Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Breaks after the Piece is Cool

People sometimes fire a piece only to have it break after it is cool.  They decide to re-fire with additional decoration to conceal the break.  But it breaks again a day after it has cooled.  Their questions centre around thermal shock and annealing. They used the same CoE from different suppliers, so it must be one of these elements that caused the breakage.

Thermal Shock

This is an effect of a too rapid heat change.  This can occur on the way up in temperature or on the way down.  If it occurred on the way up to a fuse, the edges will be rounded.  If it occurred on the way up to a slump the edges may be sharp still, but the pieces will not fit together because the slump occurred before the slump.  It the break occurs on the way down the pieces will be sharp.  The break will be visible when you open the kiln.  More information is here.

If the break occurs after the piece is cool, it is not thermal shock.

If the break occurs some length of time after the piece is cool, it can be an annealing or a compatibility problem.  They are difficult to distinguish apart sometimes.

The annealing break usually crosses through the applied pieces and typically has a hook at each end of the break.  If the piece has significant differences in thicknesses, the break may follow the edge of the thicker pieces for some distance before it crosses it toward an edge. This kind of break makes it difficult to tell from an incompatibility break.

An incompatibility break may occur in the kiln, or it may occur days, months or years later.  Typically, the break or crack will be around the incompatible glass.  The break or crack may follow one edge of the incompatible glass before it jumps to an edge.  The greater the incompatibility, the more likely it is to break apart.  Smaller levels of incompatibility lead to fractures around the incompatible glass pieces, but not complete breaks.

There is more information about the diagnosis of the causes of cracks and breaks here.


Another possible cause of delayed breakage is inadequate annealing.  Most guidelines on annealing assume a flat uniform thickness.  The popularity of tack fused elements, means these are inadequate guides on the annealing soak and annealing cool.  Tack fused items generally need double the temperature equalisation soak and half the annealing cool rate. This post gives information on how the annealing needs modification on tack fused items. 


The user indicated all the glass was of the same CoE.  This is not necessarily helpful. 

Coefficient of Linear Expansion (CoE) is measured between 0°C and 300°C. The amount of expansion over this temperature range is measured and averaged. The result is expressed as a fraction of a metre per degree Celsius. CoE90 means that the glass will expand 9 one-thousandths of a millimetre for each degree Celsius.  If this were to hold true for higher temperatures, the movement at 800C would be 7.2mm in length over the starting size.  However, the CoE rises with temperature in glass and is variable in different glasses, so this does not tell us how much the expansion at the annealing point will be.  It is the annealing point expansion rate that is more important.  More information is here.

Compatibility is much more than the rate of expansion of glass at any given temperature.  It involves the balance of the forces caused by viscosity and expansion rates around the annealing point.

Viscosity is probably the most important force in creating compatible glasses. There is information on viscosity here.  To make a range of compatible glass the forces of expansion and viscosity need to be balanced.  Each manufacturer will do this in subtly different ways.  Therefore, not all glass that is claimed by one manufacturer to compatible with another’s will be so. 

All is not lost.  It does not need to be left to chance.

Testing glass from different sources is required, as you can see from the above comments.  It is possible to test the compatibility of glass from different sources in your own kiln.  The test is based on the principle that glass compatible with a base sheet will be compatible with other glasses that are also compatible with that same base sheet.  There are several methods to do this testing, but this is the one I use, based on Shar Moorman’s methods.  

If you are investing considerable effort and expense in a piece which will use glass from different sources or manufacturers, and which is simply labelled CoE90, or CoE96, you need to use these tests before you start putting the glass together.  The more you deviate from one manufacturer’s glass in a piece, the more testing is vital. 

In the past, people found ways of combining glass that was not necessarily compatible, by different layering, various volume relationships, etc.  But the advent of manufacturers’ developing compatible lines of glass eliminated the need to do all that testing and experimenting.  While the fused glass market was small, there were only a few companies producing fusing glass.  When the market increased, the commercial environment led to others developing glass said to be compatible with one or other of the main producers of fusing compatible glass.

If you are buying by CoE you must test what you buy against what you have.

The discussion above shows that even with the best intentions, different manufacturers will have differences that may be small, but can be large enough to destroy your project.  This means that unless you are willing to do the testing, you should stick with one manufacturer of fusing compatible glass. 

Do not get sucked into the belief that CoE tells you anything important about compatibility.