Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lessons and Lacerations

Recently I teased about a new project I was starting, it involved large sheets of glass, approximately 34"x75".

These sheets were very generously donated to me by the Downtown Action Team, a great organization that has helped push out the drug addicts, beggars and fights that accompanied downtown Albuquerque in my youth and replaced it with a business and family friendly environment that I hope will continue to thrive.

This was going to be a minimalist sculpture, consisting of four sheets of glass standing straight up with only a base and no frames.

I hope it's obvious by now why I don't draw.
 Because the sheets are only about an 1/8 of an inch thick I decided that laminating two together would add enough strength to relieve my fears of a stiff breeze bending and breaking the sculpture.
To work with the glass I added extensions onto my workable to support the whole six-foot length.

Knowing that silicone caulking sticks tremendously to glass (both are silica-based after all) I decided that would make a great adhesive for laminating two sheets. But the caulk was WAY too viscous, I couldn't spread it or even get it off my tools our hands until it was cured.

May have ruined this sheet, haven't tried to scrape it off yet but I'm not hopeful.
Not being able to afford a more suitable adhesive in large quantity I decided to risk the project with only one sheet, or possibly use hardware to hold two together.

My original plan involved drilling through one end of the glass sheets so that the angle-steel could be bolted securely on. The plan also involved inserts in the glass holes and rubber washers to keep the hardware from damaging the glass.

Unfortunately, even with a Bosch carbide glass drill bit I didn't even make one hole before the glass broke.

It didn't just break either, it practically EXPLODED, I found shards of glass up to seven feet away from the near-end of the table. Thirty seconds of drilling cost me over three hours of cleanup time, and I'm still finding pieces every day. The dog certainly won't be allowed out there for a long time. While attempting this I had the glass well supported, the drilling area was bathed in water, and I went as slow as my drill could manage.

Changing gears again, I decided that I could put four sheets together in a vertical, rectangular prism with steel frames at top and bottom. Fabrication of the frames went famously, with some of my most precise (non-milled) cuts and best weld beads ever. Unfortunately, I was a little too precise and didn't allow room for the glass sheets to slide past each other during assembly.

I found this out when another sheet exploded in my hands, showering both myself and my partner (who was kind enough to be helping me when she should have been safe and cozy in the house) with tiny shards of glass that were stuck in both our hair and clothes. Thankfully, neither of us were injured.

At this point I decided that the material was too fragile and dangerous for me to continue experimenting with. I still have many sheets left to find another use for, but the minimalist sculpture will have to be achieved in a different way.

This has been a major learning experience for me, I'm used to working with metal, and wood to a lesser extent; materials that can be roughhoused and forced into compliance. If metal or wood needs a hole I drill it, if it needs to be smaller I cut or grind it. Glass is clearly a different kind of animal, it is entirely possible to manipulate it like the others, but the techniques and care needed are much more intensive. I could pay to have professionals do these things for me, but I can't afford that and paying someone else to do it really isn't the point of all this. So, like I  mentioned this glass will be used for something eventually, I just won't have such grand arrogant expectations of making it do my bidding.

Post Script:
By the way, while working with the glass I wore safety glasses the whole time, and while drilling and cleaning up the shards I wore a respirator, some particles were almost microscopic and only visible by a telltale glittering, this is NOT something you want to inhale. Despite my caution with the glass, I spent a lot of time welding in a tank top and was rewarded with a sunburn on one shoulder.

Arc welders like the MIG, TIG and 'stick' produce massive amounts of ultraviolet radiation, the same kind of radiation that comes from the sun and causes burns and cancer,  please be more careful than I was.

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