Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Large Bowed Pieces

Occasionally, large pieces in the kiln develop a bow at the end of firing.  The most obvious is when the bow is upwards, but it also occurs that the piece is domed.  This is much more likely to be observed when there are complete sheets, rather than ones interrupted with other design elements which break up the whole sheet.

This is a result of a slight mismatch of compatibility.  One glass is expanding and contracting slightly more than the other.  The bow is always toward the glass which expands the most.  When it contracts, it also contracts more than the other glass, drawing the sheet with lower expansion toward it to form a bow.

This is a form of mild stress.  It can sometimes be seen in large sheets of streaky or flashed glass which are not completely flat.

It is not a fatal flaw.  A piece of this nature can survive many years in that state.  I once had a large window to repaint, because of a football impact.  When re-assembled, it showed that it had been bowed from the outset, almost 90 years before.  It is not in a suitable state for wall pieces or other things that need to be flat, of course.


The remedies most often relate to reducing the stress in the piece.

This of course, relates to the firing schedule.  Increasing the length of the soak at the annealing point is one method.  This combined with reducing the rate of cooling can be effective.

Another method can be employed also.  This is to soak the glass just above the upper strain point of the glass.  This soak should be equal to the one planned for the anneal.  The upper strain point temperature – that point above which no annealing can occur -  is about 40C above the annealing point.  Thus, this soak should occur about 55C above the annealing point of the glass concerned.  Then proceed at a moderate pace to the annealing point.  This rate may be the same as the second stage of the anneal cool (as a starting point). Then anneal as usual for the thickness of the piece.  This method can, of course, be combined with the extended soak and reduced cooling rate as first suggested.

A third method can be employed, if the first two do not work.  This assumes one of the sheets of glass is clear.  Place a sheet of clear on the opposite side of the piece to form a glass sandwich with the two pieces of clear.  Then fire as for a three-layer piece of glass.  The assumption behind this is the same as for toughened glass.  The outer layers will hold the inner layer in compression.  But more importantly, will equalise the slight stress, allowing the piece to remain flat when the firing is completed. This can be used with any transparent glass, but the colour change may not be acceptable.

A fourth method is possible.  Turn the fired piece over and fire, to allow the weight of the glass to overcome the tension of the contraction of the more expansive glass.  This can be successful, but it does retain the stress within the resulting piece.  As such it is not a remedy for the stress, but is a way of flattening.


The place of the glass in the kiln can have an effect too.  If the sheet is near the side of the kiln, there can be a stress inducing effect.  All kilns are a bit cooler at the perimeter than at the interior.  This applies to circular, oval and rectangular kilns.  Rectangular kilns have additional cool spots at the corners.  If the glass is near the capacity of the kiln, the cooler corners can induce this bowing stress to otherwise compatible glass.  The thing to do is to stay about 50mm away from the edges of the kiln when firing large sheets into one piece.


The ideal is to know before firing the large piece whether there will be a problem to overcome. This requires a simple test of the glass to be used.

Assuming the final piece is to be two layers thick of different glass colours, cut a strip of each colour about 50mm wide and as long as the final piece.  Assemble them in the same order as you plan for the final piece.

Add an annealing test square of the two glasses stacked on top of one another.  If one is opalescent and the other is transparent. Make the transparent larger than the other.  If both are opalescent, you will need to run a compatibility test at the same time as this test.  In simple terms, it is to put each of the opalescents on a strip of clear or transparent with the gaps between the opals filled with the transparent.  This test will tell you whether you have fired so fast as to induce stress and so invalidate the test.

Fire as though for a 50mm piece of jewellery – about 200C to bubble squeeze - but without a soak - and then at 400C to top temperature.  Cool to annealing temperature for 15 minutes and cool at 120C per hour to 370C and turn off.

If the long strip is bowed, and the anneal test piece shows no stress, there is enough compatibility mismatch to require the use of one of the remedy methods outlined above for the main piece. It may of course, cause a reconsideration of the glasses to be used or the size of the piece.