Egyptian glass beads are the earliest glass objects known, dating from about 2500 BC. Glass beadmaking techniques employed today are similiar if not identical to those used centuries ago. Masterfully hand made of earth and fire, art glass beads are enduring and collectible as small works of extraordinary art.
Lampworking is just one method of glasswork that is suitable for creating fine glass Object d' Art.
Glass is either blown or manipulated from clear or coloured rods over a torch. Traditionally called lampworking because wax, oil, or kerosene lamps were once used as a torch, often with the aid of a bellows to intensify the flame. Also referred to as flamework or torchwork, the art form has been around for many centuries. Today's modern technology and innovation have recently brought lampworking to new artistic levels.
Flame Wound Beads
Coloured art glass rods created of metallic oxides and silica are commonly used in lampworking. While the metallic oxides may cause beautiful colors in glass their additions also produce a glass that is less stable, more brittle, and prone to shock. Creative lampworking demands an ability to understand, control and adjust many chemical reactions of gas, oxygen, glass, and metallic oxides. It requires experimentation and patience but beautiful effects make it well worth the effort.
Using a torch fueled by oxygen and gas, a glass rod is carefully heated in a flame. When the glass becomes hot and molten it is wrapped or wound around a coated steel rod to make a bead. This small diameter steel rod is referred to as a mandrel, and the substance coating the mandrel is called bead release. Bead release is a graphite/clay mixture that allows the glass to separate from the mandrel when it has cooled sufficiently.
After laying wraps of molten glass onto the mandrel, a steady circular rotation of the mandrel is necessary to offset natural gravity if a centered, rounded and balanced bead is the objective. Natural gravity is among an assortment of tools a lampworker uses to form or sculpt different bead shapes.
Glass must remain evenly hot while the work of shaping, embellishing, and detailing is done. Complex and intricate patterns and designs are possible by adding more glass in dots, stripes, or layers.
The processes involved to create a single art bead range from simple to complex, and depending on the size of the piece, the embelishments, and details, may take a considerable amount of patience and skill. Encompassing designs and techniques both old and new, glass beads are collectible artistic treasures.
Annealing, Cleaning, & Final Inspection
After the work of creating a bead is done, it must be annealed in a kiln. The annealing process is an important final step that helps to ensure the structural integrity of a glass bead. When glass is forced or manipulated during a creation process, stress is introduced and the annealing process permits the glass atoms and molecules to re-allign and relieve stress.
Annealling involves careful re-heating and maintaining a consistent temperature for particular length of time. The temperature must be high to allow atoms to become mobile enough to relieve stress by re-alligning, but not so hot that the glass could become molten once again and lose shape. Proper annealing is dependent on the size and amount of the glass and requires even and slow cooling to complete the process.
After beads have been thoroughly kiln annealed and have reached room temperature, they may be removed from the kiln and the mandrels. The bead is removed from the mandrel easily with a gentle twist and the clay residue which remains inside the hole cleaned out using a small diamond file or dremel tool. Finally the finished bead is carefully inspected for defects, and ready for wear.