Glass Class: Lathe work 101 – A beginner’s guide


Thumbnail image for Scott Saed at work.jpg
Scott “Trikky” Saed.

To help all of us non-glass artists better understand the industry, evolution and art and science behind how our pipes, bubblers and bongs are made we’ve asked one of Colorado’s most prominent and best-known artists — Scott “Trikky” Saed — to take on a quasi-regular column we like to call: Glass Class.
This week, Trikky spins us right round with his tale of coming to work on a lathe.

A couple of months back I decided to start making some of my glasswork on the lathe. The decision was based on a number of things, namely wanting to do something new and different to shake things up, but also to learn a new way of approaching glass-working technique.
I had been told in the past that my bench-working skills would translate reasonably well to the lathe. Thus far, that has been somewhat true, but that transition to the lathe from the bench was far more difficult than I had anticipated.

A glass lathe.

It started with the breakage. I can’t fucking believe how much clear glass I broke in the first week of working on the lathe. I’m glad clear isn’t too costly. Lathe work is a somewhat delicate balance between precision workmanship by hand, and allowing the machine to do the work for you.
For example, when I learned to flare a foot for the bottom of the bubbler, you allow the machine to spin quite slowly as you heat the glass, allowing it to gather very thick. This is so that when you flare the foot and it’s all finished, the edge of the foot is very thick, and will not easily break. You have to grasp the concepts of centrifugal force, gravity, and therefore the tendency of glass to form into a circle due to these forces.
One of the other difficult things so far on the lathe has been just simply learning to work around the machine. There’s simply no way to maneuver the glass one the lathe as you would on the bench. You have to make up for that in two ways. One is simply working around the machine by leaning, bending, and stretching where possible. You have to keep in mind that, generally, there’s a Bunsen Burner burning propane and air to keep various parts of the glass warm that might have a tendency to break otherwise. So, as you’re leaning over the lathe to heat up the far side of the joint weld you just made, you better watch you damn arm, and wear some Kevlar gloves, because it’s going to get warm. Fast

Trikky/Bryan Kelly collab.

I’ve also learned to use the speed of the lathe (and a logical order of operations) to help complete various tasks. For example, when there needs to be a weld, and for various reasons there is a hole or holes in what you are welding together that must stay a hole (like with a fixed circ percolator into a tube). You have to weld the upstem to the tube with no ability to blow into the weld.
The two hole sizes have to fit perfectly before welding them together using a very precise flame. As you’ve got them touching, you heat the weld and speed up the lathe very quickly. The centrifugal force and the heat work out the weld cleanly.
While it is quite a change for me to work around such a large machine like a lathe, I wouldn’t go back to not having or using it. The glass spins perfectly on axis at a perfect, consistent speed.
It’s hard to beat.

Lathe work by Trikky.