When it comes to blowing glass, not all techniques or compounds are created equal. Over the past decade, modern lampworking has grown in popularity, leaving traditional glass blowing behind. Lampworking is the process of manipulating molten glass and shaping it into beads that a machine or hand-blower can twirl and press into the desired shape. Regardless of which technique you use, the type of glass used to craft can significantly affect the result.
There are two primary materials blowers use—borosilicate and soft glass. Borosilicate is a hard composite that can withstand extreme temperatures, allowing glassblowers to manipulate the molten bead easily. Soft glass—also known as soda-lime—involves melting raw materials like sodium carbonate, lime, dolomite, and others into a molten moldable liquid. Unlike borosilicate, soda-lime glass cannot withstand high temperatures, making it challenging to mold and prone to cracking.
Because of borosilicate’s ability to withstand harsh environments and resist corrosion, modern lampworkers often opt for this compound over the soft glass variants. However, there are limited color options, causing some artists to prefer soda-lime glass because of the numerous variants available. Ultimately, modern lampworkers tend to favor borosilicate glass because of its resilience, moldability, and heat-resistant qualities.
Whether you prefer soft or borosilicate glass, the final product will heavily depend on whether the glasswork is hand-blown or machine-made. Those with a deep appreciation for the glassblowing craft often prefer hand-made pieces. Although, as quality glassware skyrockets in popularity, many companies have capitalized on mass-produced goods. If you’re wondering which route to choose for your glassware needs, read on to learn the main differences between hand and machine-blown products.
Quality over quantity
A downfall to hand-blown glassware is the number of units a small shop or individual artist can produce. Independent sellers often limit how many orders they can take in, as each product is hand-crafted with custom details and unique variations. On the other hand, mass-produced machine-blown glass products can pump out large quantities of identical merchandise.
While initially, it may seem like machine-made glass products are the way to go, they are limited in design and feature a seam-like ridge down the side where the mold lines up. Although this may not bother your typical glassware buyer, enthusiasts often look for smooth lines, unique designs, and hand-made touches regardless of price influx or quantity limitation.
A significant difference between independent glassblowers and mass-produced products are slight imperfections or discrepancies noticeable on hand-made items. Although this may seem like a negative, often, people purchasing individually blown glassware look forward to differences in their product. Minor imperfections and differences mean your piece is entirely one of a kind.
Machine-blown glass pieces are identical, which is why sellers can mass-produce products and keep prices low. However, blown-glass lovers tend to favor lampworking from individual sellers for a more personalized, unique product.
Depending on the size, shape, and blower, the durability of hand-blown glassware will vary, meaning some products will be more fragile than others. However, machine-made products are built to last, often utilizing thicker layers to resist cracking and snapping. That said, there are techniques available to glassblowers enabling them to create durable, crack-resistant pieces.
The most prominent reason people prefer hand-blown pieces to machine-made products is the individuality in each creation. Lampwork experts can manipulate glass into limitless shapes, utilizing different patterns, colors, and techniques. Although mass-produced products do feature some variety, it’s nothing compared to the endless options available in hand-blown products.
Additionally, some glass compounds and techniques are only available for hand-crafted lampwork. For example, long-stemmed wine glasses are rarely mass-produced because the base must be connected manually. Hand-blown glassware is customizable and unique to each piece.
Ultimately, there are pros and cons to both machine and hand-blown glassware. However, when it comes to quality, eccentric, elegant pieces, individually blown products are unbeatable. Between the differing complex techniques, intricate patterns, and extravagant designs, hand-blown modern lampworking are excellent conversation pieces for any curated space.