Making Glass Beads

Lampwork is the process I use to create my glass beads. I get asked about what it entails a lot, so hopefully this will explain it a little bit.

My raw materials are these glass rods:

Glass rods, my raw material.

They come from Italy mainly, although some are German and American. I have managed to build up quite a collection over the 3 years I have been lampworking (buying them can be somewhat an addiction), but I also sometimes use old glass bottles and glass sheet, which I score into strips.

To melt the glass I hold it in a very hot flame, fuelled by oxygen and propane. Here is my lovely torch:

‘Bobcat’, my lampworking torch.

The glass is introduced very slowly into the flame, so it doesn’t shock and ping itself all over the place. Once it starts to melt, I wind the molten bit around a mandrel, a thin rod of steel, which holds the forming bead up while I shape it, and becomes the hole through the bead once the whole process is finished and it is removed. I keep adding molten glass in the torch until I am satisfied with how much there is on the mandrel. Then the shaping and decorating can begin. The disc beads I have been obsessively making recently and shaped with a graphite mould while they are still molten, then decorated with frits, enamels, metal leaf, sometimes hair-thin strands of glass I have pulled. When I am happy with the overall shape, colour and decoration of the bead, it goes into the kiln.

Colin the Kiln

While it is in the kiln, it can cool down very, very slowly during a process called annealing. It takes the thermal stress out of the glass bead, so it is far less susceptible to breakage if it is dropped than a bead taken out of the flame and left to cool by itself. If a bead is not annealed, it is highly likely it will break at some point.

So after the beads have been in the kiln all night gradually cooling, I remove them from the mandrels, and give them a good thorough clean. Then take pictures of them and share them with the world!

This set features enamel, gold leaf and frit.

I will brush this up and add more detail over time, but I hope you enjoyed my little explanation of how I do what I do. Please let me know if you have any questions at all!

My friend Iona getting to grips with the torch.

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