Making a (BIG) glass counter

Part I: Engineering considerations

>>, studio practice>Making a (BIG) glass counter top, part 1

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Apologies for the overlong ramble, but since this blog is intended to document my creative meanderings, it also details the times I’m bogged down in design and engineering. Apparently stuffing my musings into a blogpost for review is the best way to get me thinking, so sorry about that.

And please: ANY suggestions, ideas, criticisms, etc., for this project are MORE than welcome! Comment below, or hit the contact page to send me a private message.

“Don’t just PAINT that cabinet; get rid of it!” Carol said, “Or at the very least, cut it in half…”

…which is why I’m now trying to make a glass counter roughly a 1.5 inches thick and 9 x 3 FEET (2.75 x 1 x 0.4 meters, for those of you with sensible measuring systems). It’s going atop the newly cut-down entertainment center.

gobletgudenrathfragment

Lola picked a fight with Nikki and together they managed to dislodge a half dozen goblets that had been SILICONE CAULKED to a glass display shelf. This is all that’s left of Bill Gudenrath’s wonderful dragon goblet. (sigh)

MUCH easier, to have someone slap on a granite slab. Or to build a form and pour in concrete. Or cover it with tile, maybe mosaic.

Yet…where’s the fun in that? This is a glassist’s house; I should at least explore the possibility of a making my own (big) glass counter top.

The problem with that entertainment center…

I love my house. I did NOT love its ginormous built-in entertainment center. (see the slideshow above) It was puke-yellow oak, appeared to be designed by disco-drugged elves, and its wild gold woodgrain completed for any art you gave it.

Worse, it no longer fit modern electronics, and its drawers and cupboards concealed stuff that could be out in the open while not giving enough space to store things that needed to be concealed.

I’d swapped out the dated smoked glass for some nice colored glass but, still, it was a barely functional eyesore.

Frank-the-cabinet-guy and I decided that he’d enclose the bottom half with new doors and drawer fronts, giving me storage for in-front-of-the-TV craft supplies, then paint the whole thing a very warm white. He’d add LOCKING sliding glass panels to the top half, so I could finally display my goblet and sculpture collection somewhere besides the Art Room (translation: spare bedroom with a door that Lola can’t open).

Lola and Nikki don’t deliberately attack my art; they simply adjust its position rapidly in the course of other activities. So far they’ve adjusted 24 pieces, leading to the current rule: If an artwork can’t survive being used as a diving platform by a 14-pound cat, it lives in the Art Room.

(I naively thought the rule applied only to art on tables or shelves. Then I found Lola hanging from the April Surgeant wall panels by her claws. April’s mounting system is apparently Lola-proof, so it survived. )

Frank and his crew built new doors and drawer fronts, and called to say they’d start installation on Monday. That Saturday, Carol shook her head.

“Cynthia, everyone ends up crammed into the kitchen at your parties because that entertainment center is impeding the flow. Cut the cabinet down; you won’t believe the difference it will make.”

“Hey, Frank: Small change of plans. Instead of adding glass doors, let’s chop off the top…”

“How fortunate,” he observed, “That you ran into your friend Carol RIGHT BEFORE WE WERE COMING TO INSTALL OUR FINISHED DOORS…”

Ulp. I lost most of my art display in the process so I’ll still have to come up with a display case solution somewhere, but even Frank was delighted with the results. “Genius, pure genius,” he beamed, “But the next time you design a project, please ask Carol FIRST.”

barstoolsHe topped it with a temporary piece of plywood, while I figure out how to make the glass counter.

Designing the shape

The cabinet base has a footprint that’s 8 feet long and 28 inches deep, which makes it ideal for a second eat-in counter. I decided to add an overhang and a couple of backless barstools on the dining room side.

The kitchen counter has a radiused (round) end; I wanted to echo that in this glass counter since it’s just on the other side of the room. I wasn’t sure how that would work, so I taped foamcore sheets to the plywood–a great way to get the effect with less effort–and cut out the shape I wanted.

It didn’t work. The overhang ran into the broom closet door.

cabinetcutoff-foamcoreedge

By putting an overhang on the cabinet, I’m thinking I can gain an eat-in counter (obviously moving the cats’ dining area). Here, I’ve got foamcore taped to the counter to figure out the eventual shape of this thing.

Hmmm. What if I just curve that whole side of the counter to match the end, indent it in back and flare it out? In the photo above I’ve placed a stick roughly where the flare would start, but I was having trouble visualizing. I headed for the computer instead.

Below, I’ve drawn a few different shapes, trying to (1) give a more organic, rounded feel to the hard glass counter, (2) get out of the way of the broom closet, and (3) not look stupid.

Goals (1) and (2) are easy. Goal (3) is more elusive. Advice and suggestions most welcome, folks. These are the shapes I’ve tried so far.

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Engineering considerations

It took about five minutes to decide against a single, monolithic glass counter, in favor of smaller sections of glass I can fire in my own kiln. I could easily rent space in a much larger kiln–this is Glassland, remember–but there are a number of reasons why that’s probably not the best choice.

  • The counter is long and thin, and right now in my head, it will be deeply textured (carved and sculpted, even) on the underside. So…3 feet wide, 9 feet long, AND varying in thickness from about 0.625 inches to 1.5 inches: Challenging firing schedule with a much longer anneal than the nominal thickness suggests.
  • As the glass cools, the deep texture in the underside might be a problem: It will contract in all kinds of directions and–without the right mold–the glass could “lock into” the peaks and valleys of the mold, causing stress and potential fractures.
  • Mold walls must be strong enough to hold back a LOT of heavy glass as it softens and moves. I can build the mold myself, of course, but it’ll be a big undertaking.
  • A 9.5ft x 4ft refractory mold will be heavy, fragile, and extremely difficult to shift without cracking; it certainly won’t fit in SherryBaby’s back seat. I’ll need a truck or big an, and one or two strong helpers, to transport the mold to the kiln.
  • Even with a truck, it’s likely that all the bumping and jarring would induce small cracks in the mold during the journey. In the kiln, those cracks could cause the mold to break, although they’d more likely simply create little glass fins (flashing) that need extra coldworking.
  • So…build the mold onsite. More time, more expense, and still a boatload of things to haul.

