Glassblowing is expensive, no way around it. Utility bills can be staggering plus tools and materials are expensive, especially if you are particular about the quality of your glass.
To get into a studio, to learn how to blow glass or practice the craft, there are really only two options, own your own studio or rent from someone who does.
I once owned a full studio setup, way back when and probably years before I should have had my own shop. But it didn’t work out long-term, so I sold all of my equipment in the early 2000’s as I switched from being an artist to being a Realtor and then a stay-at-home dad with a growing family.
Later, after my kids grew up and left home, I got back into glassblowing. Looking to indulge my pursuit of skills, I was forced to rent time in the only studios I could find, at roughly $50 an hour, sometimes more. Plus color. Plus travel. Which all added up very quickly.
After paying to rent out time in someone else’s studio for a few years, I started to see that a few options existed for home-based studios or mobile set-ups that were geared towards street fairs and people who would want to move them around on a regular basis. These options did not exist when I was getting started in the mid 1990’s, but there are some pretty sweet setups out there! Two of the most well known are Canned Heat Glass and Mobile Glassblowing Studios.
I am not going to pretend that either of these options are inexpensive or that I am not lucky that I can pursue such an expensive hobby (offset with a few sales here and there!) but if you find yourself in a similar situation both companies are worth a look! And after a few years of not renting time, but rather investing in your own studio, you might find that in the medium to long run, it is less expensive to own your own hobby equipment as opposed to continuously renting someone else’s studio.
Using a spreadsheet and my limited math abilities that I have kept alive since high school I figured that I could put together a pretty sweet hobby studio, with most of my equipment from Canned Heat and a few cool add-ons from Mobile Glassblowing, and still spend less on a monthly basis than renting time from someone else.
And for everyone who can’t simply write a check to cover the upfront costs of a purchase, which I’m guessing would be most of us, options exist that allow you to apply for and take out a loan to purchase all of the equipment, much like a car payment, over the course of a few years. Or I guess a credit card could work, but would likely be a more expensive alternative.
Even after you manage to gather all of the glassblowing equipment together, there will still be some ongoing expenses, most notably your glass and gas. Most people will run a natural gas line to the Canned Heat equipment, but propane is also a choice if natural gas is not an option.
I will note that anyone who decides to go with propane over natural gas should try to use as large of propane tanks as possible. Theoretically you might be able to power your hotpot with something as small as a standard 20 pound tank, but it will freeze up very quickly and won’t last long enough to really make any sense at all.
I’ve had a fair amount of luck using two 40 pound tanks, running in series, through a regulator and into the burner with forced air from a blower that comes with the Canned Heat hotpot. But on really cold days, or long days, the 40 pounders would freeze up and stop pushing the propane through at a high enough pressure to allow me to work.
100 pound tanks would be nice. Larger would be even better. Being hooked up to a never ending supply of natural gas would be the best!
A quick note about propane tanks and their measurements… the stated size or weight of the tank is in regard to roughly how much propane each tank will hold. So a 40 lb tank holds about 40 pounds worth of gas when full, it does not mean the tank weighs 40 pounds, either empty or full.
You’ll also need to change the crucible out that sits in the bottom of the glory hole every now and then. I’ve changed mine only once so far, and am pretty sure I could have done a better job!
After some number of months, my 40 lb crucible (which can hold roughly 40 lbs of melted glass at the max) popped and developed a pretty gnarly crack on the side directly under the burner head. While it was distressing and caused me to worry that molten glass would soon start leaking out all over the floor, this was not the case. The crucible, and the high temp castable behind it, continued to work just fine and kept all of the melted glass inside the equipment.
However, the closer I got to one year of use of one or two sessions a week I noticed that more and more rocks and bits of crucible were showing up in my work, making it harder and harder to collect a clean gather of glass. At some point, I decided it was bad enough that I busted out the crucible and castable and started over with a new crucible.
The biggest mistake that I made, and that you should try to avoid, is adding too much water to the dry castable. It was not as wet and mushy as I had expected, I was thinking about pourable concrete, and I kept adding water, and now know that was way too much water and I have likely diminished the effectiveness and lifespan of both the crucible and castable. I will do better next time out! And as always… read the instructions!
Another ongoing cost will be your glass, both the clear glass you melt in the Canned Heat hotpot or Little Dragon you get from Mobile Glassblowing Studios. There are quite a few options out there and my understanding is that most should work, but you want to stick with only one brand and not switch up until you have a new crucible to work with, don’t mix two brands of clear cullet in the same batch. And these little pieces of equipment are not meant to melt batch, so don’t even try.
Keep in mind that your clear glass will not be as clear or clean as the glass coming out of a large furnace at a well functioning studio. If you need pristine glass for your work, these smaller hobby studios are not for you!
Color is also expensive, but you will be paying for that no matter what, even if you are renting time on someone else’s equipment.
In the end, I am thrilled with my hobby studio. I can work on my own schedule, whenever I feel the urge, without having to work around someone else’s schedule. I am also not hostage to someone’s sudden decision to jack up rental rates at a moment’s notice. Yes, it has happened!
And most advantageous for me is that I have been able to arrange all of my equipment in a layout that works for me, allows me to try the techniques I’m interested in all the while costing me less each month than continuing to rent time from someone else.
With all of that said, it is still nice to work out of a larger established studio and rub elbows with other glassblowers every now and then!
*UPDATE – June 2023*
My wife and I moved to NYC and due to reality, high rents and limited space I sold my entire studio to another glass artist and am currently renting time in a well established and reliable public access studio in Brooklyn. The glass is much cleaner, there is more equipment to use and I now have access to assistants when needed. But I sure do miss the ability to walk out back, turn my own studio on and just make whatever I want to make on any given day.