This blog contains two recipes and two methods for making frit, along with a quick cheat sheet for my favourite frit making method. Frit is crushed glass that is used by glass artists as decoration. Frit comes in a range of sizes, colours and coefficients. There are arguments for and against making your own COE104 “crushed glass”. Personally, I like making my own frit, but I also buy it sometimes. In general, working within the same coefficient of expansion when making glass beads leaves you less likely to encounter incompatibility fractures down the track. Making your own frit offers more flexibility in your colour palette, because you can make exactly the colour palette you need. I purchase premade frit blends sometimes, with my staple being Reichenbach “Raku” Iris Orange frit. Another glass artist gifted me some Val Cox Frit a few months ago and it has been quite interesting and fun using it. Although I’m always a little nervous when it comes to mixing coeffiecients, I’ve had no problems with Val Cox 96COE frit on top of 104COE glass and my friend’s generosity changed my mind about using COE96 frit. Designing with frit is usually one of the first things learned after making a round bead, because it’s easy and fun to do and yields very pretty results.
For instance, all types of frit can be used on the surface of a bead. Frit can be melted in flat or left raised for a textured rough effect. Bead makers can decorate over the top of frit, gravity swirl it, twist frit into stringer and do lots of other interesting combinations to create unique beads.
However, when using the same coefficient frit with that of your glass bead you can deeply encase frit as well. COE104 frit can be used to make randomly coloured striped stringer for bead decoration too. All you need to do is heat a gather of Effetre Pastel White or transparent glass and drop that into a heap of frit, melt down smooth and pull a twisty as you normally would. Your frit will provide the beautiful stripes. (This works best with really saturated colours and furnace glass frit COE96). All frit of the same coefficient can be used in a mould to cast glass into shapes or added to the surface of cut class stacks for slumping. There are good reasons for making small batches of your own frit, just like there are good reasons for why it’s too bothersome to do so.
Most of the arguments for not making your own COE104 frit revolve around DIY Frit making being time consuming, dangerous or messy or that it is better to use COE 96 frit because the colours are more vivid. However, thifty people will agree that making your own frit is a way to use up all the short or small pieces of broken glass rod lying around, that you do have vivid colours in the COE104 palette and it’s nice to have the exact colours you want on hand. Angry people discover that it’s therapeutic to crush glass. Okay, that last point might not be a really valid reason, but when I’m mad and I don’t want to start a yelling match I bash glass around to alleviate stress.
But why not have the best of both worlds? When you want brilliant vibrant colour on a dark base bead; buy a premade frit, such as the colour blends stocked by Val Cox Frit or Glass Diversions.
These frits are made with furnace glass that have a coefficient (rate of expansion) of 96 and recommend a 5% rule; with the old adage “less is more” when applying it to your COE104 beads. As furnace glass is so saturated with colour, less is more is a good rule of thumb anyway. Glass diversions has developed a COE 104 reactive frit line, their test beads show amazing colours.
This is where making your own frit comes into its own if you use COE104. You can get brilliant colours if you experiment and pick glass in your 104 range that is saturated with pigment to get the vivid colours necessary for making frit show up on a range of background glass colours.
You can achieve beautiful effects if you enjoy experimenting. If you don’t like experimenting much and you don’t want to waste time figuring out what glass works best as frit, buy premade blends. It will save you a lot of hassle. We all know Devardi glass rods become frit if you don’t prewarm them (haha), so there is that option. However you can also buy CiM and Effetre frit in individual colours and make up your own frit blends without having to crush glass. Making your own frit blends does require patience and time if you want results like the two quality manufacturers listed above. You need to experiment with glass to see how it looks together, sometimes two colours will react in an unexpected and not particularly nice way. So don’t mix frit together until you have made a trial bead first. Also, don’t expect your “home made” frit to look as professional as a glass frit manufacturer. Your frit will be “chunky”, whereas manufactured frit is “flakey”. Frit manufacturers have specialised glass cutters and grinders that get frit a uniform size and shape. However, you can get a pretty good result if you follow either tutorial below.
Frit DIY Method Overview
There are two methods of making frit in your personal studio. Firstly, it’s the heat and shatter method (my preference). Secondly, it’s the smash and crush method (which is useful too). The choice is yours depending on how you like to work. Finally, the decision to sieve or not to sieve your frit will greatly affect the final look on your beads and this is the most time consuming component of the entire exercise. All my sieves are inexpensive ones I have found lying around the house or bought from a kitchen department store. None of them are designed for frit sifting, they are “good enough” for the volumes that I make frit in. If you are making a lot of frit you will want to invest in a good set of stackable frit sifters, but, they will set you back at least $60USD. You can find stackable sifters in a number of places, not just glass retailers. Fossicking and gemologist supply stores also sell stackable sifters.
Choosing glass to turn into frit.
Some notes on glass that works best, don’t use any of the moonstone colours that devit; such as CiM Cirrus, Peacock Green and Halong Bay and Effetre’s range of opaline rods. These colours are likely to devit or scum in a frit blend (I have learned this the hard way). If you do want to use these colours as frit, use them individually and layer them one at a time or mark a reminder on your packet so that you don’t overheat them. If you want to use Effetre Opaque Pastel Purple “EDP” (evil devitrying purple) be aware that it does devit very easily in frit form and you will need to up your oxygen to remove the devit, this is only successful sometimes and then, sometimes in part. If you have very old batches of CiM Leaky Pen, less is definitely more, it is an overpowering colour that likes to spread.
