatures can minimise, but not always eliminate, bubbles.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Cleaning Materials and Solutions

You need to clean glass that is going into the kiln to avoid devitrification on the surfaces.  This can be a greater or lesser problem for different individuals.  It is probably related to your studio practice and the amount of oils in or on your fingers.

The first things to consider in cleaning glass for kilnforming are what you are trying to eliminate from the glass, the chemical nature of glass, and how to avoid putting further contaminants on the glass.

Cleaning is to remove surface deposits
The sensitivity of glass to minor contamination is shown by the fact that the small amount of oil from your finger tips can provide sources of devitrification.  This means the glass needs to be really clean and free from any deposits.  You need to remove oils and dusts and anything you may have added during assembly to leave nucleation points for devitrification. This includes any minerals in the water used to clean the glass.

Avoid soaking in acids
Glass is an alkaline (or basic) material.  This means that acids can affect the surface of the glass – at the microscopic level – enough to provide those nucleation points for devitrification to develop.  This means that you should avoid soaking in acids.  One popular acid is vinegar.  An odd thing about the way vinegar attacks glass is that the more dilute it is, the more etching it does of the glass.  This has to do with the greater amount of oxygen to transfer from the vinegar water to the glass, leaving microscopic etching as the minerals encased in silica are released from the glass surface.

If acids are used to clean the glass, rinse immediately in an alkaline solution such as baking soda.  You need then to get rid of the chemical reaction products formed by the neutralisation of the acid.  This should be done by immediately rinsing with running clear water. Follow this with a polish dry using unprinted paper towels.

Cleaning with spirits
My recommendation is to avoid spirits, especially those with additives such as rubbing alcohol. The amount of oil that is to be removed from the glass is small, so application of large amounts of spirits is not necessary.  It is reported that some aggressive spirits may affect the surface of the glass by combining with the minerals or the silica of the glass – this is not proven. If you do use spirits make sure they are thoroughly cleaned off and polished dry.  It is all too easy to leave residues.

What can I use to clean the glass?

The simplest cleaner is water.  A drop or two of dish washing liquid can provide a break to the surface tension, allowing the water to flow smoothly over the whole surface.  Then polish dry with clean unprinted paper towels.

In many areas, the public water supply is hard – i.e., has an appreciable level of minerals.  Calcium and iron are two common minerals in any water supply. Some water supplies have other additives such as chlorine, fluorine and other purifiers. Chlorine and fluorine react strongly with glass.  This means that air drying is not a good choice in cleaning glass in areas where there is an element of these chemicals in the water supply.  Iron is another strong reactor with glass.  In high iron areas this may prove difficult to use water as the cleaning element.

After using any of these solutions, rinse with clear running water and immediately polish dry.  Plain paper towels are better than cloths to scrub the glass to squeaky clean.

It is suggested that distilled water can be used instead of the public water supply.  Yes, it can.  But it is expensive and not necessary.  Instead there are a few commercial cleaning agents that work well.  In North America Spartan glass cleaner is recommended.  This can be used immediately after the water rinse and dry.  In Europe Bohle glass cleaner is recommended.  Except in the most severe contamination circumstances, I use only the Bohle glass cleaner (because I am in Europe) without any water at all. The same could be done with Spartan in North America.  I’m sorry that I have no recommendations for other parts of the world, unless collecting rainwater is an option.

After applying these glass cleaners, you still must polish to squeaky clean and dry.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Specific Gravity

This is an important concept in calculating the amount of glass needed to fill a pot melt, and in glass casting.  This will also help in the calculation of the amount of glass required to fill a given area to a defined thickness.

Specific gravity is the relative weight of a substance compared to water. For example, a cubic centimetre of water weighs 1 gram. A cubic centimetre of soda lime glass (includes most window and art glass) weighs approximately 2.5 grams. Therefore, the specific gravity of these types of glass is 2.5.  

If you use the imperial system of measurement the calculations are more difficult, so converting to cubic centimetres and grams makes the calculations easier. You can convert the results back to imperial weights at the end of the process if that is easier for you to deal with.

