Ullswater Suncatcher

One of my favourite longer distance walks the The Ullswater Way, which has just celebrated it’s 1st anniversary of it’s launch in 2016. It was formalised to help boost Ullswatertourism and activity in the Ullswater valley after horrific flooding from Storm Desmond wreaked havoc in December 2015. In that first year, it has truly become one of the great lake district walks, partly because of the natural range and beauty of Ullswater, but also because of how well the walk has been completed, promoted, signposted and made accessible to many more walkers by being broken down into sections that tie in with the Ullswater Streamers piers,

Ullswater waythe two main towns and parking facilities. This helps people, who maybe cannot complete the full 20+ mile circular in one go, to tackle in in two or three visits. It’s been done beautifully, and looks like it has begun to repay the investment already judging by it’s popularity. I’ve tackled it twice already in the first year, doing both the lower-level walk, and the higher add-on options in a clockwise direction. Both walks have been very enjoyable indeed, with an full array of all the Lake District has to offer in one walk – fauna and flora galore, forest trails,lakeside beaches, hills, meadows and great views all over, not to mention a few cafes and ice-cream pit stops! It’s tremendous, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ll be doing it time and time again for sure. 

I’m always on the lookout for rubbish when walking, being a pet-hate of mine, and I clear what I can when I come across it, particularly glass bottles which are veryBecks hazardous to the wildlife and walkers alike. On my second time round The Ullswater Way, I came across a discarded Becks beer bottle in plain sight off one of the footpaths between Glenridding and Glencoyne. It had been lying for some time judging by the dirt and label degradation, so I bagged it up, with the intention of upcycling it into something. Recovering discarded glass bottles from the Lake District as I do my walks has become a bit of a MO for me now, always going prepared with a couple of carrier bags in my rucksack. I’ve not come across too many thankfully, but the count is certainly increasing. I’m trying to build up a range of upcycled items from bottles I’ve recovered from The Lake District, some really simple, and some a bit more elaborate, with the intention of hopefully using them to raise some funds for mountain rescue teams in the future. I’m thinking the idea will be to use the bottle’s original location to designate any funds raised to the MR team in that area. I do get about a bit, so hopefully it would suncatcherspread things around, and I do log down and photograph any finds I come across to show where it was found.

I’ve made a more elaborate bordered suncatcher from a Troutbeck bottle find, so I thought for this one, I’ll just do a simple five piece suncatcher. I might need some simpler items to get people interested in making a MR donation for them. The bottle was green, and going through my boxes of glass, I picked out a strong amber old cathedral glass to contrast significantly with the green bottle end. The bottle end cut easily, and I cut and then shaped the amber glass using my grinder. suncatcherAfter foiling, soldering and cleaning, I used black patina, and polished it up with black grate polish. It’s 100mm square, to avoid things getting too heavy and a hanger. Here’s the end result. Another pleasing little result from stumbling across other peoples rubbish in the beautiful Lake District.

Other glass projects

I’ve been a bit preoccupied with stained glass projects over the past year especially, and haven’t really done much in the way of bottle cutting during this time. I’ve made amends for that today, cutting and finishing four bottles that I’ve recovered from several trips walking in The Lake District, which is my other major time-consuming hobby. These will be particularly pleasing to do, as finding litter in such a beautiful area, clearing it and then making it into something really nice is a very satisfying process, as I have outlined in a previous post – idealistic upcyling.

Here are some of the other glass items I’ve been making:

Monochrome panel

Prairie lamp

3D Christmas trees

Rose lamp

Sheep lamp


Cork bottle tops

Some time ago, Bottlecutting Inc introduced a line of cork tops for bottles, in a large and a Cork topssmall size, so I was very keen to try them out and ordered some right away. The large size covers bottles with a inside diameter of 90-100mm, and the small size covers 63-73mm, and both sets are a triple pack. The large size is bigger than most UK wine bottles, so I went with the small size pack, hoping they would be good for wine bottles and craft beer bottles. The retail cost of $8.99 and 12.99 respectively is reasonable, but given the poor rate of the pound to the dollar, and overseas shipping, they are not the most cost-effective option for UK customers, but that’s our problem, no reflection of the product or company. I just hoped I wouldn’t be clobbered by customs and excise when they landed, as I have been on other purchases from North America, as they certainly know how to cane you with admin charges. (I wasn’t, just cheap enough. phew!)

