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.


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.

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.

Multicolour suncatchers

I’ve not done much with bottles for a number of weeks, concentrating what time I had on a couple of copper-foil designs I wanted to do, so I decided to get back into a couple of things now that those designs are out of the way. I’ve really enjoyed making the bottle centre suncatchers, and improving the designs and finish standards a good deal, so I opened the glass box to see what I had to use this time.

The previous violet bordered suncatcher I made looked vibrant in the light, and I had plenty left, so I wanted to use that again, but with another strong but complimentary colour inside. Pairing them up together in the light, I found I liked a green bottle centre, with a strong amber between the bottle centre and the border. multicolourThis technique of holding glass up to the light together really does help in making decisions that please the eye. Sometimes choices seem good matches on the desk, but don’t quit work as well together when viewed through the light.

Firstly, I used a green beer bottle centre, which was UV bonded onto a clear circle for strength and foiling success. I then cut a 100mm square of the amber, and marked out the centre cross and circle, then proceeded to cut and grind the pieces to a close fit, so the foiling and soldering would be as neat and as uniform as possible. foiled multicolour

Cutting mathematically rather than to a template helps to keep things pretty square, so I then marked and measured 15x115mm strips of the violet border, to allow for the overlapped border, which adds strength. If everything goes to plan, things should be pretty tight and square, and I then pin the design down into my right angle box to help keep the pieces in just the right position to ensure gap-free joins when finished.

I used black backed copper foil again, and soldered using K-grade solder for a nice smooth flow. Black patina was added, and I now use some Stovax black graphite polish to give the beautiful end shine like the very top photo above, after a kind tip and sample from a local stained glass artist whose panel we encapsulated at work. The polishing has transformed the end result on this and those copper-foil designs, and made black patina the best looking option for me now.

As the end result turned out so well, I repeated the exact same design again yesterday, mini-wine botte multicolouredthis time using a green mini-wine bottle centre, pictured right and above. This centre is a touch smaller, a slightly stronger green colour, and projects more prominently. I’ve still to add the polish in the photo, but I think the colours look really well together.


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

Water breaking

After a good deal of experimenting, and observing other people’s methods on the Internet, I’ve settled into a routine method for cutting and breaking glass bottles that really works well for me. I guess it’s about finding your own preferred method, but some of the well publicised ones , to me at least, leave a lot to be desired, and the results demonstrated speak for themselves. In this post, I hope to break down the steps I take to demonstrate my best method of cutting bottles, which is one I regularly get around 80%+ success rate with. Though not as demonstrative as a video, the photos and blog post should hopefully still  be useful to follow my own chosen technique, which has worked very consistently over several hundred of cut bottles so far.

The first step to cutting a bottle successfully is the most obvious, but often the most overlooked in terms of a prime reason why the bottle cutting fails. There are some methods of breaking a glass bottle using heat from an acetone-soaked string line, or an electric current, or even hot oil inside the bottle, but most demonstrated results are often quite poor. I only use, and recommend, the traditional glass scoring technique, using a glass or dedicated bottle cutter.clean scoreline This helps to create a consistent and clean score line which should run well if performed correctly. This is the key stage to a successful cut in my opinion. A singular, light, clean and unbroken score line is essential, and, beginners to the hobby might be tempted to have a heavy score line to feel they are breaking into the glass. Heavy scorelines, that leave lots of flakes are the most likely to crack and run off when breaking commences. A consistent, gentle pressure with the two ends meeting is what you need. Ensure your wheel is lightly oiled, and don’t go over the same scoreline twice. You want a nice, clean scoreline as the photo right. Without this clean start, the odds of a poor break are magnified.

hot water pourWhen it comes to the breaking, I’ve settled on the hot and cold water method observed on YouTube, with reliable and good results right from day one. The Ephrem’s cutter comes with a candle to use in conjunction with a block of ice, but I found that technique very unsatisfactory. It was messy, slow and gave poor results. I much prefer to use a pouring kettle, and a cold running tap. Depending on the thickness of the glass (thinner glass go slightly cooler), I use the kettle just “off the boil” (around the 70-80 degrees Celsius mark, though I don’t use a thermometer). Using a kettle means you can pour a neat line of water just over the score area, without letting it spread too widely across the body of the bottle, which I find helps a great deal. My preferred method is to use a sink bowl for balancing the bottle, and rotate the bottle around a few revolutions, pouring the hot water over the score as i rotate slowly.  fracture lineI used to try creeping the cut by flashing a section with hot water and immediately quenching it under the cold, but this isn’t as consistent as a full score heating by several turns. When I gauge the bottle to be hot enough after three or four turns, I then rotate the score under a slowly running cold tap, turning it fully to quench it as quickly and uniformly as possible. This should give you a clearly visible fracture line all the way around the bottle, as photographed to the right. When you have this look all the way around, without any runs, you know you’ve got it sussed.