Effetre Black becomes very dark transparent purple when used as very finely sized frit. I have had success encasing CiM Hades in Effetre Black and then shattering the encased ball for a black glass frit that spreads to dark purple halos. When thinking about frit blends and how to make them, remember these few things:
Large pieces of glass will “bully” smaller pieces of glass out of the way and push those small bits of colour to the side of your bead. If you don’t like this look, sieve your frit.
Mixed sized frit means that large chunks of glass may cover up smaller pieces if all applied at once.
If you want a mix of sizes, use large frit first, then smaller frit for layering effects and colours.
Darker opaque colours will hide pale transparent colours and too many opaques can create a muddy surface, particularly if they react with each other (Such as Effetre Corals and glass containing copper. See my photo below of the “yuck” beads).
When making a frit blend for the first time, keep your colours separate and layer them as you go to understand how the glass colours work together. Keep notes on how you layered them and how much, so that you have a “recipe” for next time. This is more helpful to do than you may realise.
Glass is not like paint and unexpected colour reactions can happen!
FRIT MAKING INSTRUCTIONS
Method 1: Heat and fracture. You will need:
˙Glass rod/short in a single colour
˙Shallow glass, metal or ceramic bowl filled with cold water ˙Coffee Filter or Chux Superwipe
˙Thick paper towel and tweezers
˙Ziploc baggie or screw top jars
˙Frit sifters or kitchen sieves & sifters
˙Dust Mask – when sifting dry frit
˙Stiff dry paint brush.
With this method you will get anything ranging from chunks 5mm in size to 1mm in size.
Get your torch turned on and heat your short until you get a marble sized ball of glass on the end, gently squash it down a little. Then heat the paddle until it’s red hot.
Let the paddle cool slightly so it doesn’t drip off the end of the rod and then plunge the flattish ball into a bowl of water. The water will sizzle and the glass will flake off the ball into random chunks.
Repeat this process until you have a small amount of frit in the bottom of the bowl in one single colour.
Place a coffee filter or a Chux Superwipe over the bowl (rubber band to secure is helpful). Tip the water out completely over a sink so the bowl is upside down. The water should strain through your filter, leaving the frit behind. Bang on the back of the bowl to loosen any stuck glass.
Place a dry paper towel onto a flat surface, bang or scrape out any frit stuck to the bottom of the bowl onto your paper. Don’t use your fingers, it’s glass, it will have sharp edges, use tweezers to scrape it out. Leave your frit to dry.
Refill your bowl and repeat for another colour. Keep all of your frit colours separate at this point. (Unless you’re making a blend you’re very familiar with). When the frit is dry, transfer each colour to its own baggie or jar, you can use a funnel to channel the frit in, or just a bit of clean white paper.
Optional: If you want your frit to be uniform. The following additional steps are needed.
Wearing your dust mask sieve your frit starting with the biggest mesh in your sifters down to your smallest. I use different mini pie tins to sieve into. You can use plastic containers or disposable cupcake liners as well.
Then bag your frit up by size. This takes patience and practice. If you are using kitchen sieves and sifters you will have to do a tablespoon at a time. I sift my frit a few times over to be sure that it is very uniform.
Frit may get stuck in the mesh of your sieve if it is between sizes, using a stiff dry paint brush knock these bits of frit out onto white paper, then tip them into the bowl containing frit that is closest to that size.
Method 2: Crush. You will need:
˚Glass short in a single colour
˚Frit Crusher ˚Dust Mask and Safety Glasses
˚Ziploc baggie or screw top jar
With this method you will get anything ranging from chunks to dust, depending on how hard you crush the glass.
Pick a range of glass shorts in a single colour. Shorts have to fit in your frit crusher (so nothing too long). To begin, place one or two shorts into the tube end of your frit crusher.
Put on your dust mask and safety glasses and get ready to crush! Slam the pommel end down onto the glass short to smash it into pieces, your upper body strength will determine how easy you find this part.
Repeat the crushing until you get chunks of frit the size you want.
Tip your glass frit out into a baggie or container as with the other method, keep your colours separated.
To switch to another colour use a bottle brush to dust out your frit crusher, it’s always a good idea to wear protective glasses and a mask in this step.
If you want your frit graded by size, see step 7 in the first set of instructions on how to sift frit. Because frit crushers give you very fine dust, it is extremely important to wear a fine dust particle dust mask for this step.
Hint:I only use my frit crusher to gently break up larger chunks of frit from the heat and fracture method as the glass dust from 104Coe glass isn’t useful in bead surface designs.
Hint: I accidentally discovered that I could make “glitter” by using the dust from crushed Goldstone stringers. The trick to not burning out the goldstone dust on your bead is to roll your bead in it when its warm (not red hot) and around the world encase cool. Do not use the heat and swipe method or the hot blob method of encasing.