Cork bottle top I was very impressed indeed with the quality of the cork tops. The immaculate cork is smooth, dust-free and high density, with a small grain, if that’s the right word (probably not!). It feels very high quality and certainly gives me the impression that the corks will remain durable and presentable for a long time under normal use. The quality feel is further emphasised by the superb packaging it came in. Bottlecutting Inc are very good at the marketing and Cork stopperpresentation of their products, and output like this adds a quality feel to what is essentially can be a very rough and ready hobby.

The fit is ok on a larger UK beer bottle I tried it out on (Schiehallion Ale), and also pictured here is the fit on a normal wine bottle, which is ideal. You need a good few millimetres protruding to spin or pop the top off. The smooth graduation of the wedge makes for a good, airtight fit, so this will be an ideal product to make storage jars for sweets and other foodstuffs. A good all round quality product. I’ll certainly make good use of this set to good effect with a couple of my favourite label bottles.

Rescue jobs

Broken mini lampshades

Broken Shades

Occasionally, we get unusual requests from customers at work about cutting or salvaging glass items from their homes and vehicles. One such request lately was for a customer who had borrowed a lamp from somebody, but had managed to break the cylindrical glass lampshades that slotted onto the lamp. Without seeing them, I told him to bring them in and at least I could take a look.

When they arrived, they were actually really small in size, approximately 30mm in diameter, and a heat formed glass cylinder with a moulded inner base tube that slotted onto a mount. This one was going to be tricky. It was certainly going to be too small for all but one of the bottle cutters I have, but I decided to give it a go with the G2 bottle cutter.


Fixed Shades

The G2 cutter is the most flexible cutter I have in terms of the sheer range of size it can cope with. I set it up, and felt confident it would rotate and give a clean, even cut on the shades. It did work in terms of size, but I could tell the score wasn’t too successful just by the feel of it. This is most likely for a combinations of two things. Firstly, the outer surface of the glass shades were sandblasted, which makes it a textured surface. Usually this needs a deeper and harder cut. Secondly, as the glass is a single formed piece with an internal cylinder, I’m guessing that the shades become slightly heat strengthened by the forming process, making it a tougher glass to cut, though not unbreakable clearly. The usual hot and cold method didn’t achieve anything at all in terms of getting the score to run. Time for plan B.

There was no other alternative to tap, run of snap it, so I tried an electric water-cooled tile cutter. As the glass was quite thin (<3mm), the tile cuter was way too brutal to cut these shades. All it achieved was giving me a good soaking. Time for Plan C.

The last remaining chance was to turn to my glass grinder that I use for stained glass making. This would be tricky and time consuming to get the very jagged edges down to being as close to a flat cylinder edge as original, but I gave it a go.

The Lamp

The Lamp

The glass ground well, and using the grid lines on the grinder top, I got the three cylinders down to as flat an edge as I visibly could, which is not easy when you consider it’s a cylinder and you are using a round rotating grinder head. They were so erratically broken, I cut them to just below their lowest breaks, leaving three distinctly different height cylinders. This was as good as I could do, without spending all night grinding. I figured it would look good as the lamp stalks were three different heights anyway, and I could place them to suit the best look. I finished the tops of with the hand diamond pads, to give them as good an flat and arrissed edge as I possible could. The internal edges were too small to do anything with, but I was satisfied they were as safe as I could get them with the grinder.

End result

End result

All in all, I’m quite satisfied in how it went, as the job was really just a ‘make best or bin’ gamble with what had become a damaged and unsafe lamp. It looks pretty good in the end, and was a fun little challenge to do. I don’t mind tackling something like this, as you’ve nothing to loose, and it’s good experience with bottle cutting skills on objects other than bottles. A worthwhile and interesting task.


Idealistic upcycling

I’ve been picking up bottles from the streets in town for a number of years, recycling and upcycling them, and I like the double benefit of removing litter and making something nice to show from it. When I’m out walking in the Lake District fells, occasionally I come across litter around the paths, which gets picked up, but also at odd times I find discarded beer bottles which I find particularly annoying, as it’s disrespectful and selfish, not to mention a long term environmental hazard to wildlife and walkers alike.

Discarded bottle

Discarded bottle

One such example is this discarded Stella bottle, which I spotted embedded in a riverbank near Troutbeck Bridge. I recovered it, and thought about making something to compliment the area it was recovered from. I cleaned and separated the bottle bottom using the processes I’ve outline several times on this blog before. I selected a green on white baroque glass, as the green flows and white wisps are reminiscent of the lake district fells and rolling clouds. I also had a deep green water glass that complimented the bottle centre, so went with this for the 10mm border, and finished with a black polished patina.

