Stick to It

September 2, 2010
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I used to think that using glue in your glasswork looked cheap and sloppy. I didn’t realize how important it would be to join glass to other materials, or to connect two glass forms that would be impossible to fuse hot.



I used to think that using glue in your glasswork looked cheap and sloppy, and showed that you couldn’t figure out how to make a hot connection. But I was an undergrad in art school and saw many poorly done glue jobs, or glue used where better skills would have made it unnecessary. I didn’t realize how important it would be to join glass to other materials, or to connect two glass forms that would be impossible to fuse hot.

As a young student totally hooked on the seductive power of working with hot glass, I was totally in love with the process. I would start with that, and then I would figure out what to make with it. When I became a sophomore, I developed a much different approach. Now I first try to figure out what I want to make; if glass works as a medium for the idea, I then figure out how to form it.

Glue is sometimes very important. My latest sculpture is loaded with imagery about the industrial revolution and the Art Deco period, which would be very difficult to describe in glass without casting the imagery in a relief or 3-D form. The last piece I made was a 27-in.-tall cast glass form weighing about 35 lbs on top of a 10-lb solid cast aluminum base. The epoxy I used is a very important part of the piece; it allowed me to permanently and seamlessly connect these two forms together, without any extra hardware that wouldn’t necessarily go with the piece.

I generally consider using two types of glue with glass: ultraviolet (UV) or HXTAL. UV-setting adhesive hardens in seconds when exposed to a UV light source. It comes in a variety of viscosities, doesn’t yellow with time, sets almost instantly, and adheres glass to other materials like metal. The easiest place to find a small amount to test (or for a small repair) is an auto parts store. You can use sunlight to set it, but it needs to be a sunny day and it’s difficult to prevent exposure before you’re ready. UV lights are much more convenient, but good ones that put out the proper amount of light can be expensive. Finally, in order to effectively use UV glue, the glass (at least one half) needs to be clear. If the glass is colored, it will filter out the UV light; of course, opaque glass will not let any light through. I seldom use UV glue because I don’t normally work with clear glass, but it is the best when the situation calls for it. If you think it will work for you, do some additional research about how to use it properly.

HXTAL is an optically clear, archival-quality, user-friendly adhesive that glues glass to glass or just about anything else. It is a 3:1 ratio by weight, and needs to be mixed on a gram scale for accuracy. I recommend using disposable pipets to add part A to part B so you can add one drop at a time when you get close to the proper amount and avoid adding too much. Always clean your surfaces; I usually use denatured alcohol, which can wipe off all oils and adhesives from tape, marker, and other stuff, and also evaporates clean. I mix the HXTAL thoroughly (for at least a minute) in a small, clean glass jar with a clean stirrer. After gluing the parts, I keep the jar with a small amount next to the piece (same temperature) so I can see how hard the glue is getting without disturbing the work.

I always try to make the gluing surfaces level, which sometimes means building jigs to support the work. If a level surface isn’t possible, you might need to wait until the HXTAL thickens so it will stay in place. This is where HXTAL can be great to work with; the long set time allows you to take your time to fix mistakes like shifting, clean up excess, and take advantage of the long range of viscosity that the glue goes through. It starts off with a consistency like honey and slowly hardens to a plastic-like firmness before it becomes completely hard. HXTAL’s set time is heat sensitive. In the winter, when the temperature in my studio in Vermont is not much more than 50°F some winter weeks, the set time is five to six days. In the summer, HXTAL sets in less than 48 hours. You can accelerate the set time by carefully placing an incandescent light bulb near the work.

Remember, be patient and set everything up before you apply your adhesive. As long as you’re neat, there should be no reason to see the adhesive when the work is complete. HXTAL wipes up easily with alcohol. Choose your adhesive wisely-a 2-part epoxy that sets up in 5-15 minutes is most likely not permanent, and it will almost certainly yellow with time. So if it’s important to you, use an archival-quality adhesive to keep your work looking good for a long, long time.

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