Sunday, 7 July 2013

How to make money as a studio glassmaker. Plymouth College of Art Research Conclusion

This is probably the last post on this particular blog. I set out 3 years ago to develop a new business model. This model incorporates a furnace, not I should stress, a micro furnace, but a real workhorse, capable of producing excellent quality glass that can be sold in shops and galleries. I wanted to reduce the cost of running a studio (roughly £100 per day) by at least a third, and ended up with a studio that when set up correctly, costs £45 a day on propane or roughly £25 - 30 per day on natural gas.

It is of course, possible to make a furnace that costs very little to run, but the real question is....what comes out of the other end? If we go too far, we end up with seedy, unrefined glass that we have to sandblast to be able to sell. In my opinion, a furnace needs to be capable of delivering excellent quality glass, every day.

                                           Perfect glass quality from the RGH1 (Bob)

So, if you want to make money out of glassmaking, the first question must be, "What scale are the products am I going to be making?" The second question is "How many products will I be making?"
There are two giants of furnace design in the UK. Many people argue over which is more efficient. Strangely, the answer is 'both of them'.
If you are a sole trader, perhaps working with a part time assistant, making batch production, but spending an equal amount of time on coldworking, design and paperwork, then Peter Howards extremely well insulated 150KG pot furnace would be perfect for you. The burner is small and efficient and the recuperator is so well designed that you can put your hand right over the flue, even when it's on high fire.
If you have a team of glassmakers working together every day, with staff to do the coldwork, then you can't go wrong with the best workhorse I've come across, Mike Tuffy's MRJ 150kg pot furnace. It has a poweful burner that can take the temperature to high fire like a rocket. It's not as insulated, but that means that after the overnight melt, it's sitting ready to be worked when the glassmakers come in early in the morning. (A well insulated furnace would take all morning to come down to working temperature).
Even though the MRJ looks more expensive to run on paper, it's possible to get more product out of it, which is just as efficient a business model.

My design for the RGH1 is the right business model for me at the moment. I designed it to be rugged and have spent less that £40 on maintenance on the furnace over the last 3 years. It was worked an average of 3 days a week for a year between 2011 and 2012 and has travelled to numerous sites for workshops, the most recent at the Plymouth College of Art event 'Field of kilns'. I've found that it can also be used like a micro furnace providing the pot is emptied, where we light it 1st thing in the morning, and work it 2 hrs later. We can even fill the pot up again right to the top and have usable glass within an hour. We got though about 50 kg at the last student workshop we ran at PCA, and often use a gathering ball to do sandcasting. At the end of the day, we just turn it off. This only gives seedy, unrefined glass of course, but costs about £15 per day on propane. (Much less on natural gas)

I'm delighted with the results and would like to thank Plymouth College of Art for their excellent support. I'll sign off with a few pics of the work that came out of the RGH1.....that's what it's about after all.

The first piece of refined glass that came from Bob 2 at the IFG last year. After many practical problems which caused a lot of inefficient burning, we got better glass quality than that from the furnace at the festival.

Upcycled glass. This is 50% recycled bottle glass altered so that it works as soft as lead crystal and can be decorated with any kugler colour. Cuts my cullet / batch costs by half.

                            Bob at the field of kilns, with small lehr over the gloryhole

                                Sandblasted bottle - all I can do with un-refined glass

38cm High vase, made in 2 parts and assembled using top loader. Refined glass quality, sells for £120. Costs on propane £45 (£30 natural Gas). Stock made easily in one day
£480 plus.
Thanks to Plymouth College of Art

Friday, 30 November 2012

RGH 1 (Bob) at the International Festival of Glass

Along with Nicky and Jodie and with help from Amy, Loz and Adam we represented Plymouth College of Art at the International Festival of Glass this year. I did some demos (see pic below) on how to make stemware without an assistant but the main reason we were there was to run an affordable furnace making course. Louise Cloke and Sarah Fell, recent graduates from PCA were selected for the prestigious Biannale exhibition and Louise was awarded an honoury mention.

