Neon Glass Bending to Show Off the Gas
What did you say you wanted that neon sign to say? Alright. What size? Good. Now what type of font for the wording?
Ever bend a piece of glass in chemistry, shop or some other high school class? No? Well you missed out. Glass blowing, forming and bending is something of a lost art. The reason it is not completely lost is because there are neon glass artisans who keep the practice alive. The neon signage industry in the USA has declined in the past several decades, with the introduction of cheap foreign imports and the promotion of LED lighting by the LED industry. Cities are now concerned with preserving and restoring their antique neon signs.
It is the wide range of colors and the ability to make a tube that can last for decades without replacement, that makes neon glass bending an art. Since these tubes require so much custom labor, they would have very little economic viability if they did not have such a long lifetime when well processed. But the master glass benders who have learned after years of trial and error how to make this very brittle material bend to their will are artists as well as skilled craftsmen.
The neon glass bender will use standardized glass tubing that conforms to the diameter and size needed. He or she creates a pattern that the customer has agreed to and, using the desired diameter of the finished product, produces a two dimensional image of the final product. This pattern will be used as a guide for the final product.
The neon glass has to be heated and cooled, cut and bent, filed and sanded to produce the final shape that the customer desires. Heated tubing is very malleable, but the craftsman has to be careful not to make a mistake and heat it too much, or allow it to cool below a certain temperature. Overheated glass will lode its shape, which can be corrected with some effort, and too cool glass will break, which cannot be fixed.
The neon glass artist diagrams the desired twists and turns and thinks about how he or she is going to get from straight tube to end piece. The final product will match the pattern and conform to the specifications (font, color, wording) ordered. It’s a craft wrapped in an art form.