Jul 14, 2008

Cutting Glass

Updated 7/15!

I brought my pencil...gimme something to write on! Yeah, I keep thinking "cutting class" which brings David Lee Roth to mind.

Have you ever cut glass? I mean actually gone to the store and bought one of those little glass cutting tools and taken it to a sheet of plate glass? I highly recommend it.

I'm sure you've seen one or more movies where someone has some high-tech device involving suction cups and a diamond-point compass thing which they use to cut a perfect circle out of a window? You've heard that faint, eerie, high-pitched "squeeeeee" noise many times before, I'm sure. When the cut circle is completed our brave catburgler or footpad or 007 hero taps gently and the circle pops out like magic. You know the trick.

Did you know it actually does work that way? Kinda?

I have a 24 x 36 photograph that I ordered a year or more ago from a shot I took when I first bought my camera. It's of an old wooden trestle bridge over a creek, and I'd done it in B&W to play up the vertical lines of the piers against the trees behind it. I'd intended to frame the thing when I got the print, and one thing lead to another, you know how it goes. I had the frame, had the matte, just needed some glass to replace the old broken pane. Well, some months ago I found myself near the local glass company and stepped in and ordered myself a sheet of plate to fit. I brought the lot home, matted the photo, placed the frame face-down on the carpet to insert the glass and...voila, they'd cut it four inches too long. My full intention was to race off immediately to the hardware store and buy one of those little key-shaped tools, bring it back, get out the straight-edge and DIY.

Undaunted, I set the project aside, planning to go that evening to the hardware store. I missed going that day, and put it off. For three or four months. Maybe five.

I finally got tired of tripping over an empty frame and went to the hardware store. Bought the tool for a dollar or so. Brought the plate, a Sharpie marker, the tool, my safety glasses (thanx Norm!) and a steel straight-edge to the shop. Placed the lot on a flat surface, marked my cut, laid out the straight edge, and panicked.

What if it didn't work like I thought it did? What if I cut wrong? What if I pressed the tool too hard and the whole thing exploded under my hands? Was it worth losing feeling in my squeezing hand just for a framed print of a railroad bridge? "But enough of that," I told myself. "Get to it!" Screwing my courage to the sticking point I held the steel carpenter's square firmly, laid the tiny wheel against the glass and pressed gently, pulling backwards against the square.

It was...eerie. Utterly unlike cutting anything else, and I've cut a lot of things. Linoleum, rugs, paper, wood, cheese, all sorts of metals but none of those materials was like this. I could see the glass fracturing in almost microscopic slivers behind the cutting wheel, turning almost invisibly in it's aluminum housing. I could hear that eerie sound too, a weird mix of crinkle and squeal and crackle and some other things I couldn't identify. As my hand drew the tool along I could hear a definite cracking sound too, but no cracks were appearing. All that was visible was a long, very shallow score where the tool had passed.

With a bump the tool passed the end of the glass and dug into the wood of my worksurface. The Moment of Truth was upon me.

I'd seen it done before--put the cut over the edge of the table and snap it off. Thing is, I didn't know how much pressure it'd take. A lot? A little? Was it going to fall off or was I going to have to really get some weight on it? I took a deep breath, slipped on a leather work glove, gritted my teeth and started to press.

It went "pop" very quietly and suddenly I was holding a 24 x 4 inch piece of glass. The cut was perfectly fractured along that almost imperceptible line.

I went inside, slipped the glass into the frame, set in the matte, stuck the backer on, bend the clips back in place and hung the photo. The funny thing is that the print has been here so long I've sort of come to take it for granted, but the memory of that soft "pop," the ease of how it happened is still in my muscles, still in my mind. I felt like I'd been looking for the next step up on a long series of stairs but instead I'd found the landing and did that sort of goofy, arms-waving, off-balance dance.

Try it, if you get the chance. I doubt you'll forget the experience.

Post Scriptum--Jean brought it to my attention that I'd been remiss! So, here's a photo of the framed photo over my train-stuff collection.

