Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Buy Lampwork Beads, Part 1

by Patty Lakinsmith

This is the first in a two part series on buying lampwork beads. For some buyers, a lot of mystery surrounds the whole art of lampwork beads. How are they made? Why are some more costly than others? Many lampwork artists have written about this, but the message is useful so I thought I'd share it here. If you're already in the know I guess you're free to mill about smartly.

Why are artisan-made lampwork beads so much more expensive than other types of beads?

For starters, handmade beads using any material generally cost more than factory-made beads because, well, they're made one at a time by a real person. Lampwork beads are made by melting rods of glass (most of which is imported) in a torch, and then annealed (cooled very slowly) in a kiln for 8 hours overnight.

The Hothead is a good, inexpensive beginner's torch that uses 1 lb cannisters of MAPP gas. It produces a cooler flame than an dual fuel (oxygen-propane) torch, but is a good torch for beginners learning how to control the effects of heat on the glass. Some bead makers continue to use this torch throughout their career, with much success.

The Minor Bench Burner mixes propane with oxygen to create a hotter flame for making lampwork beads.

The bead maker must also wear protective eyewear, and must ensure that the torching area is properly ventilated. The fumes from melting glass and from using materials like glass powder (enamels) and metals are extremely toxic.

Master glass artist Lewis Wilson, at Open Torch night at the ISGB annual conference in Miami. Those are not sunglasses, they are special lenses designed to protect his eyes from flying glass, heat, and IR hazards in specific wavelengths for the type of glass (pyrex) he uses.
These are the type of didymium lenses I use in my work with soft (soda-lime) glass.

Ralph uses a different type of eyewear for soft glass. Head gear is optional.

All of this equipment is expensive, and it takes a bead maker some time to acquire the skill to make good beads. As you saw in my introductory post, usually only the creator can love the first beads she makes, and even then sometimes it takes a leap of faith. The first months and years spent making glass beads are usually focused on getting to know the material, heat control, and simple techniques (e.g. making a round bead round) as opposed to developing one's own individual style. With practice, practice, practice comes more control and mastery of this amazing medium.

In the next part of this series I'll cover some of the more artistic considerations in lampwork bead making, along with some tips for helping you shop for beads.


MaCarroll Beads said...

That is a great post, Patty! I agree with the practice, practice, practice. My ceramic beads from 2 years ago are totatlly different from today. There is no other way to improve except by doing it over and over again...... Of course, that goes with anything you want to do well ;o)

Alice said...

I love using lampwork beads in my jewelry, and only purchase from artists who anneal their beads. I find I must educate my customers on how the beads were made and why they are so expensive. Looking forward to the next post on the subject.

TesoriTrovati said...

True quality takes time and patience. It is evident in the glass beads that I buy from artists like yourself. I am fascinated with glass and cannot imagine what sort of magic it takes to create them. You are like wizards and I like thinking it that way. So keep waving your magic mandrels!
Enjoy the day!

Patty said...

Ha! Magic mandrels - I like that. :-) I'll never look at the same again, thanks to you, Erin.

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