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Bottle Brick Making by Kris

posted Dec 31, 2012, 5:05 PM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Jan 3, 2013, 4:32 PM ]

What is a bottle brick, how do you make them, & how much will you bleed?

A bottle brick is a brick made out of two bottle ends taped together. These are used to create pseudo stained glass designs within walls of Earthships as a design feature to enable more light to transfer between rooms or from the outside to the inside. 

We will easily use a few thousand of these bottle bricks in our own build.

The Andy Hickman of the Northeast Georgia Earthship has done some beautiful bottle work in his home. Here's a photo from his build an a link to his Facebook page

Since we have a lot of time on our hands between building Kris started making these in 2011 and continues to make them in the evenings. The cleanest method for this longer term creation of bricks is to etch bottles and achieve breaks through alternating hot and cold water. Kris is up to 99% success rate meaning the bottle breaks as expected and therefore is usable. Here's Kris's method for bottle brick making:

Kris Plantz Bottle Brick Making Instructions:

1. Get the labels off - Soak the bottles in water with a bit of dish soap. Some labels come right off and others require some scraping with a putty knife (depends on the type of glue used on the label). While soaking to get labels off if there is crap (e.g., dead moths, mould, sticky stuff, etc) in the bottom of the bottle you may also want to soak the inside to start cleaning that up.

2. Etch the bottle at 4" from the bottom - When etching put the bottle in a plastic tub big enough to work in - this keeps the glass dust contained. Our bottle etcher was ordered from Prairie Stained Glass in Winnipeg for around $100. You can buy the replacement blades for around $25. Once you have your etching style down pat you'll find your success rate will go up. Kris tips: 

  • Sharp blade will work much better than dull.
  • Start out practicing with more common glass colours like brown or green - later you'll want more clear & blue. It took Kris over 100 bottles before he really figured things out.
  • Only one complete turn from the etcher is required.
  • Thin glass shatters more easily so less pressure & sharp blades are recommended

3. Alternate dipping in hot & cold water until bottle breaks at the etch mark - Kris's tip is to make sure the hot water is not boiling. He normally boils the water and than takes it off the stove and uses it shortly after (maybe 5 minutes or so as boiling water causes shattering and uneven cracking). The cold water bath should contain about 75% ice cubes. Dip the bottle in (hot bath bottom end first and make sure caps are off) for approximately 12 seconds (to begin with and extend as the water cools) and then into the cold bath for a few seconds until you see the etch line expand around the entire bottle.  One more dip in the hot bath for a few seconds and you should hear a light cracking sound which means the bottle has been broken.  Lift the bottle out of the path and pull the two ends apart.  Sometimes there are some uneven glass pieces sticking to the rim - you can remove these with some pliers after the bottle cools. More Kris tips:

  • Use a mix of more than half ice cubes to water for the cold bath.
  • As the ice cubes melt it takes longer in the cold bath to get a good break. For him, a 12 second hot bath when the water is piping hot and a few second cold bath works pretty well. After around 10 minutes of work you may need to increase your hot bath to 30 seconds. 

4. Clean the 4" bottle pieces - Clean these out good and then dry them to 100%. If you leave any dirt or moisture you'll get to see this on the insides of your bricks after you install them. Not pretty. 

  • If you don't want to get cuts on your hands - wear gloves.

5. Tape two same sized ends together using packaging tape - Use at least two layers of packing tape at the seam between the bottles. Best practice is to tape a clear end with a coloured end (or two clear ends). This will allow the most light transfer to occur.

You may want to wear gloves - especially when cleaning the bottles. Kris has cut his hands many times but not often anymore. If you're not so comfortable with sliced up hands then take precautions. There are other ways to cut bottles - if you need to do a bunch in a short period of time we suggest using the messier but faster tile saw approach (use a GOOD tile saw).

6.  Most importantly, be prepared to bleed a little.