Lampworking FAQ:
Questions I'm most often asked
by prospective beadmakers


 Here are some of the standard questions, as well as some additional information / opinions / things to think about if you are considering taking up lampworking.

#1. How much does it cost to get started making beads ?

 There are generally two paths to choose between when you start lampworking. Below, I'll give you some figures for the purpose of comparing the two. Please understand that I am making sweeping generalizations here, and I can't guarantee that you can do it for this specific amount of money, or that it might not be done for less in some cases. There will always be the exception to the rule. These are not hard, fast figures - I am only estimating. Certain costs will increase over time, your actual mileage may vary. These figures are just for the sake of having something to compare, okay ? Having said that......

The least expensive route is to purchase a single fuel hothead torch, and the basic tools and glass supplies. This is the way many "hobbyists" generally start out. ( Right before they get hooked, and start spending obscene amounts of money in order to feed their new obsession called BEADMAKING !)

Those who see this as a potential income producing business often make the decision from the start to set up and equip a complete studio, which requires a major commitment of space as well as money.

But wait.... isn't there a middle ground ?

Well, there probably is...... But I don't recommend it. I am of the school of thought that it is never a good idea to try and cut corners where issues of SAFETY for yourself and / or your property, or DURABILITY of your finished product are at stake. If you're gonna do it, do it right.

So, the first thing you need to ask yourself is which route do I plan to take ?

   Basic Equipment  Plan to spend Advantages Disadvantages
 Hobbyist Hothead torch & Mapp gas
Heatproof surface & gas holder
Safety glasses
Mandrels, bead release, basic tools
Fiber blanket
Glass rod assortment ( 5 lbs. )
 $ 200 - $ 500

Equipment can be put away when not in use.

Not as big an investment in equipment for a beginner

Beads will not be annealed, and are prone to breakage, so should not be sold.

Limited to making smaller beads

Hothead torch is noisy, dirty and uses up fuel quickly

 Potential Business Minor Bench Burner Torch
Hoses, regulators, check valves
Propane tank ( 25 lb )
Oxygen tank ( lease ) or
Oxygen concentrator ( used )
Heat proofing your workbench
Safety glasses (minimum)
Mandrels, bead release, basic tools
Glass rod assortment ( 15 lbs. )
Kiln, pyrometer, & thermocouple
 $ 1500 - $ 2500

Beads will be annealed, so you will be able to sell them

Minor torch is much hotter / cleaner / quieter to use than Hothead torch

Much larger investment / commitment of money and space

You must have a dedicated workspace for a studio available


#2. Do I need to have a garage or shed in order to "have a studio" ?

Not necessarily, but you do need to have a SAFE place to make beads. If you're working with a Hothead, that means that it has to be at least a dedicated area of a room that can be made safe from hot chunks of flying glass, open flame, with a heat proof surface on the table and floor, good lighting, a comfortable chair for working in, and, very important - good ventilation. This means a combination of fresh air coming in, good air circulation, and ideally, an exhaust fan to remove fumes and gases from the lampworking area.

If you are going to be using a Minor and a kiln, then you do need to have a DEDICATED space. The torch needs to be secured to your work bench, the kiln needs a sturdy and heatproof surface, the oxygen tank needs to be chained to a wall or immovable object, and call me an alarmist, but that propane tank needs to be kept OUTSIDE !!! I have a hole in the wall of my garage...... You can, too.


#3. If I decide I LOVE lampworking, do I really need to buy a kiln ?


Oh. You want the long answer ?
Okay, let's see..... You are considering spending between $ 200 and $ 2000 in order to have the pride and satisfaction of making beautiful glass beads, either to use in your own jewelry, or to sell. Therefore, I'm assuming you want them to remain whole and uncracked for the duration ? Have I got it right ? Yes ?

Then you need to buy a kiln.

Without going into a very long and involved explanation here where I would likely embarrass myself by showing that I am no scientist, glass needs to be held in a very precise temperature range for a specific amount of time, ( based on the type of glass you're using ) then cooled at a very slow rate in order to be ANNEALED.

