We paid a visit to one of our best glass suppliers recently. They’ve been hand blowing glass since the 1940s in West Virginia.
The factory is at the end of rutted road in a series of cool old shed buildings. Though they have over 50 people on staff, the workers were dwarfed by the cavernous space and the mountains of historic molds and equipment.
A four man crew works together at each station.
A gatherer or who gathers up the molten glass at the end of the blowpipe (and will often put a small bubble in the glass with a little puff), the Gaffer who does the lion’s share of the blowing, the blocker who opens and closes the cast iron mold, and the assistant who carries the finished glass to the lehr (a huge oven with a super slow conveyor belt for cooling the glass).
I knew glassblowing was hot work…that is pretty self evident. I didn’t realize how physical it is, however. The glass is heavy, the pipe is heavy, and in the heat, it’s all quite a production.
We looked over some of our work there. They make our large Sorenson lantern glass in this massive cast iron mold.
We were also looking for more profiles to work into some custom jobs. They have a massive, though somewhat uncatalogued, stock of molds.
In one large room they house “The Decorating Department” where a few women painstakingly paint the glass shades with a glass-bearing paint. The shades are then fired in a large kiln. This work isn’t up my alley, aesthetically, but the craft is exceptional.
For glass that doesn’t make the cut, kind of like the nuts that don’t pass Wonka’s squirrel test, there’s the “BAD GLASS” bin.