Even if I work onsite with the kiln, how do I manage the demolded glass? I’ll need to get it out of the kiln, coldwork it, and transport it across town, up a lot of stairs, and onto that cabinet. A cubic foot of soda-lime glass weighs about 152 lbs, so:

  • An 1.5-inch glass countertop–which would be visually consistent with the granite in the kitchen–would weigh around 560lbs (254kg)
  • Lead crystal would be easier to coldwork, but it’s heavier, about 728lbs

I need a big, probably movable cushioned surface, to hold a piece of glass that big and heavy, and enough space to easily work it from all sides. I’ll also need a crane or hoist to safely move and turn it over.

I have neither. Maybe I could simply set the demolded piece on the actual cabinet and coldwork it there? Uhm….no. It’d mess up the painted finish of the cabinets unless carefully masked (and even then, I’d be repainting at least part). Worse, I’d send glass dust, grit and water flying all over the house.

So I’d need to rent a big coldworking space and tools from a local architectural glass studio (probably the same place I rented the kiln). Or I can hire them to finish the counter.

Either way, I’d still need to get the polished and delicate piece home and on the cabinet. This is beginning to sound impossible, or at least very, very expensive. A granite top would be just as awkward, and even heavier, but at least I wouldn’t be the one doing the work.

Decision made. My biggest kiln, Dennis-the-Denver, has a maximum firing footprint of about 27×42 inches, so I’m going to make this counter in sections about 26 x 40 inches (or less). At max size they’ll weigh around 145 pounds apiece, but that’s manageable.

I’ll need a minimum of five sections, depending on the shapes, but I suspect I’ll wind up with closer to ten. They don’t have to be rectangles; it might be interesting to vary the shapes so they fit together like a puzzle. For example:

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Better still, does the WHOLE counter have to be glass? What if I incorporated other materials, such as wood, concrete, or mosaic, into the design?

Hmmmm. I’m gonna think on that for awhile. Like I said, any ideas you have would be most welcome.

2017-07-03T14:27:24+00:00

7 Comments

  1. Lisa Pohlmeyer April 14, 2017 at 6:05 am - Reply

    I’ve just come across this post. I too am going to “make it big”. My project is a backsplash for my new to me kitchen. We remodeled and took down walls and created one very large living space. I chose granite for countertops but I know I want glass for the back splashes. While I don’t have to consider as much as you do, there’s other things such as outlets, window openings, etc. that I want to incorporate into the design, not just cut around. I love your idea of using the computer to lay things out and create design choices. It’s been awhile since you posted anything about this project. What did you decide? Progress pics? Your work is very inspirational.

    • cynthia April 15, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

      Thanks for the compliments but, well, not much has happened on the counter project since that post. I ran into a big snag–a busted femur that is taking a loooooong time and multiple surgeries to mend–and until that’s resolved I can’t so much as get the wheelchair into the studio to make a glass plate, let alone a countertop.

      Once we’ve got things progressing on the leg front, I’ll get back to the countertop project. And, actually, since the entire kitchen, backsplashes and all, is black granite, I’m considering doing the counter in the same granite to match. There’s a side panel of the next cabinet rising above the counter, about like a long backsplace, and I’m thinking it might be more effective to do what you’re doing: A vertical glass surface. Might be a bit easier for me to handle as I’m easing back into full mobility.

      But we’ll see. Right now, I’m sticking with small stuff I can manage from a wheelchair, like metal clay and enamel.

  2. kathryncecelia August 2, 2016 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Your reflections seem to touch on all conceivable options. When reading I thought you might have over thought the shape of the counter, as most people won’t be looking down on the whole counter to see that it may look a bit like a whale or a goldfish. Curves are nice and hold up well to all uses. I really perked up when you began to to consider mixed media for the counter. Some surfaces hold up to heat better, others cutting upon with sharp knives, and still others afford one a variety of textures, colors and opaqueness. Having a surface that won’t crack, craze, or burn when something hot out of the oven in placed on it would be good in an area near cooking or adjacent to eating area where you could put serving pieces. One can get “scrap” pieces of stone counter tops for far less than large chunks. Some woods are very interesting: ipe, cocabolla, teak and many others. Your concrete idea is interesting and you can color the cement and press things into it. … now I wonder how you will keep these pieces interlocked so they maintain their structural integrity. (Curves have more surface for seams) I hope you post your stages on this topic. It is very interesting to me. Then most of what you post interests me. (I will have more time to read this summer/fall, as I’ve just had bilateral knee replacement.)

  3. Rinee August 1, 2016 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Can’t wait to see what you decide to do. I am sure it will be beautiful.

  4. Jerry Jensen August 1, 2016 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    I’m planning similar sectional countertops. One of my considerations was repairing breakage. I’ve heard that a bag of ice carelessly left on a counter can crack it. Ray Algren is one of the best local sources for carved slabs.

  5. Cathy Fuga-Carr August 1, 2016 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    I like design 6 too & 4 or 5 of the sections. It still looks a mammoth job, but will look amazing. I do like the idea of mixed media, Perhaps repossessed metal, that echoed the glass design?

  6. Aunt Sylvia August 1, 2016 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Love counter number 6 and Sections number 2…all organic! And yes for mixed media…just think about clean up since is for food area. HAVE FUN!

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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