LAMPWORK GLASS BEADS BY MARY DINITS
Everyone always asks . . .
Can you tell me
How To Make
Glass Beads ?
Lampworked glass beads or sculpted glass beads are created on a steel rod known as a mandrel. It's the mandrel that gives the bead its hole. Glass is heated at a torch till it is molten and then wound around the coated mandrel. Once cooled the finished bead can then be removed. This is the same way beads have been made for centuries. Contemporary bead makers are fortunate enough to have more sophisticated equipment and technology to enhance our lives. Like special eye glasses, torches and computerized kilns to anneal the glass properly
There are many steps to prepare to make glass beads but you can work as simply as a single fuel propane or mapp gas set up to a propane oxygen set-up with a minor bench burner. Eye protection is of the utmost importance both in terms of flying chards of glass that can snap off and soda lime flare that hot glass emits. Didymium and Aura-92 are types of glass whose lenses block the flare of the flame.
Working in a well ventilated area that is relatively fireproof is also important since there are issues with respiratory hazards between the exhaust from the gases burned to dust particles from bead release (the substance that mandrels are prepared with which allows the beads to be removed without sticking to the metal). Making beads means working with an open flame, which means the potential for burns rises. It's important to be very aware of flammable objects and their removal from your work space. Your work surface should be fire board, stainless steel, tiles or marble since you'll be working with hot glass and tools.
Once your workplace is properly set-up you begin. First prepare your mandrels. Stainless steel welding rods can be used but if you don't want to cut them yourself you can buy mandrels in various diameters from many of the suppliers of bead making supplies. There are many different types of glass to work with, and it comes in different forms such as sheets, powders and rods which are most commonly used for bead making. The glass must test compatible to be used together which means that the coefficient of expansion (COE) must be the same. That means the glass expands and contracts the same when heated and cooled or it will crack from stress.
After your torch is lit the glass is heated to make a bead. You must be careful when first introducing the cold glass into the flame. Gradually heat it or you run the risk of it popping and cracking. Your mandrel needs to be preheated as the glass is heated. The glass will only stick to the 'mandrel if it is heated first. Once the glass is glowing orange it can be applied to the mandrel rolling the mandrel as the glass is applied. It is important to keep your mandrel moving so that the glass doesn't droop. When it's glowing it's rather soft. As you run out of glowing glass more glass should be fed into the flame. Wind off your glass to complete the bead and keep rolling it in the flame to allow it to form into a ball. Take the bead out of the flame and let the glow wear off , remember to keep the mandrel moving so the bead doesn't slump. Once the glow has worn off wave it in and out of the flame to even up the temperature of the bead then place it in a kiln and anneal it for a few hours and then slowly cool it off using a ramping controller. I only use a computerized kiln to ensure all of my beads are annealed properly so they can be passed on for generations. WARNING - Others place their beads between two ceramic fiber blankets or into vermiculite which will allow the bead to cool slowly, but it may still CRACK.