Glass is a hard, brittle substance, which can be made in different colours, with varying levels of transparency and is used to produce objects as varied as kitchenware, windows and works of art.

There has been evidence found by archaeologists of man-made glass, dating back to 4000 BC which were glazes used to coat stone beads. The first hollow glass container dates back to 1500 BC and the making of containers from glass blowing from the 1st century BC. At this time the glass was highly coloured because of impurities in the raw materials. By the 1st century AD colourless glass began to be produced and colouring materials added to make coloured glass.

The Romans brought their knowledge of glass making to Britain but kept their skills secret. This was until the fall of the Roman Empire when their knowledge and technical skills were then able to be learnt throughout Europe and the Middle East. There has been documentation of glass being made in the areas of Jarrow and Wearmouth around 68OAD and from the 13th century in The Weald, Surrey and Sussex.

A leading British glassmaker was George Ravenscroft (1632-1683) who is very well known for his work in developing clear lead crystal. This led to the production of optical lenses, microscopes and telescopes.

In 1851 The Crystal Palace was erected in Hyde Park, London for the Great Exhibition and was made of cast iron and plate glass. This was the beginning of using glass as a building material for public and domestic use.

Today the glass industry continues to thrive, as our use of glass features very strongly in our everyday lives, whether it is used for practical use or as a beautiful object to enjoy and admire.

By etching a plain piece of glass, you can create an interesting piece of art. Glass surface etchings are created by using abrasive, acidic or caustic materials after the glass has cooled.

Acid etching glass
For safety reasons you should wear protective gloves, long sleeves, goggles and work in an area which has good ventilation. Acid etching a piece of glass will give you a frosted glass look. You can write your door number in the glass above you front door, etch a mirror etc. If you are etching door glass it is a good idea to use 6mm laminated glass for security. You can get some practice using any glass object like an old jar or a drinking glass. Choose the piece of glass and the design that you want to etch into it.

Clean the glass
Using glass cleaner and a soft cloth, free from lint, clean the surface to be etched. Place clear contact paper over the glass and remove any bubbles. Place behind the glass your chosen design and trace it onto the contact paper. If you are etching onto a mirror, trace your chosen design onto the contact paper using carbon paper. Using an appropriate knife, cut away contact paper from the areas that are to be etched.

Apply the etching cream
After ensuring all bubbles are removed, spread a layer of etching cream over the design, using a paper towel. Wear rubber gloves to protect you from the acidic etching cream. Leave the cream for about 10 minutes, before running cool water over the design to remove the cream.

Finishing off
Peel away the contact paper and run cool water over the finished etched glass.

Acid formation
The formation of the acid used to etch the glass will produce different effects.

Alternative techniques
Copper wheel engraving cuts the surface of the glass to create the pattern. You then use progressively smoother wheels to polish the glass. In the late 19th century craftsmen created a technique of sandblasting glass, which was cheaper than the more traditional acid method. Brilliant cut glass using a large stone wheel to etch elaborate patterns into the glass.