Tempered Explosions

Duralex Picardie TumblerIn the middle of the night, I heard the sound of shattering glass. I thought a glass had fallen from the counter or the shelf, or perhaps that the dog had toppled my tea mug off the wooden futon armrest, where I’d precariously left it the night before. But the explosion of glass was so loud and intense, it couldn’t have simply been a glass falling to the floor.

I’ve had these Duralex Picardie tumblers since 2001. These are “tempered glasses are suitable for hot or cold drinks and conveniently stackable.” I have actually broken a few throughout the years, but only after accidentally dropping them with some degree of force into the sink while washing dishes. Yet they’ve survived getting clumsily knocked off the table onto the hard floor or banged against another dish while putting them away.

Still, even when they broke, they’d never made that sound. That sound I heard last night was the sound of glass being thrown across the room. Because I needed to get up early the following day, I decided to go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning. But my heart was racing, my blood a bubbly cocktail of fear and adrenaline, and it took me a little while to fall back asleep.

Of course, I knew there was no one in the house throwing glass across the room. But I was familiar with that sound. I can still hear it ringing in my ears. I know what it’s like to have to sweep up smashed glass, barely able to see what I was doing, blurry eyed with painful tears, after witnessing an explosion of anger.

Spontaneous Drinking Glass Breakage
You can’t really get a true sense of the damage from this picture. (See dustpan image below.)

The following morning, I saw I’d been correct that a glass hadn’t fallen onto the floor. Somehow, a glass had spontaneously burst into hundreds of pieces, ranging from thick shrapnel to miniscule shards and fine grains of sand. It had exploded with some force because there were even pieces of glass on the floor.

It appears that the glass that had been nested inside another glass was the one that had broken — the outer glass somehow expanding and squeezing the inner glass. There were larger pieces of broken glass inside the unbroken glass, and medium to tiny pieces all over the shelf, counter, and floor.

Spontaneous Drinking Glass Breakage

According to Wikipedia, “Spontaneous glass breakage is a phenomenon by which toughened glass (or tempered) may spontaneously break without any apparent reason.” But it doesn’t mention anything about glasses. (And by the way, my Duralex Picardie tumblers are made of tempered glass, “conveniently stackable” and “extremely durable.”)

According to a Science Advisor (Brewnog) on Physics Forum:

Sounds to me like the outside glass compressed the inside glass on cooling. Since the glasses don’t ‘properly’ nest together, the area of contact between the two would be very small. Glass is rather brittle, and does not take much deformation to cause it to fail.

Spontaneous Drinking Glass Breakage
Yeah, I don’t really want this flying in my face.

After doing initial research, my first thought was simply never to stack the glasses again and continue using them. After all, I got these glasses because I’d fallen in love with the design, modeled after French cafe drinking glasses from the late 1920s. Last night’s explosion had to be a fluke. But after reading over two dozen accounts on Amazon.com about these very same glasses spontaneously exploding in people’s hands, with bloody and gory consequences, I decided I better not take the risk. I couldn’t even conscientiously donate them to Goodwill.

Feeling a little sad and wasteful, I threw them out, content with re-purposing my mason jar collection as new drinking glasses. After all, they’re kind of vintage, too, popularly used in all the hip, local-sourcing restaurants these days. And they’re not tempered.

So what’s the lesson in all this? As humans, perhaps we should try to be more like untempered glass. We break when we need to, and when we do, we break into manageable pieces that can easily be put back together. Instead, tempered glass continues to invisibly develop defects in its inner core, between its outer protective layers, dangerously exploding when least expected, potentially causing harm to others.

3 Replies to “Tempered Explosions”

  1. Interesting thoughts, thank you..
    I was reading this post having searched on google because last night I had an old, much used glass tumbler explode in my hand: it was when i’d just picked it up, there was a loud bang, and glass was everywhere – sink, floor, working surfaces.
    I thought: 1. I need to find out about this phenomenon as I presumed this wasn’t a one-off act of god!
    2. well, that’s another of life’s hazards i hadn’t known of, but then life’s hazardous anyway, no point in wishing it otherwise – and trying to ensure safety is hazardous in itself!

  2. Not again! My second in a matched pair of 10-oz martini glasses burst today. Handblown with an etched groove from stem to rim. Expensive. Sitting on counter. Empty, but had recently been been used. Temp difference? A/C blowing on it? So annoying!

  3. Omg this happened to me last night. It happened after watching The conjuring 2 which made me terrified to go to sleep. It happened in a cabinet, and there wasn’t a glass stacked on top of it. It was a violent smash late at night. I have to go home now and sleep in the house all alone. I’m scared. Hahaha! This post has given me some comfort… 🙂

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