Entre Amigos Kiln
After three months of design, fabrication and adventures to larger cities to track down required electrical components, we had a complete glass kiln. The kiln featured materials from the nearby scrapyard including a phone handset for a limit switch enclosure, rain gutters formed into a lid, 3.6kW of toaster elements, and many others. The kiln is capable of getting to 1300C, the melting point of glass, at holding at that temperature while maintaining a 55C exterior temperature. This enables fusing, where glass shards are softened and melted together; and slumping, where a flat sheet of glass is softened to form via mold or a 3-D shape is collapsed. Though I had some friends to help out too, this was my first big engineering project I took from concept to conclusion largely unassisted. During the project, I modeled the insulation requirements, developed sketches and sketch models, gathered materials, and fabricated.
I couldn’t have done it without the wisdom of Simon, a friend I made while volunteering down there. As an ex-controls engineer he had not only a lot of great technical advice but also pitched in valuable perspective on how to consider the unexpected. Although the kiln was a simple project relative to a fighter jet, he taught me about how to walk through the system and consider exactly what each component does, what it interacts with, and chase those leads through the system. This seems like a simple lesson in retrospect, but I think it was a really valuable one to experience. It’s less of “just think carefully about your system” and more of gaining the ability to systematically break down your assembly to consider mechanical, thermal, and electrical interactions.
In an attempt to explore another culture while trying to affect social change, I ventured to San Pancho, Mexico where I spent four months working in the glass workshop at the community center: Entre Amigos. Entre Amigos focuses on improving the community in two main ways: 1. enabling productivity of community members by educating and teaching crafts while supplying a space to exercise their skills and 2. Promoting environmental stewardship by facilitating recycling and waste management initiatives in town. In the glass workshop, artists use sanders and saws to repurpose bottles and other glass collected from the town’s recycling initiative. After a month of learning and working in the glass workshop alongside the Mexican artists, I found that access to a new glass-making process would drastically improve their ability to add value to the products they make.