Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Stretch Marks in Slumping

Occasionally a slumped piece will develop faint lines beginning about half to two-thirds of the way from the centre and radiating toward the edge.

My experience leads me to think that these marks come from the glass moving too quickly at too hot a temperature. The glass softens as it reaches its slump point. If the temperature is taken above that, the glass conforms to the mould and then begins to slide downwards. The mould is by its nature not perfectly smooth and so the high points make marks on the glass as it moves.

This is re-enforced by the fact that the glass at the centre of these slumps does not have those marks. It deforms less than the edges of the piece and so (at whatever temperature) does not get so marked as the sides and edges.

To avoid these stretch marks you need to slump at the lowest possible temperature and ensure the glass is the same temperature throughout by the time it gets to its slumping point.

Finding the lowest temperature for the slumps in a particular mould requires experimentation and observation. A simple curve – circular, oval or rectangular – requires less heat than one with a flat bottom and much less than one with angles. For a simple curve you can set your slumping temperature at say 620ºC with up to an hour soak. The important element to remember is that each shape and curve of mould will require different schedules. To determine this you need to make observations.

The glass for these two moulds requires different temperatures or  schedules. The back one will conform to the mould at a lower temperature than the front one due to the simpler shape and larger span of the back one.

From about 600ºC you need to make periodic observations of the progress of the slump. Note the temperature at which the glass begins to move – the reflections in the glass will begin to be curved. This is the minimum temperature you can use for this span and thickness of glass on this mould. The length of time required to get a complete slump may be so long as to make using this temperature impractical.

Slump not quite complete

Now observations need to become more frequent – possibly every 10 minutes or less. When you reach a temperature where the glass is visibly distorting, it is time to cease the temperature advance and begin the soak. Record this temperature and continue to observe, recording the time it takes at this temperature to fully slump. Continue to the anneal.

Inspect the piece when cool. If you have the result you want, you have the temperature and soak time needed for this thicknesses and size of glass on this mould. Record this information. If it is not fully slumped you can try either extending the time (if that is practical, it is the best option) or increasing the temperature on another piece. This increase should be by no more than 10ºC, so that you do not over fire the piece.

Glass conforms to the bottom of the mould

Of course, it is possible that the piece was slumped at too high a temperature as evidenced by stretch marks, mould marks, uprisings in the centre, distortions on the edges. Then you need to reduce the temperature on the next slumping of a piece of the same dimensions. Start with 10ºC less than your first piece, and programme the same amount of time. Observe, record and inspect as on the previous one.

This process shows why it is important to have a kiln with observation ports to be able to follow the progress of your work. In some ways, it is more important to have observation ports than whether the kiln is front or top loading, coffin or clam shell opening. But that is by the way.

The second important element in avoiding stretch marks is to enable the glass to be at the same temperature throughout its thickness. This involves the concept of heat work.  In general terms it means you can achieve the same result by putting the heat in fast and at a high temperature or slowly and at a low temperature. The “slow and low” approach allows more control and allows the glass to be the same temperature on top as on the bottom.

It is important to heat the glass slowly and steadily all the way up to the slumping temperature. The temptation to increase the temperature rapidly after the strain point needs to be resisted. Getting the top too hot can at the worst, cause a split on the bottom of the glass as the tension from slumping glass on the top splits the stiff glass at the bottom.

This means there is no need for a soak at the strain point, nor a speed up in the rate of advance up to the slumping temperature. Exactly the opposite is indicated. Choose a rate of advance for the glass according to its thickness – at 6mm a rate of 150ºC will be adequate. Maintain that rate of advance all the way up to the slump temperature. This also is required when you are making observations to determine what the slump temperature should be. The moderate rate of advance all the way to slumping temperature ensures the whole thickness of the glass is at the same temperature.

Heating the glass slowly to enable all of it to be at the same temperature, allows the glass to change shape at the lowest possible temperature and avoid picking up so much of the mould texture. The glass at the edge and upper sides is in contact with mould longer than central parts as it changes shape and slides along the surface of the mould at elevated temperatures. The lower the temperature used with a long soak, means that the glass is less likely to slide along the mould and so adds to the avoidance of stretch marks.