Last Friday I spent four hours melting glass at Public Glass in San Francisco. PG is near Hunter's Point and is on the very front between the old corrugated steel buildings of industrial San Francisco and a forest of rapidly-growing houses (PG is on the corrugated side). PG is split into two shops: hot shop, with big furnaces for making large glass pieces, and the warm shop, for torchworking, slumping, fusing, and cold work. I spent my time in the warm shop.
The place is a bit disheveled but it's a scene I'm becoming used to (BAGI and The Crucible are a lot like this as well). The torchworking benches have 6 or so lamps, half with major+smaller burners and the other half minor burners. There's a bank of lockers holding tools but there's only a few tools there and not a lot of selection: a paddle, some flat pincers, tongs, and that's about it. I need to just buy my own tools, its clear: marble mold, graphite reamer, didymium glasses, fingers, tongs, tungsten picks.
I got there at 10a, when I said I'd like to start, but the studio manager wasn't around. The tech set me up and I caught up with the manager at 11a. I was the only person in the warm shop all day long and it was pretty nice to have the seclusion. BAGI's setup has the warm and hot shops in one large room, separated by a 8' wall (with 15' ceilings) so there's noise and heat all day. The bench itself at PG isn't quite as nice: most of the light comes from skylights, there's no benchtop lighting, the benches are all metal but with no railings along the edges and an uneven surface I'm fighting gravity to keep my punties and marbles from rolling away. The large burners nicely produce heat but the burners themselves are a bit run down (they're corroded). Unlike BAGI the gas lines are properly routed beneath the bench top.
As with BAGI, there's an annealer but it's not on when I arrive, it would take hours to heat up, and so I forgo annealing and just bury my finished pieces in a bucket of vermiculite. I'm only concerned about avoiding cracking from thermal stress, so this is just fine. Also, I end up making only a few pieces, but that was my goal. I made a nice cane and practiced the ... there's some name for a way of twisting a cane as you keep part of it heated, I don't recall what it is, but that's what I did. It worked well, but the cane isn't straight at all. Heating a cane and twisting and stretching all at once makes a very nice bit of glass but it's a lot harder to do. I tried making a latticino but used the transparent green glass that you couldn't see in the end. I should try this again using the black or peacock, two very opaque colors. I finished up by experimenting with flattened marbles: they're cubes or prisms rather than round (I didn't have a marble mold). I thought they turned out okay: the surfaces are smooth and clear, the edges are pleasantly rounded, and they don't wobble too much when placed on a flat surface. I tried putting more than one mushroom in the larger piece, it sorta worked but mostly didn't. I heated the stringers too much before making them into mushrooms, which was a mistake (they were too soft so they didn't penetrate the clear gob very well).
Public glass vs. BAGI? Dunno. BAGI is closer to my MV apartment than Melinda's SF pad. BAGI and its neighborhood is nicer than PG and its neighborhood. PG has better lamps and offers 24x7 access to members ($150/year for membership, excluding hourly usage fees), but I wouldn't want to go there at most non-business hours. All this also makes it clear that what these places are offering me, really, is just a table, burner, and gas. And maybe an annealer if I ask several times in advance. It wouldn't be *that* much work to set up the same on my own, the hardest part being just finding a venue.