Frit Recipes The best thing about making frit is that when you hit on an amazing blend you can create more of it to give away as gifts or if you’re enterprising; sell it. Listed below is one of my absolute favourite blends for the base of “watery” floral beads, I always start with these two base colours then add in other transparent colours.
I like to use “size 0” frit, which is about the size of poppy seeds or “size 1” frit which is about the size of sesame seeds.
If you use chunkier frit, such as about the size of an apple seed your results will be just as nice and because the frit is larger allow you to cover more of the bead with raised surface designs without losing the integrity of the frit blend.
Frit Recipe One
The base of my favourite hand made blend is Effetre Dark Turquoise and CiM Glacier, these two colours are usually found in all of my frit beads. Because I love the soft watercolour blue background it creates. I made this blend about 9 years ago, which is why it is Effetre heavy. You can substitute CiM colours that are similar to the Effetre colour range now. I’ll use a teaspoon as the base measurement so you have an understanding of how much of each colour to put into a mix.
Watercolour “Spring” Blend
1 tsp Effetre Dark Turquoise
1 tsp CiM Glacier
¼ tsp CiM Simply Berry
½ tsp Effetre Pea Green
½ tsp Effetre Trans Pale Lavender (it might also just be called Lavender)
¼ tsp Effetre Trans Light Aquamarine
This recipe will create a nice “spring” floral colour palette. You can add more purple and pink glass to counterbalance the greeny blue tones. I like to use CiM Gelly’s Sty as my pink for frit blends, CiM Rose Quartz can devit. For added effect I trail CiM Cirrus over the top of this blend to allow for a “watercolour” reaction.
If you choose to modify this blend and add yellow glass, remember that some yellow glass doesn’t like to be heated fast and it will “fry” or “sizzle” which can cause colour reaction/colour loss/bubbling. COE96 yellow frit does not have this issue with yellow and orange glass.
Also yellow transparent on top of blue opaque or transparent glass can turn green. Keep that in mind when creating yellow or orange toned frit.
If you’re interested in replicating the blend in the photo above of the frit beads made on white glass here’s a list of the following colours, unless noted everything is 1 teaspoon.
Effetre: Periwinkle, Light Turquoise, Dark Turquoise (1/4 tsp), Light Sky Blue, Trans Light Blue, Nile Green, Trans Light Purple Creation is Messy: Peacock Green, Thai Orchid (1/4 tsp) Vetrofond: Transparent Crystal Green
The base beads are made in either Effetre White or Lauscha White Kryolith. I prefer Lauscha White Krylolith because it’s so smooth to melt and has such a creamy density to it that Effetre White doesn’t have. It’s almost impossible to see the difference between the two once fired and out of the flame, but to me Effetre White is brighter. However, in relation to the frit mix there was no obvious colour reactions or difference in colour because of choice of base bead.
Frit Recipe Two
For a reaction frit blend use the following opaque colours for a mix that will create strong webbing and curdling effects on the surface of your bead, even if only gently melted in together. This reaction blend can also produce cool reduction effects, such as reflective patches.
ReactionWatercolour “Spring” Blend
1 tsp Effetre Dark Turquoise
1 tsp CiM Glacier
¼ tsp Effetre Copper Green
½ tsp Effetre Pea Green or CiM Chai
¼ tsp Effetre Viola
Variations on the frit blend recipes To darken Frit Blend Two or to get more reactive effects, use 1/4 Teaspoon Effetre Petrol Green instead of Pea Green.
For added “organic” effect I trail hair fine Effetre Intense Black over the surface of the bead and gravity swirl.
I like Frit Blend One on top of pale pastel colours, such as CiM Ginger or Effetre Trans Dark Lavender, because the frit is heavily blue-green it is nice to have the purple background for contrast.
If you use CiM Chai instead of Pea Green in Frit Blend 2, the effect is really lovely and reminds me of the colours in cottage gardens because of the reactions. I’ve also added CiM Canyon De Chelly frit to Frit Blend 2, this is good for a “woodsy” effect.
My other trick is to not include any green glass in either frit blend and instead introduce Effetre Coral Special frit, I think it’s a wild colour combination against the purple. Technically peach and purple clash on the colour wheel, which makes it an interesting choice.
If you add green glass to this mix with Effetre Coral Special, make sure it is a stable transparent as Effetre Coral Special likes to react and go muddy against green. This muddiness is demonstrated on the tab bead in the photo above of the “yuck” beads. I reduced it to remove some of the muddiness by reducing the bead to give more of a reflective surface (basically trying to hide how ugly it is. Well… that didn’t work, it’s still an ugly bead, but now it’s ugly all dressed up, ergh!). The top most bead shows how Ivory reacts with the Coral blend frit, I got that nice curdly edge that Ivory gets around purple glass – but its still an ugly bead. The last bead shows the frit blend with coral encased over Effetre Ivory and I have no idea what I was thinking with the shape of that bead.
I have a working relationship with CiM Celadon, the kind where I’m always working with it. It has a really strong place in my preferred colour scheme. Its a gorgeous opaque sea green that sits very nicely in the Effetre blue green colour palette. To me, it is a shade lighter than Effetre Light Turquoise in the rod, although they look different when melted. It’s not a soft or particularly stiff glass, it does hold heat well, so it makes it a good base for long beads and sculptural work. More than likely everyone has a bit of CiM Celadon in their stash, it has been around since the first release in 2006 and is still available. All of the Messy glass colours have cool associations with their names and Celadon is no different. The name “Celadon” is traditionally associated with a type of soft sea green glaze that originated from China and has become highly prized pottery from the dynasties it was produced in. Which, I think is a very nice nod to the heritage of the colour and the country Messy Glass is manufactured in.
