Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Kiln Forming Myths 11

Glass always wants to be 6mm thick

This is true only at some temperatures.  

The surface tension or viscosity of the glass, together with gravity determines the extent to which the glass will thicken or thin.  The viscosity of glass is such that at high temperature tack and full fusing heats, the glass does tend to become 6mm - 7mm thick. This is taken advantage of in kiln forming to obtain rounded edges, and in making frit balls.  A single layer of frit up to about 10mm will become a round dome due the action of the viscosity and weakness of gravitational forces acting on a small mass. 

Larger pieces of single layer glass begin to shrink as the viscosity is great enough to overcome gravitational forces to allow thickening at the edges.  This causes dog-boning.   At the same time the glass is thickening at the edges, it is thinning in the interior allowing large bubble formation on thin pieces. It also is the cause of the needle points on thinner pieces at higher temperatures.  The glass is soft enough to conform to any imperfections in the surface and so be stretched thin as the main mass of the glass contracts. 

This contraction also applies to low mass items such as frit in casting moulds.  The glass particles contract to form a single mass of material, leaving some stuck to the mould. These pieces may be completely separate as tiny frit balls, or if attached to the main mass, a series of needle points on the edge of the finished piece.

However, the viscosity at full fuse temperatures is not great enough to keep thicker glass in its original shape.  So the effect of gravity on glass of 9mm or thicker overcomes the weakening viscosity force and the stack begins to expand. The extent of the expansion is the result of both viscosity (heat dependent) and gravity (mass dependent).

At lower temperatures, the viscosity is much greater.  This can be used for low temperature tack or laminating temperatures. The glass can be adhered with heat without distortion of the single layer, as the viscosity is so high the glass does not change shape, even retaining sharp edges, although stuck together.

At temperatures above full fuse the viscosity decreases further allowing the glass to flow.  This is used in casting, blowing, and various higher temperature processes, such as aperture melts and stringer formation.  Here the viscosity is low enough to allow gravity to make thin and elongated shapes.

There is a range of temperature above which glass will thin more than the 6mm – 7mm “rule”.  I do not know the exact correlation between temperature and thickness, but at around 1150°C  the glass will become only a little under one mm thick.  This can be seen from the results of kiln runaways. The glass that is melted onto the surface of the shelf is extremely thin, showing that the viscosity was so low that gravity was able to thin it to a fraction of what we think of as normal thicknesses.

The 6mm myth arises from the behaviour of glass at a specific heat range and is the result of the combined forces of viscosity and gravity.  Knowledge of how these interact can enable you to understand the outcome of various projects.  This knowledge of the forces can be used to help create the effect you want.  It also enables you to employ various means to counteract the natural forces of gravity and viscosity.