Specific gravity is a very useful concept for glass casting to determine how much glass is needed to fill an irregularly shaped mould. If the mould holds 100 grams of water then it will require 100 grams times the specific gravity of glass which equals 250 grams of glass to fill the mould.

If filling the mould with water isn't practical (many moulds will absorb the water) then any material for which the specific gravity is known can be used. It should not contain a lot of air, meaning fine grains are required. You weigh the result and divide that by the difference of the specific gravity of the material divided by 2.5 (the specific gravity of soda lime glass). 

This means that if the s.g. of the mould filling material is 3.5, you divide that by 2.5 resulting in a relation of 1.4   Use this number to divide the weight of the fill to get the amount of glass required to fill the mould.   If the s.g. of the filler is less than water, then the same process is applied.  if the specific gravity of the filler is 2, divide that by 2.5 and use the resulting 0.8 to divide the weight of the filler.  This only works in metric measurements.

If you want to determine how much glass is required for a circle or rectangle, use measurements in centimetres.  An example is a square of 20cm.  Find the area (20*20 =) 400 square cm. If you want the final piece to be 6mm thick, multiply 400 by 0.6cm to get 240 cubic centimetres, which is the same as 240 grams. Multiply this weight by 2.5 to get 600gms required to fill the area to a depth of 6mm.

For circles you find the area by multiplying the radius times itself, giving you the radius squared.  You multiply this by the constant 3.14 to give you the area.  The depth in centimetres times the area times the specific gravity gives you the weight of glass needed.

The formula is radius squared times 3.14 times depth times specific gravity.   R*R*3.14*Depth*2.5
E.g. 25cm diameter circle:
Radius: 12.5, radius squared = 156.25 
Area: 156.25 * 3.14 = 490.625 square cm.
Volume: 490.625 * 0.6 cm deep =294.375 cubic cm.
Weight: 294.375* 2.5 (s.g.) = 735.9375 gms of glass required.  
You can round this up to 740 gms for ease of weighing the glass.

Devitrification Temperature Range

Devitrification is the beginning of crystallisation of the surface of the glass. It can look like a dirty film over the whole piece or dirty patches. At its worst, the corners begin to turn up and become “wrinkly”.
This piece shows both mild devitrification and more severe wrinkling on the right side.

This occurs in the range 730° – 760°C. This means that you need to cool the project quickly as possible from the working (or top) temperature to the annealing point. There is evidence to show that dwelling for a long time in this range on the way up to top temperature can promote devitrification too.

The lower graph line shows the  temperature relationships between annealing (glass transition), devitrification and blowing temperatures.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Kiln Washing Kiln Surfaces

“Having just got my first kiln, I was wondering how often I have to add kiln wash to the bottom of the kiln.”

It has become common practice to kiln wash the bottom of a new kiln.

This may be fine for brick lined kilns.  Kilns with fibre blanket or fibre board do not need to be kiln washed at all.  The fibre is a separator already and does not need additional material which will turn to powder and need to be carefully cleaned to avoid damaging the refractory fibre lining.  This has led me to reconsider the value of kiln washing the bottom of the kiln.

I have followed the practice kiln washing of the bottom of the kiln in the past.  However, I have found that small glass pieces falling to the floor, do not stick to the bare brick or to fibre.  They can be vacuumed or picked from the surface of the kiln without creating any damage.  This means that at fusing temperatures, the brick and fibre does not stick to the glass and kiln wash is not needed.

The main idea seems to be to help protect the kiln surfaces from the molten glass if a relay becomes stuck, raising the kiln temperature to very high levels. Kiln washing the bottom of the kiln does not protect the brick or fibre from a large amount of glass running off the edge of the shelf onto the bottom. Of course, pieces of glass resting on the floor of the kiln may become stuck when higher temperature work is being conducted, such as combing, the various melts, and casting.  The solution is not to kiln wash the floor, but to clean the floor of the kiln before entering the high temperature processes.

