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EveJanuary 11th 2023

This post is mainly for those of you who are new to the practice of neon tube bending, and it’s about the difference between lead-free and leaded tubing. Or to be more specific, why you should not practice learning to bend neon using lead glass. Being newer to neon you may not even be aware that there are two different types, but the glass produced to make neon tubing used to contain lead. Around the mid-late 2000s, manufacturing regulations changed regarding the use of lead in glass tubing, and by 2010 only lead-free glass was being produced. It took about 10 years for the inventory of lead glass neon tubing to disappear from the shelves of sign suppliers and distributors, and now if you purchase new glass tubing for neon bending it is only lead-free glass that's available. This is important to know, because how you work the glass in the fire and how it behaves is different between the two types, and it requires adjusting your fires and modifying your bending technique in order to get the same results. It’s not a huge difference between the two types, but it's enough of one that I know of neon benders who got out of the business when the transition happened because they couldn’t adapt to the change. I also know of benders who left the trade years ago but decided to get back into it in recent years and are struggling as they try to re-learn how to bend with lead-free tubing. If you are practicing your bending and don’t know which type of glass you are using, or if you are bouncing back and forth between lead and lead-free while you are bending, you are going to struggle and your progress will be slow and frustrating. By now, you might be wondering what the difference is between lead and lead-free. Simply put, the older tubing that contains lead is easier to bend. It softens at a lower temperature and cools down slower, which gives you a longer working time to shape the bends. Lead-free tubing has a higher melting point and quicker cooling time and requires that you adjust your torches and work a little faster. If you are a beginner, make sure you know which kind of glass you are working with. There are a couple of different ways to check. The first (and probably the most common) is to turn the gas way up on your crossfire. If the glass starts to turn black as it gets hot, it's lead glass. Lead-free tubing does not turn black in the flame, no matter how gassy your flame is. In fact, you’ll need to crank up that gas if you want to get a good nice hot bend with lead-free glass. 

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The blackening in the tube is caused by lead being deposited on the surface of the glass as a result of too much gas in the flame. This won't happen with lead-free glass.


 Another way to tell the difference between the two types which doesn’t require heating the glass is to look at the end of the tube. Lead-free tubing looks bluish/green on the end.

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Lead glass on the left, lead-free glass on the right

Obviously, you’ll need to have a sample of each type of glass in order to compare the two.  Here's another example.

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Lead-free glass is on the left here and the lead glass is on the right

Something important to mention when it comes to bending lead-free tubing is that you should make sure to wear didymium glasses. Not only will they protect your eyes from the sodium flare, but it also makes it much easier to see how the glass is heating and when it's time to make your bend.

Even though you can’t buy lead neon tubing new anymore, there is still enough of it out there that you will likely come across some. You can find it in old inventories of closing neon shops, or sometimes it’s donated to teaching facilities that use it for workshops or classes. If you are an aspiring tube bender and get your hands on some old lead glass stock, or maybe even some old dirty tubing that’s not good enough to use for jobs but you think it might be good for practicing your neon bending with, my suggestion to you is…DON’T DO IT!! It will give you a “false sense of ability”, as I’ve heard one seasoned bender put it. If you use lead glass to practice your neon bending (and maybe even get to the point where you’re thinking you are getting pretty good), as soon as you go to buy some neon tubing for a project and all you can get is lead-free, you will quickly find out that you are not as good as you thought and feel as if you are taking steps backward, becoming frustrated as you re-learn how to bend neon. In my opinion, learning to bend neon is hard enough as it is and it’s just not worth the aggravation trying to learn using two different types of glass. Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success by using only lead-free glass for your bending practice. It makes sense to learn using the material that is currently available to buy (lead-free.) It might be harder, but once you become proficient at bending lead-free neon tubing, then if you do ever have the occasion to use the old lead glass you'll find it easier to adapt and with a simple adjustment of your fires, the glass will bend "like butter."

More information about working with lead-free tubing can be found here. https://www.brillite.com/UserFiles/File/Lead-Free_Tech_Bulletin.pdf

I would love to hear about your experiences working with either type of glass, so feel free to comment below!

