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'Volts shock, Amps kill' or an afternoon at The Neon Workshop

Some of the available neon workshops. Who's up for a trip to Berlin?
A few weeks ago I got a super exciting email from Groupon asking me if I wanted to go to a neon workshop. Well, how do you say no to an invite like that? You can't can you? So on a Saturday afternoon my friend Sarah and I headed to a little neon workshop, on a side street in Wakefield, for a fun afternoon of glass bending and some unexpected science.
Around the workshop
After we signed our lives away on the disclaimer (the most alarming bit was to not cross the white line at the other side of the room. The other side of said white line housed some very exciting and I-want-to-touch kit!) we had the chance to peek round the little workshop, meet our co-creators and have a chat with Millie, the experience manager from Groupon. 

Our instructor Richard Wheater, started the afternoon by talking us through the intricacies of neon. My previous knowledge of the stuff was limited to the fact that my bar sign at home was on the blink (literally) and that it was super expensive, having ordered one for work. Now I know the science behind it, I know that I can fix the flickering bar sign (did you know that neon signs can be refilled? No, me either) and that they are so expensive because each one is hand made. Every single bit has to be done by hand. Madness.

We learnt about the different ways to make coloured lights - did you know that different gasses produce different colours? Or that you can also coat the tubes with colours to create other shades and by varying the width of the tube you can control the brightness too? Me either. We also learnt about the volts and amps, and their ability to hurt us and just why the white line we shouldn't cross, was there (check the title of the post for more info on that one!)

Science has never been my thing, especially not on a Saturday afternoon, but this was interesting. Just no-one tell my dad I said that. Ok!
A basic neon colour chart
Before we got started making anything of our own, Richard showed us the technique behind creating a neon sign. Now, having not given much thought to neon I wasn't sure what to expect, but I didn't imagine it would be so much work. Basically, to light the tube, you have to add conductors to it, which being glass need melting on, then once the tube has electric conductors on the ends of it, it has to be cleaned or 'bombarded' with the fancy looking machine below to make sure that there are no impurities in it, twice, once with helium, then if I remember correctly, filling with the right gas for the colour you're after for it. And then we saw it begin to splutter into life! That was pretty awesome. You can read a really in depth account of making neon lighting here if you like. I promise you it's way more interesting than you think it is.
Bombarding the tube. 
And then we got to play with our own pieces of glass. The first challenge was cut the tubes. Easy. We made a small score on the glass and snap. Done. The next challenge however involved tying hair back and flames. Big flames, blowing in tubes and mouth pieces, and the ability to twizzle glass tubes on your finger tips. It's amazing how uncoordinated I can be when required to turn a piece of glass in the right direction, even more so when I'm trying to remember to blow into a tube and bend the glass at the same time.  
Bending Glass
Here's Groupon's Millie giving it a go. And here are the bent pieces of glass......mine is the right angled one facing away from us - impressive right?
Bent Glass
Next up we got to be all fancy and really play with a ribbon of hot glass. This flame below heated the glass all the way along so you could twist and turn it and bend it into a shape. (The tube is in the mouth as when the glass is out of the flame you need to keep blowing down it to keep it 'open' rather then closing in on its self) You have to keep blowing the glass, twisting it, but now so much that it touches itself, and do it all before it cools. Not easy!
Glass ribbons
Here are the little glass mouth piece we used in our tubes, and this is my finished article. I kind of love it. (Ignore the nails please!)
And here are the pieces the whole class made. We were a talented bunch weren't we. Seriously. if you'd have been there and tried it, you'd have been impressed too!
Sarah and I left the class with little bent glass tubes and a desire to learn how to neon properly. You can have your tube neon'd for you after the class but you'd have to figure out some way to power it and my new found love of science doesn't stretch quite that far! But it was a really different, interesting and exciting use of a Saturday afternoon that I know would have been otherwise misspent in the pub!  

And if this has ignited a spark to learn more about neon and I think once you do learn you'll be surprised how interested you are (everyone at the party we had later knew all about it!)You can get your tickets to The Neon Workshop from Groupon for just £19 rather than the £60 they retail for.

*We were given the tickets to the Neon Workshop for free, but I wasn't paid for this post!

4 comments

  1. I was invited to this too but couldn't make it - shame it would have been good to see you again! This post made really interesting reading - creating neon is more difficult than it looks, hey? I wonder if we will soon be seeing one of your neon creations in your new house?!

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    1. I wish - I couldn't figure our how to power them so I left with a few bent tubes ;) x

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  2. This is SO COOL. I LOVE neon lights and the science behind them. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I am SERIOUSLY jealous. Sorry for the caps, I really do love neon!

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    1. I didn't realise just how cool the science behind them was until that afternoon. It was so much fun. If they do a class up near you, you REALLY have to go. Promise me you will. x

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Thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings. I hope to see you again soon.