Friday, February 3, 2012

Recycling Wine Bottles

When he was about twelve, my older brother discovered a new source of income: he spent hours cutting wine bottles into drinking glasses. Some of these stayed in the family, others were made into sets of matching colour and size and either given away as presents or sold. They were practical, cheap, and tough, and making them to sell taught him a lot.

About ten years ago, I'm sure that I saw an identical cutter in the catalogue from the Centre of Alternative Technology Eco Store in Wales, but my life was too busy for me to even consider buying it, let alone embarking on the hassle of removing the labels from bottles, etching the cut, alternately heating it over a candle flame and rubbing it with an ice cube (and cleaning up the attendent mess); then, if the cut was a clean one, sanding the edge so that lips are not sliced to ribbons. The process, I remembered, was not particularly profitable given the time spent, but it did assauge my parents' dismay at the throwing away of the quantity of bottles that they accumulated what with their own consumption and their entertaining.

So a year or so ago I decided to find a cutter and start making glasses – or maybe turn the project over to Zenon so that he could walk in his Uncle's footsteps. My first stop was the CAT catalogue. No sign of a bottle cutter. So I contacted CAT. “We have never had such a thing in our shop.” Ebay? Nope. I had enough things to do, so I pursued the quest no further.

Until the Instructables. Lots of ideas come from this magnificent website, and thank goodness I didn't un-sub from their mailing list when I did a mail clean-out some time back. Because about a month ago instructions for making a bottle cutting jig showed up on their weekly newsletter. The plans looked ok, but I didn't want to start a woodwork project just then. But I found the website for Green Power Science, and, watching their video I decided that, though it was expensive ($45), I would buy their jig and try their technique -- using boiling and cold water alternately until a clean break occurs along the line of least resistance, the thin etched line in the glass. The international postage, at $23 felt steep, but I decided to take the plunge.

It arrived ten days later in a box marked US Postage $11.39.

“Hmmm,” I thought, taking a deep breath and feeling a little 'had'. “Where's the $23 in that?”

“Don't waste your time, Manamou,” Best Beloved said when I mentioned writing to complain. “They'll tell you that the rest of the shipping money went on the box and on someone to take it to the Post Office.” But I persisted and wrote a polite note asking where the remaining $11.67 was, then put it out of my mind and started cutting bottles.

My cutting was not very successful. Unlike Dan Rojas, the man behind GPS, who gets a near perfect cut with most of his bottles, none of my cuts were smooth, and most were unusable with downward cracks . The glass on some of mine was thinner than on standard bottles, but the heavier bottles (champagne and proseco) cut much more evenly.

So, putting aside the cutter after some experimentation, I removed the labels from a host of empties and planned a day on the learning curve for Wednesday. My lack of success had not discouraged me, I just figured that I needed to master technique, and to find which thickness of bottles cut best. A pleasant email from Denise Rojas told me that they were refunding $8 to my PayPal account – the other $2 witheld to cover the cost of the box (“Two dollars?” I thought. “More like nearly four where I learned to add...” But I decided to quit while I was ahead, and sent her a nice note back thanking her and telling her I was enjoying my cutter. Her response that evening was along the lines of “Nice to hear it, let me know if you need any more help.” So I congratulated myself on not having followed my first instinct and been nasty, but instead had laid the foundation for a postitive relationship...)

In the first light of Wednesday morning, I heard Stumpy miaowing outside the kitchen window, and, eschewing the door, I let him in the window – something that I almost never do. His front paw tangled with a strip of window draught-proofing that was on the sill awaiting installation, and that in turn, tangled in the jig. As I lifted the cat off the sill (he doesn't manage jumping from heights well as he has only one front leg to absorb the shock), the whole lot crashed to the ground. I picked it up, fed Stumpy, and forgot about it.

...Until everyone was at school. With only the murmur of Galena's hoover downstairs and lunch in the oven, I sorted out all the clean new empties into bottle shapes and sizes, picked up the jig, and sat down to cut. But instead of a thin white line appearing on the glass where the wheel was etching the line along which the break would happen, nothing appeared. Puzzled, I looked closer at the jig, and where the tiny cutting wheel should have been caught between two edges, a gap mocked me. The wheel was gone, knocked out of place when the jig fell off the sill that morning.

I felt ill. Sixty dollars gone because I'd done the cat a favour and let him in the window... Of course I looked on the floor, but I'd swept earlier, and Galena had hoovered the sweepings. Any other day and I would have found it.

So I got back on the Net and emailed Denise... After all her last words had been “if you need any more help.” “How much would it be,” I enquired. “For you to send me an extra cutting wheel?”

I haven't heard back yet. But in the meantime I've been back on Indestructables and found several different plans for jigs that don't look that difficult after all: $10 - $12 (make that 15 Euros, probably, given that things are dearer hear) and an hour or two's work.

Time to rethink bottle cutting. Meanwhile I will take my more successful attempts up to Turtle and Moon Studio where Lise has glass grinding equipment:  I tried paper, but although it smoothed the clean cuts well, it is not able to clean up the jagged edges.   Watch this space for developments!


  1. I admire your tenacity- both with pursuing the overcharging on the postage and the bottle cutting. But losing the wheel! AAAAGH!
    You could just drink from the bottle? ;-)

  2. Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am taking your feeds also
    Canon CR560 Charge Adapter/Car Battery Cable Kit for 500 Series Batteries