Direct Employment on Chameleon Glass Payroll
Location: Phoenix, AZ
So you wanna be a pipe maker.
Truth: I’m not going to beat around the bush with you; it’s a grueling, hot, sweaty, cut-the-shit-out-of-your-finger, burn-the-shit-out-of-the-same-finger-the-next-day, make-the-same-piece-over-and-over-and-over (and over and over) kind of job. You can make better money, faster, in the short term, flipping burgers at In-N-Out. Same can be said for Discover Card services & collections. Glassblowing does not happen overnight and it definitely ain’t a desk job.
Lies: Your BFF just told you that they learned how to blow glass in two hours and they are now selling $1,200 heady pieces on Facebook, just two weeks after they got on the torch for the first time. Yup, all true, saw it on the Internet. Also saw that Eric Clapton learned to play guitar AND write music in two weeks, and I can, too (for a small, one-time, non-refundable charge from a company located in central Africa).
One of the many things wrong with our country is an unrealistic get-rich-quick mentality coupled with a disdain for an eight-hour-a-day blue-collar job. I receive ten applications for every one interview/hire that we end up training, and of those individuals, we keep one out of 15 for more than ten weeks. The reason for this abysmal retention is that most of my applicants are Lifestylers* and Artistes* who want to try out glassblowing to see if they like it — if you want to kick the tires, go pay $950 for a ‘lampworking’ or ‘beadmaking’ class at a local community college or hot shop.
Lifestyler: If you think you are going to puff every 15 minutes in between your trips to the can before and after a trip to the water cooler, you are a lifestyler. You are not going to get rich and it’s not going to be quick and it ain’t going to be easy. Lifestylers do not make it here.
Artiste: If you are an aspiring ‘artiste’ either expecting to make two pipes today and (whew!) that’s a wrap, or looking to drive down the one way street of ‘teach me how you do everything so I can leave and compete against you, but I don’t want to spend any money taking lessons, Artiste’s don’t make it here either.
I’m not trying to be a dick, I’m just saving you and I the time and ill-will of finding out the hard way that your view of how things work is different than the view you will need to possess to make it past two weeks here.
At this point, if you are still reading, I must assume that none of the above apply to you, that work is not a four letter word and that you can see yourself learning a manual art, a trade that you will never lose like carpenter or an electrician, because, make no mistake, this is a 40- hour-a-week, welding j-o-b. Most people will refer to themselves as Glassblowers. I’m not going to correct you, but I am going to tell you that I am training you to work, and that means you are a pipe maker, not a glassblower. And that’s a good thing, Cuz, because pipemaking is way cooler than glassblowing!
Start here: An apprenticeship.
Just like any skilled trade, you will need to start and survive an apprenticeship. Mundane and seemingly mind-numbing, apprenticeships teach you things from the ground up starting with the basics. They also include grunt work like taking out the trash and unloading truck loads of raw materials. If you wanted to learn a functional vocation from DeVry or UTI, you’re looking at two years and a significant cash outlay. Plan on the same time commitment here, except, instead of you paying them, I pay you—not such a bad deal—unless you have that unrealistic, irrational outlook I have mentioned earlier in this discussion where new hires think they will get paid top dollar to learn a trade and leave. It doesn’t work that way, really.
Your glassblowing career starts with preparatory work (prep) in four stages:
Stringers – You will learn how each and every color behaves completely different; because, even though it is all COE 33 borosilicate, every color has different elements inserted interstitially that cause it to melt faster (or not), behave like plastic or boil and bubble with too much heat. If you’re really good, and you focus and work hard 40 hours a week, you might come off stringers in two months. Might.
Tube – Some pieces require tube prep, some require ‘points’, but both tube and points require you to know the basics of cutting and melting tube through 50MM diameter (five foot sections) on five different tubing colors that all behave differently. Expect a minimum of one month.
Points – Pulling points is the next stage of Tube work as the apprentice is taught how to attach Puente (cold weld) and stretch for a handle on all tube varieties. This will account for another month.
