• Kathy Mattes

More About Lampwork Beads (2nd in a series)


Many of the most unique focal beads that I incorporate into my work are referred to as lampwork glass beads. An earlier post discussed what lampwork beads are, and in this post I will go into a little more detail.

The term Lampworking refers to a type of glasswork where a torch or lamp is used to melt the glass.

The glass is formed by blowing and shaping with tools and hand movements. The original glass artists used oil-fueled lamps, but more modern techniques are used today, so today’s work is also referred to as flameworking or torchworking. Most artists today use torches that burn either propane, natural gas or butane, mixed with either air or pure oxygen as the oxidizer.

SEE HOW THE PROCESS WORKS

In this 2 minute video Janice Peacock demonstrates how to make a handmade glass bead using a torch. It's not a tutorial, but just a quick overview of the process of glass bead making. This glass bead is made using Italian soft glass, as opposed to borosilicate (boro) glass. Soft glass is often used for art glass vases and sculptures, while borosilicate glass is often used for functional items such as pipes, although glass of both types can be used functionally or artistically.

In the process of making lampwork beads, glass rods are melted over a torch into its molten stage then wound around a steel mandrel to form a shape or bead. While the glass is molten various colors of glass and materials such as silver or copper or other bits of crushed glass are added to achieve the desired look. While the glass is kept molten over the torch, it is formed and manipulated with graphite, stainless steel, wood, marble tools and paddles and constant movement in order to achieve its ultimate shape. The trick is to keep the glass hot, the mandrel spinning at all times, adding different colors of glass while it remains a constant temperature without distorting the bead's shape or colors. Once the desired bead shape has been achieved the glass must be carefully annealed.

When glass is molten it loses or changes color. It is the talent of the artist making the bead to choose the proper glass rods, remember the colors and materials they are working with in order to complete the ultimate result.

Annealing is a process of cooling down glass in a high temperature kiln, usually at 900 to 975 degrees depending on the glass type. This process reduces stress and avoids thermal shock to the glass bead. This process takes several hours as the temperature is gradually reduced down to room temperature. If the bead is cooled too quickly it will break from stress. After the annealing process is complete the bead is then removed from its metal mandrel and cleaned.

The process of making lampwork beads is time consuming, however the outcome is rewarding. You will find a number of lampwork beads in my necklaces and earrings.




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