Sand beds can be used for shaping directly into the sand or as a bed for a large kiln to avoid having to place a number of shelves together and patch cracks. It also saves on the purchase of a large shelf, at the expense of some labour before each firing.
Mix (by weight)
The mix is largely sand with powders to coat the sand particles to reduce the amount of sticking to glass. The mix ranges from 75% sand 25% alumina hydrate, up to 67% sand, 33% alumina. The proportions can be adjusted by experience.
Some kiln formers include plaster or china clay (kaolin) in various proportions so the whole mix can range from 70% sand, 25% alumina, 5% plaster/kaolin up to 60% sand, 20% each alumina and plaster/kaolin. Some have found that the plaster started to scum up the glass after a number of firings, and this can happen with china clay too.
The use of sand as the bed of the kiln requires screeding of the sand before each firing. It is possible to smooth the sand with a plaster’s float. This presses the sand down and allows a fine film of powder to coat the surface. A more certain way of avoiding the sand sticking to or texturing the glass is to lay fibre paper over the sand.
You should be aware that a sand bed requires a little different cooling than glass on a suspended shelf does. Effectively you are cooling the glass on the bed of the kiln. Thus, you should use annealing and cooling schedules for one or two thicknesses more than is actually being fired to be really safe.
If you are using the sand for mild shaping, sprinkle alumina hydrate over formed sand to reduce sand particle take up and textures on the glass.
Renew sand regularly if you are using powders on the sand. An annual renewal using half the old sand mix and the rest new will be sufficient in most cases. The effect of too much powder is to promote large bubbles as air cannot move through the sand with the same ease as when there is less powder. An easy way to tell if you have too much powder is that the mix flows ahead as you screed it.