There is not really a need to kiln wash the bottom of the kiln at all.  The kiln wash will not protect the kiln brick or fibre in the event of a high temperature accident.  The kiln wash turns to powder which needs to be cleaned from the kiln to avoid contamination, as with other dusts, of the glass being fired.  The main objective is to keep the kiln clean and free of dust rather than adding another source of dust.  A dusty atmosphere in the kiln can promote devitrification, so anything which avoids introducing dust will be beneficial in reducing the incidence of devitrification.

I suppose if you really want to protect the bottom of the kiln from molten glass, you can add a high temperature separator such as a refractory fibre board, or a thin layer of sand.  The sand will resist the molten glass and can be scooped out of the bottom before adding new. 

After some consideration, I no longer think kiln washing the bottom of kilns is worth the potential for dust accumulation, as it doesn’t really protect the kiln floor during high temperature accidents. Low temperature spills of frit, glass powder and shards will lift off the kiln surfaces easily without damage to surfaces.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Kiln Cleanliness

Problems with finished pieces can be caused by an untidy or dusty kiln interior.  Pieces can be affected by devitrification or specks of refractory material in or on the fired project.

Dust is a common problem.  Kiln wash, fibre papers and combustion products all produce particles that are collectively referred to as dust.

Vacuuming the kiln regularly is a good practice to keep the dust down.  It is best if the vacuum has a variable suction control to avoid damage to the refractory materials which make up the kiln.  It is best to use a brush attachment rather than the bare hose.

Dust on the brick or fibre board floor of kilns can be vacuumed easily if you remove the shelf.  Usually you need to use the most suction available to pick up heavier particles such as glass frit along with the dust that accumulates on the floor.

Dust also accumulates on the sides and top of the kiln too.  If you have brick sides and tops, you can continue to use the high suction.  You need to be careful around the elements so that you do not bump them.  This is where the brush attachment is most useful, as you can gently brush out any accumulated dust and any loose particles from the brick.

If you have fibre sides or top, the high suction setting on the vacuum will pull fibres from the refractory material.  You need to use a low setting to avoid damaging the insulating materials.  Gently pass the brush attachment along the insulating fibre and along the elements.

This vacuuming of the kiln does not need to be done on every firing, only at regular intervals.  It is also a good time to check the condition of the elements and condition of the interior of the kiln.  Any element tail connections can be checked for tightness.  The condition of the bricks can be checked as you vacuum. 

Of course, if you are going to fire an important piece, it is a good idea to make sure the kiln is clean before you start. But daily cleaning is not required.

It is not only the interior structure of the kiln that needs to be clean.  You should be checking the cleanliness of your kiln furniture too.  Make sure you keep the shelves dust free and regularly kiln wash them.  Check the kiln posts for flaking kiln wash and dust.  Clean off any dust or loose material and re-coat as necessary.  

And while you are doing all this cleaning, you could vacuum the outside of the kiln too.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Firing Bullseye and Oceanside Together

Is it possible to fire Oceanside (formerly Spectrum) and Bullseye at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to fire pieces made of Oceanside and pieces made of Bullseye in the same firing – as long as the glass is not mixed in one piece.

There will be differences in profile as the temperatures for Spectrum are a little less than for Bullseye at all stages.  A rounded tack for Spectrum will be a much sharper edged tack for the Bullseye, etc.  If you can accommodate those differences you can continue to fire.

It is a bit easier on slumping operations as you can use the lower slumping temperature for Spectrum and extend the soak for the Bullseye glass.  Or, choose a mould for the Bullseye that requires less time than the Spectrum, so they complete the slump at the same time.

The annealing points are different, of course.  But not by much – Spectrum is 510°C and Bullseye 516°C (for any but thick pieces).  These are not far away from each other.

There are two main approaches to annealing different glass in the same firing.

One is to use a shotgun approach.  This means that you choose your upper anneal soak – in this case 516°C – and hold the temperature for the required amount of time.  Then proceed more slowly than usual – say 50°C /hour rather than 80C/hour – until about 55°C below the lower anneal point.  Then proceed to the rest of the cooling.

