Remember that ginormous glass counter I was planning to cast last August? I spent a bit of time figuring out how to achieve a piece of 1.5 to 2 inch-thick glass about 36 inches wide and 9 feet long to top the family room/dining room cabinet:
I was asking questions such as “What shape should it be?” “If my kiln maxes out at 27 x 42 inches, how many pieces do I need?” and figuring out how to coldwork that much glass and get it up stairs to its home on the cabinet. At the same time I was also testing colors, transparencies and designs; that’s a lot of pattern and color to spread across the room and not look like Mardi Gras barfed all over Barney the Dinosaur.
Best laid plans and all that, right?
Within a month, I’d fall and wind up living elsewhere–hospitals, rehab centers, Mom’s house–for about eight months. I’m finally home now, at least temporarily (more on that in another post), but things have changed: I have wheels on my butt, i.e., I’m in a wheelchair.
Not only that but my house is one large construction zone as Apple and Nathan and an army of helpers give it a disability makeover (and yep, Apple really is his name). As a result, my kiln is buried under maybe 3 feet of storing all the junk you move to build a new studio in the backyard and tear rooms down to the studs.
Burying your kiln limits your casting ability, even without the whole wheelchair thing. On top of that, I’m swamped enough trying to go to work, travel for far-flung medical consultations, have surgery(ies), meet with construction folk, etc.
So, admittedly, the idea of spending a few months lovingly making and installing section after section of two-inch-thick glass doesn’t quite hold the same appeal as before. These days I’m into saving my muscles for more important stuff, like stuffing my wheelchair into the car so I can drive.
Obviously, then, the fastest way to get SOME kind of counter on that cabinet is to let someone else slap a big piece of stone on it. Since part of the makeover of my master bath includes putting granite on the vanities (another glass casting project that went bye-bye with my accident), I decided to have the same folk put some on the downstairs cabinet, too.
We visited a stone/tile place, I dithered for about three hours, and finally made selections, including a scrump-dilly-umptuous piece of granite, Lemurian Labradorite, which looked like jade fell in love with dichroic glass and had babies. I called Crowley’s, a wonderful fabricator in Portland,* and they reserved a slab of the stuff, inviting me to go out to the slab gallery for inspection.
If you’ve never been to slab gallery, they’re fascinating places. They have these giant vacuum-clamp cranes sliding all over the ceiling of a warehouse bigger than a Costco, with enormous slabs of stone stacked on easels, row after row after row. Watching the guys move these thousand-pound slab like canvases in a gallery is, well…
Mostly, I was thinking “DO NOT drop that thing on your FOOT!”
Cheryl and Leta, my fabricators, had identified a well-priced and beautiful piece of Lemurian Labradorite they wanted me to see, but suggested I check out some others there, too.
…which caused a problem: I have trouble choosing a nail polish. Asking me to choose just ONE beautiful stone in a slab gallery is kinda like sending an ice cream addict to a Ben & Jerry’s for a single-scoop cone. My decision-making bump nearly had a nervous breakdown.
Still, I found myself returning to one particular slab, a few easels down from my wonderful Lemurian, again and again. It was nothing like I’d envisioned, not even the iridescent greeny-purple I required. Yet after the sixth visit, when I found myself petting the thing, I began wondering if maybe my requirements weren’t really, well…etched in stone.
The new slab was called Aurora Blue. Not only was it gorgeous, it was half the price of the one I’d come for. Hmmmm…
Aurora Blue was actually a quartzite, a bit harder than granite, with veins and subtle diagonal stripes of blended greys, blues, tans, and creams. Sometimes it looked warmly cream, sometimes pinkish, sometimes grey, sometimes slate, and up close it had an almost wood-grain figure. By then they’d retrieved my Lemurian, I said, “That’s nice,” and headed right back to the Aurora.
Those gold slashes would pick up the warm cinnamon colors of the new bathroom cabinets, not to mention everything else in the house….
I chose a second slab for the downstairs cabinet counter, Black Cosmos. The granite in the kitchen is solid black, and the fireplace granite is a mottled brown/black; Black Cosmos is black with gold and cream running through it almost like a good streaky glass. If I cut the counter almost exactly down the middle I’d have the gold swirls moving diagonally across the end of the counter, like a river, providing some interest and a bit of transition across that huge expanse.
Cool. I’d decided.
Nathan-the-granite-guy (as opposed to Nathan-the-carpenter) came out to measure the cabinets using a tablet with an odd little digitizing device–it came with a little fishing-pole like probe and instructed them where to touch the cabinets to build templates. The next day they had me out to their shop to supervise placing those templates on that beautiful, beautiful slab:
Aurora was even more gorgeous than I remembered, and it didn’t take long to figure out the templates, although I hated cutting her up. “Do you want us to keep the remnant for you?” Wes-the-CNC-guy asked.
