Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Lampwork Beadmaking Primer; Getting Started With Hot Glass

From time to time I've had folks ask how they can get started in lampworking, and I've decided it would be smart to just put it all in one place so others can get started on their glass beadmaking obsession. And we're off!

The very most important thing in learning to make glass beads is practice time. A good class at your local Art Center, Glass Shop, or from a beadmaker in your area is a great place to get the ball rolling.
You can join the International Society of Glass Beadmakers to learn about what's happening in your area, get their new magazine Glass Bead Evolution, join in the forum, and meet up with other beadmakers at The Gathering. The instructor listing might just be the perfect place to find that class.
Another excellent place to connect with people on every level in the glass beadmaking community is Lampwork, Etc. It  is chock full of lampworking info-free tutorials, tools for sale, galleries- LE has it all, and so much more! You'll get every opinion possible there.
A nice, inexpensive monthly magazine with some interesting tutorials and information on lots of different levels is The Soda Lime Times. Diane even offers a free copy so you can see what it's all about before you decide to purchase it.

You should definitely get a book or two. You can get many of these books through an inter-library loan if you want to take a look before you buy.
Making Glass Beads by Cyndi Jenkins is the book I learned from, and is still a great value for a beadmaking book. If you get a kit, it will likely come with 'you can make glass beads' by the same author- see if you can switch it out, or just take it off as it is just a pamphlet and the book has much more info for about the same price.  
Passing the Flame by Corinna Tettinger is well liked, but a bit pricey. It is nice because it has lots of step-by-step photos. Good thing to look for used.
The Complete Book of Glass Beadmaking by Kimberly Adams is also a good book for learning the basics.

As far as tools and materials and starter kits- there are a lot of choices. Here are a few I've tried out:
Frantz Art Glass in Washington has a great selection of Moretti glass. They are very helpful and price competitive.
Artistry in Glass in Canada has a wonderful selection of a lot of different brands ( the best overall selection, I think) and decent prices. Check with them for shipping details.
Arrow Springs has a great selection of tools.
Howaco Glass in Michigan is a nice place to get glass because you can order just one rod of something and test it out. Also price competitive.
There are so many suppliers you can use- some of the others that I have not tried are Mountain GlassMoretti & More and Sundance Art Glass.
Getting proper eye wear is extremely important. All of the vendors I have spoken to over the years have been very helpful, and should be happy to help you make sure you are getting what you need. Most places sell glasses with didydium or Ace lenses, but something else may be recommended if you are using a minor burner or larger torch.

In my opinion, when you are just learning, you don't have to have a kiln immediately. When you have practiced for a while and are thinking about selling, it becomes more important. There are other cooling methods you can use in the beginning like a fiber blanket, vermiculite in a warm crock pot, or annealing bubbles. You need to learn to 'flame anneal' your beads if you are going to go without a kiln, which is just slowly backing them out of the flame until the glow is gone; something you should do anyway (but a kiln makes it less important). The beads can be 'batch annealed' in a kiln later if there is a shop that you can take them to for that.

If the beads are just learning beads and just for you, you can take a bit more of a chance with them. When your beads get larger, or if you want to add things like dichro or silver, you will lose a fairly large percentage of them to breakage without a kiln. The 'inclusions' are the thing that cause the most trouble as they cause the bead to cool differently. My theory is that they insulate the interior while the exterior cools more quickly. I know some people would disagree with me about the whole kiln issue. Now that I have a kiln, I don't know how I lived without it- but I did for quite a while. I dislike batch annealing because I think it can cause problems if done incorrectly, so I pop everything into the kiln as I go now.

Here is a list of the things I think every new lampworker needs to get started on this wonderful journey- kind of a make-your-own kit.
1)  A torch (I'm not gonna tell you what kind- you'll have to research that yourself) and everything that goes with it to get it set up, including a table to attach it to and a way to attach it to your table.
2)  Proper eyewear- see above.
3)  Mandrels- I recommend medium size- 3/32 inch- to start with.
4)  Bead release (sludge)- you can read some of my opinions about that here
5)   A way to cool your beads- kiln, vermiculite or annealing bubbles- see above.
6)  Glass- make sure you have learned about coe and that everything you get is compatible and will work with the torch you've selected.
7)  A good book about glass beadmaking- see above.
8)  Some tools! I recommend a hand held marver, tweezers, scissors (shears), a rake or pick of some kind, a striker to light your torch.
9)  A bead reamer- you can use a manual diamond reamer or an electric reaming tool.
10)  Other good stuff you might just want- a marver that attaches to your torch, a rod rest, a flat or barbeque masher, and any other tools or supplies that just look like too much fun!

So what are you waiting for????