Volume 37, Issue 10, October 2002
The Wired-Glass Tempest
The History Behind the Controversy
by Dez Farnady
I cannot resist putting my two bits worth in on the major dilemma du jour because I really don’t understand what the wired-glass fuss is all about. Excluding the opinions of those with an agenda and those who don’t know what they are talking about, we should all know better. What is the big deal?
Wired glass was the answer to a lot of problems during the last century. But now no U.S. company even bothers to make polished wire anymore. Guardian makes smooth-rough wire and AFG makes hammered wire, but neither company provides much in the way of performance documentation or specifications for the product. The stuff is made with a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” kind of attitude. If you need it, they have it, and you can take it or leave it.
Foreign manufacturers supply 100 percent of the polished wire sold in the United States today, or at least they did when I last looked. I have not seen the announcement from Guardian, PPG or anyone else that they are going to put a new wired glass plant in New York or Los Angeles or some other major market area. While Pilkington makes wired glass and it makes glass in the United States, the company’s wire comes in from overseas along with the polished wire from Japan.
Everyone continues to gripe about the product, and yet polished wire still sells for three times the price of tempered or laminated glass. So somebody must want it. And they want it for a reason. It does what it does, so don’t expect it to do more. I think the big problem has to do with the miracle myth from the early part of the last century. (Boy, that sounds cool—the last century. Those of us older folk who lived a large portion of our lives in that last century can talk about “them good old days.”) “You have a problem there young feller, just use wired glass and your troubles are over.”
Not a Solution
Well, your troubles were never over. Polished quarter-inch wire plate is now and always has been half the strength of a quarter-inch piece of monolithic annealed glass. It does not do well under load and tends to crack. And I can show you thousands of cracked lites to prove it. But it stays in the hole. It also does not do well under impact. And Lord knows if you manage to poke through it you are not coming back out the way you went in. Wired glass is also susceptible to thermal stress breakage. It is even worse when it is tinted. By the way, if anyone wants some gray wire I know where there is a case of it. It has been there for decades that I can remember. But don’t call me unless you want to pay the ocean freight from Hawaii. I think the Japanese still make tinted wire but I have no idea what they use it for. No one has imported it to the United States for years.
In the ancient past, wired glass was used most frequently for safety glazing, shower doors, overhead glazing and in fire-rated areas. Schools thought it was wonderful because the glass didn’t fall out of the opening when it was broken. Back then that was (and in some applications today still is) a very good reason. It may have been overused but it was the only thing that was available with any performance capability for many of those applications. That is the reason there is so much of it around. There may be no excuse for some of its uses today because there are a lot more options available. But as for it breaking, it all breaks, so let’s give up that argument. It cuts people just like any glass cuts when it is broken or a razor cuts when you are not careful or do something foolish. It’s not the razor’s fault either.
Where Wired Glass Should Be Used
So, let’s give up all this stupid argument. Use wired glass where it is applicable and effective in sizes that are appropriate. Do not use it in places where there are better 21st-century products available to do a saner and safer job. It really is a glass from another time. How many other last-century relics do you get exited about?
Oh my goodness, my Corvair is a piece of junk. It is the only car I can afford. I wanted that BMW, but even a Taurus is too expensive for me and while I hate my jalopy … it still gets me where I am going. So, maybe I really ought to just stop complaining about it.
Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly.
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