Celadon rods like to be heated up properly at the top of your flame before introducing it lower as it will ping and crack if thrust too quickly into heat. Which is a good clue about the glass, heat transforms Celadon a lot. Celadon striates when used as a base bead. Celadon dot decoration does not striate. With careful, gentle heating; Celadon dark striation lines can be minimised, instead what appears can be best described as a “mottled” effect. To minimise the dark striations and to achieve the mottled effect; Celadon requires a slow, cool and even heating and to apply all your glass at once. So melt a big gather and resist the temptation to make the bead larger by adding more glass. Repeatedly heating and cooling Celadon in the formation of a bead, such as using marvers, brass presses and forming trays and then blasting the bead with heat will develop striations. If Celadon is heated rapidly whilst actually forming the bead, then that too will cause it to develop these striations. If the bead was created in concentric wraps you will develop extremely dark concentric lines around, which can actually be used as part of the design (see picture above). Forming a bead with Celadon wraps mean that as the glass melts and moves together a dark striation line will form where the wraps meet in the centre. These dark lines can then be dragged into patterns like stringer design. So this is something to keep in mind when you want to create a base bead with Celadon, it will create striations if you add more glass on top of it.
Celadon is highly reactive with a lot of other glass. When I say highly, I mean that it produces effects when used in conjunction with just about everything other than transparent glass. Celadon over Effetre Dark Ivory develops a dark reaction line. Cooking Celadon into Dark Ivory will produce a brown webbing where the two colours meet. I don’t particularly like this effect, but I do think Dark Ivory and Celadon look good together so I lay down a dot footprint of clear glass so Celadon does not react. Dark Ivory over Celadon produces the same dark smokey reaction line. Most opaque glass laid over the top of Celadon will develop a reaction line or colour separation lines. What I mean by colour separation is the effect that occurs when opaque glass is wound over the top of a Celadon base. The opaque glass wound over the top will split into a lighter and darker version of itself. If it is a dot melted flat, a dark ring appears in the centre of your dot. If it is stringer decoration melted flat, a dark line down the centre of the stringer or a separation of dark and light colours occur. The key part is melting that dot or line flat over Celadon to get the colour separation.
Looking at the two barrel beads in the image, both of these have been made with a tube base of Celadon and then concentric circular wraps. In addition to building the bead in wraps I also heated and cooled both beads rapidly to pull out the darkest striations possible in Celadon, as I wanted to use this effect as part of the finished design. Then I wrapped a thick ring of Effetre glass around the centre of each barrel bead and melted in. The centre wrap in the bottom barrel bead is Effetre Dark Violet. Where it met the Celadon it separated into three distinct colours. A fumed line at the outer edge, a thin dark reaction line and the actual Dark Violet colour in the centre. Three distinct colour separations was unusual and a really nice surprise. I hadn’t put these two colours together before. I reduced the bead lightly to bring more of the shine out on the Dark Violet. The bead looks more complicated than it is and I like the colour separation effect a lot. It’s handy to know that any glass with a high metal content in it is going to fume where it separates over Celadon. The barrel bead at the top has a wrap of CiM Glacier, not that you would be able to tell because Glacier has separated into a pale lilac middle band and an even paler lilac outer band. It doesn’t particularly look like Glacier, more like a pale baby blue. Again there is that slightly darker reaction line where the two colours separated, but it is not as intense as it appears with Dark Violet.
Contrast these barrel beads to the round beads. The larger bead has a base of CiM Glacier and the blue is much more true to the rod (it’s peeking out from behind the geometric dots). Layering Celadon on top of Glacier gave a tiny colour separation reaction, but that is hidden thanks to Reichenbach Raspberry layered over the top. There is very little colour separation between Reichenbach glass and Celadon that I can tell. In some of the darker pinks you can see a slight fading at the edge of dots and stringer, but that is only if they’re really melted in flat. I’ve tried with a few different colours, it seems that Reichenbach glass just doesn’t react much with Celadon. The smaller bead is made the same way except the base is Effetre Pale Lavender and the dots are encased in CiM Cirrus, which has transformed and washed out Celadon quite a bit.
Going back to Reichenbach. I particularly like to use “Raku” frit and I was a bit annoyed by an unexpected reaction when I encased Celadon in Effetre Kelp. Looking at the picture shows an example of how quickly Reichenbach “Raku” frit burned out on Celadon when encased with Kelp. I blast heat my Raku, chill it, encase and I can watch Raku bloom, but that method needs to be done with care because Raku can turn muddy quickly on Celadon. I was so annoyed by the effect that I stopped making the bead, which is a shame because Kelp over Celadon is really pretty and helps fade out the striation lines. The end is a wrap of CiM Pumpkin. Oh well, I think if I want to use this colour combination I will have to be more gentle with my heating of Raku onto Celadon.
