Pipes, bongs, chillums—smokers love glass. It’s collectible, nice to look at and useful besides. Weekly Alibi spoke with glassblower Kale Beck about his unique job at High Desert Flame Works (1751 Bellemah Ave. NW Ste. 2109).
Weekly Alibi: What attracted you to glassblowing?
Kale Beck: I took lessons about 10 years ago from a guy in town named Rashan Jones. I was interested in it. I was a stoner kid, so I did want to see how pipes were made, but I also thought that the rest of it was pretty cool. I wasn’t able to do it for a long time. I did a bunch of different kinds with art and stuff like that. But I always felt the itch for it. I finally got enough money together and rent for a couple months and started blowing glass again. I just got kind of addicted to it.
It looks so hot in there!
I think most people see the bigger form of glassblowing—with furnaces. That’s what I initially thought I would be doing when I took lessons, but we use a table-mounted torch and a special kiln for it. I ended up working again with the guy who taught me lessons, Rashan Jones. I’ve been blowing glass for the past two and a half years [at High Desert Flame Works].
Walk me through it then. The kiln is small?
The kiln is a little bit bigger than your average microwave. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of them are a little bit taller. Some are deeper. It’s kind of like a barber shop: Everyone has their own desk space. We each have our own table-mounted torch and all of our product comes in rods and tubes. There’s different colors and shapes and sizes of glass. We can break all the different tubes down and attach them to smaller tubes, and we make pipes out of that stuff.
Pretty much everything is smaller and we use a different type of glass. We use a glass called borosilicate. The other glass that people use [for other products] is a soda-lime glass, I think. It just cools at different temperatures. With borosilicate, you can actually reheat something has been taken out of the kiln. So if your pipe breaks or something chips off of it, I can throw that back in the kiln and repair it and it’ll be good as new. Whereas if you have one made out of soft glass, you can’t put it back in the kiln cause it won’t handle that temperature fluctuation.
So how does it work exactly?
That table-mounted torch I have is like a big, big jet of fire pretty much. I’ll split the tube up into quarters, and then I’ll melt down one side, pop a hole and attach it to a smaller tube. Then I can cut off part of it. That’s what we call a blank. And then you can decorate that blank however you want to and then shape that into a piece or a small vase or whatever you were going to make with it.
What exactly are you doing? Just blowing into that straw?
You’re heating up various sections and stretching them down or puffing them out—there’s all different kinds of shaping. You can use different tools to shape things in there, to get certain kinds of things.
Do you make more than pipes?
We actually did a bunch of sex toys for the fetish formal—not this past year but the year before that. We actually do a lot brewery demos, so we make pint glasses for that—lots of shot glasses and stuff like that. Most of the breweries are actually really cool with us putting out other products like pipes, so it’s pretty nice.
Is it scary to work with all that super-hot glass?
You know it’s kinda weird—you totally really forget about it. There’s this big stream of fire basically coming out of your torch. We get burned every once in awhile but that’s just when you’re not paying attention or probably working when you shouldn’t be—like when you’re too tired. You definitely have to keep hydrated in there because it’s an extra 10 to 15 degrees [hotter] compared to what it is outside. It’s dangerous, but if you actually do it for a while you don’t really even think about it anymore.
How hot does it get?
To even move the glass, it’s got to get to get around like 2100 degrees.
What does a burn from that look like?
Well, it’s basically just like getting seared, pretty much. You burn all the nerve endings out there so you don’t even actually feel it.
How many times has that happened to you?
That’s only happened to me once—where I burnt myself with molten glass. But it’s actually like a lot of little cuts and stuff, or forgetting that part of your tubing is hot and grabbing up too far on it and you burn the tip of your finger a little bit. You have to be really messing around to burn yourself badly.
How much of what you do is for business? For fun?
I definitely have a couple different accounts that I have to have so many pipes for every month, and that keeps the lights on. But then I get to do weird or different pipes that I’m not sure if they’re actually going to sell or not. You get to learn cool new stuff all the time. I’m pretty sure I learn something different about it every single day that I’m there—where you lock in a new little trick or a new way to make something a little faster. It’s pretty fun.
Who should consider taking up glassblowing?
It’s kinda funny that you mention it. We do teach classes down at the studio, so anybody that wants to come down and take a class is more than welcome. We do a kids’ class for a couple different elementary schools where we’ll go in and draw stuff that they want us to make, and we have to try to match it.
Glassblowing can appeal to a lot of different people. There’s a group of older ladies that just make beads and that’s it. Same materials that we use, they just make a lot of beads and it’s really cool. So it can be for all walks of life. I’ve done a fair amount of teaching in the past couple of months—just random classes for different people around town—and it’s always been super-fun. You don’t know who’s going to come by to get taught. I try to make it at least fun for everybody.
Where can people sign up?
They can hit me up directly via email (firstname.lastname@example.org