The other approach is to anneal soak at both annealing points before proceeding to the anneal cool.  This approach is probably best with thicker than 6mm pieces than the shotgun method.  It is also required if you use the Bullseye lower annealing point of 482C.  You would anneal at 510°C and again at 482°C and soak at each point for the required time for thickness.  This doubles the annealing time, thus reducing the advantage of one over two firings.

There is a third approach for pieces less than 9mm that will eliminate the double anneal soak.  Choose a single annealing temperature.  The two annealing points for Bullseye and Spectrum are so close (510°C and 516°C) that you could chose a mid-point between them (say 513°C) and soak there before proceeding to the anneal cool.  

It might be even better to choose a temperature midway between 510°C and 482°C (say 499°C) and soak both glasses for a longer period to ensure the temperature is equalised before proceeding to a slow rate of anneal cool.  This will be especially applicable for tack fused pieces, which require more care than full fused pieces.  Remember that you should be soaking at the temperature equalisation hold for at least twice the thickness of the thickest part of the piece.  Then reduce the temperature at the rate recommended for the thickness indicated.  Look at the Bullseye chart for annealing thick slabs for the rates. 

The reason that you can anneal at different temperatures is that annealing occurs over a range of temperature.   The annealing point is the temperature at which annealing can most quickly occur.  There are several of physical changes that are affected by temperature and rates of cooling. 

If you cool too quickly after the anneal soak, you will induce stress and probable breakage.  The cooling after the anneal soak is an essential part of the whole annealing process.  Annealing at a lower temperature requires more certainty that the glass is all equal in temperature.  This means a longer anneal (or temperature equalisation) soak is required.  It is also a good bet to slow the anneal cool to be less than you would use for a single glass.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Diagnosis of Fractures

Knowing what has happened to your piece when it is broken or cracked is important to developing your skills as a kilnformer.  Most of the knowledge about diagnosis comes from looking carefully at the cracks and the shapes apparent in the flawed piece.

Breaks in the Kiln

Breaks in fusing at tack or full fusing levels in the kiln are generally of four kinds.

Breaks with hooked ends
Breaks that go across the whole piece, with a hook or significant curve at each end, usually indicate an annealing problem. The slight hook seems to result from inadequate annealing. The break will have sharp edges as it occurs as the glass is entering the brittle stage.

Multiple breaks in a crazed pattern
Crazed glass – similar to the cracks in ceramic glazes - usually indicates the glass has stuck to the supporting materials. These materials can be shelves or moulds. It is a sign there was not enough separator present between the two surfaces.

Breaks following the edge of glass pieces
Breaks that skirt around colours or pieces of glass almost always indicate a compatibility problem with the glass pieces chosen.  In severe cases the crack will be all around the incompatible pieces of glass as though it is trying to escape the base layer.  Sometimes the break will be from side to side, but skirting the incompatible glass.  These breaks will have sharp edges as the compatibility problem only becomes apparent on the cool.

Breaks from side to side following the line of glass pieces is not an infallible indicator of incompatibility, though.  Glass which has varying levels or thicknesses can break alongside the thicker areas, even though the glass is compatible. Often the break will be rounded due to temperature differentials in the glass on the heat up.  As the glass continues to get hotter, glass pieces on top - or strongly contrasting colours - can heat as such different rates that the stress overcomes the strength of the glass.

Of course, this kind of break can be sharp because the break occurred during cooling.  In effect, this appears to be an annealing problem when it really is a problem in matching the scheduling with the annealing requirements of a complex piece.  You need much longer soaks and slower cooling on tack fused pieces than on flat fused ones.

These two contrasting causes of a break means that you need to think about how the glass is layered.  One is to do with compatibility and the other to inadequate annealing due to the complexities of the layup.  They also tie up with the fourth cause of breaks.

Breaks can also follow the edges of inclusions.  This of course, indicates incompatibility.  All metals are incompatible, but if thin and not excessively large in relation to the piece, the glass is strong enough to contain the stress.  When the metal or other inclusion is too large, strong, or thick, the glass will break or show cracks around the inclusions.

