The Creative Can of Beans
Part One of a Three Part Tutorial
So you've worked in glass for years.
You're incredibly fulfilled. You've made thousands of projects that
have made other glass artists turn green with envy. Your soldering
skills are without par, your glass cutting expertise is
unparalleled. You've even caught yourself admiring your own work,
overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of your glass creations. Why, just
last week you landed a commission job that paid so much money you're
considering having to add onto your house to have a place to put
it. Everything would be perfect, if only…
You know the feeling. You've got scraps of
glass all over the place, you've got a kiln that ought to be able to
fuse glass, and now you've got the urge to put the two together. Or
maybe that cousin you thought was calling to ask for money stopped
by and gave you an old (working!) kiln he found in the ditch behind
his house. Whatever the reason, you just know you've got to figure
out how to use all those leftover scraps of glass you have laying
around. Have I got a solution for you!
Go buy a can of beans. No, not just any can of
beans. A steel can. (Steal it if you want, but don't say
I told you to.)
Then get yourself a magnet (I stole mine from the
refrigerator) and head for the grocery store. Run (no scissors,
please) to the canned goods aisle and pry loose the magnet from
where it's stuck to the car keys in your pocket. Now wander up and
down the aisle, testing the cans to see which ones stick to the
magnet. The best cans to use are tall, with slightly rounded (even
tapered) edges on the bottom. When you find one you like, buy it.
Buy two if you're feeling extravagant. I like cans of beans, but
you might like cranberry sauce or tomato soup.
When you get back to the safety of your
kitchen, open the can. Discard the contents or use them if you
must. (See chili recipe in next tip.) Now rinse out the can.
Remove the paper label and then head down to your glass studio.
(This assumes the studio is somewhere other than your kitchen. If
not, please don't eat the beans while you're working with glass.)
Here's where the kiln comes in. Get some kiln
wash. (No, it's not next to the Turtle Wax at the car wash. It's
at your local pottery or glass supplier.) Sometimes your kiln wash
will come already mixed, but usually it's a powder you have to mix
with some water. Once that's done (4 or 5 parts water to one part
powder), use a brush or sprayer to apply the kiln wash to the shelf
that came with your kiln. Let the shelf dry. Now place the empty
can on the shelf. Place it upside down, so that the bottom is on
For this next step you'll need a pair of gloves
that can withstand some heat. If you don't have a pair, go to your
local hardware store and get a pair of welder's gloves. They should
cost about ten US dollars. (If you're in the US, of course – if you
live somewhere else, your local retailer might insist on another
currency.) Welder's gloves are very useful up to a temperature of
about 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit (about 300 degrees Celsius) –
after that, they can sometimes be used for short periods but will
become uncomfortably warm because the leather they're made from
retains heat (poor cow).
Now it's time to fire the kiln. The empty
can's in there, right? You remembered to clean it, didn't you? Now
vent your kiln by propping the lid up about an inch. Then turn the
kiln on and let it fire until it reaches around 500 degrees
Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius). You can probably fire as fast as
your kiln allows, but the folks who make kiln elements prefer that
when you first turn cold elements on you let them get used to the
heat by not firing them full force straightaway. I usually fire a
few minutes, then rest a few minutes when the temperature gets
around 250 Fahrenheit, then fire hard again the rest of the way.
Your kiln may give off a little smoke as the heat increases. This
is due to stuck on paper and other contaminants (such as glue) being
burned off. Don't worry, just let the temperature heat until it
reaches 500 degrees F/260 C.
Now you get to do something that's potentially
dangerous. Not as dangerous as eating mercury-tinged tuna or
botulism-tainted beans, perhaps, but something to be careful about
nonetheless. You get to open the kiln and remove the hot can. (Can
you say ouch?) So do it this way:
Wear the gloves. Wear a long sleeve shirt,
made of cotton, not synthetic fiber. Wear safety glasses. Now turn
the kiln off. This is important enough to say again: turn the kiln
off. Depending on the model, you may have to unplug it to make
certain that the elements aren't retaining electric power. If in
doubt, unplug the kiln.
Now reach into the kiln and carefully (I said
carefully) take out the can. Place it on a surface that withstands
heat. (And extra kiln shelf or a cement floor works fine. A stack
of newspapers doesn't.) Get a brush and some kiln wash (it helps if
you've already laid this out) and apply it to the sides (and bottom)
of the can. No need to apply it to the inside, but make certain the
sides and bottom get covered. The kiln wash will sizzle as it is
applied. The water in the kiln wash will evaporate and the good
part (it'll be chalky looking) will stick to the can. Leave the can
to cool. (You can set it back in the still-warm kiln if the kiln
wash is a little wet and you want it to dry quicker.)
Now we're ready to get to the glass. (I bet
you'd forgotten this was about glass, hadn't you?)
Click here to go on to the next part of this
Copyright 2005 Brad Walker.
All rights reserved.
This article was originally
written in 1999 and became the basis for the
Warm Glass website. It
has also been published in Common Ground: Glass, the
newsletter of the International Guild
of Glass Artists. There are at least three more parts, all coming
soon to a computer near you.