I know it's hard to see but it's very difficult to get a good photo in a room small enough that the ceiling fan lights hang near the print in question. The print to the left is a reproduction of the front page of the London Herald reporting the first powered flight by the Wright Bros., and the right side one is a faux woodblock print of a steam-powered zeppelin.

I thought I had the photo itself uploaded here but I don't, and the original is on the computer that is currently down, but this is the same bridge, taken the same day, not yet converted to B&W.


meno said...

i'm too scared of glass. I cut my left wrist all the way to the bone with a fish bowl when i was 11. That hand still doesn't work right.

Maybe you should do stained glass? It's pretty.

Joan of Argghh! said...

So maybe cat-burglar could be a career option now?

Gordo said...

There's absolutely nothing on earth that sounds like that wheel scoring the glass. I clearly remember being in elementary school and watching a windows repairman dispose of chunks of broken window glass by slicing it into the pieces with one of those cutters.

Now I want to go out and cut some glass ... LOL

Mona Buonanotte said...

I tried this once in my younger days, and not only did I pop the thing apart and chip two corners, but I nearly decapitated a finger.

De-fingered a finger, I should say.

That being said, I will be your humble partner in crime, ready with the suction cups, if you ever want to break into a glass building.

Clowncar said...

Yep, that weird cracky sound sticks in your head, years later. It is a really difficult sound to describe, isn't it? You do an excellent job - crinkle and squeal and crackle. Squackle?

Jean said...

And, after all that... how about posting the photo? please *g*

Nancy Dancehall said...

Yay! You're back! And in good form, sir. :-)

Cutting glass sounds like fun. I'd do it just to hear that sound, now that you've described it.

Oh, and I'm about ready to turn to a life of crime, since I can't seem to get anywhere legitimately. How about I design the perfect crime, you cut the glass and Mona hold the suction cups?

Nancy Dancehall said...

Holy catburglers, I almost forgot my password!

Irrelephant said...

meno, I'd forgotten that--you told me/us on the radio show when you were on. Wouch, sorry for bringing back bad memories. *smile*

Joan, I'm too big to be sneaky, and I'm too pretty for prison. *g*

I think that above all else is what made me want to write about it, Gordo. I'd never been close enough to it to know that sound, and now? Now I want to go out there and cut that waste piece into tiny bits and chunks. Mebbe I can call it 'practice' and get away with it.

I seem to have dredged up some dark memories along with good ones with this post, Mona. But I tell you what--if you wear the black skin-tight spandex then we've a deal!

Clowncar, I wasn't able to figure it out entirely myself or I'd have tried the onomatopoeia myself. I think that's pretty darn close, though!

Ask and ye shall receive, Jean! *S*

Hi, Nancy! Yup, I's here again, and thank you for the compliment. It really was an unexpected thing, to tell you the truth. I guess I assumed it'd be harder to cut, or would be more of a "pro's only" sort of job, but it's very DIY friendly. Unless you're Mona and go about defingering yourself.

I'll give you the same bargain I gave Mona--black skintight spandex suit and I'll cut whatever you want. *lol*

And truth be told, and I know this will make Gordo cringe, but if I didn't use simple variations on the same password for everything I do I'd long since have locked myself out of Teh Internets.

Rudi said...

I'm not thinking cutting class and hearing David Lee Roth.

I'm stuck on "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass" by Nick Lowe. That may not be the most helpful though. :-)
That and "Land of the Glass Pinecones" by Human Sexual Response.

The Mythbusters tried that suction cup and cut a circle of glass trick. Busted. http://mythbustersresults.com/episode54

That said, can I hold Mona's cups?

Jean said...

thanks! *s*

Todd said...

What a fabulously descriptive piece of writing. My mother used to take me with her to her stained glass class when I was about 10 or 12. It was really fascinating watching all of it. She made some very simple yet stunningly beautiful pieces. That sound, it's .....it's......that sound. You did do a great job of describing it, however!

I'm on board with jean...can we see the picture??