Broken and separated lower layers
Sometimes people will open the kiln to find the lower layer of a multi-layer piece has broken and separated a small distance.  This is the fourth kind of break. This break will most often be a nearly straight break from edge to edge.  The broken edge will be rounded but the top layer(s) will have the expected profile.   This is an indication that the heat up was too fast not allowing the lower layer to achieve the same temperature as the top. 

This most often happens where there is an exposed lower layer (which gets hot) along with areas on top that get equally hot, but not the glass underneath.  Glass is a poor conductor of heat, so the upper layers "shade" the heat from the glass below.  The temperature difference between the two can be great enough to break the base glass apart but leave the top intact.  You know this was on the heat up because the layers of glass could move independently when the base broke and moved under the upper layers.  The glass was not hot enough to be sticky yet, so it had not reached lamination temperatures before the break.

Rounded vs. sharp edges
In addition to the location of the breaks, the condition of the edges is important in diagnosis of the cause of the problem. The accepted rule is that rounded edges mean the break occurred during the heat up.  Sharp edges occur during the cooling.  This is most often the case (but see the conditions for slumping). For flat pieces breaks that occur on the heat up will be rounded to some extent.  In a full fuse, usually the edges of the break will be rounded similar to the outside edge.

Cracks on the bottom surface

Sometimes the broken pieces will recombine either partially or all along the line.  There may even be a full recombination leaving only a crack like appearance on the bottom.  This recombination also will be the case where there was where only a partial break or crack in the early stages of firing. It leaves a smooth top surface, but a visible crack on the bottom. That means there is only a marginal reduction required in the scheduling of the initial rate of advance, as the temperature differentials were not great enough to break the piece completely across.

Force of Breaks

The space between the broken pieces shows the relative force that caused the break.  Greater space is related to more stress; lesser space or only partial cracks indicate a lower amount of stress. The amount of space indicates the degree of change required in scheduling. A small parting of the glass requires only a little (maybe 10% - 15%) reduction in the rate of advance.  Large spaces indicate that much slower rates of advance are required, and possibly a complete rethink in the scheduling of the firing.

Slumping breaks

Breaks in slumps are usually caused by a too rapid rate of advance. But this is not always the case.  The usual check of a sharp or rounded edge to tell when the break occurred does not work well at slumping temperatures.  The edge will be sharp whether it occurred on the heat up or the cool down because the temperature is not high enough to significantly round the edges.  The test must be different on slumps than that of sharp edges.  The test is related to the shape of the pieces. Take the pieces out of the mould.  If you can fit them together exactly, the break occurred on the cool down.  This usually will mean the anneal soak was too short and the anneal cool too fast.

Most slumping breaks occur on the advance in temperature.  The means of determining when the break occurred can be tested by putting the broken pieces together.  If they do not match exactly, the break occurred during the heat up.  This is based on the observation that broken pieces separated slightly in the mould by the force of the break on the heat up, and so will slump in the mould in slightly different ways from each other due to their positions.

Remember the blank for slumping is thicker than the original un-fused pieces.  This thickness requires a slower heat up than the original blank consisting of separate pieces.  In addition, the glass is supported at the edges of the mould which can allow the central area of the glass to heat faster than the edges, so further slowing the rate of advance is required.  These two factors of thickness and supports explain most of the breaks during slumping.

Splits in slumps

Sometimes the upper surface of the slump appears fine.  It is the bottom that exhibits a split or tear that does not go all the way to the upper surface of the glass. This is similar to the cracks on the bottom of a flat piece described above. It indicates the rate of advance was too - but only just - too fast.  The rate of advance has been quick enough to get the top heated and become plastic. But the lower surface is still cold enough that it is brittle. The weight of the upper softened glass begins to push down before the bottom has become hot enough to be plastic.  The force of the weight of the upper portion of the glass can be enough to cause the glass to separate because it is brittle, rather than move as the surface does. This split on the bottom but not the top indicates a slightly slower rate of advance for the thickness of the glass is required.

