|So...you want to try your hand at lampworking?
|This page is going to be dedicated to all the information I have learned
along the way. From how to get started - to where you can buy supplies!
I will be adding more info along the way and if anyone has any
information they would like me to add, feel free to email me!
|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. You
can use the small disposable 1 pound cylinders of MAPP gas or propane that you can find at any hardware
store, or even walmart. 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 $10.00 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. I work inside of my garage. I have both my side door, as well as my garage door
open for incoming air, and my ventilation hood system is taking the air around my work station outside.
A proper ventilation system, while you work with glass, is very important!
TOOLS: The sky is the limit with this one! I have dental tools, 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! Try Cattwalk presses for a wonderful variety and good customer service!
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 would be best for you. I work with "soft" 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 larger pieces, or just a whole different look to your creations.
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 glass 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.
I purchased a re-furbished oxygen concentrator from Dave Barnes at www.omnimedical.com.
But you can also try you local hospital to see if they have any they are willing to sell.
Here are a few other websites that sell re-furbished oxygen concentrators that I know of:
"Pyronamix" and "M & M Medical Equipment".
I purchased my kiln from Don McKinney. He is local here in Arizona and makes "Tool Box" annealers that
work great for bead makers as there is plenty of room for beads and an extra long bead door.
His website is www.glasspalette.com. Another place that builds and sells their annealers is
www.theglasshive.com. They sell a similiar annealer, but this one is made from a mailbox and is brick lined
versus fiber lined. www.arrowsprings.com also carry all kinds of kilns.
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.
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.
Wash your hands after your torch session.
ADVICE: My advice on buying equipment is to get the nicest piece 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
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!