The first thing you learn is just how hot it is. The furnace is kept at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. You really feel the blast of heat when you gather the glass onto the end of the pipe (either a blow pipe or, initially, a puntie). The instructor, Paul, had us all practice going back and forth between the glory hole (another furnace, used to reheat the glass) to the bench so we would learn to hold the puntie correctly. Then he demonstrated the first object each of the five students would make.
This was basically a little caterpillar shape. You gathered glass on the puntie, marvered it to elongate the shape (i.e. rolled it on a cooling table), then worked it on the bench to mark off three segments. The thing that is tricky is that you have to keep turning the puntie constantly (with your left hand) as you work with the tools (in this case, mostly the jack) with your right hand. It takes both strength and coordination - neither of which come instantly. Paul was patient as he corrected our numerous mistakes.
After all five of us had made a caterpillar, we broke for lunch. When we got back, it was time to use the blow pipe and make a cylinder, i.e. a drinking glass. Paul drew a diagram on the floor, which had about a dozen steps. (In practice, one ends up repeating some of the steps.) After gathering glass and marvering it, you blow into the pipe to make a small bubble. More heating and more gathering both expand the amount of glass and give you something hot to keep blowing into. I found it hard to remember to keep turning the pipe as I was blowing into it - but, if you don't, the glass sort of flops into odd shapes. Also, when you are blowing the initial bubble, you can't really see what you're doing. Later on, you can see the shoulder of the shape growing. Eventually, you get to a point where you are just elongating the cylinder, which is somewhat easier. You make a neck, which will get cut off to form the rim of the glass. Eventually, you transfer the cylinder from the blow pipe to a puntie and cut off the neck. That doesn't look like it should work, but it does. Then you open up the neck and, after some more shaping with the jack, voila! a tumbler!
All of our pieces are in the annealing oven, cooling at a slow temperature to keep them from cracking. I'm not exactly sure when I'll pick them up - maybe Thursday evening.
Overall, this was a very interesting experience and mostly fun. It was somewhat frustrating at times, since there is a lot to keep track of. But that is always the case with new skills. I did come away with a feeling of accomplishment.
I'm going to have to think about whether or not I want to pursue glass blowing any further. Paul's multi-session classes meet on weeknights from 6-10 p.m., which would make for an awfully long day. I have time to think about it since my upcoming vacation would get in the way of his July class.