Breaks out of the Kiln

Breaks after the piece is cool
Breaks that occur days, weeks, months after a piece is cool can be impact damage, annealing or compatibility problems. 

Impact breaks will be obvious in handling or moving other pieces near to the affected piece.  Usually there is evidence of impact by a small chip removed from the glass at the origin. The piece may or may not have been stressed to allow an easy break rather than a chip.  It is not possible to be sure of the secondary cause after the primary impact damage has occurred.

Breaks in warm glass
If the break occurs shortly after having been removed from the warm kiln, it is probable that the thermal shock to the glass has a contributory factor to incompatibility or inadequate annealing.  The diagnosis of the cause is the same as for breaks in the kiln - hooked for annealing and straight or following colours or inclusions for compatibility.

Breaks in cold glass
If the glass has been sitting undisturbed in a shaded place and suddenly breaks, the reason can be there was an incompatibility or that the annealing was inadequate.  There usually is not much difference in the breaks in a piece that has been cold for a long time.  If the break distinctly follows colours or pieces of glass, that would indicate a compatibility problem.  If the break crosses colours and thicknesses it is more likely to be an annealing issue.  But, as you can see, there is no certainty in this distinction as to the causes of breaks a considerable time after removing from the kiln.

Glass in strong light
Glass placed in strong sunlight that breaks can be incompatibility or simply contrasting colours being heated unevenly by the sunlight.  It is difficult to tell with certainty whether it is compatibility, annealing, or heat differentials that have caused the breakage.

Problem Solving

The essential purpose of problem solving is to prevent the same thing happening again. To solve the breakage problem, you need to think about the interrelationships between the various parameters – firing rates, soaks, cooling rates; and the ways in which the glass was set up.

Rounded edges
If the break is shown to be in the early stages of the firing, they most generally are caused by thermal shock.  They will generally be straight on an evenly thick piece.  If the piece is with variations in thicknesses, the line of the break may follow the thicker pieces. In both cases, you need to think about the rates of advance you are using.  If the separation of the edges is small enough that they have begun to recombine later in the firing, the rate of advance was only a little too fast.  If there is considerable space – say more than a finger width – the rate of advance was significantly too fast.

Sometimes the condition of the upper glass can give an indication of when in the firing the break occurred.  On a first firing, if the upper piece has broken together with the lower one, the break occurred after the pieces became sticky. This would mean the break occurred at or higher than laminating temperatures.  This is rare during the heat up.

If the break has moved small top pieces, it indicates the break occurred early in the heat up.  Sometimes the break will occur under the top piece.  Later it slumps and fuses into the space created by the break.  This also indicates a break early in the firing.  All these conditions indicate that the initial rate of advance needs to be slowed to avoid the thermal shock.  It does not indicate that soaks should be added at various stages up to the softening point of the glass.  Glass generally behaves better with steady, gradual inputs of heat rather than quick rises with soaks (although there are exceptions).

Sharp edged breaks
These occur generally on the cool down or after the piece is out of the kiln for a while.  If the break has occurred in the kiln, you should look at it carefully before moving it.  The relative location of the pieces can tell you some things about why.

Crazed glass normally indicates the glass has stuck to the supporting material – shelf, moulds, or other rigid materials.  This crazing may all still be in one piece, or slightly separated, sharp edged chunks.  These effects indicate there was not enough, or appropriate, separator for the process used.

The distinction between annealing and compatibility breaks is given above. 

Breaks all around a piece or pieces – looking as though they were trying to escape the base - clearly indicate an incompatibility problem.  You need to identify that glass and separate your stock of it from the rest of your fusing glass. 

Cracks that skirt pieces of glass can be incompatibility.  This is easiest to determine on flat pieces which have been full fused, or nearly so.  There is not a variation in thickness to complicate matters.  In full fusing, if the break skirts around a piece or pieces of glass along its path, it is likely caused by incompatibility between pieces and their base.

