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How I make lampworked glass beads......
I am a member of the SRA, Self Representing Artists, a group of glass artists who are dedicated to the art of lampworking, an ancient art form that flourished in Italy in the 1300s and then spread throughout Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world.
I use a Nortel Mega Minor torch which runs on a mixture of oxygen and propane. The oxygen is supplied from an oxycon machine which concentrates oxygen from the air and delivers it to the torch. I melt glass rods in the torch flame and wrap them around metal rods called mandrels. The mandrels are dipped in a bead release solution so that the glass doesn't stick to the metal. I shape the beads by moulding in brass presses, or poking and smoothing them into shape with brass and tungsten tools. All colours of glass, opaque and transparent, are available. Most of what I use is from Italy. The most expensive glass contains silver and swirling colour changing effects can be obtained by altering the levels of oxygen and propane in the flame. The newly formed bead is still glowing red hot and is susceptable to thermal shock if not cooled down very slowly by a process called annealing.
I place the bead, still on the end of the mandrel, into the kiln through a little letterbox style door and cool it down slowly over several hours, to prevent cracking. The final part of the process is to remove the bead from the mandrel and clean all traces of the bead release from the hole in the bead with water and diamond coated drill bit.
Due to the various metals contained in the glass rods and the very high temperatures involved, noxious fumes can be given off when melting the glass, which means that good ventilation is very important. You can see that my workbench is covered with a barley box style fume hood, with an extractor fan that vents out of the window. Other important safety features that I have are a carbon monoxide alarm, fire extinguisher, leather apron and didymium glasses to protect my eyes from the glare of the torch.
I am also a member of Glassbeadmakers UK