clean breaks

A second, gentle pour with some hot water is usually enough to separate it fully at this stage, and the two parts completely separate without any human touch required, leaving clean edges ready for smoothing. No bottle will be completely flat when separated, but this technique gives you consistently very straight edges as the photo to the left shows, which are straight-forward to finish (see my preferred method in the post edge finishing) . I’ve used it on thin beer bottles, small condiment bottles, wine bottles and very thick whisky bottles all to a good standard. It’s by far the best way I’ve come across so far, regardless of which bottle cutter you initially use.

Wooden bases part 1

Having got to grips with chopping the bottoms off bottles cleanly, and getting a very satisfactory final finish, it was time to explore a few options for a bottomless bottle, other than the hanging lights that I’ve done a few of already. Looking around for a few ideas, the combination of coloured glass bottles and wood looks good together, and there’s some good looking designs with hurricane style candle lamps using flat bases. Probably the finest ones I’ve seen have been bases on old barrel sections, but there’s also a number of tea-light holders based on driftwood and logs sections.

Floorboard section

I placed the prepared bottle centrally on the floorboard, and drew round it’s outer circumference for the outline. The inside outline can be gauged by the bottle thickness, which in this case averaged 4-5mm. At this stage, if you place your bottle over a lit candle to gauge how it will look, you will notice that the flame will soon start to struggle and dies.Routered baseYou soon work out that a channel or some other method for drawing air into the bottle is required, creating a chimney ‘drawing’ effect. You could drill a hole in the glass as low as possible, but it’s best not to weaken it too much as it’s likely to be handled a quite a lot.  You could have the base on some feet, and let it draw through some holes in the base if you prefer a less visible solution. In this case, I thought I’d start with a thin channel of about 2-3mm, and deepen it if required to allow more air to drag through. If a tea-light is the intended use, you could also add a central circle outline of around 37-38mm, which would help stop it moving off centre.

Floorboard light

I routed the outlines out using a Dremel rotary tool, testing the depth and width of the circles with the bottle till it was a good enough fit. Then I adjusted the router height, and increased the cut depth of the two airflow channels. Once happy enough with the overall bottle fit and airflow performance, the top and all edges were sanded and rounded down, and the wood was given a couple of coats of oak wood dye. I avoided the notion of any varnish or was, as its final use might well be in a warm fireplace, or it may be affected by the heat under the bottle itself, which does get surprisingly warm even with a tea-light. Overall, the finished look is not too bad for a ‘rough and ready’ same day experiment. I retained the tongue and groove parts of the floorboard, just to show its re-used nature. A very cheap and straightforward little experiment using leftover bits and bobs, with only a tea-light as a new expense.

 [skip to wooden bases part 2 here]


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.

Cleaning and drying bottles

Most bottle cutting projects are easy to dry out after cutting, because you’ve opened it up into a wide, accessible container. For projects that leave the bottle intact, such as lamps and filled bottle ideas, a good clean and smear free drying is essential. The cleaning part is very easy, using a soak in very hot water with a little washing up liquid, giving good results even on really dirty street salvaged bottles with everything from mud, slugs and decaying flora inside shifting in the end. A thorough rinse is essential to remove all the detergent traces before drying begins.
At first, I was inserting paper/cloth towels with along thin pointer, and rotating them to dry them, which was ok, but far from satisfactory. Even days of leaving them to dry out naturally wasn’t always successful, leaving the odd drip and streak. Heating the bottle with the gas torch was a bit too severe in terms of heat when holding, and tended to transfer condensation from one side of the bottle to the other, without clearing it out rapidly. I did toy with the idea of adding desiccant inside, but that would cause as much if not mess as you try to remove when saturated.
This left two options I could think of, the first being the gas oven. Placing them in the pre-heated oven on a low gas mark for a few minutes worked well, but it meant a very hot bottle hads to be picked up, and stored somewhere, though you could just turn the oven off and leave it to cool if it’s not in the way. This worked fine, but is not recommended for bottles you intend retaining the label on. One of mine turned into a bit of a disaster on that front – scorched and glue everywhere.

Cleaning and drying bottles

The second option was just standing them on the hearth, in front of the gas fire for a few hours, which is usually on anyway at this time of year. Though slower, the end results are perfect, and leave a sparkling clean bottle ready to use. This is now my preferred cleaning and drying method of getting a really clean full bottle to use.