Have you been on a taster workshop and are thinking you would like to work with fused glass at home?
What types of glass are there?
There are two main types of specialist fusing glass, COE90 and COE96. The COE refers to the Coefficient of Expansion. Choose a manufacturer and stick with them, as although they may say that the COE Is the same as someone else's, they don't always play well together. If you fuse incompatible glass together it will get stressed as they expand and shrink differently, and your piece may crack. Bullseye are a lovely company who make a fab range of colours, Wissmach have some nice stuff too, Spectrum is under new management and the colours should be back online later in the year.
If you want to save your budget, you can also use window (float) glass or make things out of old beer/wine bottles. This is a really good way to experiment cheaply. Float/bottle glass is harder (lower COE is harder glass) but a LOT cheaper, and your local glazier will often give you offcuts for free. There are loads of projects and sample firing cycles over on Fun With Float if you did want to have a go. You can also get coloured float glass in the UK, which is rather exciting, and Creative Glass Guild (I think) or Creative Glass Shop stock float compatible frit.
How can I make it pretty?
You can add to your glass with other compatible bits of glass, frits and stringers, or use enamels or enamel paints, or you can get pretty picture waterslide decals for glass which fire on permanently. You can put mica powder, metal foil and metal leaf between your pieces of glass too!
How big a kiln should I get?
If you have room, go for the largest kiln you can afford.
The Kilncare Hobbyfuser is a wonderful thing if you have the space for it, but does cost about £1800. This fits 9 coasters, or a 30cm square fruit bowl or platter.
The Skutt Hotstart Pro is about £900. This is a heptagon shape with a round shelf about 30cm. It can fit 4 coasters, or a 25cm round fruit bowl or platter.
If you are buying a new kiln, choose your supplier carefully as some of them give you a % discount off future purchases.
Do I need a second kiln shelf?
If you think you might want to experiment with reactions using metal foil and other things, it would be a really good idea to buy a second kiln shelf when you get your kiln. It's cheaper to buy it now than it is to pay another shipping charge later.
You can also use it to prepare / arrange your next project while the first one is firing.
Where should I put my kiln?
Some people have them in the garage, some in the kitchen. Make sure you have 1ft clearance all round it, and that you either buy the proper stand or put it on a proper non-flammable surface (like a bed of paving slabs or vermiculite board or similar).
You can't use an extension lead with a kiln, so it needs plugging directly into the powerpoint. Larger kilns sometimes need to be wired in by an electrician, but the Hobbyfuser and the Hotstart Pro can both be plugged into a normal socket.
It's a good idea, if it's indoors, to have it in the same room as your extractor fan, as sometimes the fumes can get a bit smelly (for instance if you use thinfire paper or are working with inclusions). You don't want to be in the same room while it's on.
Can I buy a second hand kiln?
Yes you can, as people upgrade all the time so you can quite often find someone selling one on one of the glass communities. However, you want to work out whether the extra mileage to go and get it is worth it. Check out the Fused Glass Enthusiasts UK Facebook Community, or Frit Happens Online Community for glass beadmakers, as those are some UK based places where you can find secondhand kilns.
Do I have to tell my house insurer?
Yes. It is possible you may need to change your insurer as not everyone will insure kilns. Ask your kiln supplier for a recommendation, or try Direct Line or Quoteline Direct (broker).
Can I get everything I need in one friendly box?
You can get glass fusing starter packs which have a lot of the basics in them.
Don't skimp on eye protection - ALWAYS wear your safety glasses.
Things I wouldn't be without:
- clear safety glasses
- glass cutter (love my Toyo)
- A3 green self-healing cutting mat
- 1ft steel ruler with a cork back (nonslip)
- cut running pliers (the cheap blue plastic ones work fine)
- grozing pliers (for removing extra bits - you can use normal pliers at a pinch!)
