Bending the Glass
Next, we bend the glass to the pattern at the bending table. We try to hit the pattern as close as possible, but a neon tube is a handmade product, so there can be some variation. Sometimes we’ll laugh and say that the pattern is just a suggestion.
We work with two sets of fires—ribbon burners and crossfires—which are somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 degrees. After heating part of the tube for three or four minutes, we’ll have about 30 seconds to bend the glass and set it on the pattern.
We might bend three or four inches of glass at a time, and we need to apply the heat consistently across that area. We don't want the first two inches to overheat and bend into an unexpected orientation.
When we’re bending the glass, we cork one end of the tube and connect a blow hose to the other end. As the glass gets hot, gravity will start to collapse the tube. At that point, we’ll blow a small puff of air to reshape the glass and bring it back to its natural diameter.
After we bend the glass, it takes another three or four minutes to cool down. That’s why we usually work on three tubes at a time—so we can bend one tube while the others are cooling.