RobertOctober 30th 2022

When I was in junior high school and the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had requested and received some aircraft engine information and promotional materials from Teledyne Continental Motors.  (Yes, I was a weird kid…now I’m just weird.)  One of the items they sent me was a t-shirt from their factory safety department that read “Safety means never having to say Ouch!”  It is a slogan I have remembered and tried to embrace for many decades since.  There are many hazards we deal with in life both at our work and outside of it.  It is an inherent part of “doing” anything….and when the doing involves any mechanical or electrical task, the consequences of a mistake or hasty action can be severe.  While our neon activities don’t often involve heavy mechanical tasks, the construction of our shop spaces and maintenance of our equipment often can entail a bit of this.

Rather than try to cover every sort of scenario with a lot of specific (and, lets face it, sometimes eye glazing) advice I chose to condense and reiterate a general talk I once gave on the topic of proper tool use.  It is really more of a set of guidelines to instill a good mindset and I felt it worthy of a few minor revisions to present here as well:

Many of us have had our share of minor bumps, scrapes, and burns and although such accidents are sometimes inevitable most are preventable. Often what makes the difference is having the right mindset and taking the time to properly assess the situation before acting.

With regard to tools, this can be aided by asking yourself a few simple questions:

1.) What exactly am I trying to accomplish at this step?

(STOP and look at what you are trying to do at each step: perform an overall assessment of the situation, including surroundings, to decide how best to accomplish the task…This not only prevents accidents but more often than not makes the job go faster and with less effort—efficiency and laziness do sometimes go hand in hand!)

2.) Am I using the best tool for the task and am I using it correctly?

(The wrong tool, or even the right tool used improperly, can make a simple task far more difficult or dangerous than it needs to be…If using an unfamiliar tool, make sure you have been instructed in its proper application and use…a screwdriver should never be used as a pry bar, for example. This item should also be double checked—many of us pick up bad habits along the way or have a temptation to use a shortcut—often because an object or tool is already in hand and just because something worked the last 100 times does not necessarily mean it was right or safe, it could just mean somebody has been lucky.)


3.)  Is the tool in good, serviceable, and safe condition?

(A classic example, a dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one.  Why?....because it requires more force to make it cut, thereby increasing the likelihood of your hand slipping from the handle and being cut by the blade.)

4.) Have I properly positioned myself to perform the task?

(Awkward positions often lead to unsatisfactory results, both in terms of the work quality and in accidents...not to mention the aches and pains of muscle strain the following day....I promise you that the older you get the more you will pay attention to this!.....if dealing with something that may cause injury by moving suddenly or breaking loose, ask yourself "Have I left myself an out?"…no one wants to fall backwards when the wrench they tugged on finally and suddenly moves or scrape their knuckles if they pushed on the wrench and it broke free!)


5.) Am I using all of the appropriate protective equipment?

(Goggles, gloves, etc. …and not just for you, but for any onlookers who may be observing your work.—it is your responsibility to keep bystanders a safe distance away or halt work that may be hazardous to them until they are briefed on the work and are wearing proper gear as you are......you instantly cease to look cool if you hurt the people who were impressed by what you were showing them just a moment before.)

After a while such analysis should become second nature and done so readily as to appear effortless. Although some accidents will still happen, the frequency and severity of them can be reduced. If you are working on something and have a doubt as to the best way to accomplish the task, ask someone to take a look...chances are everyone knows somebody who has encountered a similar problem before and you may gain the opportunity to learn from another’s experiences. (and mistakes)  Getting something done is great, getting it done without pain and while making it look easy is a sign of a true master.

Here's to never having to say, "Ouch! (@#$$%%&^&!!!)


EveOctober 10th 2022

New uploads to the library including Daco equipment manuals and vintage articles.

Eve August 14th 2022

Tips on saving and storing your neon patterns.

RobertJuly 10th 2022

Is it a bench burner, a blast burner, or a cannon fire?  YES.  But it depends upon where--and WHEN, you happen to be.

RobertJune 26th 2022

A little exciting news.

NickMay 15th 2022

Collectively, we've had a pretty rough few years. Some have had serious health issues, slow business, etc. Hopefully we have used this time to internalize what we want. Hopefully 2022 has started something fresh and new for you. 

RobertMay 15th 2022

When I got into neon, I didn't realize it was so secretive.  I've since come to appreciate the kindness of teaching that was sent my way...

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