Offhand glass blowing is one of two types of blowing glass, with lampworking being the other form. In this method, a bit of fused glass is accumulated at one end of a blowing iron or a blowpipe, which is a hollow steel tube. Through the use of special tools and molds, as well as blowing techniques, an artist transforms the glass into a new shape.
Lampworking is different from offhand glass blowing, because tubing and a glass rod are heated and softened with the lampworking method. Then, the softened glass is transformed into its final shape. Like the offhand method, lampworking also involves using special hand tools and blowing techniques in order to create the piece. Both practices are also concerned with gravity and the effects it has on the piece as it is being created.
When originally developed, lampworking used rods and tubes developed through offhand glass blowing. Today, special glass-drawing machines create the rods and tubes used by the lampworking glass artist. Therefore, the glass used by lampworking artists has previously been shaped. With offhand glass blowing, the glass used to create objects has never been made into a specific form. Rather, it is still a molten glob waiting to be shaped by the craftsperson.
Both types of glass blowing artists use similar tools. Nonetheless, some of the tools are different and frequently confused by the layman. For example, lampworking artists use a tool called a toche to help mix air and fuel in order to create a hotter flame for working with the glass. The toche is often also called a blowpipe, which is not the same as the blowpipe or blowing iron used by the offhand glass blowing artist to shape the glass by force of air.
Offhand glass blowing and lampworking each result in glass pieces with a distinctive look. Traditionally, lampworking was used to create test tubes and other items for use in a laboratory. The offhand method, on the other hand, was used mostly for artistic expression. Today, both forms are gaining in popularity for use in crafts and artistic creation, and they are among the fastest growing hobbies in the United States.