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.


Better finishing

With a real turnaround in the weather after what has seemed like months of rain, I’ve been busy collecting more bottles from the streets , and trying to plough through quite a big backlog of bottles building up in the yard. I’ve recently passed the 100 bottles mark of bottles I’ve picked up off the streets in the ten minute walk home to and from work. Many have been reused, with surprisingly few being too badly scratched to attempt, which get recycled.

I’ve been trying to improve techniques, and really have the cutting and breaking down to a good standard now, leaving as little finishing as possible, but it still takes some time to get to a good standard that I feel happy with. I’m still astounded at how some cut bottles are presented as finished in books and on the Internet, when they are very poor and uneven. A quick rub round with sandpaper really doesn’t cut it.  I want it totally smooth, as uniform as possible and as safe as possible for an edge that is manually finished. Getting small shells on the inner surface has always proven to be the biggest problem when flatting off the cut face. It’s harder to finish the inner edges without catching a surface and leaving scratches, so these shells can leave the edge too difficult to finish to the standard that I want to achieve. I’ve been varying the method order, and started to gently edge the inside edge first, on a shallow angle at first, holding the bottle firmly on it’s side on a wooden surface to avoid movement. When I get the inside edge to a good enough standard, I move onto the outer edge, repeating the holding down technique to minimise movement. Once both edges are complete, only then do I begin to use the flat of the diamond pad to level off the width of the cut surface to remove all crater signs and level it off, creating a nicely clean , “flat and arris” style edge. This was the process that added a few edge shells to the thinner bottles, so leaving it unitl the edges are done reduces the risk dramatically. I should have worked out this sooner, but now I have, it’s producing massively better and more reliable results,  and actually reduces the time taken by around a half – a real bonus, when the finishing process is the major time consuming one compared to the cutting itself.

So there you have my process recommendation:-   inside edge, outside edge , flatting

January lull

Three weeks back in to work after the Christmas shutdown, and haven’t had too much time to bash on with any new designs. A couple of gifts were made for christmas, repeating a few designs already featured on the blog. Mostly though, I was just collecting some bottles, and cutting a few up in preparation of the right combinations to come along to make things. The weather hasn’t been great, with a lot of rain over the weeks, leaving not much chance to try making wooden bases for the bottomless bottles outside in the yard. I guess it’s a typical January time for any crafter, as you’ve got any pressure from christmas out of the way and are just setting up the year to see what direction you want to head off into.

I spent some time making some more paraffin wax candles, this time trying out adding colour and fragrance. First attempts were quite pleasing, though I just pottered along just guessing the approximate amounts of dye per wax quantities, and not weighing them out accurately as you should. Orange candlesI’d been held up with some wax supplies, so had two larger pots ready and waiting to try a bigger container candle in by the time it landed. I used an orange dye, and when it was all melted to the pouring temperature, I added and orange and cinnamon fragrance to the mix. After the customary re-leveling needed to get the top surface of the wax flat around the wick, the pots were cleaned off and presented as gifts to try out. I’ll add more fragrance next time, but the scent was lightly noticeable, and the colour good. They are burning well by all accounts.

Other than that, I’ve just been collecting and preparing bottles and jars, and assembling odd little bits and bobs to maybe make some more bottle hangers with, such as copper packing box staples. clear pen potsToday I just prepared two clear wine bottles, that had flat bases. They cut and edged fine to my now much fussier standards, and I’m just going to keep these and use them as pen pots at home. I’ve got heavier coloured bottles cut for use as vases. It was nice to get the jig rolling again, even if just for simple things like these. 

In terms of other options for 2012, I bought a Dremel engraver recently, so I’m intending spending a bit of time this year trying to get to grips with that as another alternative idea to enhance the bottle cutting hobby. I’m also looking into glass painting, thinking specifically towards use with tea-lights. I recently painted a gold house number on the repaired clear glass top-light on the front door of my cousins house, and found it a good medium to work with on glass, with a pleasing end result. This Tuesday coming I’m also starting a 10-week stained glass evening course at the local adult education,starting with copper-foiling, before moving on to traditional lead came stained glass making. I’m hopeful these two fields will also bring something new to the bottle cutting. We shall see!

Drilled and lit Bottles

I’ve never been one for all the glitter, fake snow and tinsel at Christmas. I don’t mind seeing a decorative tree , but the cats climbing instincts soon put pay to that idea. I think what’s most appealing about this time of year are the decorative lights, not the flashing snowmen and Santa sleds, but the more tasteful banks and chains of coloured lights.

