Hand Cut Crystal
Learn about a fourth-generation crystal worker who is one of the final people to hand-cut and hand-polish every piece he makes.
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As the fourth generation of Strobachs to carve crystal, it’s no surprise that Kurt Strobach has been practicing his craft since age 11. Bringing the traditional workmanship of his great-grandfathers from northern Bohemia to the United States in 1959, Strobach is now one of the last crystal workers to still hand-cut and hand-polish every piece he makes.
With nearly seven decades of experience under his belt, Strobach rarely needs to sketch; usually he begins by taking a plain crystal vase, called a blank, that he imports from Europe, to a machine for marking. The blanks are finely blown crystal, but it is his carving craftsmanship that makes them art. The marking machine holds the piece in place while Strobach uses a brush (for horizontal marks) and a marker (for vertical) to determine the lines of the pieces he’ll cut away. Then he brings the marked vase over to the roughening wheel for the first cut, which is surfaced either by diamonds or silicon carbide. For really deep or wide cuts, he may need to use up to four different wheels, but most cuts are handled on one or both roughening wheels. At this stage, the cuts are a translucent gray instead of crystal clear.
To get those surfaces back to crystal clear, he begins the hand-polishing process at the smoothing aluminum oxide wheel. This gets the roughness down from the last step, but the surface of the cuts are still gray. So it’s over to the polishing wheel, which is made of cork. While running the cuts on the cork, Strobach applies a mixture of water and pumice to any areas that need a little extra abrasion to get smooth. Once the cuts are completely smooth to the touch (but still a little gray), he washes the vase carefully to ensure no pumice particles remain in the glass.
Finally, to get that crystal-clear shine, he runs the piece on a felt wheel. The result is a stunning vase that will enhance the most beautiful floral arrangements. Not only does Strobach work entirely from his own basement, keeping his traditional techniques alive, but he also has a showroom in his home with nearly 120 pieces.
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