Cutting is one of the oldest forms of decorating glass. Glass, historically one of the hardest materials, can be cut but requires considerable effort.
The most common manner of cutting is to hold the glass against a revolving wheel. In it’s simplest form this results in wide, flat panels being cut or carved into the glass surface. With the turning of the artist hands and rotation of the vessel more fluid or complex patterns can be generated. Glass cutting is accomplished with fast moving stones, a little water and at times the addition of an additional fine abrasive to speed the cutting process.
Historically American glass has been cut in a sequence of styles that reflect then current taste and technical ability. Early American Cut Glass includes wide, flat panels. Another early form was the use of miter or diamond like grids mixed with panels and round disks like design element called roundels. Roundels are simply made: just hold the glass against the stone to create a round disk. By Victorian times elaborate cutting was required to reflect the popular exuberance in design. Objects often had little or no surface area that went undecorated and decorations were complex and elaborate, predominately geometric patterns. This period of glass cutting in America is the Rich Cut period, or as collectors dubbed it, Brilliant Cut Glass.
By the early 1900s our tastes were turning to less elaborate embellishment and simpler, “light” cutting were in vogue. This style remained dominate throughout the remainder of the 20th century and was used by glass houses like Fostoria, Heisey and others. Often these were left un-polished resulting in a cut area that retained the gray surface created when the smooth glass surface is broken into a multitude of small literal chips (the cut) and not further addressed by polishing to restore the smoother surface. This “polishing” step was included in all earlier cut technologies by use of cork wheels, finer stone wheels, or acid to smooth the cut surfaces.
Copper Wheel engraving is another form of glass cutting, differing in that it utilizes small, fast turning copper wheels and here the cutting tool is moved across the glass not the glass across the cutting stone. This allows an amazing freedom for detail and artistic cutting. Generally the word engraving is not appropriate for describing glass cutting but it has long been associated with this form of glass cutting.