I have noticed a propensity for Celadon to cause slight devit lines around transparent glass dots and lines that have been worked too long and hot. Because most colour separates on top of Celadon, my guess is transparent glass does too, only it’s not very noticeable. Its only noticeable when the edges of a design start to devitrify with prolonged heating. This happens very noticeably with Cirrus, less noticeably Halong Bay, and even less noticeably with Effetre transparents, so it could be something about these moonstone glasses that does it.
Etch Celadon. (Ha! That sounds like an order, but really… do it sometimes). Etched Celadon becomes a soft dreamy matte green. I did a test after 30 seconds in Etchall Liquid Etch and Celadon had etched just enough to give it a soft colour but not completely lose it’s shine. About the two minute mark Celadon becomes matte. Etched Celadon also strikingly resembles unreduced Effetre Copper Green (or Copper Red Green), so if you like that colour but don’t want to use a more expensive type of glass try etching your bead and masking what you don’t want etched. When etched it looks even closer to the pottery glaze it is named for.
Celadon can be encased, despite popular belief that it cannot. I have encased it successfully with Effetre Super Clear, Effetre Clear, various Effetre transparents, CiM Halong Bay and CiM Cirrus. However, there is a limit to how much Celadon can be encased by Cirrus and Halong Bay, it does not like to be deeply encased in these colours. I have had no problems deeply encasing Celadon in Effetre Super Clear. I have linear encased it with plenty of coloured transparents and have not had an issue with cracking. Celadon holds a lot of heat and it takes a while for the surface to go solid enough for encasing without distortion. Take this into account if you want to encase a large bead, do it in sections and roll heat through periodically.
Lastly, if you reduce Celadon, a metallic red lustre appears on the surface of the bead, it is a very dramatic and a very quick shift in the flame if your chemistry is right. Gentle reduction will give you a shiny ruby red. By gentle I mean turn up the flame to a mostly long blue reducing flame and roll your bead through the top. Then watch the surface of the bead metallise in the flame, take it out as soon as you see the bead do that and you will be rewarded with a very ruby red, shiny bead. If there are some bits not quite reduced, only reduce those sections. A heavy reduction will give you a more dull copper red (see little spacer bead in photo), this occurs if you reduce your bead several times or for a very long period of time (over a few minutes). I have a video showing the difference between Effetre Red Copper Green and Celadon, these beads are all worked for the same time, in the same flame, on the same mandrel. I feel that I’m absolutely terrible at getting Effetre Red Copper Green to get an effect out of, but that doesn’t matter because I don’t actually like the red webbing effect! Lastly, this video shows you the ruby red encased bead in the photo. You can also mask sections of your celadon bead with clear and then reduce for a marvellous southwest style bead.
Celadon is a staple colour for me, I think I rely on it far too much. I use it together with Effetre Dark Turquoise and CiM Ginger in a frit blend because of how the colours look and react together. Its such a good looking combo with anything pink, that I find I pass over Effetre Turquoise a lot in preference of Celadon.
I have been wanting to write up the testing notes for Cirrus for a while now, but I didn’t have any beads on hand made with the colour. CiM Cirrus was an on release glass in 2006 when Creation is Messy first began crafting COE104 rods for lampworkers. Back then it was very exciting to have a glass like Cirrus; a true moonstone glass. I don’t recall another glass like it at the time, Vetrofond Silk was perhaps the closest. After all these years, I am still in love with Cirrus. Even though it is a glass that is mostly overlooked these days, I hope you will find renewed delight in its simplicity after reading through these testing notes. This is a longer than usual testing blog post as I go into a lot of detail about how Cirrus is used and what it can be used for.
There is a very fine blog on Cirrus written for the Frantz Newsletter in 2009. This is a good start but the secrets to Cirrus are beyond this starting point. As this blog suggests; Cirrus is a translucent cloudy glass. Unlike other cloudy glasses that only reflect the present colour back, Cirrus reflects a blue tint (depending on the light it can throw peach tints as well) in addition to its milky whiteness, just like moonstone. This is very useful for making beads as it adds depth to your existing colour palette. I use Cirrus a lot in place of clear glass. Instead of encasing with clear, I will encase with Cirrus for a soft dream like bead. It is particularly beautiful when used in small amounts over dots, as the blue translucence catches the light and adds depth in a new way. I cannot say that Cirrus always lightens opaque colours when used over the top, that is greatly determined by the depth of the encasement, how it’s left to melt in and if you managed to keep the moonstone effect. What I can say is, that a simple three colour palette using Cirrus becomes more, as layering Cirrus can achieve different tones in your opaque glass.
It is possible to burn Cirrus. In fact, I find it very easy to scum if dropped too low in my flame or heated too quickly. You must definitely work Cirrus cool otherwise it will develop dark striations on the surface of the glass. On my Minor, I found the best working zone to melt Cirrus is the upper part of the middle heat zone. The best zone to keep Cirrus warm whilst decorating is about a half inch up (this is also where you should be applying Cirrus stringer decoration). If you work in those zones Cirrus will keep it’s moonstone effect. It is very important not to overheat Cirrus, do not zap it quickly in very high heat, even if you don’t get the black scum developing you will burn it out to clear. You can resurrect some of it’s moonstone effect by letting it cool right down and heating it gently in a reduction rich blue flame, but it’s not always salvageable and the bead might just look like a slightly blue clear glass. The best way to get a strong moonstone effect is to work cold and build the bead up in layers, basically think of it as “encasing” Cirrus with layers of itself.