Troutbeck suncatcher

Troutbeck suncatcher

 I’m pleased with this one, in particular because it’s something nice made out of what is ultimately a selfish and inconsiderate act of littering one of the most beautiful areas in the world. I’m hoping to make more specifically from bottles I might come across in my fell walking, maybe making a little series of sun-catchers that come from salvaged Lake District litter, hopefully I might even be able to raise some funds in lieu from them for a Lake District charity like ‘Fix The Fells’. That would really be the ultimate full-circle upcycling to me.

finishing tools

I read with interest an email from Bottle Cutting inc, makers of the Kinkajou, that they will be introducing their own diamond pads to sell for finishing cut bottles, and they will be called Saber Tooth Diamond Sanding Pad Kit. This can be pre-ordered on their website here.

Using diamond pads is something I’ve advocated since day one, having used them in the flat glass industry for arrissing glass edges when required, and posted about my techniques several years ago in the blog post ‘Edge finishing’. It never seemed remotely realistic to use sandpaper, as so many have advocated over the decades for finishing cut bottles. It just doesn’t cut the mustard. Diamond pads were for me the only viable option for good results, short of buying a lap wheel. Bottle Cutting Inc have put curved edges on their kit of two cutters, which I’m sure will be beneficial to preparing the inside edges of bottles. I’ve never found the square pads much of a problem to be honest, having only ever used the softest bodied ones, which do flex and curve nicely with your fingers anyway. I don’t see the curves being any disadvantage though. What doe surprise me a little is the choice of a 60 grit pad, combined with a 400 grit one. Personally, I think a 60 grit is a bit to savage for bottles, particularly more fragile beer bottles. I found the spacing of the diamond circles too wide for the surface edge you are trying to abrade, and it made it a bit too prone to adding chips rather than making them disappear. My preferred method is a softer start. I usually start off, gently as she goes, with a 120 or 200 grit block, before moving onto a 400 and then a quick 600 buff over. It’s a gentle but effective way of abrading the surface down to a smooth result, though it can take longer. It’s tough on the wrists at times, but my results are good. Unless I’m missing something in differences between UK and Canada/USA grit numbers, the difference between a 60 to a 400 might be quite a lot. A three pack range would have been better in my opinion from years of use. They seem a little expensive in comparison to my UK ones, which are under a tenner a piece for good quality ones. At that price, with shipping, I can get a triple set of premium 3M ones, or a full range five set of my preferred electroflex ones in the UK. I like what Bottle Cutting Inc have achieved, and have bought a number of their products, but I’ll probably sit this one out and watch how they go with curiosity. I’m all for consigning the sandpaper to the historical bin, along with candles, ice and acetone soaked strings.

Luca Bottle Cutter review

I saw this cutter on indiegogo, and it looked interesting, so I backed it, and the first model came some months later. It certainly was a good looking piece of kit, but what was most interesting to look forward to was the hand-held aspect of it, which going by the pretty decent videos seemed to allow the user to cut curved lines as well as straight. Luca The initial package was an cardboard box, with the kit to assemble inside, giving it an air of a craft industry tool.  The plywood kit was of a good quality, with laser-machined parts for accuracy. Instructions were basic, but assembly was fairly straight forward after viewing all the videos on the net. The first thing I did was throw away the micro screwdriver supplied, which was a total waste of space. The strength required to screw the bolts into the machined ply was quite high, and needed a better screwdriver. It immediately became apparent that, though aesthetically pleasing, the plywood would not be up to long-term use. Parts once assembled were going to have to stay together, as you are screwing into bare wood. It will not stand too many assembly and disassembly cycles, and frustratingly, the box is too small to fit the fully assembled kit back into it.

The parts Luca assembledthat are design to adjust the position of the cutter are large thumb turning screws, but these two are screwing into bare wood slots, so will suffer from the same problem as the other screws. It will soon start wearing out and losing grip, and unfortunately the assembly needs to be put together tightly and strongly as there is a quite a lot of flex in the body when you are pushing a bottle down onto it, or against it in the vertical position. In operation, the cut itself was instinctively Luca wheelquite light and good, and initial accuracy and cut alignment was fairly reasonable, not leaving too much work to do in finishing. The big plus of this cutter, which is best demonstrated by viewing the videos online , is the cutting of curves on the bottles. This is not quite so easy in practise, but it does work in a fashion, and with practise will improve. It certainly gives another option instead of trying to hand cut with a traditional hand-held glass cutter. Luca4

 The biggest problem with this cutter though is the flex in the main body when using to perform standard straight bottle cuts, which, though it performs in basically the same way as the classic Ephrems Bottle cutter, is much too flexible compared to the metal bodied alternative cutter. I still got a good, clean cut from it, just from having a lot of experience cutting bottles, but I’m not sure it would be particularly good for a novice. Combining that, with the inevitable wear and tear on the screws and slots, then on balance, it’s significantly flawed, which is a shame, as it’s great looking, and has an unusual and stand-alone option that other bottle cutters don’t have.