There’s loads of nice examples on the internet of bottles lit with lights inside, and people generally do a real nice job of decorating them too. As with a lot of the things I’ve tried so far, for now, I just wanted to give it a quick whirl to see how difficult it was. As yet, I’ve not had the chance to try a drilled bottle, so I got a chain of 20 white LED fairy lights, and some ceramic/glass drill bits (not the spearhead type, the diamond tipped core type). The modern LED type of lights are best for this, because they are cheap and widely available, as well as reliable and available powered mains or neat battery packs. The main benefit is that the LEDs themselves, combined with the cable returns are quite small, so they can pass through a smaller sized hole in the bottle back, making it both easier to do and neater to conceal.

I only had a couple of empty wine bottles handy at the time, but they looked fine. After checking the bulb dimension, I figured a 12mm diamter hole would still be fine to pass the lights through, even after a rubber donut grommet was placed in the hole. I think anything less than 10mm diameter would become a battle for many LED lights, as you may want to remove the string, and a tight fit may end up requiring pulling on the delicate wires too hard for their own good. Drilling glass should be done with water to keep the bit and the glass cool. A good way to do this, as seen on YouTube, is to form a circular wall around the hole target with plasticine, to form a mini reservoir of water inside. A pillar drill is best to ensure a consistently square downward motion. You could be a bit more ‘adventurous’, shall we say, and drill the bottle manually with a cordless handheld drill, with the glass submerged in water. Obviously this makes it much harder to ensure a steady drive through the glass, but especially difficult to get the hole going without slipping. I did it this later way, angling the bit first to get a biting groove before elevating the drill up to the vertical. It worked OK, but I’d recommend only the pillar drill method is used for best and safest results. When drilling flat glass for commerical use, it’s usually drilled both sides to ensure the best result. Obviously with a bottle this option isn’t there, so a slow and steady speed and only light pressure is best to avoid chipping either face heavily. You’ll know your starting to abrade the glass when glass dust clouds the water. When cleanly through, you should arris the edges of the hole as best you can with a bit or some rolled sandpaper (try folding it round a pencil). It’s tricky to arris a small hole, but as I’d recommend a rubber grommet is always used with wiring holes, you need not spend to much time on it as this will help cover most things.

Lit olive bottle

Clean and thoroughly dry the bottle out. I did notice that the hole helped it act like a chimney and the mositure dried it out very quickly when the bottle was left sat in front of a warm fire. This method of warmer drying leaves it streak free, which isn’t always possible just tipping it up, and you need it streak free and sparkling if you are putting lights inside as they will show. Once sparkling, then you can add the grommet, and begin to feed the lights through the hole. A good tip is to tilt the bottle downwards, to hopefully encourage the end of the chain of lights to come down the neck of the bottle until you can grab a hold of the end. Keep this end sticking out and held while you feed the rest of the lights into the main body. Then at the end, it will hopefully be bulked out enough to keep a few lights right up in the neck and shoulder area. You don’t want to see them all slumped down i the main body, as when lit, you want to keep the shape of the bottle body lit up. Shake it about gently to improve the look if they are too cluttered together. Sometimes, you’ve just got to do it again to get the best balance.

Frosted lit effect

Cork the bottle if you prefer, and that should be your simple lit bottle project done. You could further garnish the bottle more with etching, glues, paints and decorative objects. Clear coloured bottles work well, but you can find the occasional frosted effect bottle ‘off the shelf’ , as pictured right, to help diffuse the effect of the lights and bring the overall bottle shape out really well. Either way, the effect of the coloured glass with the fairy lights is quite atmospheric in a darkened room. These two are just quick experiments but I can see it’s going to be interesting to really take some time and create a really good looking bottle for all year round use, or festively themed one for the Christmas period. Hopefully this quick little attempt and description may be of use to someone wanting to try drilling a bottle. It was easier than I had expected, and there’s loads of much better examples of peoples work on the internet to give some ideas.

Jig extension for cutter

The Ephrem’s cutter is a great piece of kit. By far the best of the two types I’ve used so far (the Ephrem’s and the Armour). Using it’s adjustable end plate and rear wheel positions, you can cut a good range of bottle sizes and achieve various positions of cuts. One project I’m aiming to try out is a hanging bottle tealight lamp, suitable for use in a garden or yard. For those, the bottom of a bottle is cut off, finished, and then the bottle is slid over a coiled wire hanger through the neck, to create a wind sheltering, attractive candle surround, hopefully with some nice bottle colours.

