Lampwork 101

Lampwork 101

You will find some of the ‘tools of the trade’ explained here along with some visual aids.

The torch.  Mine is a Nortel Minor duel fuel torch hooked up to propane and an oxygen concentrator.  I love my torch.  It’s quiet and the fuel and oxygen can easily be adjusted, allowing for a more or less reducing flame.

torch-minorPhoto from


Oxygen Concentrator: this puppy hums nicely in the corner when I’ve got the torch going.  Instead of me having tanked oxygen (which I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to rent or own one then have it get it refilled whenever I was running low) chained to a wall, my oxy-con minds its own business while I torch and listen to some tunes


Kiln: this is where the magic happens.  And by ‘magic’ I mean that this is where the beads go to get the stress taken out from between their layers.  Yes, beads have stress.  By ‘ramping’ the kiln up to about 940*f and letting it soak the beads at that temperature for about an hour, the stress leaves the glass.  The kiln will then slowly ramp down to 750*f and soak again for another half hour before it will continue ramping down to room temperature.  My kiln has a digital controller which allows me to basically ‘set it and forget it’ even though I will make frequent trips to visit it while it does its thing.  ALL BEADS should be annealed for strength and durability.  If they are not anneael, the beads will likely break at some point down the road.IMG_4630
Glass: Glass, glass, glass!  The glass I buy comes in rod form, between  12″-22″ long in a variety of colours and opacity.  Glass can cost anywhere between $10/lb to over $100/lb for some of the more exclusive colours.  The glass I use is mostly Effetre (104 COE) and is compatable in and of itself.The glass to the right is Caliente glass (no longer in production, I believe) and produces a fantastic streaky quality to the bead once heated.  Caliente is not the same COE as Effetre so the two cannot be used on the same bead together as it would cause the bead to crack.


Stringers: thin pieces of glass pulled from the larger rods.  Stringers are used in a variety of beads for more delicate detail work.IMG_6423

Twisties: these are pulled from a ‘lollipop’ of glass that has several different colours added to it.  Twisties add an intersting feature to glass beads.


Mandrels: without these, the bead would have no hole going through the middle.  Mandrels are usually stainless steel (of a variety of guages) and are coated with bead release.  Without the bead release, the beads would be fused to the mandrel…making them planter decorations instead of beads.   Once the glass is molten and had the consistency of honey (more or less), it is wrapped around the mandrel.  The length of the first wrap is called the ‘base bead’ or the ‘footprint’ as it will determine how large the finished bead will be.IMG_6421
Tools: Oh my, where to start?  Tools made of different materials (brass and graphite are some of the most common) allow lampworkers to manipulate the molten glass without risk of burning their fingers.

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Top left: different types of marvers.  The top is made of graphite and allows the glass to keep a bit more of its heat as you’re working it.  The middle is brass and conducts the heat away from the glass faster, allowing for some interesting reactions with some glass that has striking colour characteristics.  The bottom is an aluminum marvering surface – flat on one side and ribbed on the other.

Top right: a variety of shaping tools.  The graphite one is double sided and allows me to make consistantly shaped round beads.  The two brass are presses that let me make thinner bead sets.

Bottom left: three sets of mashers – because sometimes you don’t need the honkin’ big ones for more detailed work.  Mashers can be a lampworker’s best friend as they can be used for shaping off mandrel projects as well (like the lollipop end of the twisties)

Bottom right: poking, dragging, raking…you name it.  The centre one finds a lot of use as one end is a sharp point and the other is a sharp ‘v’ edge (perfect for the creases on heart beads).

Frit: frit happens, you know?  Frit is ground or crushed up glass that can be applied to the surface of the bead for colour or texture if it is not melted in completely.  The example to the right was made with frit melted into the surface of the bead then raked with one of the tools from above.IMG_6418
Powders/Dusts:  Sometimes called ‘Pixie Dust’ these can be applied to the surface of a bead or encased in more glass (as the example to the right was) for a subtle shimmering effect.IMG_6419
Enamel goes on as an opaque colour that melts into the surface of the glass.  The bright red of the beads in the earrings comes from the red enamel being melted onto thesurface of the black glass.  Enamels can be used to give one colour of glass the look of another, or it can be used to give the glass a ‘natural’ look, like the cabochons here.  To me, they look like some kind of jasper stone.IMG_6422  IMG_6324


Millefiori: ‘Thousand Flowers’ is a cut of glass with a flower design inside the original cane of glass.  That cane gets heated and stretched out with the pattern staying the same inside the cane.  Once the cane is cooled, it is cut into little chunks of glass that lampworkers and fusers can use in their own work.  These come in a bevvy of colours.IMG_6420
Murrini:  these can be made by the individual artist or commissioned from others who are talented in the sometimes difficult task.  Much in the same way lapworkers can craft a twistie, they can create a murrini – a home-made millefiori of sorts, that can have a chosen pattern or colour.The example on the left was made around a heart shape molded rod of glass, while the one on the right was made in the same fashion as a twistie, without the actual twisting part.


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