WANT TO LEARN NEON?
Written by: Frederick P. Proni, DBA
Edited by: M. Snyder
Editors comment: If you are considering a career in the neon
industry as a neon tube manufacturer, the following commentary
by Dr. Proni gives the potential student a real world account of
what to look for, what to expect and what not to expect.
So You Want To Learn The Art Of Neon?
Congratulations! Many of us have traveled the same road you are
about to travel. You have several options to develop your
skills: Attend a school, find a mentor, or learn on your own.
(The latter I do not recommend). As a student entering the
profession you must realize that the path you are about to
embark on is one of struggle, patience, sweat, tears, cuts,
burns, trembling hands, persistence, and one of constant
improvement. Few of us can honestly say we made a sign that we
were 100% satisfied with. Bending neon may be compared to
learning a musical instrument. That is, many can play but few
are truly accomplished. And the road to being an accomplished
performer is a long one. This is the simple truth, and this
should not be taken as discouraging, but as reality. You may be
able to impress the public with your newfound skills but your
piers will truly know your abilities. Because of the level of
difficulty, I recommend seeking out a reputable, qualified
school to attend. This will help get you over the basic hurdles
the novice must face.
Choosing A School
Over the decades we have seen the rise and fall of numerous neon
schools located throughout the U.S. Some schools included
stellar training processes, procedures, and learning experiences
while others existed in name only with poor track records of
mentoring. Historically this secretive society flourished behind
tightly closed doors, but the advent of technology, unemployment
and financial gain has, in some instances, clouded the true
definition of the art. For many institutions it is sadly a
financial numbers game, where many students become nothing more
than an Alumni member. Vast marketing campaigns, advertising,
and the “hope” of a new career are the enticing vapors that make
perspective students savor the thought of attendance. Do
yourself a favor; research and choose a school that has a proven
track record and can provide you with a list of references.
Six To Twelve Week Neon Schools: What should you learn?
It is virtually impossible for any prospective student to learn
what he/she needs to know to survive in the neon business
through the knowledge exchange of a six to twelve week course. A
neon school graduate should walk away with a basic education,
but one that will give them a strong foundation to build on.
Glass Bending Techniques are paramount to a student’s success.
The majority of their training should concentrate on this
faction. Student’s should be able to, or at least be introduced
to the following:
1. Safely handle a piece of glass.
2. Know the different glass types available (clear, coated,
double coated, colored, sizes).
3. How to use the supplied tools, adjust torches, measure & mark
glass, cut glass, etc.
4. Understand how to make a weld, right angle, double back,
combination & ribbon bends.
5. Understand how to recognize a “good” solid bend.
6. Know how to “tubulate”. (This is something some schools do
7. Have the ability to weld two different diameters of glass
8. Be able to weld two pieces of glass together and perform a
bend at the same time.
9. Understand what it means to “evenly heat” a piece of glass in
the ribbon burner.
10. How to compensate for stretching when fitting a pattern.
11. Have the ability to attempt to make a large arc.
12. Have the ability to repair a weld that contains a hole.
Although this is only a fundamental list it encompasses the
basics that students should at least be introduced to. Many more
topics, procedures and specialty techniques should be included
if a student understands the theory of the above listed topics.
With time, self-discipline and mentoring, the student’s ability
to reduce stretching the molten glass, properly blow out bends,
developing stronger bends and welds and fitting a pattern should
In my opinion, during class a student with mentoring should make
at least 200 bends daily. It is not perfection we are seeking
but the ability to begin to understand the handling of hot glass
and its characteristics. Grace and style, like a ballerina, will
develop over time. It always amazes me the grace that an
accomplished bender has – somewhat like a flawless performance
with tempo, smooth graceful actions and confidence. Style is
individual, like that of a performer.
Burner & Processing Equipment
Equipment, although varied by individual shop, needs to be
addressed. Each and every component, even those not physically
located in the school should be addressed with:
1. What is it?
2. Why is it used?
3. How is it used?
4. What are the requirements to use it?
5. How does it Work?
6. When is it used?
7. What are the safety precautions and what are the results for
The equipment list should include at a minimum: torch types,
air/gas mixing, blower types, plumbing basics including venture
mixers, vacuum pump types, diffusion pump, manifold, glass gas
flasks and metal gas canisters, processing instruments
(temperature & vacuum gauge and milliamperes meter), O-ring
care, staging pressure, fill pressure, etc. This list could go
on and on, but consider this: It could take six weeks of class
just to answer the above listed questions in depth for this
equipment list. A student should be able to understand and
explain each component – if they cannot then what have they
learned? What sort of safety hazard has the instructor created?
Additional Topics Of Consideration
There are just too many to list, but at a minimum a student
should know how to size a transformer, how to measure a load on
a core and coil transformer, make patterns, where to begin on a
pattern, basic sign construction, wiring, bombarding procedures,
I truly believe it is Imperative that each and every student of
a neon school knows, and is familiar with, section 600 of the
2005 NEC (National Electric Code). There is no excuse for not
A Word about Accreditation
Accreditation is a voluntary review process that ensures that an
institution offering higher education or certification programs
has established procedures and standards. Entities eligible for
accreditation must prepare individuals to achieve basic
competencies and attain the minimum educational qualifications
necessary to begin functioning in a specific occupation (read
that sentence again). In other words, they must prepare
individuals in a branch of knowledge, science, art or business
that has application in a specific occupation, usually requiring
significant specialized training, or profession.
The barriers to entry for accreditation “membership” vary from
state to state and by profession. Certain states, such as
California, have lenient rules whereas other states increase
their stringency requirements. In some cases, the submittal of
curriculum vitae, a self-study report, a listing of the
institute’s Board of Directors, faculty teaching experience and
qualifications, time in existence, and the payment of a fee are
the only requirements to gain accreditation.
The purpose of public accreditation by some schools allows the
educational entity to seek financial backing, low interest
loans, and the ability to participate in governmental funded
employment retraining programs. In many cases accreditation is
completely and unequivocally legitimate, in other cases it is
Job Placement after Graduation
Interesting topic. Don’t have the hope that you are going to
land a high paying job right out of neon school, regardless of
how good the school you attended is. It is not going to happen!
What you will learn (or should learn) in school is just the
beginning of your training or apprenticeship. Consider yourself
very lucky if you find a job that pays you to bend neon right
out of school. Many shop owners do not have the time, money, or
people on hand to train you, so you may have to “wait tables” to
make ends meet like those in Hollywood until you get a break.
Constant practice at home in a set of fires should increase your
chances. Remember, practice makes permanent not perfect.
The Bottom Line
Neon is truly a fascinating career that combines artistry,
science, chemistry, physics, business, and creativity. The
industry fluctuates between feast and famine, as do many
industries. What you want out of this endeavor is totally up to
you as the student. If you truly want to be a neon bender, than
your desire to learn will find you an opportunity. If you attend
training without a true desire, than you will accomplish
nothing. If you are considering this career please, please,
please contact several neon shops around the country and ask
them for advice. DO NOT just listen to what the school you are
planning to attend is telling you!
This industry does not need any more incompetent trades people;
we have our share. This industry admires, supports, and will
help those who truly have the desire. If you do not have the
dedication, commitment and desire than perhaps this trade is not