- yellow diamond pad (use it wet to sand off pointy corners)
- bullseye thinfire paper - gives a beautiful finish to the bottom of your glass! (though the much cheaper option is kiln wash, which works fine too)
- dust mask (proper COSSH one) to use when working with glass powder or when cleaning your shelf
- spare kiln shelf
- some sort of glue (use teeny bits of it to hold little things in place as you move your piece) - I love the glasstac gel because you can dilute it to make runny glue too, and it burns off cleanly.
- first aid kit - get some saline eye wash pods just in case, and some steri-strips and some plasters.
Do I have to buy those big sheets? They look scary!
Big sheets are scary to cut when you first start off! Most places do 1ft squares or 20x25cm squares, which you can cut much more easily. You can get 10cm squares and sample packs too. Some places (like Reading Stained Glass) will cut your glass into the sizes you want when you buy it, but you have to go there!
Can I get a book to help me?
Yes there are some lovely glass fusing project books out there, so take a look and see which sort of projects you would like to make. The Petra Kaiser books are quite a good and friendly starting point (you can use layers of ceramic fiber paper instead of the Kaiser Lee Board she mentions, as that is difficult to get in the UK).
UK kilns tend to be programmed in Celsius, and USA ones in Farenheit. Use the proper calculations if you're switching between the two.
Here is a helpful converter from Farenheit to Celsius:
Is there an online community where I can get help?
There are loads of them on Facebook! Some of my favourites are Fused Glass Enthusiasts UK, Fusing 101, and Fun with Float.
Do I have to fill the whole kiln every time?
Remember you don't need to fill the whole shelf to fire the kiln! Just do one simple 2-layer coaster to get your confidence up! (If you are using thinfire paper, cut it to about 1/2 inch larger than your project, and use it with the bullseye logo on the bottom)
Start with simple projects - don't spend weeks working on something if you don't know whether it will fire correctly, as that makes the "cry" factor much higher!
Full fuse or tack fuse?
Glass wants to be 6mm thick. If you put 2 layers of 3mm glass together and full fuse it the edges will round off and it will look nice.
If you put 1 layer of 3mm glass with some pretty bits on top and you tack fuse it, you will keep the texture and the edges will round up a bit and it will look nice.
If you full fuse one layer of 3mm glass, it will try to ball up into 6mm glass and will end up with thick bits and thin bits and be rather confused!
There are some great resources on the Bullseye website - google Bullseye Tipsheets for more information.
Your kiln may have pre-programmed firing cycles to help you when you start off.
What is annealing?
Annealing is vitally important! Annealing is what makes your glass safe and strong. You programme your kiln to hold your glass at a particular temperature for a length of time while it's cooling down, which allows all the stresses in the glass to even out. This means that if you drop it later it will be more likely to break into a few big bits rather than shatter all over the place. If you don't anneal, your glass stays stressed and could spontaneously crack! Always anneal for longer than you think you need to - you can't over-anneal your glass!
How much will my kiln cost to run?
My Hobby fuser takes about 6kw of electricity to run a full fuse cycle, so that's about £1ish. Smaller kilns can be more efficient. So it's quite affordable and a good idea to do test firings to make sure your posh projects will turn out the way you want them to.
Getting to know your kiln
It's a good idea to do a set of test tiles at different temperatures to give you an idea of the sort of thing your kiln can do for you. Then mark them on the back with sharpie marker so you know which temperature is which! You could use your preset programmes (tack and full fuse) for this when you first start off, then add more samples as you progress.
Lisa Pettibone does a "getting to know your kiln" course in Surrey, if you want additional help.
Your kiln manufacturer and/or glass supplier can be very helpful too - do ask them if you're stuck or not getting the results you had hoped for. They will often talk you through programming your kiln too!
Happy Fusing! Do leave your tips and comments below! :)
NOTE: I posted some of this information a few weeks ago, following a question on the Fused Glass Enthusiasts UK Community, and they said:
- "Learned more from your comment Jane Cameron than I knew before. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge." (JI)
- "Great answer Jane Cameron" (RC)
- "Thank you so much for all the info xxx" (CM)