“Remnant?” Turns out you don’t just buy the pieces you need, you buy the whole daggone slab when you do this stuff. “Uhm…so for that Black Cosmos slab…I’ll buy all the slab and have a big remnant, too?”
“Yes, of course. Do you have somewhere else in the house you can use both slabs?” asked Cheryl, “They’re much too beautiful to waste.”
Ulp. I said goodbye, went to work, thinking, “What the heck will I do with two counter-sized chunks of incredible stone?” All I could come up with was making REALLY REALLY fancy coldworking tables in the studio, or maybe the world’s classiest garage workbench. Huge, long, heavy coffee tables?
WAIT A MINUTE!!!! Use the old noodle: Two half-slabs make…one whole slab, right?
So why can’t I just do BOTH jobs in one slab? If I eliminate the quarter-circle shower bench top I’m just basically splitting the slab down the middle. The slab is nine feet and something, and probably 40 inches wide; surely that’s enough for my counter?
(yeah, I know: It just takes me a year or two to see the obvious)
Zipped into the office and called Nathan: “How big is that downstairs cabinet?”
“96 x 28 inches. Why?”
“Call you back.”
Called the granite folk. “Hey, can you NOT cut that shower bench piece and instead just cut the downstairs counter from that remnant of Aurora Blue? I’ll just cancel the Black Cosmos and save a boatload of money.”
“Well, that would be a REALLY good idea, Cynthia….if you’d called maybe 15 minutes ago. We just finished cutting your slab.”
Damn. “So how big is the remnant?”
“90 by 36 inches.”
Six inches too short…but an idea began to percolate. “Could you cut across one end of that remnant, following the grain of the stone, so that it looks like a natural break?”
“Honey, if you can draw the line, we can cut it.”
So… I’ve got a slab with a beautiful diagonal flow and it’s only six inches short. How about I simply have it finished as a 90 x 29-inch counter, then split it along one of those diagonal lines in the stone? That way I can pull the two pieces apart, leaving a gap between them, and fill that space with a glass casting. Like this:
Bingo. Love it. LOVE it.
“Wow,” said Cheryl, “We LOVE that idea. What can we do to help? Would you mind if we followed along as you did this? Would it be ok if we used photographs of it?”
Apple and Nathan are reconfiguring the cabinet to support a glass piece running down the middle. The granite guys will do the installation and leave me to take an impression of the gap when I can. Then I’ll make a master mold, build an open-faced mold to hold my glass, load it up, and fire.
Coldworking will be interesting. I’ll need to copy the exact radius of the edges and top of the glass…and figuring out how to make this look like a solid piece is going to be challenging, especially if there’s a jog in the height of that counter over the distance. I’ll be dealing with a zero-draft opening (since waterjet cutters work perpendicular to the surface, so getting an exact fit and locking in on twists and turns will be…challenging.
Skip that for a sec and head for the fun part: What glass(es) do I use? I’m thinking some kind of transparent tint, so most likely billet that picks up one of the base tones of the stone.
I’d like to texture the casting on the bottom to follow the diagonal veins and flows of the stone, so that it appears to be a transparent continuation of the counter top. It’ll be almost like that piece of granite goes crystalline. I can maybe silver-leaf the underside, or even mirror-silver it, so that it bounces a little light back into the space.
The other option might be some kind of frit pack on the bottom, pate de verre-style, with billet dripped in on top of the open-faced mold. That would give me a translucent, textured bottom with the crystalline surface And looking into beautifully carved glass with a satin finish is a bit like staring into an iceberg from the sea bottom–really gorgeous and otherworldly.
Engineering-wise, this is going to be tight. Dennis-the-Denver kiln has a firing footprint of about 27×42 inches. The counter will be less than 30 inches wide…but if I’m following the diagonal of the Aurora’s veins and veils, the casting is actually much longer than that, roughly 47 inches by 6 inches.
I can’t get to the kiln to measure, but Pythagoras helps. The square root of (27squared x 42squared) is just under 50 inches, so that’s the straight-line diagonal of my kiln.
This piece is about 6 inches wide, though, and it’s cut on a slant, so I’ll probably need a little more than that. I may not be able to shoehorn it into my kiln, at least not in a single piece.
*Anybody whose choice of on-hold phone music is my favorite Vivaldi can’t be all bad anyway, but these guys are really nice.