The Clear Side of Sandblasting
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Supply 55 - Guardian Laminators, BannerPRO Hemming System, Eco-Solvent Ink, ReelPRO take-up system


The Clear Side of Sandblasting

An avenue of sandblasting that has been around for a long time is sandblasting in glass.

By Bill Stanford

For centuries the sign trade consisted of painting letters on a piece of wood. There were a few extremists who cut a shoe or a pair of glasses out of the wood and painted it, but the sign business consisted of mainly wood and paints. One day someone got a brainstorm and sandblasted their piece of wood. Iím not sure if anyone really knows who was the first to experiment with sandblasting out a sign, and if it was even an accident or on purpose. But the craftsmen who are now building those beautiful sandblasted signs are surely happy it happened - accidentally or on purpose. Sandblasting has brought much versatility to the trade and beauty to the landscape.

Clarke Systems- Slatz Capture was designed to meet the challenge of change.

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  • An Overlooked Art

    An avenue of sandblasting that has been around almost as long, but not as widely used is sandblasting in glass. Some may not have thought they could do it, or may be intimidated by the fragility of the medium. The fact is, shops that do not blast glass are missing a crystal-clear opportunity to boost their profits. After many years of blasting wood and HDU, many shops have discovered a new business in glass using the same equipment, supplies and expertise. Cutting a blast mask or stencil for both processes is the same, and if you are already producing sandblasted wood signs, you already have the necessary safety equipment.

    An existing sandblasting shop can basically use the same equipment for glass as for wood. The key ingredients with glass are to cut back the pressure and use much finer grit. The thing to remember with sand grit is the smaller the number, the coarser the grit. Most building supply centers carry #40 and #60 grit which is a little on the coarse side for glass blasting. A stained-glass supply center or some other specialty center may have #70, # 80 up to #100 or #120. The higher the grit the better for glass. By using a fine grain and learning to control the pressure, it wonít take long to be able to etch attractive detail into your glasswork. But if you are a little cautious about jumping in with both feet at first, you can practice by using the same grit you use now, but with much less pressure. However, the quality of the work, the clarity of the line and the fineness of detail will all suffer.

    Stenciling or blasting mask can basically be the same, but with glass there are a few more options because of the finer sand and lower pressure. You can use vinyl, photo resist, thermal die-cuts, tape, just about anything that will hold up to the grit and pressure that you decide works for you.

    Some Differences

    Although the method is basically the same, glass isnít wood. It does require some careful handling. This sounds obvious, but if youíre used to working with wood and HDU and make a mistake, you can fix it. Over blast a piece, or a mask comes loose, and you come in with a little filler and fix it. If you mess up a piece of glass, you either throw it in the dumpster or cut it up for samples - itís done. And you obviously canít toss around a piece of glass like some other materials. It breaks. The best way to learn about the delicacy and characteristics of glass is to do it. A few trial and error jobs can make a pro out of a novice. A rookie will have in his mind not to break the glass, but they will. Then theyíll learn how to handle it correctly. Think back to those first vinyl-lettering jobs. There were some bubbles and wrinkles and some crooked logos and you had to throw the vinyl away and do it all over. You should be no more intimidated by glass than by vinyl. Just be more careful.

    Careful and meticulous cleaning is also required to avoid more subtle damage. When the blasting is done, clean the glass and stencil with water. Hosing it down is preferable to get all the grit off. Take the stencil off and rinse again and thoroughly clean the glass. It will scratch very easily if not cleaned well.

    Clarke Systems- Slatz Capture was designed to meet the challenge of change.

    Some very unique and attractive effects can be made by blasting on the reverse side of a mirror, too. It may take a little more pressure to cut through the coating on the back of a mirror, but under the coating, the glass is the same. After blasting, you may want to spray the area and entire back with clear Krylon. This will seal the back and prevent the coating from chipping. The blasted area can then be painted or left frosted to be backlit. An array of fantastic effects can be achieved with a little creativity.

    When sandblasting you should always wear goggles, a respirator and a hood. This is especially important when blasting glass. Small shards and particles of glass can get in your lungs and do terrific damage. Your safety is very important, so make sure that a hood is sealed and your respirator is tight.

    Glass sandblasting, or etching as many refer to it, is already being produced by specialty glass shops that also do other types of glass art such as stained glass and custom window work. There are many shops and small business owners who could use this type of treatment but feel it is too expensive or unavailable in their area. Here is your golden or crystal clear opportunity. Acquire some small pieces of glass and put together a sample package. That will be your best resource to start into this new business. But also do your homework before pursuing your potential customers. As you have already experienced a thousand and one times, the first question out of some potential customerís mouth is ďwhat will it cost me for . . . Ē To quote this customer a price you already know how much redwood or cedar is going to cost. The average sign person isnít going to know about glass prices, so learn about different types of glass, cost and so forth.

    Market

    The best areas for selling blasted glass are new construction and remodeling jobs, and public oriented establishments. The construction and remodeling jobs would mean pursuing a contractor or interior designer. These people can and should be pursued, but are a hard sell. You should first sell your new glass product to what was earlier referred to as the public oriented establishments. These are restaurants, bars, hotels, coffee shops and small specialty shops. These establishments may have a place for decorated glass table dividers, decorative accents or product displays, door or window logos and so on. For example, when closing an agreement with a client for a wood sign job, urge the client to follow through by putting the logo on the drinking glasses, etching it on the front window and maybe doing a design motif on the glass booth dividers.

    A sign shop already equipped with sandblasting equipment cannot only offer a sign, but a whole decorating and branding package. This is a win - win situation giving the sign shops more profitability and the client a complete package from one vendor. Surprisingly, the cost of producing glass blasted sign is less than blasting a wood sign, and it is perceived to be a higher quality product. The glass costs less than redwood, cedar and HDU, so you have a material starting out less per square foot than other substrates and one that the public sees as being more valuable.

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