What is Lampwork

Lampworking is a type of glasswork that uses a torch to melt rods of glass and manipulates it by use of tools and gravity. Although the art form has been practiced since ancient times, it became widely practiced in Murano, Italy in the 14th century. Early lampworking was done in the flame of an oil lamp, with the artist blowing air into the flame through a pipe - thus the name-lampwork! .

Lampworking can be done with many types of glass, but the most common are soda-lime glass - sometimes called "soft glass" - and borosilicate glass often called "hard glass." Different colors of glass must be carefully selected for compatibility with each other, both chemically (more of a concern with soft glass than borosilicate) and in terms of coefficient of thermal expansion (COE) Borosilicate glass is considered more forgiving to work with, as its lower COE makes it less apt to crack during flameworking than soda-lime glass. However, it has a narrower working temperature range than soda-lime glass, has fewer available colors, and is considerably more expensive. Also, its working range is at higher temperatures than soda-lime glass, requiring larger torches and the use of oxygen instead of air. In addition to producing a hotter flame, the use of pure oxygen allows more control over the flame's oxidizing or reducing properties, which is necessary because some coloring chemicals in borosilicate glass react with any remaining oxygen in the flame either to produce the desired final color or to discolor if extra oxygen is present.

Lampwork - The Process

  • Preparing the mandrel - The beadmaker starts by dipping a mandrel about 12" long into a clay based substance (bead release) and letting it dry.
  • Heating rod and mandrel - The flameworker selects rods of glass to heat in the flame of the torch. When both glass and mandrel are sufficiently warm, the beadmaker starts rotating the mandrel while allowing the glass to wind upon it.
  • Shaping the bead - Beads are shaped using a combination of heat, gravity and tools such as graphite paddles, mashers, tweezers, and picks. Presses to create shapes and indent patterns into the glass can also be used.
  • Decorating the bead - Beads can be decorated by melting stringers, or fibers of glass on the surface, creating dots or lines. With a sharp pointed tool, feathers, hearts or other designs may be produced. Metal decorations of copper, silver, gold, palladium and platinum are applied as metal leaf, wire, mesh or fuming.
  • Annealing - Once completed, beads should be heated to 9400F - 10500F (in a kiln), until the piece reaches its "stress relief point", held at that temp for a short time, then slowly cooled to avoid thermal shock.
  • Lampworked beads (with the exception of Asian and African beadmaking) have generally been the provenance of Italian, and, later, Bohemian lampworkers for the last four hundred years or so who kept the techniques secret. Thirty or so years ago, some American artists started experimenting with the form. Their early efforts, by today's standards, were crude, as there was almost no documentation, and none of the modern tools. However, they shared their information, and some of them started small businesses developing tools, torches and other equipment. This group eventually formed the basis for the International Society of Glass Beadmakers

    Bead Lady Memberships

    Southeastern Michigan Glass Beadmakers Guild
    www.glassact.org International Society of Glass Beadmakers