The American glass industry is huge.
There are thousands of glass artists around the country, forging everything from streamlined spoons to intricately decorated one-of-a-kind headies. But behind every American made glass piece is an artist who spent countless hours in front of a scorching-hot torch, harnessing their craft day in and day out— and so we set out to draw attention to the hard workers behind the flame who make our favorite hobby feasible.
It takes an insane amount of knowledge, experience, and practice to create flawless glass art with your hands. When you hold a handcrafted dry pipe, you don’t see the hundreds of pipes the artist cracked to get to that point - the colors that were overheated and boiled, the ones that didn’t function or weren’t perfectly shaped. When you hold a handmade spoon, you’re holding the epitome of that glassblower’s career. Nothing less leaves the studio.
When first starting out on the torch, glass blowers typically start with hand pipes. Hand pipes are a phenomenal way for artists to get their chops down before moving on to more complicated pieces. The streamlined design of hand pipes make them a bit easier to create than highly functional water pipes.
So, how are dry pipes made?
As dry pipes don’t have elaborate percs and filtration systems, crafting a dry pipe is a pretty conventional process. Glass artists start by taking a long glass tube and breaking it down into sections about four inches long. The artist then decorates the section - choosing from a variety of different techniques depending on what look the artist is after. Fuming, Dichro, Striping, Wrap and Rakes, Caning, Latticino, Latticello, Reticello - the use of millefiore or murrine techniques - to name a few, it can be as simple or as complex as the artist desires.
From there the artist starts to create the shape of the pipe by heating and then stretching the neck. After the neck stretch, glass artists shape out mouthpiece before moving on to the bowl. Glassblowers carefully shape the bowl by blowing into the end of the tube and working the glass in a circular motion in front of the flame to make sure the shape is even and consistent. Next, the artists adds any accents or grips along the side of the pipe before doing their bowl push and popping the carb.
The last step is to press the hot pipe onto a plate to flatten the bottom. Then glass artists either place the bowl in the kiln or break it clean from the handle to let it cool.
Even though there are less variables in constructing a hand pipe than a water pipe, hand pipes are arguably the most commonly used glass pieces. They’re a classic and effective method of smoking, and a wonderful way to show off your favorite artist’s work on-the-go without lugging around an expensive functional tube. Despite their straightforward nature, making hand pipes still requires a large amount of training and experience.
Working with glass requires training you can’t acquire by simply reading a book. As Aaron Galloway of Burner Glassworks put it, “glass is not a really easy medium to work in. It’s hot, it can burn you, it breaks and can cut you. It takes a long time to figure out how to make it do what you want it to do.” That sort of familiarity is only earned by spending time on the torch and working to harness technique.