The only way I’d been able to work this cutting length on the Ephrem’s was to remove the end stop, and place the cutter on the kitchen worktop up near to the solid flat face of the fridge-freezer, and use that as an end-stop for the neck end. It was awkward to find the true perpendicular from the fridge for the best cut, and my rolling technique was hampered on one side by the fridge. It also wasn’t going to be the smartest move to risk marking the fridge coating and get a deserved ear-bashing!

Feeling surprisingly resourceful and useful today, I decided to set myself a little ‘scrap-yard challenge’ , to quickly solve this and knock a few of these bottle hangers out in about an hour using just the rough old hand tools and bits of scrap products in the shed. I had the design in mind – a longer base with two firm rails down each side to hold the cutter, which would retain the cutter and allow it to move up and down as required up against a permanent end stop. The Ephrem’s is not wide, so I didn’t need a wide plank for a base – a floorboard offcut  I had was just about right (about 5mm wider would have been ultra-neat), and I cut it to suit a full size wine bottle length, and had plenty left to form the end-stop.

Homemade cutter jigA hardwood quadrant bead remnant from my front door installation last year was ideal to form the two side rails. I also had a couple of 4-holed right angle brackets , which I had put on top of the screw cabinet about 10 years ago thinking “I’ll use them one day” and here that day was! I formed the 90 degree end stop using these brackets, and some salvaged short screws from the old screw tub. The side rails were tacked onto the plank, and that was the job complete – rough as you like – in only about twenty minutes.The only ‘new’ product was half a dozen tacks to nail the side rails on. Unfortunately nails don’t salvage straight, unlike removed screws!

bottomless bottlesThen came the moment of truth – trying it out. The brackets kept the end-stop true and strong, and the rails do their job though the Ephrem’s has non-slip rubber feet (which is the only thing I yet need to find for the jig bottom) so it doesn’t move about much anyway. Three full size wine bottles of different designs were attempted, and gave three good results, which cut cleanly and true. These will be edge-finished tomorrow ready to be used with some wire hangers as garden tealight lamps.

All in all a very cheap and quick little project, which I know will prove to be very useful indeed, and give results that will be popular with friends and family who have the garden space to have BBQs and summer evening outdoor entertaining. It’s almost a complete cycle, as it’s some of those evenings that are providing the empty bottles to make these bottomless bottles.

Candles in the cut bottles

Tealights are a simple and inexpensive option – just drop one in the your candle-holder, maybe mounted in some sand or decorative stones , and there you have it. Light it and change to a new one when expired. If you want something with a longer burn time, then putting a bigger candle in your bottle-made candle-holder is straight forward.  Obviously, you could get into candle-making, and make your own candle using your bottle projects as the receptacles, but that’s another hobby to learn and do. I think I will try it sometime soon, but just for now, I thought I’d try out the holders using a regular shop bought candle.

How to mount the candle in a bottle bottom became the next question. These can be flat, or they can also be domed in the case of wine bottles – not ideal to fix a candle to. The candle needs to be relatively secure, so it doesn’t fall or rattle about when it is inevitably leaned over when being moved. Do I make some sort of metal spike base, to spear the candle to the bottom of the jar? That could be messy, unreliable, create fractures and make it tricky to clean out safely when the candle life was expired. Melted wax sticks to glass, so I heated the base of the candle over the bottle body using a butane torch, and let some wax drop into the base, until the bottom was covered in a few millimetres of wax. Then I heated the bottle bottom to re-liquify the wax in the bottle base, and when melted, I place the candle down and held it until the two waxes combined and stuck. The problem with this process is that it was messy, leaving drips down the side of the bottle, and also it was difficult to get the candle to set in a perfectly upright position. The end result, though solid and reliable for moving about, was not the prettiest it could be. Certainly not to the standard where you would buy it in a shop ( a classic Quality Control test I use from years of manfacturing employment). Time for Plan B.