Cirrus responds to being cooled down outside of the flame then reduction striking (long blue flame by turning up your propane) as a means of drawing out more of it’s cloudiness. Although a great deal of that is determined by how you heated the bead in the first place. One of my tricks to getting a very moonstone looking bead is to create a small base bead, working it cold and slow to maintain as much of the cloudy blue colour as I can, then I encase the Cirrus base bead with Cirrus and gently melt in. I will do this as many times as I need to get the bead to the size I want, rather than melting a big gather.
I’m not particularly scientific but I think what is happening by building up a bead like this; is that the optic quality of Cirrus is increased through reflection as each encased layer is reflected through all the other layers. Cirrus will also look cloudier the longer and slower you work it, so if you’re beavering away on a complex surface design, expect your Cirrus bead to look very hazy and translucent by the time you’re finished.
To my mind, the best thing about Cirrus isn’t when it’s used as a base bead. For me, Cirrus is like valuable paint. You can mix it with other opaque colours to radically change those opaques into semi translucent versions of themselves. I hand blend a lot of stringer so that I can get new colours for beads and one of my tricks has been to use Cirrus as a modifier. A long time ago Vetrofond produced a colour called Silk, it is very similar to Cirrus but without the moonstone appearance. Sadly, Silk is no longer in production and I used to use it for all my blending. Cirrus replaced Silk for me to an extent. My particular favourite is to blend 60% Cirrus with 40% Effetre Dark Turquoise in the flame and pull a thick stringer. I adore how Dark Turquoise takes on a new dimension, it’s not quite opaque anymore nor is it a transparent. For the purpose of this blog I decided to blend Cirrus with Effetre Sunny Mango and the result was the same as for Dark Turquoise, a new colour that wasn’t quite opaque and not quite transparent. Once you get started blending Cirrus with opaque colours you can’t stop (at least I can’t). However a word of advice on the blending, err on the side of caution when mixing Cirrus with any orange and yellow glass. I found with the Sunny Mango blend that the stringer wanted to bubble up and scum in the flame, although the bubbles aren’t visible in the finished bead. Also, a 50/50 mix is a good starting point, but if you want more ethereal “smokey” colours add more Cirrus and pull your stringer out with the blend just mixed in. Streaky stringer leaves a wonderful “coloured smoke” appearance. If you check out my Instagram feed you will see video of the stringer pulled with Effetre Dark Tuquoise and Cirrus and Effetre Sunny Mango and Cirrus.
This sort of translucent “milk” glass has always had compatibility issues no matter who manufactures it. Vetrofond Silk had a lot of incompatibility issues, which is why they created “Silk 2” and now neither glass is for sale. Cirrus is the same, I’m still discovering what it can and won’t work with, every time new glass is released. The biggest issue occurs with Effetre Opaque White and CiM Celadon. Absolutely under no circumstances should you use Effetre Opaque White with Cirrus. Just don’t. Not even as a layer underneath another layer of glass. My habit is to use Effetre White as a core for really big beads and I get incompatibility cracks all too often when I pick up a rod of Cirrus to encase with instead of clear. It will incompatibility crack either in the flame or days later depending on how little or much you’ve used. I’ve had beads go into the kiln fine and come out with incompatibility cracks. I’ve spent a few hours making beads today so that you can see how they crack when used with Effetre Opaque White, check the photos. Another incompatibility test is Cirrus and CiM Celadon, but here’s the thing; this combination doesn’t always crack. There seems to be no problem when Celadon dots are encased or when Celadon is thinly encased in Cirrus. The problems arise with deep encasement. You can clearly see a colour shift in Celadon encased in Cirrus. If the colour washes out to pale blue green, its too deeply encased and your bead will crack. If the colour stays a more true sea green, it’s thinly encased and your bead will not crack. Unless you can linear encase evenly, do not encase Celadon in Cirrus, there will be trauma and I think it is Celadon that is the culprit.
Perhaps the last secret with Cirrus is the best. On dark opaque glass (particularly Effetre purples) trails of Cirrus melted in will spread out and look just like water has been spattered over watercolour paint. To my mind it is such a cool effect, that this alone makes Cirrus a useful colour to have on hand. (See the photo above). I use this trick a lot in my beads and you can be guaranteed that somewhere in the background of an sgraffito design is a generous smattering of Cirrus. I have a few favourites that I like to do this with particularly and in a later blog post I will create a “cheat sheet” of watercolour effect for Cirrus. Like Peacock Green, Cirrus does not etch very well and you can use it as a “mask” to bring out certain effects. This is particularly good if you have blended it with another colour and created stringer or dot decoration but want the base bead etched.
Cirrus looks surprisingly good when stamped or pressed into faceted beads. Cirrus works well with Thompson Enamels, although I find they tend to sit on top and not melt in but that could be because I work Cirrus beads fairly cool. Cirrus is a spreading glass, this is evident by the watercolour effect but it’s also really handy to know for creating dot bead effects. The usefulness of a soft “almost transparent” glass is that you can use it as an intermediate layer to push dots into geometric patterns easily. It’s also helpful in maintaining lines between your dots. Sure you can use Effetre clear to do that, but why would you not mix it up a bit with a cloudy transparent glass?
