There are a number of things that people ask me when they find out I made beads in my spare time. These are some of the ones I can remember off the top of my head and my answers. If you have any questions that you think would be a good addition to this section, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How are your beads made?
A: All of the beads you will find on this website are handmade by me, Shannon, using a Minor torch with an oxygen conentrator. I make the beads by heating glass rods in a torch flame, then wrap the molten glass around a stainless steel mandrel that is coated in bead release (to prevent the glass from fusing to the metal). Once the ‘base bead’ is established, I can add frit (crushed coloured glass), enamel, stringer (very thin rods of glass I would have prepared ahead of time), millefiorii/murrini(glass ‘chips’ with a design in them) or fine metals (silver, copper, gold) to the bead before it is polished in the flame and set into a fibre blanket to cool. All the beads are batch annealed, which means that the beads cool in a fibreglass blanket and a group of them are put into a kiln starting at room temperature and slowly brought up to annealing temperature (about 940*f). My annealing cycle has them hold at the high temperature soak for an hour, relieving the glass of any possible stress between layers. The beads are then slowly brought down to 750*f and held there are another half hour before the kiln slowly ramps back down to room temperature. The entire annealing process takes about 12 hours.
Q: How long does it take for you to make one bead?
A: It all depends on what kind of bead I’m making. A small spacer bead can take only a couple of minutes to melt the glass and shape the bead. Other, more detailed beads, can take over an hour to make.
|This bead took me about 45 minutes to make because of the different layers of detail that had to go into the finished product. I believe I was also on a Hot Head torch when I made this, which added to the overall time as the HH takes a bit longer to melt the glass because of the cooler flame.||
A set like this took about 20 minutes to make (for both beads). While the lentil press tool is a tremendous help in getting the overall shape, it can take a few tries to get the right amount of glass onto the mandrel in order to fill the brass cavity to the proper capacity. It is always easier to add glass than to take it away.
Q: Are there different types of glass?
A: Absolutely! I work mostly in the 104 COE which is Moretti or Effetre, Lauscha and Vetrofond glass. The Caliente glass I mention in the picture above sits around a 96 COE. Bullseye glass has a 90 COE. Borosilicate glass has a 33 COE. There are plenty more, differing from manufacture to the content of the glass. For example, the latest craze in the glass world is silver glass. I’m not talking the glass looks like it’s made out of silver; I mean that the silver in the glass itself reacts to other glass and to heating/cooling cycles. It’s pretty interesting stuff!
Q: What is a COE?
A: C.O.E. stands for Coefficient of Expansion. The following information is from Warm Glass.
To better understand compatibility, let’s consider what happens when glass gets heated in a kiln. Like many other substances, glass expands when it gets hot and contracts when it cools. This change in density, which occurs at the molecular level, can be measured in a laboratory. A typical one inch piece of Bullseye brand glass, for example, will expand 0.0000090 inches for each 1 degree Centigrade (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in temperature. That’s nine-millionths of an inch!
This rate, which is commonly known as the Coefficient of Expansion (COE), is usually expressed as a whole number, rather than as a long decimal figure. Most Bullseye glass, for example, is said to have a Coefficient of Expansion of 90, and you will often hear glass artists refer to it as COE90 glass. Spectrum, another common glass, has a COE of around 96, while Corning’s Pyrex glassware has a 32 COE. Standard window glass, referred to as “float” glass by the glassmaking community, has a COE that is usually around 84-87, while Effetre (Moretti) glass, commonly used for lampworking, has a 104 COE.
These differences in expansion and contraction may not sound like much, but they are very significant on the molecular level. A 10 inch length of Bullseye glass, for example, will shrink about 0.046 inches (about 1 mm) in cooling from around 950 degrees Fahrenheit to room temperature. By contrast, a 10-inch piece of Spectrum glass will shrink about 0.049 inches over the same temperature range. That difference – .003, or three thousandths of an inch – sounds trivial, but it’s enough to ensure that you can’t fuse Bullseye and Spectrum together.
Two glasses with considerably different COEs are said to be incompatible. They cannot be fused together and should be kept in separate areas of the glass studio to prevent their accidentally becoming intermingled.
This is especially critical because you can’t always tell incompatible glasses just by sight. For example, Bullseye (90COE) and Spectrum (96 COE) glass have been fused together. All looks fine to the naked eye, but viewing the glass with a polarized film shows the underlying stress.
You can sometimes get away with using two different glasses where the COE is only one or two apart (say, a 90 with a 91), but not always. Sometimes even two glasses with the same Coefficient of Expansion can not be fused together. That’s because the laboratory test that determines COE takes place at a different temperature than the one the warm glass artist often uses.
Q: How much does the glass cost?
A: I will use 104COE glass as the example as that is the type of glass I am most familiar with. Most transparent glass will cost around the $15 per pound mark, while other specialty glass can cost upwards or $100 per pound. I know that’s a bit of a price range, but that’s what glass lampworkers deal with. It is not an inexpensive hobby, by any means. Tools for glass lampwork are expensive (usually made out of brass or high quality graphite) but can greatly help beadmakers shape their pieces quickly.
Q: Do you do custom work?
A: I have done custom work in the past and I have really enjoyed a few of the projects, but for the most part I do not do custom work anymore. I am happy to recreate a bead you see on the website, but I no longer do completely custom order pieces because of the time and supplies that are used in fine-tuning the piece to the client’s exact specifications. I would love to please everyone, but custom orders can be a very involved process and I don’t have the time to spend these days.
Q: How fragile are the beads?
A: Because the beads are properly kiln annealed, they are fairly sturdy. For example: I have a bead on a key chain that has been dropped on to gravel or pavement a number of times with minimal damage of a tiny chip on a corner of the bead (reality check: pavement vs glass – pavement will most liksely win). That being said, my pieces are guaranteed against manufacture defects; they are, however, still made from glass and should be treated more delicately than one would metal jewellery. One customer dropped a beautiful Caliente glass ring I had made on a cement floor – you break it, you buy it.