The Tektite Lamp
My article this month is maybe the one of the best examples of the convergence of hobbies that I have ever shared. It was actually well over a year ago that this all happened but I have just not be sure that I wanted to say anything about it. As I plan on doing more of this kind of work I think this maybe the time to talk about it.
I was maybe fifteen when my father found an old leaded glass window at an antique store and decided to use the major artistic portions of it to modify our front door at home. It was well over a hundred years old I am sure and very nice. I got my first introduction into cutting glass and soldering lead came way back then. I have kept up with it over the years making window hanger decorations and Tiffany style lamps. I have added etched glass and carved glass to the projects as time passed. I have used slabs of agate, but I had never incorporated any tektites into the glasswork.
When Paul and I visited Darryl Futrell at his home there was always the tektite lamp he had sitting in the room off the side by the front door. But, it was not what I decided I wanted to make if I ever did. His had relatively few really thin transparent pieces of glass. If I ever made one I wanted it to really glow with transparency.
So a year ago I sat down with two big boxes of what we consider scrap tektites and started going through it looking for the thin transparent pieces. I worked my way through one of the boxes holding up probably a thousand tektites to the light to examine their transparency. I was gradually building a pile that would work for the lamp. I never exhausted the supply in the first box of broken tektites so I know that there are plenty more left for projects in the future. We have at least three of these big boxes. It was material that we had to take when we got the Futrell collection of beautiful tektites.
After sorting out a couple hundred thin pieces I had the nightly chore of wrapping them with copper foil around their edges. That took a week or so of spare time. After they were wrapped then it was off to the garage to make a mold the shape of the lampshade I was going to create. Once the mold was ready all I needed was a brass disk that would be at the very top for the lamp base to go through and then I could begin soldering the glass pieces to each other. All sounds very simple just solder the pieces together. Only problem is that I am not working from a pattern with nicely cut pieces of glass that are made to fit together.
This was to become a three dimensional puzzle where I would fit dozens of pieces in every location until I found one that would leave the smallest gaps to later be filled with solder. Progress was slow but steady and the lamp came together in about one solid weekend of work.
After all the tektites were tacked together with a couple spots of solder the copper foil must be completely covered with a nice smooth domed layer of solder on the inside as well as of course the outside. It is this complete soldering that gives strength to the glass project be it a lampshade or anything else. Another day of off and on work and I had it all soldered. The tricky part is to layer the one side without melting the soldering job you have done on the other side. You have to work fast and not allow the heat from the soldering iron tip to remain in a spot long enough to melt out the work you have already done. And it is hot work and you have to keep gravity in mind because you need to remember how your solder will flow and not let it run down or out or off the area you are filling.
After the soldering you have to do a super good job of cleaning the glasswork to remove flux and splatters of solder and whatever. It has to be clean so that it can be antiqued to a black patina. The chemicals are nasty and smelly and you only want to use them once. So getting it clean the first time is something you learn fast.
I hunted around at some swap meets and junk stores looking for a nice art deco style lamp stand to go with the lampshade and finally found one I like well enough. It needed rewiring and a new switch. That was easy enough. And the finial was appropriate enough that came with the lamp. So it was done. I guess all the time involved would be a couple hundred hours. About 200 hand selected pieces of Thailand splashform tektite glass and probably at least a pound of solder, a few dollars for the stand and the switch and wire, so what is it worth? I have no idea. It is almost unique, almost a one of a kind. But, I may change that soon with others. But, they may not be 100% tektite glass. That is just one mean fitting chore. I actually toward the end had no pieces left that would fit together and had to go back and sort out more to get additional pieces to work with in order to complete the shade. I think maybe using tektite pieces here and there in projects is the direction I will go in the future.
Paul has the lamp at his home. I gave it to him when I finished it. That kind of forces me to make another doesn’t it?
Have a great month and I look forward to sharing again next month.