We built the furnace in 2 1/2 days without the use of a workshop. In fact we built the whole thing with an angle grinder with a cutting wheel, a welder (borrowed from the brilliant Merlin), a drill and an assortment of hand tools. The group was fantastic, with lots of enthusiasm and a great sense of excitement and fun.

We lit the furnace and went on to make glass from it. I learnt a tremendous amount from the other demonstrators and would like to thank Merlin for all his help and tremendous support. Thanks too to Katie, Kieth, Gaz and all at Ruskin.
Special thanks to Plymouth College of Art for their continued support for this project.
We put together a facebook page and have uploaded all the photos that show construction of the furnace. It's called BOB Too and you can find it at!/Bobtoo2012 .
Abobe. This is the first piece of glass to be made from Bob 2. Look out for the introduction of a user friendly version Bob 3 sometime in the new year.
Below. Demonstrating at the Ruskin Glass Centre. I was delighted to find that on that day, the glass quality from Bob was better than that from the larger glass furnace at Ruskin

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Only one place left on the affordable furnace course at the International Festival of Glass

There's one place left on the course I'm running at the IFG from Aug 20th. We'll be building an affordable glass furnace and working from it, finding new ways to work without an assistant. This is all to create a new, sustainable business model for glass blowing students and graduates. If we can get lots of micro businesses up and running in sheds in our gardens, one in ten could become larger and who knows? Perhaps in 10 years time we may have new glass factories and a healthy manufacturing industry in the UK. For more info, go to

Here's a sample of work made last week without an assistant. The course is not about what I can do, but what anyone can do with a bit of patience and enthusiasm

Sunday, 13 May 2012

I would like to thank Plymouth College of Art for their support and encouragement, without which none of the work on this blog would have been possible

All research, published papers and technical information on this blog is the intellectual property of Ian Hankey but is free of charge to anyone who finds it useful. Any attempt to profit financially by selling information to a third party is a breach of copyright. Help and advice using skype will be given on the building of a furnace providing that the glassmaker uses the burner and control system specified (see the Combustion system, Saflame page for further info)
Furnace design © Ian Hankey Sept 1st 2002
Blog © Ian Hankey 14th March 2011


I'm running a master class at the International Festival of Glass at the Ruskin Glass Centre from the 20th August. We will be building a furnace on site and working it using recycled glass, learning how to make complex glassware without the aid of an assistant. For information about the course and the International Glass Fesival go to  
This year is particularly exciting as Richard Marquis is making a rare UK visit. Although his course is already full it's well worth going just to see if you can watch him work.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Research at Plymouth College of Art

The workshop, a collaboration between myself on behalf of Plymouth College of Art, Dartington Crystal and The Shops at Dartington

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Did you know that you can use all the couloured waste glass from your sudio to produce this transparent blue, no matter what coulour you put in? Most people think that if you re-melt coloured glass you will get swirls or a dirty brown. That's the case with cast glass, but at standard working temperatures the furnace is actually a chemical reactor. The chemical reaction that takes place is homogenous, and gives this light blue every time with only a slight variation ( 6 melts so far ). As we can be paying up to £1000 per ton these days, it makes sense to recycle all our coloured glass as well as the clear. Check out the pieces below. These are made from glass that was destined for land fill. On a page on this site you will be able to read about using bottle glass and other recycled glass to produce 100% upcycled products like these:-

Friday, 23 September 2011

5th Firing at dartington

I'm looking forward to welcolming Plymouth College of Art  students and Graduates into a co operative under the Dartington Hand Blown Studio Glass banner. The shops at Dartington have given us a great spot with passing trade all year round and lots of coach parties. The rent will be only £40 per day for member glassmakers.

The great thing about this site is that we can engage with the public and capture the imagination of adults and children, creating the next generation of craftspeople. it's amazing to see how happy people are when they actually make something. It really gives a spiritual lift in an increasingly throw away society.