Abrasive Waterjet as a Glass Artist’s Tool
Since its emergence in the early 80’s abrasive waterjet has been an effective cutting tool for virtually any kind of material. In terms of cutting speed, glass can be cut several times faster than metals. People also understand the challenges of cutting glass in general. However, an article* by Cutler (Univerisity of Sunderland, UK) presents a different view of this technology from the angle of a glass artist.
Even though waterjet machines are versatile and cost effective to make single piece or small quantity production, they are still seen as mass production tools in artist’s world. Those who use abrasive waterjets in the crafting industry can face suspicion and criticism. Creating artwork that cannot be produced without this technology appears to be the key. Using this technology for labor saving purpose is another justification, especially for architectural applications.
Glass cutting with an abrasive waterjet can be used in kiln work, hot studio glass, or architectural applications. In kiln work, waterjet-cut pieces are heated to allow manipulation into creative shapes and forms. In an artwork created by French glass artist, Fabien Mongelino, jigsaw like pieces were cut with abrasive waterjets and then assembled. They were heated together to form a smooth sheet of glass with a curved form. In hot glass work, a technique was investigated, which melt a waterjet cut piece onto another piece of glass, creating interesting effects. Pictures of two jigsaw bowls created with this technique were showed. There were other artists who explore abrasive waterjet cutting technology combined with laminating or other assembling techniques. Complicated patterns were cut on flat glass and then assembled together in layers. An artwork, “Angel Wing”, for St Michael” Church, was created with a similar technique from six pieces of laminated glass.
The expectations of artists who want to employ this technology may not be well understood by engineers or operators who are familiar with the machine operations. A job well done by the standard of a typical waterjet machine operator may not be acceptable to an artist. Definition of a good quality cut for art work includes minimum taper, smooth kerfs, minimal residual blasting, straightness of cut, and edge finish from top to bottom. But many of these aspects are subjective and are often not measurable with tools. Operator understanding of the way the material is to be used is very important.
*Cutler, V., “An investigation into the creative uses of abrasive water jet for glass from the perspective of an artist,” Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Water Jetting,” BHR Group, Mainz, Germany, September 7-9, 2004.
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