Making a lampworked bead

The torch shown here is fed by two hoses, one for propane, the other for oxygen. By adjusting these two gases I can get different flames for different effects and techniques.

making a glass bead in the torch

Glass in the "hot spot" of the torch flame may be 1400-1600 F but it is the consistency of thick honey. With my left hand I am slowly turning a steel mandrel with a clay "bead release" coating. I'm winding the hot glass onto the mandrel to make a bead. After I wind it on, I'll gradually heat the whole bead and the glass will make a nice round shape with "dimpled" ends.

decorating a bead with dots of color

The "stringers" of turquoise glass ready on my table were made by heating up a grape-sized ball of glass on the end of a rod and then stretching it out to the thickness of a pencil lead. Having good stringers makes the application of consistently sized dots of color possible.

decorating a bead with a twisted cane

Besides just stretching out thin straight stringers, I also make twisted canes by combining 2 or more colors and then twisting them as I stretch them out.

morning glory bead

A bead like this has twisted canes of green and clear glass to make wispy vines that peek out between the blossoms. These were applied over a core cylinder of dark ink blue glass. Then more and more clear glass was applied. Dots of white glass were placed on the surface. Dots on top of dots, each layer melted in, until they were the size I wanted on the surface. The bead was then allowed to cool (in the farther reaches of the torch flame) and then one spot at a time was reheated for about 3 or 4 seconds. I used a razor knife to make 5 radiating indentations and then applied transparent blue glass to completely cover the white. Where the dents were, the transparent blue glass is thicker. Then for each flower, I reheated the spot and used a tungsten poker to make a conical indentation in the superheated spot at the center. Capping over this with more of the pale blue glass trapped a bubble of air inside. When all of the flowers had trapped bubbles, I added some clear dots on the surface between the flowers to help define the edges and keep the color from spreading out too much, and then patiently reheated the entire bead, turning it constantly in the flame until the bead was the shape I wanted.

After being in the torch at 1400 F the bead must be protected from cooling down too quickly. A fiber blanket (several inches thick) can handle this for smaller beads, but I usually have my kiln fired up to 960 F and pop the beads in there after a little cooling in and above the flame. After the final bead of a session is added to the kiln I keep it at 960 F for 30 minutes to anneal the glass. Annealing is an important process (even for those smaller beads that might have cooled in the fiber blanket) because it gets the stress out of the glass and prevents beads from shattering if dropped, or exposed to temperature changes. The surface of the glass is hard at 960 F, but on a molecular level, it's moving around, getting relaxed and "comfy." I only wish there was a similar process for humans to "get the stress out."

Barb Ackemann

Brattleboro, Vermont