Friday, 2 April 2010

Slumping unknown glasses

I had a recent request for help from an old friend who has taken up kiln formed glass. The problem is common enough, that (with her permission) I am adding it to the tips section.

I tried an experiment today to use some of my nice (non-fusing) glass. I cut at 270 mm diameter circle from a 3mm thick sheet and wanted to slump it into my 270 mm bowl mold. I set the mold up carefully and checked it was dead level in all directions and that the glass was absolutely centered on it. I have no idea what the COE is so decided just to use the S96 recommended slumping temperature of 650C. When I checked the kiln no more than 2 minutes after it had reached 665C, the glass had slumped almost to the bottom of the mold but it had slumped very asymmetrically. There was also a small burp on one side which has never been an issue when slumping bowls in this mold before.

The schedule I used was as follows:
200C/hour to 540C, 0 hold
650C/hour to 665C, 10 hold
Then standard S96 anneal programme

Also, the edges were still a bit rough from the cutting, i.e., they hadn‘t fire polished at all. Can you help?


Finding out about the softening characteristics of the glass
Slumping a single layer of glass with unknown characteristics – the CoE is not really relevant – requires that you watch it and other similar ones until you have established a slump temperature for the glass.

There is a way to do it:
Cut a piece of glass 305mm long by 20mm wide. Support it 25mm above the kiln shelf with the posts being 290mm apart. Put kiln furniture on top of the glass where it is supported. Make sure you can see the shelf just under the middle of the suspended glass when you are setting up this test. You can put a piece of wire or other dark element there on the floor of the kiln to help you see when the glass touches down.

Set the kiln to fire at 100C/hour to about 680C. Peek at the suspended glass every 5-10 minutes after 560C to see when the glass begins to move. Then watch more frequently. If your kiln has an alert mode on it, you could set it to ring at each 5C increase in temperature, otherwise use an alarm that has a snooze function to make sure you keep looking. When the glass touches down, record the temperature. This will approximate the slumping temperature in a simple curve mould.


Getting smooth edges
You need to have smooth edges before slumping. You can fire polish the piece of glass to get rounded edges, or you can cold work the edges with diamond hand pads, working from the roughest to the finest you have available. If that does not give you the edge you want, you will need to fire polish before you try to slump.

You can do at least two things to find the fire polish temperature. You can do a little experiment by using the cut off pieces of the glass and roughing them up a little before putting in the kiln. Make sure you can see it through the peep hole(s). Set the kiln to fire at about 250C to say 750C. Look in from about 700C to determine when the edges begin to round.

The other is to put a strip in with the slump test and set the kiln to go up to 750 rather than just 680. You can check on progress just as for the separate firing to determine the fire polish temperature. I think about 40C above slump temperature should be enough, but your test will determine that.


Avoiding uneven slumps
Most uneven slumps occur because of too fast a rate of increase in temperature. The piece can hang up on the mould sometimes causing the glass elsewhere to slide down to compensate. The real difficulty in the schedule was the 650C/hour rate up to the top temperature. This was so fast that the glass at the edges would have the opportunity to soften and so hang before the centre was soft enough to begin to bend. 150C or 200C/ hour would be fast enough from 540C to achieve the slump.

Other things can be done too. You mentioned the edges were rough from the cutting. This can cause difficulties of hanging. To avoid that, you should smooth the edges before placing the glass on the mould. A further precaution against uneven slumping is to give a slight bevel to the bottom edge so that it can slip more easily along the mould.

You had already done the leveling of the mould and the centralization of the glass on the mould – two other things that can cause uneven slumps.


Avoiding “burps”
The glass slipping a long way down the mould is often accompanied with burps or bubble like upwellings. These are both indications of too high a temperature. I would begin looking at the glass from about 600C in the slumping of any unknown piece of glass. That would apply to any new configuration of the glass or mould too. The fact that the glass slid to the bottom and had a burp means that the temperature was too high and too fast. Once you have established the lowest slumping temperature, by watching to see when it begins, you then can add about 30 minutes soak to that temperature. The length of this soak will have to be determined by observation and experience, though.

A slow heating allows the glass to be at an even temperature throughout its thickness. A rapid rise with a thick piece will sometimes reveal a tear like opening on the underside of the glass that does not come through to the top. This is because the upper surface is sufficiently hot to begin slumping while the bottom is just a little too cool. If there is too great a difference, the glass just breaks all the way through.

Also slow heating allows the slump to be accomplished at a lower temperature, leading to fewer problems and to less texture being taken up from the mould.