How is glass made?
How is glass made?
Ancient Methods. Shaping hot, molten glass into useful articles has long been a challenge. Molten glass is extremely hot, caustic, sticky, and difficult to handle. In the period extending from about 2000 b.c.e. to 50 b.c.e., there were three basic methods used to form glass. One of the earliest and most widely used was core forming. This involved distributing molten glass around a clay core on a metal rod. The rod with the clay core could either be dipped into molten glass, or the hot liquid glass could simply be poured over it. The outer glass coating was then rolled (marvered) on a flat stone surface to smooth it. Often the object was decorated by dribbling more glass, sometimes of a different color, onto its surface. The hot glass was then annealed (cooled slowly so as to relieve thermal stress), and the metal rod was removed and the clay core scraped out.
A second method involved sagging and fusing. It called for taking preformed glass rods or canes (which were often of different colors), placing them in or on top of a mold, and then heating the canes until they sagged and fused together and conformed to the shape of the mold. (Sheets of glass could also be sagged over shaped clay molds.)
The third method was casting, which called for pouring hot, molten glass into a mold. A variation on cast glass was faience, made from powdered quartz blended into molten glass. The mixture might be pressed between two molds to make a cast vessel such as a bowl.
All three of these methods were slow, and they generally produced small items that were rather thick. Glass pieces tended to be quite expensive, and, in antiquity, were affordable only by the very wealthy.
Glassblowing. It was probably in the Middle East during the first century b.c.e. that the important technique of glassblowing was discovered. A hollow metal rod (or pipe) was used to pick up a gob of molten glass; the act of blowing into the pipe generated a bubble of glass. If the bubble were blown into a mold, the molten glass could be given a desired shape. Wooden paddles and pincers were used to refine the shape even further. The blowing procedure was used to make glass objects that were larger and thinner than those that had been made previously, and it was much faster than previous glass-forming methods. As glass pieces became easier to make, they became cheaper and more available. The ancient Romans became particularly skillful at glassblowing. More glass was produced and used in the Roman world than in any other civilization of antiquity. During the Middle Ages, there was a great expansion of glassblowing activity, especially in Venice, the Middle East, and European countries such as Spain and Germany.
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