Some time ago, I came across a blog claiming that you could cut wine bottles with a burning bit of string soaked in acetone. This sounded hilarious fun, but also a tad more dangerous and unpredictable than I was entirely happy with! The idea didn’t desert me, though, and as time went by I was thinking of more and more different ways I might use recycled wine bottles, if only I could neatly (and safely!) cut them in half. Green Glass make some beautiful drinking glasses out of recycled bottles, which were another source of inspiration. This is a real ‘upcycling’ craft (a word which often seems to be an excuse for selling overpriced old junk on etsy!) creating something pretty and useful out of the contents of your recycling box!
So I did what we all do, and broke out a bit of depth-first google searching. A few idle lunch-breaks worth of reading later, and I eventually decided that I was happy to experiment with a cutting process where hot and cold water are used to ‘crack’ a line scored on the outside of the bottle with a diamond-tip glass cutting tool.
Of course, the knack is getting the score line straight. People will sell you various bottle cutting jigs and devices that work on this principle, but I didn’t want to buy any expensive kit for this, at least to start with.
A bit of thought and collaboration from my lovely husband, and we built this contraption out of leftover wood from the shed. It’s a v-shaped cradle to hold the bottle with a solid end, and notches cut in the side to stabilise the handle of the cutting tool. The cutting tool itself came from amazon and cost a couple of pounds.
Give some thought to what you want from your bottle, and whether the traditional bump found in the bottom of most bottles (called a ‘punt’, apparently – here I was thinking a punt was a flat bottomed boat propelled with a pole on shallow rivers in British university cities) is a use or a hindrance. It might be fine if you want to make a vase, for instance, but not so useful if you want a candle-holder. Some bottles are tapered or squared-off, and these you probably also want to avoid! Now, give your bottle a good scrub and remove all the labels. You should to do this first, before there are any sharp edges to work around!
Put your bottle in the jig, place the glass cutting tool in an appropriate slot and gently press the scoring head against the side of the bottle. Now, very slowly, rotate the bottle against the point of the cutting tool. You’re aiming to complete a perfect full rotation, without leaving a gap or ‘over-writing’ the start of your line at the end. If the score line isn’t complete and perfectly straight, the bottle isn’t going to crack evenly.
Accuracy is everything, as it’s a one-shot deal and mistakes cannot be corrected later – but on the plus side, the bottles are free and only destined for the recycling bin in any case, so try not to fret about it too much! My success rate so far for a clean break is about 1 in 3 – not great but it’s early days and I suspect practice will help improve this somewhat.
Once you’ve scored your line, it’s time to get it to crack. Different approaches are advocated, but I went for the simplest one. Boil a kettle of water. Holding the bottle over the sink, pour freshly boiled water gently over the score line, rotating the bottle slowly. After a few seconds, put the bottle under the cold running tap and repeat the process of rotating it. I haven’t got any photos of this bit, because both my hands were a bit occupied at the time!
You’ll have to do this a few times, but you’ll see – and perhaps hear – the score lines start to give way. If you’re really lucky, the bottle will break cleanly straight along the score line. This one didn’t! The fracture line wavered quite dramatically above and below the score line over about 1/3rd of the circumference. I’m not sure why, whether it was to do with the score line, or the fact the bottle itself which was quite uneven in thickness. Whichever it was, it’s a dead loss, so throw it away and fetch another one from the recycling bin.
Other approaches I’ve seen advocated include candle flame followed by ice cube, and tapping the bottle from the inside near the score line, though this requires a crank-headed tapping tool. I have no idea if these approaches might result in a better success rate – certainly tapping may give a different, more controlled break than hot/cold shock.
Fortunately, my first try (when I wasn’t taking photographs – typical eh?) did break cleanly, giving me a goblet about four inches high which I wanted for a candle holder. It broke with a very slight ‘notch’, which I was able to crack off using the glass cutting tool to give essentially a clean cut. A very *sharp* clean cut.
Success! But that’s not it, of course, since you’d have a candle holder specifically designed to maim the unwary, which is a silly enough thing to keep around your own house, never mind consider giving as a gift. Those sharp sheared glass edges are going to have to go. My approach is low tech – wet, fine grade silicon carbide sandpaper. I used a slightly coarser grade to take the edges down initially, and then finished with some really fine paper.
Working wet greatly reduces the production of glass dust, which is nasty dangerous stuff that you should not be inhaling. Work in a well ventilated area (outside, for me!) and ideally wear a dust mask. Feel the edge *very* gently and tentatively with a fingertip to check the sharp edges are gone to your satisfaction.
Carefully work on the edges as well as the flat cut surface. A little piece of sand paper wrapped around a pencil or something similar is good for the inside edge without scratching the glass. I’ve seen the use of a dremel advocated – I can see how that would work really well but you’d want to be really careful about dust, probably dipping the grinding head in water every few seconds to keep it wet. You’ll want to do much more careful and comprehensive smoothing work on the rim if you want to use your cut bottle as a drinking glass – but your extra efforts may well be worth it!
The result is really pleasing, the cut edge after sanding has a mostly-frosted appearance but still shows some evidence of the manner of its birth. It’s not a perfect, machined straight line, but just has that little bit of hand-crafted variability. You could etch the glass now (something I’m looking into!) or paint it if you liked, but you’re the proud owner of a hand-made recycled glass candle holder.
I used this with a tea light for a test burn, as much as anything to check that the heating from a candle wasn’t going to cause unexpected cracking or breakage after the bottle’s relatively rough treatment! And to get photographs, of course. I expect this will look even better with a votive candle, but I didn’t have one to hand.
This was just a first attempt – but I had a lot of fun and will certainly be doing some more bottle cutting in time for Christmas! I love that the detail of the bottle is still very much part of the finished piece too. Definitely something to try – though probably a craft for grown-ups!
For a few ideas, try my next post on bottle cutting – ‘Using Your Bottle – testing some ideas for bottle cutting crafts’.
Finally, an apology to those of you who were emailed a part-finished version of this blog post yesterday – a mistake on my part, I’m afraid! I’ll try to restrain my itchy mouse-finger from wandering over the ‘Publish’ button so enthusiastically!
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