What are lampwork beads and how are they made?
Lampwork = Type of glasswork where a torch or “lamp” is used to melt glass
I make beads using an ancient technique called lampwork. Each lampwork bead in made individually by building layers of molten glass around a steel rod and when cooled the mandrel is pulled out from the center of the bead leaving the hole behind…..
Using a specialist lampwork or flameworking torch, rods of glass are rotated in the flame to melt, a blob of molten glass called a gather builds up on the end of the rod. The gather of molten glass is then applied by winding it onto to a thin stainless steel rod called a mandrel which has already been coated with bead release. Bead release is a clay like substance that prevents the glass from sticking permanently to the mandrel (see photo above of my can of mandrels coated with bead release)
The inner core of the bead is formed by the first layer of molten glass wound around the mandrel. This layer of glass is taken away from the flame and it quickly cools and stiffens on the mandrel meanwhile the tip of another glass rod is being melted in the flame in preparation for the next layer. More layers of glass are melted on in this way creating the bead from the hole in the middle outwards with different colour glasses and sometimes inclusions such as silver foil, cubic zirconia, dichroic glass etc being used as decorative elements along the way.
There are many different techniques and methods of manipulating the molten glass using hand tools, the flame and decorative elements so that each lampwork bead is genuinely unique. Often a lampwork bead will have a final layer of clear glass added which gives the bead depth and magnifies small details. finished with some of the glass left raised for texture or be sculptural in form.
My Lampwork Torch – GTT Phantom, isn’t she a beauty!
When the bead is fully formed the heat base is evened out in the flame before allowing the outer surface to cool and stiffen a little. The finished bead, which is still extremely hot, is placed in a pre-heated kiln to anneal. When all of the beads are finished the kiln is held at a specific annealing temperature for a time before being cooled down slowly at a rate determined by the size of the glass lampwork beads. Annealing is important because glass needs to have an even temperature throughout each piece while cooling down. If different areas of the glass cool down at different rates stress can be left within and beads can then crack, shatter or eve fall apart.
Bullseye glass rods, so pretty…
by Judith Johnston