UPDATE:  I see now on the main site , that a new version of the main body design is supplied, which has been substantially changed and looks much more solid, and likely somewhat addresses my issues including flexing and wear and tear by adding a thumb-turning disc to reduce the pressure at screw points. This could very much improve my opinion on the cutter’s weak points, though I can only judge the new model from the video, it’s certainly looks a step in the right direction from my initial review. Until I get a revised model, the review summary below is on the original design, which is now sold out.

Pros: Reasonably priced, ability to cut curves, clean score line, great videos.

Cons: Too flexible in use, longer term wear and tear issues, limited bottle size capability.


Backless Bottom Centres

Right from the start of mixing bottle bottoms with copper-foil designs, I’ve used a 3mm UV-bonded clear circle blank as a backing piece for the bottle ends, as I’ve always felt it adds strength though a fully soldered joint and overall appearance improvement. Occasionally though, despite very careful bonding, and neat soldering, a few drops of water have sneaked through into the enclosed bottle bottom cavity when washing away the patina. I’ve managed to dry them out using natural sunlight, open fires and even industrial desiccant, but it’s not without some water streaks left inside to drive me mad! No-one notices them, but I do. I still think it’s by far the best way to make them though, but out of curiosity for the alternative, I thought I would try one without backing as an experiment.rearsoldering

I begun by foiling the cut edge of the bottle bottom, which , with care, wasn’t as untidy as I thought it could be. I lifted the bottle end up towards the front surface using some 3mm glass, ensuring the front solder was as substantial and visually neat as the backed centres method. This ensures a good looking front face, which is the most important thing in a window hung design. This leaves a step between the two rear foiled surfaces, for solder to form a sloped join.backlessamber The result is ok, but does need the sort of working that puts a lot of heat in during smoothing. It’s pretty strong, but what I don’t like about this method is that it leaves a tinned edge on the upper edge of the round, which is a little bit vulnerable to careless cleaning. From the front, you wouldn’t really tell the difference between the two methods, and it looks good hanging on a window surface. I guess time wise, it probably saves a good half-hour or so from by cutting out the  need for a 3mm circle and the UV bonding, but I still prefer the end results from the backed method I’ve been developing over the last year or two. It’s been useful to try it out, and I would use this method again on a design that is very one-sided in viewing orientation.

Grey Goose Vodka Vase

I was asked to cut down a Grey Goose vodka bottle to help replace a broken one from a set someone had. greygooseI wasn’t mad keen, as I’ve been really focused on the copper-foil designs with my spare time, but I agreed out of curiosity of what the bottles were like as a one-off favour. I’d seen these bottles used a lot for bottle cutting state-side, but not had one to try before.  There’s not a lot of range of where to cut due the nature of the etched design, with around 15mm window of flat bottle just above the goose’s head. I decided to give the Kinkajou cutter a go on this one, and the cut went ok, but on water fracturing there was a tiny run showing, which had to be flatted out quite deeply with the pads. This is where the lack if space hinders a second lower cut to get a perfect flat. The end result was still pretty good in the end though, though I have done better. It was interesting to try, and the etched finish stood up to the process, though I was very careful to avoid scratching and rubs.

Streaky amber suncatcher

I’ve been very focused on a number decorative copper-foil panels for most of this year, so haven’t completed anything with a bottle cut for quite a few months, so thought it was time to cut another one on this rainy Sunday afternoon.   purpleamber

I’ve described the process of this pleasing design of bottle end suncatchers enough over the course of the last few posts, so I’ll just describe the glasses, and show the photo. A brown real ale bottle provided the centre, and I found the streaky antique amber complimented this well. I rifled right through the glass box, holding up various colours with these two before I settled on a purple and amber wispy glass for the 15mm border. Finished in black and polished patina, then end result is really nice, and blends beautifully. Sometimes things just work out really nicely together.