Monday, July 11, 2011

Lampwork Glass Bead Rescue and Repair

Here's my newest observation- wind is the enemy at outdoor shows. Well, not really a new observation, but still important. I was reminded of this recently when the wind grabbed my table and flipped it completely over onto my beads, which were now on concrete. The result? Too many broken beads. After a couple of days moping around, and the comment ' fire polish them' niggling in my brain, I realized that I had a kiln and I am not afraid to experiment with it. So I grabbed a couple of my minorly 'scuffed' beads, jammed them onto some sludged mandrels, and got to work. I'm here to tell you what I learned, just in case you need the info some day. I'm not going to go through the whole grueling process, but will just get right to my recommendations.

There's one person I need to thank for suggestions and ideas in all of this- that's Lynne of Fireball Beeds. She had some great ideas and suggestions to help me along the way. Here's her blog:

The repairs I have done are fairly minor- fish fins, eyes, scuff marks and small dings. These types of repairs go pretty quickly. This is by no means a foolproof method. Sometime beads crack or break dramatically during the process. But I had a lot of lemons on my hands, and I just needed to try and make some lemonade!

********NOTE: Your safety is your own concern. I am not recommending that you try any of these procedures, just telling you what I have done. **********
Here's what I do:

1) Put the beads on sludged mandrels. I have tried this with both wet and dry mandrels. Either can work, though it is nearly impossible to push a bead down onto a dry mandrel. If using wet sludge, it helps to make it a bit thin. I put the bead on the mandrel, pull it off and wipe off the wet sludge, then put it on again. This helps me keep from getting a lot of junk at the end of the bead.

Either way, I like to put a 'stop' at the handle end of the sludge to keep the bead from falling onto my hand- a bit of thick sludge that the bead cannot slide over. Since the bead can get loose when heated, I am extra careful not to point the mandrel down so that the bead can fall onto my hand, the floor or the table. The stop needs to be made with thicker sludge.

2) Put the beads into a room temperature kiln with the ends sticking out 4-6 inches. I only put in about four at a time since I don't want to take a chance that they will touch each other and stick together. If that happens they will certainly be ruined. I turn the kiln to a low temperature and slowly ramp up to about 800 degrees. My kiln does not have a digital controller, so I turn it to low until it reaches about 300 degrees, then turn it to 3 until it reaches about 600 degrees, then 5 up to 850 or so. After that it can be allowed to ramp up quickly. The target temperature is 1200 degrees. I keep an eye on it so that it doesn't get any hotter than that.

3) Let the beads 'soak' for 5-10 minutes at between 1100 and 1200 degrees. This allows the heat to get to the core of the beads. Lynne likes to hold at 1200. I let the beads get to 1200, and then allow them to cool to 1100 and let them soak there. This is because I want to be sure the beads don't start distorting before I torch them.

4) Make sure the mandrels aren't too hot to handle. If they are, I take a damp paper towel and cool down the handle end. I also pull them a bit farther out of the kiln if necessary.

5) When I am ready, I turn on the torch, and make sure I am wearing protective eyewear. I want to grab the beads and get them into the flame as quickly as possible. I am mindful of the danger at this point- moving quickly but carefully around the lit torch.

6) Put the bead into the flame and heat slowly. DANGER- the bead can shock, crack, break, or explode at this point. It is very important that the bead is hot, and that I move quickly. This is rather similar to the initial heating of a rod while making a bead- in and out, up and down, slowly into the sweet spot in the flame.

7) Once the bead is glowing, I am ready to work on it again. I have now done quite a few repairs in this manner, and am fairly happy with the results. It is not a perfect solution, but oh so much better than tossing alot of what used to be lovely beads.

8) Turn the kiln down to proper annealing temperature. I generally do this as soon as I am done working on the first bead.

You can see the photos of the fish with a broken fin at the top, and the repaired bead below.


Islandgirl said...

Step 4... (this is Lynne of Fireballbeeds) I tried the paper towel cool down... and switched to this method... I fill a sauce bottle/ beer bottle with water then grab the mandrel about 1 inch below the bead ... then plunge the mandrel into the water... It actually takes less time than the paper towel method and the mandrel is cold! I actually turn down the kiln once it hits 1200 too...

Lynne aka Islandgirl

glassbead, isinglass design said...

Thanks Lynne!

Francesca DeCaire said...

Very good read. This will be valuable info to me some day I'm sure.

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Sharon said...

Great temperature ideas! It was a wonderful discovery that beads can be salvaged. I had a dozen little fish on fishing line hanging above my kitchen sink window from a "tension" bar. when it was dislodged and they all hit the tile counter each one lost a part- fin, eye, or tail! I had saved them because they were my early attempts at fish. I'll pulled them out and using your guidelines fixed all but one of them! Amazing! Sharon

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