While most people might not think glassblowing is necessarily easy, they may not realize how physically demanding it is. It can take hours to get a piece of glass where you want it, and that’s not including the time it takes to choose colors, come up with a design, and of course all the years of skill that are developed by working in the medium. Jerome Baker Designs obviously has a lot of collected skill in its shop, which makes this video all the more intriguing to watch. This gigantic bong requires a lot of knowledge to make, plus skill, but also teamwork as the glass must be worked repeatedly over time for the desired effect.
In the video, the JBD crew traveled up to Seattle to make this big bong that would incorporate marbles. You can see a gigantic piece of molten glass being pulled from the furnace. Those furnaces run around 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, although for working the glass it comes down to about 2,000. Still, it’s a hot place to be and you can see a lot of fans to help keep the temperatures down to a more reasonable level for the craftspeople. All through the video there’s a group of people working on the glass, from heating it to protecting the person carrying it, to opening and closing furnace doors. It’s a major operation, but mostly when the glass is this large.
Especially mesmerizing in these glass videos is how the piece seems to morph over and over. It comes out as a giant blob of glowing molten glass, but within the first bit appears to be worked into a vase for flowers. Of course the joke for years by potheads has been that a bong can easily be used as a vase — and this joke has been made in a few pop culture references, including in The Simpsons.
The glass, as they’re working on it, is called the parison. It’s while the glass is in this semi-molten state that glass workers may use colorants or join other pieces. In this case, you can see the time it takes just to work one giant piece down to a very sturdy piece of usable, functional glass. And that big metal table they use to roll the glass on? That’s called a marver. The wood used to help shape the glass while it rotates is called a block, but you’ll also see tweezers (big ones) being used to help shape things, all while the rotating blowpipe sits on a yoke.
In this case, the glass piece is so large that workers have to help move and grab the glass when it is molten and hang down to get some length on it. It’s a tense moment, as the molten glass could fall — and shatter as thermal shock causes it to cool too quickly. In fact, thermal shock is a major concern in glassblowing, which is why there are three furnaces with gradually lower temperatures for finishing pieces.
Once the biggest portion of the glass is extended, you can see artisans racing back and forth to attach the marbles. Shards of glass can be melted in, and threads and wraps are applied to give it more lines and flair. Again, it’s a physically demanding process that requires attention and energy as the artisans open up the mouth of the bong and spin it to keep the glass symmetrical.
Working with elongated pieces of glass like this is particularly challenging, and you can see several times when the team comes close to a point where the entire barrel could have broken, or pieces could have broken off. In the end, they use a heat suit when lopping it off to put it in the final oven to “cool down.” Inside that oven you can see the giant bases, one of which will be attached to this king-sized bong. All in a day’s work for the Jerome Baker crew!