| 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
||Hothead torch & Mapp gas
Heatproof surface & gas holder
Mandrels, bead release, basic tools
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
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
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
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
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...
#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
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.