In a new candle-holder, I placed a new scented lavender candle that was a close fit (45mm diameter in a 52mm bottle body), which can be seen in the photograph here:

lavender candle


I guess this is where I should say “Don’t try this at home”, but it was my hands at risk, and I had brought my wrist protectors and gloves home from work for the night, and wore protective eyewear also. I gently heated the glass directly with the butane torch, and rotated it continuously, to hopefully avoid overheating. As the candle was a snug fit, the radiated heat began to melt the candle, and you could see it filling the glass from the bottom upward. The candle was a good quality one, with solid colour throughout, rather than just a coloured outer shell. This maintained the lavender colour, and as it filled the holder, it began to look really good. The process was completed without any feared glass shattering, and near the top, I put the holder on a flat surface so that it would be as near to level on the top as it set. It settled very nicely, and just required a little cleaning around the top edge of the glass where it had slumped down from the liquid level. As it was a remelt from the sides, the centre was largely unaffected too much, so the wick stayed dead centre. Now it looked much more like something that would pass the QC self-test.

 Here’s the end result:  

remelted candle

Blue bottles

I was keen to get hold of some blue glass, so was pleased to get a Blue Nun wine bottle from a friend. Blue glass bottles look particularly good, and there’s a lot less of them around than green, clear and brown. I removed the neck sleeve, and soaked it in hot water to remove the label and soften the glue enough to remove the last traces with a flat, sharp blade. 

On examining the body prior to cutting, to look for the best approach and place to set the score, I noticed that these bottles were particularly rippled, which you could easily feel spinning the body around in your hand. The bottle was also quite off-round too. I scored the bottle quite high up, intending to make a vase/candle holder using the bulk of the body cylinder on it’s own neck. The first cut skipped about quite a bit on the rollers, so it wasn’t surprising to see it start to run off. I stopped the heating process, to leave it as strong as possible for another cut and inch or so down.

Despite extra care the second, third attempts to repeat the process also failed as the bottle ran off – a mixture of the bumpy process, the off-round shape and a bit of inexperience on my part of cutting such bottles. I thought I was going to lose the entire bottle, which would have been a shame as it was quite hard to get hold of a blue. The fifth cut finally proved successful, leaving a much shorter body of about two inches – something at least. It didn’t look right on the same neck, with the proportions all wrong, so I just finished the edges off nicely then left it to one side to think about what to use it for.

I begun playing around with the odd few bits of spare necks and bodies I had cut, and started to place the blue remnant on all of the necks I had. One in particular, the Kronenburg 1664 neck remnant kept from an earlier project, looked great in combination with it – almost like a strange looking flower. As both were previously finished, I got the UV glue out and bonded them together right away, taking care to make sure this one stuck centrally and was balanced. It is by far my favourite piece so far, partly because of the work done to salvage anything from the blue bottle, but also because of the chance combination of two good looking colours whose shapes work well and create a flower.

A very pleasing end result:

Blue and green 'flower'

Bonding a glass bottle

So now I have cut a wine bottle successfully, and edged the parts, it was time to experiment with sticking the bits together. Due to a slow start in obtaining bottles, I’ve only got a green Hardys wine bottle, which has a dome bottom. Not ideal to learn to glue/bond with, but I thought I may as well have a go at it as it’s there and cut. I know there are plenty of ‘superglue’ types that can do glass to glass, but I’d heard Dan Rojas on YouTube mention UV bonding glue that was cured in the sun. This sounded really interesting, as I was familiar with the clarity of UV glue bonds through work. They look great, and there’s little mess when done carefully, unlike superglue types that go white, or leave glue trails.

I found a small 2g syringe applicator UV curing product called Fixsal on Ebay for a few pounds, and gave it a go. I looked at my positions of each piece prior to applying the glue to the neck, so to avoid any delays once the glue was applied and in daylight. The syringe applicator was easy to use and control, putting a steady flow on the rim as I circled around after the bottle was placed in the direct sunlight coming through the window. I placed the bottom on top of the neck carefully, trying to hit ‘centre’ , and as the contact was made and I pushed down gently, the bonded glue squeezed out to fill the top of the rim and the joint looked uniform and good. I held it rock steady in position for at least two minutes, then came the crunch time – would it stick despite the dome or would it slump and fall off? I released all grip and it stayed perfectly still, so I picked it up and a quick attempt to twist of the two parts showed just how strong the UV glue was. It was rock solid. Very impressive. The bond joint was immaculate, clear and almost invisible. A great product.

Here’s a photo of the first bonded item. A curious effect of bonding a dome-bottomed wine bottle is that it almost looks as if the neck has been driven into the bottle bottom and it’s melted into the final position. All in all, a very satifactory first bonding experiment. Next to try a clear bottle joint, and see just how clear and neat this UV bonding glue is.

