WorkBench Setup and Cheap Fun Tools

Southward- and northward-looking views of the workbench, working with the Hot Head torch used by many beginners. You can see the kiln in the corner of the northward picture; that's what I use to anneal the beads and prevent the glass from cracking or exploding. Stress in cooling glass is a fascinating subject, worth reading about in its own right.

I just love it when I can solve a problem using some simple piece of wood with a little glue and drilling, or some "worthless" piece of industrial junk that costs a few cents or a few bucks and yet does exactly what I need. For example:

Old plastic junk sometimes turns out useful! This rack of cheapo test tubes cost $1.25 from American Science and Surplus, and it makes a great holder for short leftovers of glass cane. Just don't put the hot end down, because the tubes and stand are plastic!

Here's the same lovely plastic test tube rack in a new capacity, as a stand for beads still on their mandrels! there's just no end to its versatility. If it only weren't plastic, I'd stand my tools in it :-)

Another cheapskate's delight: This is a $1.99 watchmaker's box from India, made of very light aluminium. The little round parts boxes have glass lids. I saw these in the Harbor Freight Tools catalogue and was immediately convinced they would solve my millefiore problem. I kept my mille in a film can previously. When I wanted some, I would tip some out into my hand and pick slowly through them looking for the right colour -- tedious, and the mille get a little more dirty every time.

That's a close-up of the blue mille all happy in their little jar.

Now, after a very soothing couple of hours sorting my mille by colour family, I have this nice organized stash -- can tell what I am running out of and what I still have plenty of. Nice, no? And not bad for 2 bucks... isn't junk wonderful.

This is the cheapest glass smasher I could build -- all hardware store items. One piece of 2in galvanized pipe, threaded; one end cap for same. One piece of 1in galvanized pipe, threaded; one end cap, one elbow (for use as a handle). It actually works rather well, though I wish I had remembered to take the part label off the end cap of the plunger -- the broken glass sticks to the adhesive. It will wear off pretty soon. I think I'll actually weld or bond a steel fender-washer to the 1in cap, because the galvanized potmetal is soft and the glass dents and dings it -- wouldn't be surprised if I'm getting little flakes of metal in the crushed glass. But hey, it smashes glass :-) and the equivalent "pro" tool costs over $100 from Sundance, I believe.

But that's nothing. You should see the amazing "e-tools" adapted, scrounged, and invented by the endlessly resourceful Don Burt -- viewable at his E-Tools pages. Check out his very nice stained glass work while you're there. Good stuff. Mr. Burt and I are engaged in a little friendly competition to see who can make the most useful tools out of the most hopeless junk. I think he's way ahead of me, to tell the truth -- but there's always hope.
De Clarke
UCO/Lick Observatory
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95064