Debbie's Lampwork Beads & Jewellery
Welcome to my little piece of the world wide web. Here you will find information that I have gathered along the way of my Glass Bead Making journey as well as pictures of beads and jewellery that I have made.
There are lots of books on the market which will help you to learn how to make beads. I will give my condensed version here.
You are working with things that have the potential to cause injury. Yes, even serious injury if sufficient care is not taken. Fire, glass and fumes can all play havoc with our health and the health of our loved ones, so in my book safety is of the utmost importance. If you are thinking about setting up an area to make beads, take a good look around and make sure that you choose a place that is safe, inaccessible to children and definitely nowhere near food preparation areas.
A fire extinguisher. Safety glasses; AUR-92, Didymium or Rose Didymium safety glasses will protect your eyes and also allow you to see the colours of the glass clearly without the soda flare of the flame. At the absolute minimum, some form of safety glasses must be worn to protect your eyes from flying glass. A cup of water to cool down hot tools, and to dip your fingers in if they get burned. (An Aloe Vera plant nearby is also handy for burns). Wear natural fibres when working and try to cover up as much as is reasonably possible. I have some nice little brown marks on my chest courtesy of flying glass. Wear closed shoes.
Breathing keeps us alive, so good ventilation is vital if we want to continue having maximum use of our lungs. You need to have some airflow coming in preferably from behind you and a extractor fan of some kind. Even a range hood or at least a fan placed backwards in a window to draw the fumes from the gas and the glass away from you can work. If you are going to be using a duel fuel torch or working with things like silver leaf/foil, then the extractor fan is a necessary requirement. It needs to be able to draw a certain amount of air for the kind of torch you are using. There are some good diagrams on the web of how to set up your studio for optimal and recommended ventilation. Respirators are necessary if you are going to be using metals such as silver, gold or copper foil, leaf or wire in your beads. You can buy sufficient respirators from most hardware stores. Buy the best that you can afford and make sure the filters are suitable for the type of environment you are using it in. i.e. fumes/vapour/dusts.
Ok, now on to the fun part.
What is Lampworking?
Early bead makers used the flame of an oil lamp to melt their glass which is how the term lampwork, or flamework came into being. These days lampworkers use either single fuel torches such as the Hot Head, or dual fuel torches such as the Minor Burner. There are a lot of different dual fuel torches on the market today. The combination of gas and oxygen produces a hotter flame and therefore cuts down on the time it takes to make each bead.
Individual glass rods come in a range of colours and coefficient of expansion or COE. The COE is what makes glass compatible or not. You can only mix glass that has the same COE, with the exception of small amounts placed on the outside of the bead. i.e. Frit. These beads should not be encased. If greater quantities of glass of different COEs are mixed together, stress will form within the bead and cause it to crack or even break apart after it has cooled. It might not happen overnight, but it will happen.
Each bead is created on a stainless steel mandrel which has been coated in bead release. The bead release is necessary to enable the finished bead to be removed from the mandrel after it has cooled. Various tools can be used to manipulate the glass while it is soft. Flattening, poking, rolling, pushing and pulling are some of the techniques that can alter the shape of the bead. There are lots of tools on the market that are purpose made for lampworkers, but virtually anything that is heat resistant can also be used. Stainless steel and brass are best.
Making a Bead
The glass rods are melted one at a time in the torch flame and wrapped around the coated mandrel to form the base bead. The mandrel must be constantly rotated to keep the entire bead centered and evenly heated. Further additions of other colours are applied to the base bead to make designs and patterns.
Beadmaking Hints & Tips
A dark background behind your flame will help you to be able to see the bead clearly.
Position your glass rods so that they cannot roll off the table and into your lap.
When you put a rod down, always place it so that the hot end is not likely to be picked up by mistake. Glass stays hot for longer than you think.
Secure your torch to your workbench.
A chair with wheels will allow you to make a quick exit if you accidentally drop a hot piece of glass or equipment in your lap.
There are two ways to anneal beads. One way is to place the bead directly from the flame into an already hot kiln. There the bead will 'soak' at the recommended temperature for the particular glass that you have used for a recommended amount of time. After this time, the kiln will slowly ramp down until it can be turned off and allowed to return to room temperature. Usually overnight. The bead needs to be cold before it can be removed from the kiln.
The other method is "batch annealing". With this method, the finished bead is rotated slowly higher and higher up through the flame until the inner and the outer temperatures of the bead are equalised. This prevents the bead from cracking. The bead is then immediately placed into either a pot of Vermiculite or between two sheets of Fibre Blanket. Once again, the bead needs to stay put until it is cold. The bead/s can then be placed into a cold kiln and run through the recommended annealing cycle.
Once the beads have been annealed, they need to have the bead release cleaned out of them. As bead release contains clay, it is not a good idea to let it go down your drains as it will clog them up. I clean my beads with a diamond bit bead reamer in a basin of water. Cleaning under water has a twofold advantage. The reamer will not wear out as quickly, and more importantly, dust particles are prevented from becoming airborne.
The annealed and cleaned beads are now ready to be turned into a wonderful piece of jewellery.
Deborah Lewis, PO Box 309 Maryborough QLD. 4650, Australia