Advanced – Not everyone goes through advanced prep. I may select you for advanced prep if you show great promise, or, I may assign you to advanced prep because you are working really hard facing limited results and sometimes the lights just need a little longer to come on. Areas covered include but are not limited to decorative marbles, dichro, and abrasion skills like lapidary and sand blasting.
If you can’t tell already, you will be measured. Real world measurements like: How many pounds of ‘turbo’ you can cover in a day, how many mushroom marbles you can accomplish in four hours. You are also measured on your non-glass assignments like how many times were you reminded to empty the glass trash bin. Again, no illusions, it’s a grind, and if you want to learn my trade, grind you will because in addition to developing an ability to work the medium, you must also develop a work ethic to compete against China and India dumping schwag to be sold at every gas station and convenience store in this country. If you repetitively fail these measurements, you will never cut it as a vocational pipemaker in the Chameleon shop or in your own garage.
The Nitty Gritty.
So, if I am telling you everything you need to know, then pay rate has to be included. I want you to know I do my homework. I mentioned flipping burgers. Having done it myself, I can tell you there are some interesting parallels. Timing yourself in a production oriented situation, burning and cutting yourself regularly and making something for someone who knows what they want and expects it two minutes ago.
The In-N-Out down the street from the factory offers $9 to start and $10 once you are on the grill. American Apparel, located in that super low cost of living mecca, Southern California offers $12 once you reach a specific number of garments per hour.
Chameleon starts at $8. By the time you move off prep you can expect a minimum of $9, and if you are production conscious you’ll be at $11 by the end of your first year. At the end of the first year, you also qualify to sign up for medical, dental and vision benefits. Throughout your time making pipes, there is also a $10 daily quota bonus and a $25 weekly bonus based on your overall average. Quota bonus is far too contentious a subject when it should be simple, because it is simple. Each workstation, fully loaded with equipment, industrial gas, electricity, a roof and prepped glass costs $195 per day to just sit there and look nice next to a warm kiln. If you are making $8/hour, Uncle Sam charges me another $1.50 ($8 + $1.50 = $9.50) per hour in taxes, disability and unemployment insurance on an eight-hour day = (9.5 x 8) $76. 195 + 76 = $271 in cost. Your quota is based on creating $300 worth of saleable merchandise, or (I said there was math) less than 10% profit margin. That’s a potential of $10 per day ($50 per week) and an additional kicker of $25 if your weekly average is at or above quota (if you miss daily quota, you can still make it up by the end of the week on your average!) To give you an idea of how things work, most retail smoke shops ‘keystone’ or double their cost at a minimum. That’s 100% profit. But that’s manufacturing in the US right now, and while I may be a little bitter, I ain’t bitching—that’s just the way of the world we live in.
Retail smoke shops have their own issues to deal with like theft and robbery and someone opening up an identical store across the street from them. I choose artisanal manufacturing. It’s what we do. Is it what you want to do? Do you still want to be a pipemaker?
Pipemaking starts with #103-Clear. It’s a full melt intro that shows you how to utilize centrifugal force, gravity and air pressure to shape a vessel, deform the vessel and pop functional holes in the vessel. After you master this step, the next is fuming. Fuming is the lost art of creating functional color change. After that, the catalog really opens up to you for decorated surface work, then inside-out, then sculpture, then…well, then it’s up to you.
Drop us a line, fellow broham.
So, if you want to learn pipemaking, send a cover letter explaining why a two-year apprenticeship is a great opportunity for you and attach your resume to the email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am telling you upfront, don’t expect anything in return. When you send resumes out on Monster or Craig’s List, you never get responses because three zillion people all respond to the same offer of employment. I’d be lying to you if I told you we are any different. To compete with China and India and every other developing nation flooding the US market with cheap imitations, Chameleon is lean and mean and we all have a lot of work to complete every day, so please don’t take it personally, we’re just that busy.