23 May 2013

Blenko Glass Factory

23 May 2013--Got a late start today so all we did was drive to a town called Milton, about 45 miles from here, to see the Blenko Glass Factory.  It was mentioned in the "things to do in West Virginia" listings and we got a brochure from the Welcome Center on it, so we decided that we would tour it today seeing as the weather was bad and it would be best if we were inside seeing something.

This is a real blown glass factory, but they allow self-guided tours 4 days a week where you can watch the guys making the glass objects.  The 2nd and 3rd pics here show the factory floor pretty much as you view it, from a rail about 10-15 ft from the closest worker.  I think there were 4 stations up front, with 3 sets of guys working on different items, all from separate ovens.


Now this isn't exactly like seeing the Grand Canyon, so I thought I would lay it out showing you how the glass is made.  I figured, once again, that maybe Kaleigh or Emily might have a class project they have to do in the future where they could use this info for presentation to their classmates...All the work will already be done for them (haha).

So this redneck with his back to you (haha) is the gatherer, the one who takes still liquified glass out of the oven and brings it to the blower.


The blower then forms it in a hand-held round or oval cup-like thing to make sure it is all smooth, and then takes it over to another guy who squeezes the glass into a template while the blower blows air into the glass, making it expand and reform in the mold.


The blower takes it back to put the final touches on on it before the stick-up boy comes along.


Here are 2 videos to the process for the above piece in action.  These 3 guys repeat this exact same process until they have made enough of this one item to fill an order from a commercial customer.

Here is a 2nd set of guys making a bowl.  I cut to the chase and just gave you one pic and one video.  haha

Like I said, this isn't exactly a Grand Canyon blog, but it was sort of interesting.  When we were leaving there were a few guys working outside so we stopped to ask a few questions.  This is what I found out:

--This factory used to employ about 150 people, but is now down to about 45.

--There are 18 glass blowers, with everyone else working in support of them, like in the shipping department.

--While women work here, all the glass blowers are men.  The guy I was talking to didn't know why, but said he wasn't sure if there was ever a woman who applied to be a glass blower.

--Some of the glass blowers had been there for more than 30 years, and most had started very young without knowing anything about glass blowing at all.

--The glass shards below are about a year's worth of waste.  They break it down into color groups because they sell it to concrete companies that make other things with it, like certain tables.

--Most of the colors in the in the glass came from mixing the glass with chemicals, but the topaz colored glass in the 1st pic on the left side is made from mixing glass with Domino sugar!!!  (Who knew?)

Of course they have a store here if you want to buy any of their products, and also displays of stained glass windows made with their glass.  Here are some of them that I thought were really pretty..


I have always been very attracted to colored glass for some reason...must be something in my childhood.  haha


Finally, we decided that instead of taking the highway home we would instead take the "scenic route" outlined on the area map we have.  The 1st 2 pics here are of the scenic route, followed by pic 3 that is of the highway.  Other than the number of lanes, do you see any difference?  West Virginia, no matter where you look or drive, seems to be the greenest and most forested state we have been in.


Going the scenic route did allow us to stop at the occasional small town like this one, St Albans, along the Kanawha river that is outside the state Capitol building.


So that was our afternoon.  Will have to try harder tomorrow to find something really good.  haha


  1. That glass blowing is hot work. Donna and I went to Austin one day and made a bowl and a vase. It's not easy, all the equipment they have is hand made out of wood. The blowing takes a certain about of time and you don't want to blow hard. Plus you can mix colors in the glass it's interesting but to hot for me. The hardest thing I had to do was turning the pole and thinking about what I needed to do next very nerve racking.

  2. Marie and EmilyMay 25, 2013 9:17 AM

    I have always been fascinated with blown glass also. When I lived in Florida Wayne went to Disney many times and one of my favorite things to do was go into the glass store on Main Street and watch them make the glass. I bought a beautiful glass piece for Julie when she was getting married.

  3. Well I have never been interested in glass.....
    so I will wait for the next blog!!!!

    Just kidding, very interesting.
    I am sure I would like to watch the whole process.

  4. Nice page. Blenko finally has their first woman glass blower and she makes some amazing, unique pieces. I bought one of her cat figurines and it's adorable!