Cirrus is good for pushing dots around in layered bead effects. It is particularly useful as most transparent glass is very stiff and does not want to move across a base bead enough to merge into geometric dot patterns. Cirrus creates subtle colour shifting and colour changes when layered over colours. Its helpful in creating depth in dots because of it’s nature to reflect a blue tint, so it looks excellent on purple, blue and green glass. The bubble dot bead in the picture is a base of Effetre Lavender, dots of CiM Celadon, dots of Reichenbach Raspberry (96), Dots of CiM Cirrus over the top. The dots melted and moved into a geometric position with the final layer of Cirrus. Some of my Cirrus dot placement is not perfect and it has overlapped the Reichenbach Raspberry and Celadon causing a bit of a colour merge between those two colours and a colour shift; Celadon appears lighter. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve with your beads, you might welcome that Cirrus is a good blender or colour shifter and use it to great effect in your own glass beads.
Edit: I’ve been asked to explain the beads in the cover photo that I don’t mention in this blog. The middle bead with the over twisted swirls is a blend of CiM Cirrus and Effetre Pearl Grey pulled into stringer than used as decoration. The big bead with the “belly” is encased in Cirrus, but I overheated it and burned out the lovely moonstone colour. The unfortunate thing with this bead is that I had a central core of Effetre White and it incompatibility cracked in the kiln. I repaired it back in the flame, but the same thing happened; incompatibility cracks. This is how I know that Effetre White and CiM Cirrus do not mix even when layered under another colour.
So there you have it, all the reasons why I think Cirrus is a remarkable addition to the lampworking colour palette.
I don’t have any other colour in my stash quite like Banana Special Odd (this is what I’m calling this colour as I don’t actually know what it is). It’s a gorgeous soft opaque pastel yellow glass that was made by Vetrofond. My lot of this glass has been tagged “Banana Yellow” with no code. For the longest time I thought I had the yellow glass with the brownish grey streaks in it (VF992). I was kicking myself for buying it because I thought that glass was ugly. I was making “zombie toe” beads and needed a “gross” glass colour to look like festering flesh. Finally, a use for that Banana Yellow! Except that when I got it to the flame no matter how much I worked it, no grey streaks appeared! So I cleverly deduced (look at my Sherlock skills) that I could not have VF992 “Banana Yellow” glass. Watson, my lot of yellow glass is tagged incorrectly. This led me to try and find out what I actually had and I thought I might as well write up the testing for it too.
Since I trust the supplier I purchased the glass from, it seemed to me that the glass was probably another Vetrofond “Banana” colour. Vetrofond produced a lot of yellow colours in a short period of time during 2007 and a lot of the colours had similar names or names changed slightly when another yellow was created. After searching the internet for something to compare, I’m pretty sure what I’m working with is definitely a VF variant of Banana Cream, but that’s as close as I could figure out.
Frantz Art Glass was Vetrofond’s biggest distributor for rods as they had to order the full melt for a rod pull. Frantz used to carry very large quantities of VF glass. They were in the habit of renaming colours that had a variance in a batch and this colour may be from such a variance, which is why it has been impossible to find a code or a proper name for it. The glass I have is definitely not VF992 Banana Yellow and if it is VF948 Banana Cream, then its a variation that is lighter. My rods are slightly grainy to the touch and stay the same colour as the rod when melted. My batch is not streaky, but can be struck to a true ripe banana colour, however its not as dark as other batches of Banana Cream I’ve seen. If you have a batch that sounds like this (and a few people have already contacting me saying that they have) enjoy it, because I don’t think anymore of it exists.
I’d been staring at this colour for years now, not quite sure what to do with it as yellow is a colour I hardly use (and I thought I had VF Banana Yellow). Well, it turns out that Banana Special Odd is really a very beautiful colour. Not only is it a gorgeous creamy yellow, it is also supremely good to work with. It isn’t soft and it’s not too stiff either, it’s great for sculptural work as it doesn’t cool down too quickly and small details are very visible. It doesn’t ping or crack, as long as you heat your rod up a little first (no random breaking in the middle of the rod like Effetre Opal Yellow) and it doesn’t scum or bubble up the moment you drop it into your flame.
Banana Special Odd is a pale banana yellow that looks brighter under fluorescent lights (all my photographs are shot in daylight). The rod and the finished bead look the same, although it can be struck to a ripe banana or buttery yellow colour. You can do this by either prolonged gentle heating or wafting the bead in and out of a striking flame. When I worked this glass it was an extremely sunny day and I noticed the bead was sparkling as I was working it. After firing the beads and checking them again under a lamp there is a very light sparkle noticeable under bright direct light. This explains the graininess in the rod, probably due to tiny reflective inclusions in this glass. The sparkle is not very noticeable unless you’re really looking at the bead. Although you can spot the sparkle more easily if you dot pale transparent glass over Banana Special Odd, as the sparkle is pushed to the outer edge of the clear dot to form a sparkly ring (this is impossible to photograph) around the dot. The sparkle is similar to Vetrofond Yellow Pineapple Sparkle Odd (which is a transparent glass), except because it is in an opaque glass, much harder to see.
