*Tools & Equipment*


Click on picture to
view larger image

Fish_misc2_JPEG.jpg (30813 bytes) All of my glass beads are handmade (by me!)  The process of working with hot glass on a torch is called Lampworking - the name comes from Italy, where before Modern Technology kicked in, the early glassworkers made their beads using oil lamps and foot bellows as a heat source. 
Studio_Torch_JPEG.jpg (37128 bytes) Most of my beads are made on a table-top Bethlehem Starfire surface mix oxygen propane torch.  I've used it for nine years now,  and like it a lot... and NOT just because it has cooling fins like a ray gun, and wheels on each side so I can whiz the barrel up & down like a Death Star laser cannon, BBQ'ing unlucky bugs in the summertime - fun!  I work with the torch angled sideways to the left so I can see the entire length of the flame - makes it a lot easier to control heat, and I can always tell exactly where I'm working in the flame.  
Studio_Kiln2_JPEG.jpg (32478 bytes) When the eyeballs and bellybuttons are on and the bead is complete, I stick it in my annealing kiln at 970 degrees.  That's in the annealing temperature range for Effetre glass - other types of glass anneal at different temperatures.  The bead needs to soak at 970 for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for larger pieces; this removes all the internal stresses so the glass won't crack later.  What I usually do is leave the kiln on all day (you don't *WANT* to see my electric bill...), then start the cool-down cycle after the last bead has had a good soak.  When I'm done the computer controller is programmed to lower the kiln slowly to room temperature  -  it usually takes about 4 hours.  Then the beads can be removed from the mandrel, cleaned, and presto! They’re ready to join their buddies in the drawer, waiting for the next big show.
How_To_Glass_Rods_JPEG.jpg (27176 bytes) These are rods of Effetre glass, imported from Murano, Italy (a lovely 20 minute vaporetto ride across the bay from Venice...give it a try sometime!).   Pretty, eh?  The glass, along with kilns, torches, and tools, can be had from a number of suppliers these days... Arrow Springs, Frantz Art Glass, Ed Hoy International, and C&R Loo are my primary suppliers.  The rods come in 3' lengths of various thickness, in lots of opaque, transparent and translucent colors. There are also other types of glass available, with different melting and annealing points, colors, and working properties:   borosilicate (Pyrex), Bullseye, Satake from Japan, and rods from Germany & Czechoslovakia.  In most cases, the different kinds of glass are compatible within their own group, but not with other types of glass (ie, you can't mix Bullseye and Effetre, because the beads will crack as the different types of glass cool and contract at different rates). 
How_To_Tools_1_JPEG.jpg (20025 bytes) These are some of the tools I use to make beads.  From the top: graphite and small brass paddles for shaping; a striker for lighting the torch; tile nippers for cutting glass rods; and a small pair of mashing pliers, for making flat disk beads and mammogram beads (good for Squash Blossom necklaces).  My really big masher, the Husband Chaser, didn't fit on the scanner, darnitall.
How_To_Tools_2_JPEG.jpg (22530 bytes) More tools: three tungsten picks, for pulling, raking, and feathering designs, and poking nose holes, bellybuttons, and other (censored) anatomical features;  A Utility Blade shaper used for pushing, notching, and moving hot glass around for sculpting;  a flat dental tool for shaping;   pointy-tipped tweezers for plucking out air bubbles & scum;  a hemostat modified to hold hot pieces of rod; Hot Fingers to manipulate hot pieces in the flame or kiln;  and another tweezer.
How_To_Tools_3_JPEG.jpg (24577 bytes) And still more tools (I really don't need them all, I'm just stockpiling everything in sight for the Apocalypse): a jar of frit - little bitty chunks of glass to roll onto a hot bead for color variations;  a fancy marble mold;  pointy-nosed pliers for pulling out fish fins;  a jar of green pixie dust - roll the bead in this for a soft luster finish;   a round file for texturing;  chunks of goldstone for sparkle;  imported millefiori chips for pattern;  another masher because I forgot there was one in the first picture;  and my didymium glasses, which filter out the red glare & UV when I'm working glass in the flame.  All beadmakers look like Austin Powers in these.
How_To_Tools_4_JPEG.jpg (7737 bytes) So you have torch, kiln, and tools;   you've bought the books, watched the videos, taken the class, and are ready to make a bead.   The first thing you do is coat the end of a stainless steel rod (called a mandrel) with bead release,  thin clay-like goop that keeps the glass and the metal separate during the beadmaking process. If the bead release breaks, or the hot glass touches the metal, the bead will be stuck on the mandrel until ...until... what's longer than 'Hell Freezes Over'?  Until I wake up in the morning and say "What a nice day to clean the house!!"  Yep, that's it.  Anyway, I’ve got lots of these dead bead/mandrel thingies... they're great to stick in planters, and if I ever decide to become a geisha they'll look great in my hair.  And I'm already memorizing appropriate phrases... "Hyakuoku-yen, risoku yon-pasento de kashite moraemasuka?"
Return To Making Beads Page Return To Home Page