Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Devitrification on Repeated Firing

 Devitrification is defined as the crystallisation of the glass, making it a non-vitreous substance.
Molecular level difference between vitreous and devitrified silica

You can see that there is not much difference between the the two states of the glass in structure, but mainly the arrangement of molecules.

The appearance of devitrification has a range of appearances from a mild smeary look through a dull surface to a crazed, crumbly aspect in severe cases. 

Mild devitrification

Medium level devitrification requiring abrasive cleaning

Causes of devitrification are related to slow changes of temperature (up or down) and most importantly nucleation points such as dust, oils, or cleaning residues. So, thorough cleaning is most important. 

Causes in repeated firings of the same piece relate to:

It is important to thoroughly clean the piece before each subsequent firing.  Many times abrasive cleaning such as sandblasting is important to clean out impurities from the previous firing.  The resulting surface from any abrasive cleaning requires further cleaning with lots of clean water and a thorough drying with clean cloths or paper.

        Slow cooling or heating
Devitrification normally occurs in the range of 670⁰C to 750⁰C. This is the reason for the rapid rates of advance in this temperature range rather than other factors.  It can form both on the rise and on the fall in temperature. Slower rates in the devitrification range allow enough time for the crystallisation to begin.

        High temperatures.
Both high temperatures and long soaks can promote devitrification.  It is not just the slow rise or fall in temperature, but long periods at high temperature can lead to devitrification even though other precautions have been taken.

Changes in the composition
High temperatures and many repeated firings of the piece can lead to changes in the glass.  Some metals and fluxes are more likely than others to change composition or oxidise at extended soaks at high temperatures.  This can reduce the ability of the glass to resist devitrification.


Prevention relates to thorough a) cleaning and b) firing rates.

All correction of devitrification relates to the modification of the surface.  If the problem is only at the surface, you can use either abrasive cleaning or the addition of fluxes to the surface, or a combination of the two. 

Where you have a mild dulling of the surface due to devitrification you can apply a flux.  This softens the surface by reducing the melting temperature of the glass and so reverses the crystallisation at the surface. The devitrification solution can be a proprietary spray such as Super Spray. Be aware that some sprays use lead particles as the flux, so are inappropriate for pieces intended to be food bearing. You can make your own devitrification solution by dissolving borax in distilled water.  When the devitrification is wide spread or deep, abrasive cleaning is required.

Abrasive cleaning can be by hand with sandpapers or diamond pads.  Be sure to keep them damp.  This keeps dust from rising, and the sanding surfaces clean for better working.  Sandblasting can be quicker, especially on uneven surfaces or where there are deep imperfections.  The surfaces resulting from abrasive cleaning need to be scrubbed clean with sufficient water, and then polished dry as for a finished piece.

It is possible to combine both these methods to be more certain of a shiny finish.  When combining, you need to do the abrasive cleaning first, then the wet cleaning and finally add the devitrification solution.

A fourth possibility is to sprinkle a fine but consistently thick layer of clear fine frit or powder over the piece.  This, when fused, provides the new surface concealing the devitrification below.  Again, this must be done at a full fuse, so it is not applicable to items you wish to remain tack fused.

However, if the devitrification has progressed to a crazed appearance, it is so deep as to be almost impossible to reverse.  The piece will also probably have developed incompatibilities. So the only real option in crazed pieces is to dispose of them.  They will not be useable in combination with any other glass. They will make any glass with which they are combined subject to devitrification and possible breakage.  These are pieces which truly cannot be cut up and re-used.