|So...you want to try your hand at lampworking?
|This page is dedicated to all the information I have learned along the
way. From how to get started - to where you can buy supplies!
I have met so many wonderful people in this art, who helped me to get
started, and I am just passing the flame along!
|TORCH: The first thing you will need is a torch. There are several different types of torches. It all depends on
where you want to start. A Hot Head torch uses only fuel and does not need oxygen. For this reason it is a very
inexpensive torch, (around $35.00). The Hothead torch is a torch that a lot of beginners start with to see if
lampworking is something they will like and can get into without having to put a lot of money up front. This is the
very first torch I started on! You can use the small disposable 1 pound cylinders of MAPP gas or propane that you
can find at any hardware store. Others have even hooked up bulk tanks for propylene for their fuel source. There
are bead makers who have spent years on their hot head and love them!
In my personal opinion, if you know lampworking is something you will love doing, and will be doing it for awhile, I
recommend a torch with an oxygen source. I have a minor burner, which is the next step up from a Hothead. It is
perfect for working with soft glass,(this torch runs about $200.00 - $300.00). In the long run, it will save on the cost
of fuel. There are so many torches out there, so you really need to find out what your needs are before making a
decision on which one to buy.
OXYGEN: With a torch that takes both fuel and oxygen you will need an oxygen source. You can either rent or buy
an oxygen tank, or you can purchase an oxygen concentrator, (which is what I have). A refurbished concentrator will
cost in the range of about $200-400. An oxygen concentrator needs to have at least a 5psi, (which is pounds per
square inch). Concentrators will save a lot of money in the long run, as you will not have to purchase oxygen, (or
haul oxygen tanks back and forth). You can even purchase two oxygen concentrators and have them both hooked up
to work in a hotter flame, which is better for harder glass such as Borosilicate.
FUEL: You will need fuel to run your torch. I buy my propane at the local gas station. I bought my own canister
from Home Depot and I just take it down to the gas station for refills. I have the typical BBQ size tank. One full
tank usually gives me at least 100 hours of torch time, all for about $15.00 a refill!
KILN: If you are going to be selling your beads and using them in jewelry you should definitely anneal them! You
will need a kiln for this. Kilns also come in all different sizes and price ranges. I started out with a used kiln that was
about $350. It did not have a digital controller and I had to "babysit" the kiln to make sure it stayed at the right
temperature all the time, it was not fun, but it still did the annealing, which is very important!
The glass working community is a great place to look for used equipment in this department.
A kiln will anneal your glass creations, this annealing process is very important in glass working. It allows your
creation, that has come out of a very hot flame while you work on it, to slowly cool down and avoid cracking,
stressing the glass, or getting fractures. This will help your glass creations to be less likely to break or crack down
the road, (which is important, especially because most of these creations will be later used in jewelry, or other
creations that will have wear and tear on them).
I have since moved on to a kiln with a digital controller, it is heaven, but it also came with a price tag of about
$700.00 (new). There are less expensive and more expensive ones then this, again you need to find out what your
needs are and also what you might be needing in the future before you make your decision on which one to buy. For
instance, will you want to try out fusing, do you need a bead door or top loading kiln, what sizes of creations will be
you be making? , etc.
VENTILATION: While you are working on your torch you will need a ventilation system. Not only are most
glasses made using real metals, you can also directly use real metals in your glass creations. Considering also that
you are working with a fuel source, along with the metals in the glass, all of these toxins need to find a direct route
away from you! I have a ventilation hood directly above my work station, (picture below).
A ventilation system for working with glass should have at least a 350cfm. You also need an incoming source of
fresh air in your work area.
A proper ventilation system, while you work with glass, is very important!
TOOLS: The sky is the limit with this one! I have stainless steel dental tools that I got from the flea market, tools
made specifically for glass working, kitchen utensils, nails, you name it! What you want to be sure of is that you use
something fairly sturdy and that can hold up to the heat from the molten glass. Stainless steel and Brass are ideal
metals for this! There are also many fun presses out there! Many companies offer lampworking presses!