Breaks skirting pieces can also indicate problems with thickness, especially in tack fusing.  The more angular the tack fusing is, or the greater the difference in thickness, the greater the potential for an annealing break.  The annealing soak for tack fusing needs to be significantly longer than for a flat fused piece of even thickness.  Recommendations vary, but the anneal soak time needs to be at least twice the thickest part.  The anneal cool rate also needs to be half that for the the thickest area.

Breaks or cracks across the piece with hooked ends indicate inadequate annealing.  This will require some consideration to come to the appropriate length of soak and rate of the anneal cooling.  The anneal soak is about getting all the glass to the same temperature - top to bottom, side to side.  The soak is about temperature equalisation not just annealing.   This is shown by the Bullseye research on annealing thick slabs.  They discovered that a longer soak at a lower temperature can provide as good a base for the anneal cool as a higher temperature. The differences are that the soak at the annealing point can be shorter, but the annealing cool is much longer.

Annealing continues below the anneal soak - whether you chose the annealing point or a temperature below.  Bullseye uses a temperature about 30C below the annealing point.  This can apply to any glass.  Because the glass is cooler, a longer temperature equalisation soak is needed. But the anneal cooling range is shorter, making for a reduction in cooling time for thick slabs.

The point of this discussion is that when considering the solution to annealing breaks, you need to have a relation between the temperature equalisation soak and the rate of the anneal cooling.  If you have decided you need a longer soak, then you also need to reduce the rate of the anneal cool.  If you do not, you will still have annealing breaks or even thermal shock breaks, even with long soaks at or below the annealing point.

Breaks of slumped pieces
Breaks in slumping almost always appear to be sharp edged, unless you look carefully at the edge.  Fitting the pieces back together will give an indication of when the break happened.  If they fit, the break occurred upon cooling.  The anneal may have been inadequate, or the cooling too fast.  Unfortunately, in a formed piece, the curved hook of an inadequately annealed piece does not often show up.

If the break occurred early in the firing, the piece may still have sharp edges, unless you were firing at the upper end of the slumping range.  Here again the test of trying to put all the pieces back together is important.  If the pieces do not fit exactly together, the break occurred during the heat up.  This will mean that you need to slow the rate of advance for subsequent pieces.

“It hasn’t happened before” Scenario

Often people experience breaks even though the set up was very similar and the schedule was the same over several pieces.  There are two responses to this – “what did you change for the firing of this piece that broke”, and “you have been skating on the edge of disaster for a while.”  Glass behaviour is predictable. Since the break occurred when the setup was very similar, and the schedule was the same, something has changed.

The first thing to do is to test for stress. This means test before the piece is broken, as once the piece has broken most, if not all, the stress has been relieved.  You will need to construct another piece in the same way as the successful or the broken one – whichever you prefer.  Test the flat fired piece for stressRemember to include an annealing test, so you can determine if the stress is compatibility or annealing related.  If there is stress in the flat piece, but not in the annealing test, you need to consider whether all the glass is compatible, or you need to slow the annealing cool for the larger test piece.

Next you need to consider what was different.  Review the differences in set up of the piece – colours, arrangement, thickness, volume of material used – everything that might be different at each stage of the layup.  Note these differences and review them one by one.  Could have any one element been sufficient to make the firing conditions different?  Could a combination of these differences have been significant?

Are there any differences in the firing schedule?  Have you made any little tweaks in the schedule? What is different?  Different times of the day, different power supply, plugs in or out, venting, peeking, different shelves (or none) – any small thing that could have introduced a variable in the firing conditions.


Although breaks generally have only three causes – thermal shock, incompatibility and inadequate annealing – the diagnosis of which it is and how it was promoted is complex.  All three are forms of stress.  To problem solve, first attempt to determine the type of stress that induced the break.  Then attempt to determine the cause of that stress.

It is important in the early stages of a new kind of piece, or early in your fusing career to test for stress after each firing (although I fail in this often).  This will give you the information to progress to the next firing or to revise the conditions – glass or schedules – to remove the stress for this or subsequent pieces.