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Glass for the layman

There are several different types of glass. The most common and the simplest is clear glass. By the word "clear" we mean transparent. In the glass industry the word "float" is used to denote clear glass. The word "float" has its origins in the way the glass is manufactured. Float glass comes in different thicknesses. These are:

2mm – used only for picture framing.
3mm – a commonly used glass for small panels.                                                              4mm – used for larger panels. 
5mm – used for larger panels and for small panels at floor level.                             
6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 12mm – most commonly used for tabletops and shelving.  

Glass which is not transparent is known as "obscure". There are several different patterns, with names such as "satinlite, roughcast, spotswood, broadline ….." They are generally available in 3mm & 5mm thicknesses. 

Tinted glass is transparent glass which is coloured. The traditional colours are "grey" and "bronze", while in recent times green and blue have been introduced. In recent years a whole array of tinted reflective glasses have also been introduced, as well as a range of chemically manipulated glasses designed to satisfy certain specialist requirements. 

The above types are not "safe" ie. should a person fall against them, an injury could be sustained. "Safety glass" is a group of glasses which will not injure a person should that person impact against them. A common misapprehension is that safety glass does not break – it certainly does. Where it differs from normal glass is in the way that it does break. It breaks safely. The different types of safety glass are:

Laminated glass (pictured below) – made up of two sheets of glass with a plastic interlayer between them to which both panels are adhered. When this glass is struck, the glass will crack but both layers will remain adhered to the interlayer. Pieces of glass do not break off, therefore there are no sharp edges to cause injury. All windscreens are made of laminated glass. This glass is easy to crack but difficult to penetrate. The most common type is known as 6.38mm: this means that it is made up of two sheets of 3mm glass and a plastic interlayer between them being 0.38mm thick. Another example is 10.38 which is made up of two sheets of 5mm glass with the plastic interlayer being 0.38mm, ie 5mm plus 5mm plus 0.38 equals 10.38mm. Occasionally a double layer of plastic is used to give a glass known as 6.76mm. Laminated glass can be made of many different types of glasses and interlayers eg a sheet of obscure glass bonded to a sheet of clear glass resulting in obscure laminated glass.



Toughened (or tempered) glass (pictured below, once broken) – this type of glass is made by inserting normal glass into a furnace which "toughens" it. The final product is a glass which needs a much greater force to break it, but once it does break it disintegrates into thousands of little pieces which are all quite harmless. Most types of glass can be toughened, but not all. Once the panel of glass comes out of the furnace it can not be cut or drilled or have anything done to it.










Wired glass – glass with a wire mesh running though it. Because this mesh is visible and because it is not quite as safe as laminated and toughened glass, it does not now find extensive use. It has one advantage, however, being its one hour fire rating, ie it keeps flames confined to one side of the glass for one hour.

Mirror is simply a sheet of glass with a highly reflective coating applied to one side. Vinyl backed mirror is mirror with a sheet of vinyl adhered to the back of it to make it safe.

Cutting a hole in a panel of glass is often done for the purpose of inserting a fan or a cat/dog door. The glass must be at least 4mm thick.

"Edgework" refers to the work done to the edge of the glass. Glass when it is cut is known as "clean cut" – it is razor sharp. To be able to be used as a tabletop or a shelf etc, its edges must be edgeworked to blunt this sharpness. This is done on a grinding machine which smoothes down the edges to a greater or lesser degree.

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