OTHER EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES: While working with glass you will need a few specific things. If you want
to make beads or vessels, you will need mandrels. Mandrels are the stainless steel rods that come in all sizes, that
are used in melting the glass around for your creations. You will also need bead-release, which is dipped on to the
end of the mandrels before using them, allowing the glass to be worked around the stainless steel rods without
adhering permanently to the mandrel. This bead release will flake off later and allow your creation to come off of the
mandrel. You will need a bead reamer, or dremel with the proper attachment to clean this bead release from the
inside of the bead or vessel after it has been removed from the mandrel.
You will also need protective eye wear made especially for glass workers. Didymium glasses allow the wearer to see
what they are working on through the flame as well as protecting the eyes, similar to what welders wear.
GLASS: There are many different kinds of glass out there. It is important to consider what you will be making to
decide what glass will be best for you. I work with "soft" glass or soda lime glass, which is perfect for my size of
beads and vessels. There are many manufacturers of soft glass, so the possibilities are endless. There is also
"hard" glass, or Borosilicate, which is better for creating larger pieces, or just a whole different look to your
Once you decide which type of glass is best for your needs, there will be some more choices as to which colors you
want to try out! Most manufacturers offer a sample pack and this is an easy way to get one or two rods of a variety
of colors so you can determine which ones you like working with best.
When using glass, you will always want to be sure you mix glass with the same COE. Hard and soft glass come in a
range of COE's. Basically this means that you will need to work with compatible glass when adding different layers
or things to your creation.
If you mix different glasses with varying COE's you will end up with a cracked broken mess.
CLASSES/BOOKS: There are some great books out there that you might want to look into getting yourself that I
have found invaluable! Jim Kervins, "Everything you ever wanted to know about glass beadmaking". He touches on
all safety tips in great detail! Plus lots of other neat ideas when you actually start playing with the glass as well.
Cindy Jenkins "How to make glass beads" is an awesome book as well!
If you have the chance to take classes, this is a wonderful way to get hands on instruction with your glass working.
Look for classes at your local art center, or ask your local glass suppliers if they offer classes.
WEBSITES: There are a few sites you may want to check out. They are great forums where you can meet other
people who are starting out, you can ask questions, find answers, buy used equipment, get advice, share your
creations/ideas, learn from tutorials, find other glass workers in your area, chat, and just have fun:
www.isgb.org , www.wetcanvas.com , and my favorite, www.lampworketc.com.
WHERE TO BUY: I purchased all of my equipment online. The torches, and even kilns, along with all the glass and
tools you will need can be found at www.arrowsprings.com or www.frantzartglass.com
among other places. There are many great suppliers out there, but I have mostly dealt with these two,
and they seem to have reasonable pricing. Just browse in your favorite search engine for "lampwork supplies", and
see what you can find out there.
A FEW SAFTEY TIPS: Here are just a few important safety rules to follow that I have found useful
while working with glass:
- Have a fire extinguisher near your work area.
- Check your hoses for leaks on a regular basis.
- Wear your safety glasses.
- Have a good ventilation system for yourself.
- Use your equipment responsibly and properly.
- Never leave an open flame.
- Make your work area as flame proof as possible.
- Stay hydrated.
- Have water close by for dipping hot tools or burned fingers in.
- Protect your skin with sunblock.
- Protect your body by wearing less flammable clothing, and clothing that covers up most of your skin.
- Keep your hair in a pony tail and out of reach of the flame.
- Wash your hands after your torch session.
ADVICE: My advice on buying equipment is to get the nicest of equipment most suited for your needs, and one that
can fit in your budget. That way later down the road you wont regret it. Because if lampworking is something you
end up totally loving like I do, you will end up wanting to upgrade to the more useful and nicer equipment anyhow.
AND the biggest piece of advice that I can give anyone who wants to try their hand at lampworking is to just DO IT!
It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but just take it one step at a time! The first time I lit my Hothead torch I
was pretty intimidated and even scared, (and I have had torch experience prior with silver-smithing)! But as long as
you are responsible and careful you will do fine! Read some of the books that I recommended, do some homework
when shopping for your tools and equipment, join an online forum, take a class, you will be surprised at how much
information is just available online when it comes to lampworking!
Working with hot glass is one of my favorite things to do! I have tried my hand at so many arts. None have ever
taken over my heart like hot glass has done! The possibilities are limitless to the creativity and that is what keeps
me excited each day. The glass community that I have come to know is one that is so giving and caring! So jump on
in there and join in on this fun and creative art!
If I can help answer any more of your questions please feel free to email me!