The Art of Glass Blowing was invented in the 1st century BC by Syrian craftsmen. It’s an ancient, traditional glass forming technique that requires inflating a molten glass blob into a bubble with a blowpipe, using nothing but the air in your lungs.
When making glass pipes for smoking, the glass blob is manipulated with a torch or other tooling to create precision pieces. Depending on the studio, the person in charge of this is called a lampworker or a glassworker.
As you can imagine, glassblowing is a master trade. You couldn’t pick up a blowpipe and make a beautiful glass pipe without significant practice, and this is especially true of smaller pieces like bongs made from borosilicate glass.
The glass blowing process
An art glass studio is filled with furnaces, buckets of glass pellets and various mixed media used to decorate and embellish the glasswork.
Here’s how the glass blowing process unfolds:
A glass bong begins with the glassblower reaching into the furnace crucible containing a blob of molten glass. The worker gathers the blob onto a blowpipe, rolls it on a steel table (or with tooling) to give it shape, and then heats it in the glory hole.
When the lampworker is happy with the shape of the pipe, colour is added by rolling the molten glass into coloured glass media. The media is picked up by the blob, which is then returned to the glory hole to melt and distribute.
Once the colour media is added, the lampworker takes the bong and rests it on steel arms for turning. The turning action is joined by tooling like wood blocks, wet newspaper, steel bars and paddles, creating a standard shape for the blob.
The blowing begins when the artist is happy with the shape of the pipe on the bench. At this stage, the bong is simply a solid blob of glass!
Blowing into the pipe shapes and sizes the bong, creating air pockets. The bong is returned to the glory hole to keep it above 1000⁰ F. Moving the piece and working it gives the worker time to create the opening for the bong.
Removing the glass from the blowpipe
The final step is removing the glass from the blowpipe. Removing the blowpipe is done by turning the glass while it is attached to a jack. This separates the bottom part of the glass from the blowpipe. A tap is all it takes to break it free.
After cooling, figures and ornaments are usually added to glass pieces by heating a small blob of glass as the adhesive. However, adding ornaments to the molten blob is sometimes necessary, depending on the bong’s design.
The quality of the finished piece depends on the mastery of the lampworker. Molten glass isn’t forgiving to work, and defects are common when the lampworker isn’t experienced. A lampworker will spend around ten hours on a single pipe.
Because glass water pipes are made by hand, they are premium products with a higher price tag than acrylic bongs. Are they worth it? Absolutely!