Lampwork 101: Turning Glass Rods into Glass Beads with Jodi Hesting

Welcome to Jodi Hesting, a lampwork glass bead and jewelry artist and our newest guest blogger on Jewelry Making Daily. To get us started with the basics, Jodi's sharing an intro to lampworking history, supplies to make lampwork glass beads, and basic lampworking terminology you'd hear around the studio, along with gorgeous examples of her work. Watch for more lampworking articles and projects from Jodi and other glass artists in the future on JMD. Enjoy! -Tammy

Photos by Jodi Hesting.

Introduction to Lampworking: History, Supplies, and Terminology
by Jodi Hesting

So many people think that I fix or work on lamps when I hand them my business card with my title as "lampworker." The term "lampworking" comes from an early description of the art, which dates back to ancient Syrian times. Early lampworking was done using the flame of an oil lamp, but now most artists use torches that burn propane, natural gas, or butane. So today a more appropriate or modern term for lampworking might be "torchworking" or "flameworking."

 

What is Lampworking?

A quick Internet search provides a Wikipedia definition for lampworking as follows: "Lampworking is a type of glasswork that uses a gas-fueled torch to melt rods and tubes of clear and colored glass. Once in a molten state, the glass is formed by blowing and shaping with tools and hand movements. Lampworking differs from glassblowing in that glassblowing uses a blowpipe to inflate a glass blob known as a gob or gather, whereas lampworking manipulates glass either by the use of tools, gravity, or by blowing directly into the end of a glass tube."

Lampworking is used to create many forms of art including beads, bottles, and figurines; it is even used to create scientific instruments, models, and plant and animal subjects.

Lampwork Bead History

 

Lampworked beads (with the exception of Asian and African bead making) have generally originated from Italy for the last 400 years, with techniques on their creation being kept secret. About thirty years ago a group of American artists started experimenting with lampworking techniques and sharing their knowledge. They started small businesses creating tools, torches, and other equipment for other glass enthusiasts. This group eventually formed the Society of Glass Beadmakers in 1993, which soon became the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB).

Getting Started: Lampworking Tools and Supplies

Here's my list of some of the basic tools and equipment that lampworkers use in making their glass creations:

  • Glass: Most glass used for bead making is sold in rods, making it easier to hold while creating lampwork beads. It comes in a variety of colors as well as co-efficiency ratings.
  • Torch and fuel: Any of various kinds of flame or heat source used for melting glass. Depending on the type of torch you have, you will need one or more types of fuel to create a flame, such as brazing fuel, propane, natural gas, and oxygen.
  • Regulator: Manages the flow and pressure of the gas and oxygen as it comes out of the tanks and into the hose to the torch.
  • Kiln (also called an annealer): This is an insulated machine box used for slowly cooling (annealing) beads to avoid internal stresses that may cause the glass to crack.
  • Mandrels: Thin stainless steel rods on which beads are made on. Available in a variety of thickness, which determines the size of hole your beads will have.
  • Bead separator (or bead release): A specialized clay mixture that creates a buffer between the steel rod and the hot glass, so that the bead can be removed after it cools.
  • Marver: A smooth, heat proof surface used to roll or press your bead for shaping.
  • Bead rake: A metal instrument used for manipulating the hot surface of your bead to create designs or various textures.
  • Bead reamer: A tool used to help clean the bead separator or bead release from the bead's hole after the bead is cooled and removed from the steel rod.
  • Eye protection (didymium glasses): Specialized safety glasses for flameworking which protect the eyes from any popping glass. Didymium glasses also allow the lampworker to see through the soda flare (orange part of the flame).
  • Ventilation: A hood fan or other type of fan that will help with ventilation in the workspace.

 

Lampworking Terminology

Here's a mini lampworking glossary of some of the terms you might hear around a lampworking studio, along with their definitions in lampworking.

Annealing for lampworking is the process of slowly cooling glass to prevent stress or cracking.

Co-efficiency or COE is the measuring of the rate of expansion and contraction of glass as it is heated and cooled. When creating with different pieces of glass, you must use glass with the same COE or compatibility to avoid stress fracturing or cracking in the glass.

Frit is crushed glass that is sometimes melted onto other glass, or other glass can be heated and rolled in frit, to create patterns and color in a glass design.

A gather is a noun in lampworking; it's the glob of molten glass that forms when you heat a rod in the flame, as well as the rounded glob that's left on the end where you stopped using a rod of glass.

Striker/striking refers to certain types of glass that start out one shade and change to their true color when they are placed in the proper heat.

Stringers are thin rods of glass pulled from larger rods of glass, used for smaller decorations and details (like dots, stripes, and facial features) on a bead design.

Thermal shock is stress caused to the glass from heating or cooling the glass too rapidly, usually causing the glass to fracture or crack.

 

How to Get Started in Lampworking

Most states have their own chapter of the ISGB or glass group. In Arizona, I belong to the Arizona Society of Glass Beadmakers. If you are interested in getting started lampworking, find the local group for your area. Getting together with other glass enthusiasts has provided me with a wealth of support and knowledge. There are also many online forums for glass enthusiasts who do not have a group in their area. Both the local groups and online forums are a great source for all ages and all stages in one's glass journey. If you are interested in taking classes, you can search glass forums online to find private instructors in your area. You can also check your local art center, community college, city parks and recreation, and glass supply shops for lampworking classes in your area.

Working with hot glass is one of my most favorite things to do! I have tried my hand at so many different art forms but none has taken over my heart like lampworking. The creative possibilities are endless and it keeps me excited every new day at the torch! –Jodi

If you're ready to make jewelry out of glass beads or even try your hand at making your own lampwork glass beads, you're in luck–all the jewelry-making eProjects are on sale now in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

 

About Jodi Hesting

"I was lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors when I started out and to pay it forward, I have tried to help others start on their own glass journey," Jodi says. She teaches beginning lampwork classes in Arizona and created a Web page to help the beginning lampworker get started, with recommended books, forums, and a basic breakdown of tips and advice. You can also see more of Jodi's lampwork glass beads and jewelry designs on her website, Beadworx.com.

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