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Sugar glass is sugar which has been molded so that it looks like glass. The most common usage of sugar glass is in film and television production, where fake glass is safer and easier to work with than the real thing. Every time viewers see someone hurled through a saloon window in a Western, that window is actually made from sugar glass. Some people also utilize sugar glass in crafts.
The advantage of using sugar glass, also known as breakaway or candy glass, is that it is safer and cheaper to work with than real glass. Real glass can get extremely expensive, especially if multiple takes are required, and it also poses a significant hazard to the cast and crew, as shards of glass can cause severe injuries. Plate windows aren't the only thing which can be made from sugar glass: sugar glass is also used to make glass bottles, glass dishes, and any other glass items which need to be broken.
This product also has one major disadvantage, which is that it has a very short shelf life. Sugar glass warps and melts quickly, making it less realistic. People try to use the glass as soon as it has hardened, to ensure that it will be crisp and believable on film. Sugar glass also needs to be kept away from heat and moisture, or it will start to fall apart.
To make sugar glass, a large pot will be needed, along with a mold and a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the sugar mixture as it heats. The mold should be oiled so that the sugar glass can be quickly and efficiently unmolded without breakage. People should also be extremely careful, because hot sugar can cause severe burns. If the heated sugar syrup used in sugar glass is spilled on someone, it will also adhere, sometimes causing very deep and painful burns. Wearing gloves, long sleeves, and a protective apron is advisable.
The process starts with blending two cups (473 milliliters) of water with one cup (237 milliliters) of corn syrup, three and a half cups (670 grams) of sugar, and a pinch of cream of tartar. Then, the mixture is slowly brought to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius), with occasional stirring to encourage the ingredients to blend. If colored glass is desired, food coloring can be added to the mixture along with the base ingredients. Once the mix has been brought to temperature, it can be poured into the mold and allowed to cool. Usually, around half an hour of cooling time is sufficient.
I had a job one summer at an amusement park, and I played the part of a Wild West gunslinger in a saloon. During every show, we were supposed to be playing poker at a table while a piano player played and some saloon girls danced around. When the sheriff came through the door, we were supposed to throw our glasses and whiskey bottles at him. Of course, it was all made out of breakaway sugar glass.
The fake fight would end with the sheriff taking the bad guy into custody and justice triumphed over evil once again. For us actors, we would wait until the audience left, then sweep all the glass off the floor and start over with fresh sugar glass bottles. I'm glad I wasn't the person who had to buy those sugar glass bottles, because we did 5 shows a day, 7 days a week.
I once did a play in community theater that called for a dramatic fight between a father and an intruder who has held his entire family hostage. The fight was supposed to end with both characters jumping through a living room window, but only one of them (the father) coming back through the door. I played one of the children, and it was my first play outside of school. I had no idea how that scene was supposed to work.
I remember the director didn't put any kind of glass in that window during rehearsal, just a flimsy frame made out of balsa wood. Every time the actors crashed through that window, I thought it looked completely fake. But
when the actual shows started, someone put in breakaway sugar glass in that frame.
When the fight scene happened, the actors went through the window and "glass" went everywhere. It was really convincing, because we were screaming and the actors were throwing punches and everything. That glass broke just like the real thing.