What started as a hobby to spend her downtime has now grown into second business for glass artist Cathy Minyard.
After purchasing a Victorian home from the late 1800’s, she sought to restore the property to its former grandeur, including by adding ornate stained glass windows. While she was mastering the stained glass craft and adding stained glass windows throughout the house, she came across a photo of an antique glass barber’s globe sign and immediately wanted to recreate it.
The antique glass barber shop globes were originally produced in low volume from the 1940’s through the 1970’s to identify barber shops, along with the iconic rotating striped sign poles. After the original globe maker passed away, his patterns and designs were sold to a number of different parties until they finally ended up with an owner/collector. That collector appreciated the art, but was unable to produce the globes commercially. Fortunately, he and Cathy connected, and she was immediately intrigued by the possibilities.
Spinning Up a New Business
What Cathy didn’t realize at the time was that it would take nearly 2 years of trial and error to get the manufacturing process and spherical shape figured out so that she could complete her first proper globe. The majority of that time was spent developing her method for taking the flat pieces of glass, cut to her design, and firing them in a kiln over custom curved molds to give them the distinctive globe shape. After that, she still needed to solder the pieces together into the final 3-dimensional globe.
A major barbershop memorabilia collector happened to see online photos of her first globe, and offered to help her better understand the specifications of the original globes. He also helped her learn about the large community of barbers and collectors who would be eager to buy her product, as the original globes are extremely rare and can easily command prices into the thousands of dollars.
The Beauty and Challenges of Hand Crafted
Originally, Cathy cut the glass by hand, in the traditional fashion. This work was tedious, lacked uniformity, and wasted as much as 25% of expensive materials due to breakage.
Each glass barbershop globe requires more than 150 individual pieces of cut glass, and 2 months to complete. The lettering alone takes 3 days to cut by hand. Adding to the complexity, Cathy offered globes in two sizes, a 10” and a 12” diameter, each with uniquely cut and shaped pieces.
Cathy is the only producer of these very unique barber shop globes. Word spread, largely via social media, so that barbers and collectors across the country are now contacting her and ordering not just one, but sometimes even six or more globes at a time.
With a 2-month lead-time per globe, it became increasingly difficult for a one-person artist to keep up with demand, and Cathy realized she needed a better solution. Luckily, her son had seen the WAZER small waterjet debut on Kickstarter, and it was the obvious technology to improve her business.
“The WAZER lets me cut shapes that can only be cut on a waterjet”
Cathy acquired her WAZER machine, got it set up, and quickly converted her legacy Inkscape designs into Gcode. She then began to create the globes from waterjet-cut pieces. With the WAZER, one of the first changes she made to her designs was the addition of a star motif. Cathy’s unique band of small white stars identifies her globes as her unique design. The WAZER small waterjet transformed her business because those stars had been previously impossible to cut by hand. She said that “the WAZER lets me cut shapes that can only be cut on a waterjet.”
In addition to unique designs that cannot be produced by hand, the WAZER saves Cathy a great amount of time and materials. The lettering that once took three days by hand are now cut in 30 minutes. Instead of needing 2 months to complete a globe, each is now finished in 3 weeks, and Cathy also reduces glass breakage and wastage by 25%. Even with the waterjet cutting the glass, Cathy assembles each globe manually, adding an element of hand-made individuality and personality to every globe.
With the WAZER waterjet, every part of Cathy’s business has improved. She can produce more globes even faster, to satisfy her growing customer base. She has reduced her labor and material expenses to become more efficient. Plus, she can make her product designs unique and more intricate, and even design new variations.
All of these improvements allow her to grow her business, focus on her craft, and create even more eye-catching designs for a growing community of eager customers. Check out her “in-progress” video below on Instagram.
More reading: how other glass artists have transformed their operations with the help of a WAZER waterjet cutter.