The main essential and peculiar property of glass is its transparency. When subjected to a gradually increasing temperature, glass becomes softened, and whilst hot it is plastic, ductile, and malleable, in which state it can be cut, welded, drawn, or pressed. A thread of glass can be drawn so thin and fine that it can be twisted and bent to a remarkable extent, showing that glass is flexible.
The above properties shown by glass while softened under heat permit it to be shaped and formed by a variety of methods, so that in the manufacture of the different kinds of glass we find goods pressed, blown, drawn, moulded, rolled and cast from the hot metal. Upon cooling, the form given to them is retained permanently.
Another property of glass is its conchoidal fracture and liability to crack under any sudden change of temperature. Advantage is taken of this peculiarity in dividing or cracking apart glass when necessary, during the stages of the manufacture of any glass article.
If a glass worker, in making an article of glass, desires to detach or cut apart certain sections, he applies a cold wet substance, such as an iron file wetted with water, to any portion of the hot glass, which causes it to fracture at the point of contact with the cold metal, and a slight jar is then sufficient to break the two portions apart. This method of chilling heated glassware to divide it is applied in the mechanical process of cutting up the long cylindrical tubes of glass into short sections for use as miners' safety lamp chimneys. Wherever it is desired to cut them through, a narrow section or line round the cylinder is first heated by a sharp, hot pencil of flame projected from a burner against the rotating cylindrical tube of glass at equidistant short sections, and the divisions chilled by contact with a cold, steel point, or the heated area may be gently scratched with a diamond point, when a clean, sharp fracture results exactly where the chill or scratch has been "applied and spreads round the whole circumference in a circle, giving neat, clean-cut divisions. In cutting narrow tube and cane, the fracture caused in the structure of the glass by scratching its surface with a steel file or diamond is sufficient to cause it to break apart without the application of heat.
Horizontal Cracking-Off Machine
By permission of Melin & Co.
A piece of hot glass will weld on to another piece of hot glass of similar composition. The glass maker uses this method of welding for sticking handles on to jugs, etc., during the process of making table glassware.
The density of glass varies according to its composition. Certain classes of lead and thallium glass for optical work are of very high density. The specific gravities of such glasses may vary from 3.0 to well over 4.0. In soda-lime glasses the density is less and approaches 2.4. Ordinary crystal glass approximates to a specific gravity of 3.1.
The elasticity and thermal coefficient of expansion of glass can be regulated within normal limits. Glasses are now manufactured which can be perfectly sealed to copper, iron, nickel, and platinum wires.
Glass, if kept heated for any length of time at a temperature just short of its softening or deformation point, becomes devitrified and loses its transparency, becoming opaque and crystalline. In this state it has much of the nature of vitreous porcelain and is totally different to manipulate, being tough and viscid on further heating. This devitrified state may occur during glassmaking, where the metal is allowed to remain in the pot or tank furnace for a considerable time under low temperature. Small stars or crystals first develop throughout the glass and continue to grow until it becomes a stony, white, opaque, vitreous mass. " Reaumur's Porcelain " is a glass in a devitrified state, and is used for pestles and mortars, devitrified glass being less brittle than ordinary glass and similar to vitrified porcelain.
Glass can be toughened to an extent which is surprising. Bastie's process consists of plunging the finished glass article whilst hot into a bath of boiling oil, which toughens the glass so much as to make it extremely hard and resistant to shocks, losing most of its brittle nature. Strong plates of glass are produced by a process of toughening under pressure. These plates of glass are used for ship porthole lights and in positions where great strength is required. Toughened or hardened glass is of great value in the production of miner's lamp glasses and steam-gauge tubing. Glass, when hardened, is difficult to cut even with the diamond, and difficulty is experienced in finding suitable means to cut it into shapes to suit commercial requirements.
" Rupert drops," or tears, exhibit the state in which unannealed glass physically exists. These are made as a curiosity by dropping a small quantity of hot metal from the gathering-iron into a bath of water and then taking the pear-shaped drops out quickly. These pear-shaped drops of glass will stand a hard blow on the head or thicker portion without breaking, but, if the tail is pinched off or broken, the whole mass crumbles and falls to powder. This well illustrates the latent stresses or strains apparently in a state of tension and thrust within the structure of unannealed glass.
Glass is not a good conductor of heat. This accounts for the necessity of slow cooling or annealing glassware, and also applies when re-heating glass, which must be done slowly and evenly to allow time for the conduction of the heat through the mass gradually. Glass is a non-conductor of electricity, and is used to a considerable extent in the electrical trades for insulation purposes. Most glasses are attacked slightly, but not readily, by water and dilute mineral acids. Continued exposure to a moist, humid atmosphere causes slight superficial decomposition, according to the stability and chemical composition of the glass. Old antique specimens of glass show the superficial decomposition caused by long continuous exposure to atmospheric moisture. Many antique specimens have been known to collapse instantly upon being unearthed. The first change in antique glass is exhibited by a slight iridescence forming on the surface, gradually increasing towards opacity; afterward disintegration sets in, until it finally collapses or crumbles to powder. Glasses high in lead are readily attacked by the acid vapours met with in the atmosphere, but the harder soda-lime glasses are more resistant." An excess of boric acid, soda, or potash also renders glass subject to disintegration and decay.