UV bonding

Edge finishing

When it comes to the finishing the edges, there’s a few different options. Most of the bought kits come with a few bits of sandpaper just to get you started. These should ideally be the stronger backed type .eg. fabric to protect your fingers a bit better and last hopefully a little longer. I found the thin strip types were quite useful as you could form it around your index finger, and arris the edge quite effectively will little risk of straying onto the glass surface itself, avoiding scratches when finished. I’ve also tried an electric sander, which was very effective too in flattening off the worst of the ‘craters’ in the break. Kept relatively flat, the sander does a lot of the work for you, though you need to avoid turning the bottle edge into the paper too much, which very quickly cuts though the sandpaper. Used as it’s intended (flat to the surface) , it’s a labour saver and quite neat in finish and uniformity as you vary the grit used.

With the bought kits, you sometimes also get a small portion of pumice powder, which you sprinkle onto a flat glass surface, and mix into a paste with water. The bottle edge can be rotated onto this surface (like a Ouija board action), and this slowly smoothes up the edges. It’s quite a slow and messy process, and leaves you with a residue that you wipe/rinse to check progress, and also need to store or dispose of afterwards. It’s much less effective in terms of effort  than the final method I chose.

Having seen diamond pads in action for years at work, used to hand arris glass and mirrors quickly and neatly, I knew these would be my preferred tool to complete the edges of cut bottles. I purchased a range of three different grades ( black -120 grit, red – 200 grit , yellow – 400 grit), and used them all to smooth down, level off and finish up the bottle cut. They are a good size to grip, but because they are quite large for smaller bottles, it’s easy to get over-enthusiastic and slip onto the glass surface, leaving scratches that you won’t be able to polish out. This is more of a problem than the finer sandpaper slips, which I found can be polished out with a bit of jewellers Rouge and a felt bob. The odd slip is annoying, as I want the edges perfect, but on reflection, they are already far superior to the finished examples shown in the two books on bottle cutting I’ve got. They are really quite poor, and you’d be reluctant to take a sip out of some of those to be honest. Good progress made on finishing so far. I’m sure the diamond pads are the best way, and will get to the perfection (100% no scratches or shells) stage with more practise.

Diamond pads

First attempt

After finally blagging two empty wine bottles from a colleague and my dad, it was time for the first go. Pretty strange hobby for a teatotaller to adopt, but hey ho…there’s always the recycling bins! 

Having soaked the bottles in very hot water for a while, the labels came off pretty easily, leaving a minimal amount of adhesive, which scraped off with a single flat-edge blade. A quick dry and polish up removed all tiny smears of glue residue. A clean bottle will help keep the cuting wheel at its best. The jig was set up to cut the bottle at the below shoulder location required, and the cutting wheel was adjusted to contact the bottle at 90 degrees to the bottle surface as per the instructions. The rotation of the bottle appeared to go well, and the sound of the scoring was very apparent and a useful audiable guide to the level of pressure I was applying. The cut looked good, if a little flaky (compared to the flat glass cuts I see at work which are immaculate as the cutting heads are top quality). I’d already decided to probably avoid the candle and ice cube method, as it looked quite slow and a bit of a mess. There’s usually no ice cubes in the freezer anyway, but I thought the cold tap would be as good. Using the candle seemed to result in a sooty mess on the bottle,  obscuring the score, despite adjusting how close I went to the flame. It wasn’t transfering the heat very quickly, so I abandoned that idea and went onto just-off the boil water. This worked very well. I allowed a small controlled trickle to heat the score line area for a few seconds, then quenched it under the trickling cold tap. The run started to show, and could be controlled pretty easily, rotating it around and taking a little time not to over-heat using the hot water. Right near the end, towards a flakier bit, it ran off, which was disappointing. I was quietly confident of the heat control and running technique having watched carefully some of the better YouTube videos. I looked at the wheel, and saw a lot of glass dust, then the penny suddenly dropped…I’d forgotten to put any cutting oil on the wheel! This was despite having ordered a neat little squeezy bottle of it from Ebay in advance. A basic error that I should have known to avoid, coming from a glass factory enviroment. A quick blow out of the cutting wheel, a drop of cutting oil on it, and a second go at the process worked beautifully, with a nice clean cut and good run. I was quite tickled with that, so I decided to take another go, and cut another ring off the bottle bottom, about 50mm down. This too worked a treat. The bottle helped a bit, as the Hardy’s wine bottle glass was very uniform in thickness, and very smooth to roll.

First successful cuts

Here’s my first successful cut bottle, prior to beginning the edge finishing. Not bad cuts for a complete novice.