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The Crystal Gun – A Tour de Force

The Crystal Gun – A Tour de Force

Our one-of-a-kind, first-of-its-kind Crystal Gun unites two forms of artistry for one singular effect: a Cabot’s aerospace tolerance 1911 meets top glass artist, Brian Engel.

At Cabot we like absurd notions and combining glass within and around a functional pistol is just our kind of project.  The best ideas are the ones that at first seem laughable.  You need to be contrarian in order to push the envelope, but that’s just the kind of thing we like here at Cabot. “If it hasn’t been done before, it catches my attention,” says Rob Bianchin, Founder & CEO of Cabot Guns.  “We already made pistols from a meteorite so now we made this.”RIED3946 The idea started in 2015 when I was introduced to the glass artistry of Brian Engel through a mutual friend.  At the time, Brian was helping manage the Pittsburgh Glass Center, a hub for the glass arts where the art of traditional glass blowing is taught and practiced.  I was awestruck by the beauty of his glass art and the delicate refined work Brian had created. His work, which often tries to capture natural scenes in soft, elegant colors, was a complete juxtaposition to seeing Brian in person. Brian is a former Navy Damage Controlman, an avid outdoorsman and firearm enthusiast—not your typical glass artist to be sure.   After a couple of meetings, the project was born. We determined the elements of the Crystal guns to be crafted in lead crystal would constitute the grips, the trigger and a glass case. The creation of something that has not been done before is not easy and this was no exception.


The Crystal Gun features grips made from crafted out of optic crystal. They’re transparent and beveled with hand-cut diamonds. Instead of our traditional aluminum Tristar trigger, the Crystal Gun has one made from cut glass. The site features an actual diamond. The gun comes in a custom-made glass case that bears the inscription, “In case of emergency, break glass.”

Crafting the Crystal Grips

The process of creating the crystal grips was iterative and extremely challenging from a craft perspective. Making 1911 pistol grips out of optic crystal takes some prototyping. One doesn’t just carve the glass and voila, there are your grips. Not at all. Engel had to produce seven sets of prototype grips before he had perfected the process and was able to create the final grips. The trigger was a similar story. It took two sets of trigger prototypes to get it right.

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How was it done? Just as we craft a gun’s frame, slide and small parts from a solid block of 416 American steel, Engel began forming the grips starting with a large solid block of optically clear glass. Initially, he had tested several other types of glass, but they were not able to hold up under the tight tolerances needed for the Crystal Gun.
Using a water-fed saw with a specially-designed diamond blade, Engel cut thin slices of glass off the block. He then employed a Czech glass lathe, equipped with diamond coated brass wheels to start grinding away the basic contour of the grips. During this step, he had to hand-carve two identical grips. The challenge at this point was to save just the right amount of material for the smoothing and polishing steps which came later. At this point, the glass still had a rough texture.

The smoothing and polishing process was completed using the Czech lathe and a water fed belt sander. In this step, the Czech lathe held an extruded urethane style wheel with aluminum oxide embedded throughout its entire structure. The entire glass shape went through five sanding steps (with silicon carbide embedded sanding belts) and eight polishing steps (with the Czech lathe) to reach the final polished finish.

Engel then hand-cut the relief design featured in the back of the grips using a v-shaped diamond cutting wheel chucked to the lathe. Engel described this point in the process as “nerve-wracking.” At this point, he had worked on the grips for over 70 hours. “Glass is an incredibly unforgiving material,” he said. Even the smallest error would have broken the glass and made all of that effort a catastrophic failure.
Drawing a grid directly onto the glass as a guide Engel then freehand cut each of the 9 diamond shapes. Once the diamond cuts were made, he used hand-profiled smoothing wheels to polish each cut further. After three successive cycles of polishing, the grips were finished.

The Crystal Trigger

The triggers also began with a solid block of optical glass. He cut them into slices using the water-fed saw with the diamond blades. Engel had to grind the slices to an exact thickness. To accomplish this, he ground the slices down in eight steps. He first step was done with an 80 grit slurry of silicon carbide and water. Each successive grinding cycle used a finer grit, getting all the way up to 800.


At this point, the triggers were simply a long, narrow block of glass with a rough texture. However, it had exact dimensions. Engel tested the flatness of each side of the block with a micrometer to ensure that the triggers would fit perfectly on the gun. After confirming thickness and evenness, he cut out the individual triggers and ground them into the proper length for the gun.

Engel formed the trigger’s curved contour with the Czech lathe and a diamond radius wheel. He polished them to a shine using embedded wheels in three stages. Finally, he applied the distinctive Cabot star design using a UV light sensitive sandblasting resist film.
The Glass Case

The base of the gun’s case was custom made from lead crystal casting glass. The lid was formed from bonded float glass. To create the case, Engel started by building a wood frame with beveled edges. This created the outer boundaries of the case. Inside this frame, he made an impression of the gun in a bed of clay to the depth that the actual gun would rest inside the finished case.


Then, Engel poured a mix of plaster and silica over the wood and clay mold to create the negative shape of the glass case. This created a mold that Engel could use to cast the glass. He loaded the plaster-silica mold with chunks of lead crystal glass and melted them in an electric oven. The casting process took over five days, with the glass at a temperature of 1600 degrees Fahrenheit.

After casting, Engel ground and smoothed the case’s mitered edges and the top surface of the glass by hand. This “hand lapping” process involves grinding the glass case with another piece of flat glass and a silicon carbide slurry. He then polished these surfaces using pumice, a horsehair wheel, a felt wheel, and polishing compound—a series of steps that took 40 hours.

Price: $29,500

Read more about Brian Engel in our Artist profile by CLICKING HERE >>>


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