Friday, April 20, 2012

A Lamp Working Session In My Studio

It's Spring!  I love the spring and summer seasons most of all!  And I'm so happy it's warm enough to spend time in my outdoor studio creating glass and jewelry.  In this blog I will share with you a session in the studio at the torch.  Come along and enjoy the tour!

Nature is so inspiring to me and I have a lovely view of the many flowers in my yard as I'm working.  The soft fragrances of rose, jasmine and plumeria float over to me on every warm breeze. 

So come along with me, let's do some flame work!!!!

This is the view I get when I work. 
Twisties are a very important part of making glass beads.  They are used to make decorations on a base bead.  I use them to make flowers, dots, waves, and sometimes backgrounds for other decorations.  Twisties are made by melting two or more colors of glass rods together then twisting and pulling the melted glass.  The rods with just one color are called stringers, they are made by melting one color and pulling the glass slowly to make smaller diameter rods.  I use these for applying small dots or other decorations to a base bead.

Twistie sticks and stringers of glass I've made at previous sessions. Maybe I'll use them today!?

Before the torch is fired up, there is lots of preparation work to do.  I get together some inspiration first.  This can come from pictures of color combinations I love, or from some previous experimental beads I've made that I want to make more of.  Looking about my garden gives me ideas.  Or, I just pull my favorite glass colors out and let inspiration hit me as I'm creating a bead.  Sometimes I have great success using the last method I mentioned, but sometimes it is not a total success. 

When I've decided what I'm going to do, I pull the glass rods from my shelf, mark them with the glass type and color using a Sharpie pen on blue painters tape.  I use painters tape because it comes off easily and leaves no gunky residue.  Next, I arrange the rods in groups of colors to be used for the beads.  As you can see in the picture below, I also put the inspiration bead beside the rods as reference.  Grouping the glass together this way is important, because when you put the safety glasses on, the color is all changed as a result of the color of the lenses.  I place the rods with about a half of their length underneath the kiln.  This way they are warmed up and I can introduce the rods into the flame quicker, with less sputter than if they were cold.

Glass rods layed out in groups with labels, and some beads I've made in previous sessions that I'm using as inspiration.
There is a lot of equipment needed to do lamp work.  It is best to get the needed tools together before the torch is lit.  There is nothing sadder that having an almost completed bead crack, because I'm searching for a forgotten tool I now need.  Below is a picture of all my tools at the ready. 

The kiln is on and ramping up to a temperature of 960 degrees to anneal the finished beads.  (Annealing is a method of SLOWLY cooling down a flame worked bead.  This makes the glass stronger to avoid cracking and chipping.)  After I'm finished with a session the kiln takes about 5 or 6 hours to slowly cool down to room temperature.  When they reach room temperature, I can take the beads out of the kiln, this is usually done in the morning.

Let's see, I've got mashers and pokers and pullers and graphite marvers, water for safety and for getting melted glass off of my tweezers. And of course my safety glasses.
Here are the mandrels I'm using for applying melted glass and forming the bead.  They are stainless steel rods in varying widths.  Today I'm using 3/16" rods, which create a little bigger than 3/16" hole for stringing the bead later.

But, before I melt any glass to put on the mandrels, I need to dip the mandrels into SLUDGE. No, not that kind of sludge. This is a clean clay-like mixture that makes it so the glass can come off of the mandrel after making the bead and annealing it in the kiln.  I love using Dip-N-Go Blue Sludge.  It can be air dried before I make a bead or it can be dried in the flame if I need to dip more mandrels as I'm working at the torch.  It also holds tough as the bead is being made, so I can make larger beads and twist and poke at the melted glass without worrying that the bead will become dislodged from the mandrel.

The Mandrels all dipped and ready to go.

OK, let's make a bead. 
Deborah working a bead in the torch.
And here are the beads I made during this session.  As you can see, I'm in a beach and spring time mind set.  Lots of beachey blue beads.  Some with gold stone to represent the sand on the shore, some with twisted wave action.  There are purple butterflies and my favorite is the purple flower on a batik style background.  I think that one is very cool!

I didn't end up using any of the twisties and stringers that I started with.  Instead I made new ones for this session.  These are some of the new ones I made.  I've got some of them left over to add to the collection.

New twisties I made today and I didn't use all of them. Into the twistie jar with you.
Thank you for coming along on my Lamp work Tour!  I hope you had fun and learned a little about how glass beads are made.  Please visit glass artists' sites on the web and support self represented independent artists.  There are many shops (including mine) at   My shop is at  I'd love to hear from you with any comments or questions you may have about my work. 

Until next time... Deborah


  1. So talented! Beautiful beads!

  2. Wow, this is so fascinating -- I had no idea. And the pictures and beads are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing!

  3. hi Deborah

    Very good informative post!
    I'm very jelous of your set up! good tip about placeing the rod tips under the kiln to warm up abit! Would try it if i had a proper bead kiln! i just batch anneal in my firebox14.

    And im very impressed at how organized you are planning your colours etc, i tend to just go with the flow and decide what colour to do there and then - will have to be more organized in the future.

    allthe best

  4. There is a lot more to lampworking than I realized, thanks for this explanation. The photos are great.