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Parrots and lampworking

I have a friend who has two parrots and wants to start lampworking.
Could any of the normal lampworking fumes be harmful to her birds?
I’m a lampworker but have no idea what to tell her on this.


Dear Evalynne, I was a lampworker for 15 years and now have parrots.
When you work on a torch, whether it is glass or other things, you
need very good ventilation as the flame will deplete oxygen in the
room. Much of what you smell when you work is burnt oxygen. (Funny
story: Being in hot Florida I once tried to A/C a small room I
worked in and of course had to close the door. I kept getting
light-headed and finally realized that there was no oxygen in the
room with the door closed!! I had to go back to hanging a
freeze-pack from the ceiling between me and the flame. Akward, but
effective.). I worked with pyrex glass that has a borosilicate base
(no lead) and am assuming that your friend will work the leaded
glass as that is what is so popular now. Since birds are very
sensitive to alot of things, overheated Teflon from baking pans,
cooking oil, etc., it is my feeling that taking the chance of
working in close proximity to them would be foolish at best. Either
remove the birds, or find another location in the home or garage to
work. Why take the chance?


The fumes can be dangerous for us, the birds could probably be
affected also. She should be working with a good ventilation system,
if this is in place, the birds will be fine. An open window in the
room is not really enough, a vent hood/exhaust fan over the work
space is.

Much of what you smell when you work is burnt oxygen. 

Umm. time for a little chemistry. Oxygen doesn’t burn. It causes
other things to burn. In the case of the fuel gasses going through a
torch, your normal combustion products are carbon dioxide (fully
burnt fuel gas) carbon monoxide (partially burnt fuel gas) and water
(the product of buring the hydrogen in these hyrocarbon (hydrogen and
carbon) fuels like propane, acetylene, natural gas, etc. None of
these have any smell whatsoever. Carbon monoxide can be toxic if it
builds up, but it doesn’t smell at all. If you’re smelling things at
all, it’s not burnt oxygen (can’t be, there’s no such thing), and
probably not the burned fuel gas either. It rather, will be UNBURNED
or PARTIALLY BURNED componants, probably trace organic impurities,
from either the fuel gas, or more likely, given off by the items
you’re heating with the flame. Working in a closed room can deplete
oxygen, but more likely, you’ll react sooner to the excess of carbon
dioxide and, if there is any, carbon monoxide given off by the flame
than from any actual depletion of oxygen, since it takes a lot less
CO2 in the air to cause feelings of distress than you feel from lack
of oxygen. You can deplete a goodly percentage of the oxygen before
you’ll start to suffer from it, and the symptoms can be subtle.
Sleepiness,headache, lack of concentration… Same as altitude
sickness. If you have trouble with such symptoms when on aircraft
(pressureized usually to about the 8000 foot level, which means a
reduction in atmospheric pressure of about, if I recall right, 1/4 to
1/3 sea level pressure, along with the same reduction in the amount
of oxygen, then you might indeed be feeling a lack of oxygen. But in
order to deplete that much oxygen from a room, you’d have to convert
it to the combustion products. some water, and some CO2. That much
CO2 in the room will most definately make you feel sick.

As to the smells, organic materials especially, when heated below
the point where they burn, can give off strong smelling componants.
Oils from fingers, on the glass you work, for example. Or various
other componants of what you’re heating (fluxes used in soldering)
can also release airborne componants which smell. And fuel gasses
(propane, acetylene, natural gas) usually have strong smelling
additives which are put there specifically so you can more easily
detect a leak, since the pure gas itself may not have a strong
smell. These additives will still leave some smell if they are not
completely destroyed in the burning flame.

Note that both oxygen and CO2 will dissipate relatively quickly
through the air, so to keep a room reasonably well ventilated in
terms of enough oxygen and getting the CO2 out, you need usually only
be sure the door is open, unless you’re using really large flames.
This may NOT, however, be enough ventilation for the more noxious
products of the process, such as flux fumes or the like.


I have a friend who has two parrots and wants to start lampworking.
Could any of the normal lampworking fumes be harmful to her birds?

It can. The fumes from anything being burned or even simply heated
to high temperatures can be toxic to parrots. They are very sensitive
to airborne pollutants. Even “simple” things like scented candles or
incense can kill a parrot. Parrots have a lot more surface lung area
relative to their body size than humans do. Things they inhale go
into their bloodstreams much faster and in higher concentrations than
things we inhale. They should not be exposed to fumes from anything.

I have 17 parrots here, and a silver casting shop in my basement. I
will take no chances with my birds. I installed a large vent hood
that exhausts to the outside. It has a very large furnace motor and
fan in it. I don’t know the cubic feet per minute it exhausts (it was
priginally built for the lady whose business I bought out, and the
motor is inside the vent hood casing where I can’t see it). I tested
it by lighitng incense in the shop, and and I watched the smoke move
horizontally across the room and out the vent hood. I could not
smell the incense anywhere else in the basement. Tell your friend to
get a high powered range hood that drafts to the outdoors, and to
work directly under it when she’s lampworking. And the birds should
be in a closed room on the far side of the house from where she’s
working whenever her torch is lit. Those two things will do much to
ensure their safety.

–Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Jewelry
"Caring For Your New Bird"

 Being in hot Florida I once tried to A/C a small room I worked in
and of course had to close the door. I kept getting light-headed
and finally realized that there was no oxygen in the room with the
door closed!! 

Suzanne- was this a window air conditioner? I was planning on
setting up a glass studio out in one of those metal sheds that you
can get. It is about 10x 12, and has a window heating/air unit, plus
a window that I plan to use to run my venting fan out of. Doesn’t a
window unit pull in outside air? Will I be able to shut the door
and still breathe? thanks- anne

Hey, wow… I can help.

My mom has kept small birds and cockatiels for years, and I’m a lamp
worker that’s had a few bad experiences with glass shop fumes. The
fumes (and other respiratory irritants) you run into in a glass
shop are commonly: Lead, sodium, sulpher, cobalt, gold, silver,
silica, copper, steel, zinc…the list can keep going until you run
out of elements and compounds. Point is, there isn’t a lot that can
withstand a 3000F degree flame, not for long anyways. The acrid/sour
smell you get most often when working Boro (Sodium Borosilicate, aka
Pyrex tm) is Sodium. It’s not the worst of them, but it’s best not
to expose yourself to the fumes at all. I always stress the need for
extreme ventilation in a glass studio, it’s not hard to do in a
small studio and it’s really worth it in the long run.

Now, as for the birds. Consider that they are like human babies
scaled down for their entire life. Birds have insanely fast
metabolism and are highly susceptible to toxins in their environment.
I wouldn’t take the chance. Also, aside from the fumes, glass working
can throw off extreme amounts of both UV and IR radiation, we humans
can put on glasses to protect our eyes, but birds, if placed in sight
of a torch, wouldn’t have that option and if they looked at the flame
could eventually go blind. As long as the birds aren’t in the same
room, providing the studio has adequate ventilation, it would be fine
I’m sure.

Anyways I just saw the thread, thought I’d throw in my 2=A2. Great to
see some glass workers here =)

-Doug Harroun,
Albuquerque, NM

Ann, Yes, it was a window unit, but I seemed to have had it on
"recirculate" which keeps using the same air over and over again. I
think you may be alright if you use a ventilation hood and have the
A/C set on fresh air.Anything that will get you an exchange of air.
Also I was using borosilicate glass that required I use propane (or
in my case natural gas: if anyone there has not tried using natural
gas for lampworking, you may find it is much better and cleaner!) and
ALOT of oxygen as I was working with 3/4 to inch and 1/4 rod. Hope
this helps!