Beads that have not been annealed will have "stress" in them, which means that on a molecular level, the glass will be unstable, and outside forces ( temperature, pressure, and sometimes just looking at them funny ) will cause them to develop cracks, or stress fractures. As Martha would tell you, "This is not a good thing."

And in case you heard different, let me clear up a few misconceptions:
You can not anneal beads in a fiber blanket. You can not anneal beads in the flame. You can not anneal beads in vermiculite, even if you put it in a crock pot and keep it warm. You need a kiln to anneal beads.
End of story.


#4. How long does it take you to make a bead ?

I have several wise guy answers for this question, but I will spare you. The answer, of course, depends on what kind / size bead I'm making. It generally takes me between five and ten minutes to make a set of spacer beads. ( I usually make two to four at a time ) A large focal bead can take anywhere from twenty to sixty minutes, (and three to five cuss words) depending on the size, amount of inclusions, details and layers of glass.

Some of the most gifted beadmakers, who make extremely complex beads, produce beads that can take up to two hours (or more !) of constant flamework to complete. Many times, a complex design includes elements that must be made ahead of time, which adds to the total time. When figuring how long it takes to make a bead, you also have to think about the time it takes to clean the glass rods, prepare mandrels for beadmaking, and cleaning the beads after they're done. So much to do, so little actual time at the torch !!


#5. I hope to take a class ( with me ? ) in Lampworking soon.
  Is there anything I can do to prepare while I'm waiting ?

Oh, I remember that time period well.... The excitement, the worry, the anticipation !!! It's worth the wait.

Here are several suggestions that I have found to be helpful while you're waiting:

#1) Get your hands on a copy of Cindy Jenkins book, Making Glass Beads ( the 1997 hardcover version, not the softcover, earlier one.). Read it cover to cover. Then read it again. It will familiarize you with the equipment, safety issues, tools and techniques, making it that much more comfortable to learn them once you actually encounter them in class. And you will see some absolutely gorgeous lampwork, which will strengthen your resolve to do whatever you have to, to learn to make glass beads !

#2) Check out the Message Board on the International Society of Glass Beadmakers website. This is a great and knowledgeable group of sharing, talented people. Every day, messages are posted about techniques, equipment, tips, questions, etc. There is a wealth of information there, free for the reading !! Don't miss the searchable archives. You can go back and look up any subject related to glass beadmaking, and find out more about it from the people who do this for a loving....oops. I mean, living. No, I guess I was right the first time...

And last,
#3) This will sound silly, but ...... It works. Learning to lampwork takes more than getting your mind wrapped around issues of annealing, glass compatibility, proper safety procedure and how to make hot glass do what you want. There is a whole new set of motions that your body has to learn. This is something you can practice in the comfort of your own home. You may feel silly doing it, but it will pay off in the long run.

Get yourself a pencil and a 12" long, thin ( 3/8ths inch diameter, if possible ) dowel or round barbeque skewer or thin knitting needle. Or, if you just happen to have a stainless steel welding rod lying around, that would work too.

In your right hand ( assuming you're right handed - reverse directions if you're not ), grip the pencil in ... well.... a pencil grip. Practice poking it up and down, fairly quickly, with a steady motion, in a pretend flame, about twelve inches in front of your chest. ( Helpful Hint #7: Don't try this with a cat on you lap.)

Now, in your left hand, cradle the psuedo-mandrel ( the metal rod on which you'll be making your pretend bead after you get that pencil nice and hot in your pretend flame ) in an overhand hold. Do this by putting your hand out like you are telling someone to stop. Then curve your four fingers around your psuedo-mandrel, in the middle, so it is being cradled by your pinkie, ring and middle fingers. There should be equal amounts of mandrel sticking out either side of your hand. You will be using your thumb and index finger to roll the mandrel. Use your thumb to roll the mandrel UPWARDS on your index finger. Practice keeping the mandrel rolling, cradling it in the last three fingers of your hand, while you see - saw it back and forth like a violin bow in your pretend flame.

Don't forget to keep that pencil (your pretend glass rod) poking up and down at the same time.

Yes, it's a lot like rubbing your head and patting your stomach, only there's a 1800 degree flame and human flesh involved. Trust me... You'll be glad you practiced.