Learning Glassblowing

I recently took a series of three intro to glassblowing courses at Revere Glass in Berkeley, California. Our teachers were very helpful, the workshop itself well stocked with tools, and the glass was plentiful. The fish sculpture below is the output of my third course.

Glassblowing has proved to be an interesting combination of art and science. We'd seen its master craftsmen at work in Venice and shaping glowing, flowing, 1000C hot glass proved as challenging and fun as I'd imagined. You can let your creativity loose yet still have to respect and be conscious of the physical properties of glass. The difference between cold and hot seals, flashing your piece to prevent cracking, constantly rotating the glass to maintain control over it, how to work "frit" or colors into your piece, and much more.

All in all it was a great experience and, if you're in the Bay Area, I highly recommend Revere Glass (watch out for their Groupon offers).

Fearless Fire Eating at The Crucible

My 12 year old son Thomas and I took a three hour fire eating course yesterday in downtown Oakland at The Crucible. We found it through the excellent Workshop Weekend program, which offers many interesting courses. We were the only two students and our teacher, Patricia, gave us a great introduction to both the art and science of fire eating

Warning: fire eating is dangerous and an easy way to get hurt quickly. The information below is no substitute for proper instruction (it's incomplete too!). In other words... Don't do this at home!

After a comprehensive review of safety precautions, Patricia taught us how to make our own torches. These consisted of 18" aluminum rods with a wick at one end. Interestingly, the wick is made of a 12" long strip of kevlar and held in place by kevlar string. Kevlar has high heat resistance and is reasonably absorbent so it makes for a great wick. 

For our initial foray into fire eating, we used rubbing alcohol as fuel because the flame is small. Maybe so but we were still more than a little apprehensive about putting a flaming torch in our mouths!

After the first try it became a lot easier and we soon graduated to white (camping) gas which generates much bigger and brighter flames, as the pictures below show. We quickly conquered any fears we had and became pretty comfortable eating fire.

The science behind this art wasn't what I'd expected. I'd assumed that fire eating consisted of closing your mouth around the flaming torch to deprive it of oxygen and so stop it burning. Not so. You never fully close your mouth around the torch (burnt lips anyone?) instead you close them partially and exhale to extinguish the flame.

Once our basic skills were in place we moved on to art. Patricia taught us various tricks such as flame transfers and ways to light the torches. She was particularly impressed by Thomas who, in the six years she's been teaching the class, was by far her youngest student.

All in all it was indeed a glorious adventure and one we're going to practice ourselves, safely.