Banana Special Odd is a great pastel yellow that works so well with CiM Celadon (if you don’t mind the dark brown reaction line between the two colours) and CiM Ginger (no reaction). I have a feeling that Banana Special Odd is one of those colours that will always develop a reaction line between itself and anything containing copper – so blue and green opaque glass. There was a period of time where nearly every Vetrofond yellow colour produced did this reaction line thing. If you don’t want the reaction line, lay down a thin layer of clear first. Banana Special Odd does curdle, but I wasn’t paying attention to how I got the reaction, so I think it happens when a section is superheated and left to cool quickly, then reheated. It will get “scorch” marks (greyish burn marks) when worked too hot and too low in the flame, for best results keep it mid range.
Some old notes I found printed off from Frantz Art Glass suggest that all of these Vetrofond yellow “odd” colours require a footprint of clear first, then the colour before encasing. Which is a good tip to stop some glass from cracking under encasement. I didn’t encase this colour completely, so I didn’t bother to put a footprint down first. I think as a general rule of thumb, most yellow and orange glass should have a footprint down before deep encasing.
Banana Special Odd looks best when used as a base bead or as big dots, such as flower petals. Pulling it to stringer washes the colour out too much. It plays nicely with opaque Thompson Enamels. Interestingly some opaque enamels didn’t spread out when heated in and some created a blotched effect, a bit like watercolours. Intense black goes webbing crazy over it, much the same effect that it has on Effetre Opal Yellow.
I love what happens when fine silver wire is used with Banana Special Odd, a reddish-brown reaction line appears when the wire melts through. The red reaction is replicated with silver leaf. For the testing, I cooked the beads as much as I could, but to keep the red brown reaction, only gently heat fine silver leaf into the bead. When silver leaf on Banana Special Odd is overcooked it turns a steel grey colour that can be reduced to a dark mottled sheen, which is really very attractive for organic designs.
At first I thought the closest colour in my stash to Banana Special Odd was Vetrofond Lemon Meringue, but that’s too lemon toned. I then thought it was closer to Effetre Opal Yellow, but that’s a bit on the brownish yellow side when struck. I’ve made some beads up in Effetre Opal Yellow to compare (check the photos). When Opal Yellow is struck gently, it is paler than Banana Special Odd. Although, if you want this particular soft pastel shade of yellow, Banana Special is the go. I always found Opal Yellow way too annoying to use to get a soft yellow colour happening. Note: My Opal Yellow dates back to 2006, so I have no idea if the newer batches are as painful to work with as my batch. The reaction to silver between Opal Yellow and Banana Special Odd is very different. Likewise, transparent glass really spreads out easily over Banana Special, but not as easily over Opal Yellow.
This glass is a delicious non-streaky, pastel colour that is less finicky than Effetre Opal Yellow and has a great reaction with fine silver. This makes it a perfect base colour for soft romantic colour palettes. It is a great colour to work with for organic designs when silver leaf is burned in on top and it suits an autumn or spring colour palette (CiM colours work well with it). Whilst VF Banana Cream is still available (it is definitely available from Frantz art glass in rod and stringer form) I would get your hands on some of it on the off chance that it is like my variant and it turns out to be this gorgeous and very versatile soft yellow pastel glass. I think after mucking about with this colour for the last week, I will be using yellow in my designs a whole lot more from now on.
Edit: 17.10.15 Two Batches of Banana Cream Compared. I purchased some of Frantz’s stock of VF Banana Cream this year to compare to my older batch and there is a marked variation in the rods in both colour and texture. VF Banana Special Odd is slightly grainy in rod form. The VF Banana Cream that is in stock at Frantz right now is not the same as the colour test here. The rods are a different shade of yellow and are smooth to the touch, and also have that streakiness to the glass when melted as well as getting darker. I think its absolutely fascinating that the passage of time and variation of batches have invented a colour that doesn’t seem to have a record anywhere. Sadly, Vetrofond no longer produces soft glass and the recipe for this colour is probably lost.
If anyone has a clue about the colour in the test; such as it’s proper name, please drop me a line. Thanks. 🙂
Kilns deserve a blog post on their own which is why I’ve devoted Part 8 of the Studio Set Up blogs to the topic of “choosing a kiln”. I have finally updated all the photos for this blog post (as at 5 October, ’15). In part 7I discussed the different tools you will likely purchase as your bead making skills improve and evolve.
There will come a time where the beads you make suddenly start to look so good that you will want to wear them and when you do, the compliments and queries about where to buy your jewellery will start to roll in.
Sure, everyone is proud of their first efforts but it wasn’t until my 70th even nearing up to my 100th bead that my artistic style really developed and talking with other artists, this was about right for them too. About that stage of your bead making career you should consider purchasing a kiln to ensure the longevity and saleability of your beads. For some people it might be three months into bead making, for others three years. Yes, you can get away with not annealing your beads, ancient beads are popping up everywhere thousands of years old and they weren’t properly annealed and are still in tact. Whilst a round or stubby cylinder bead is less likely to crack than any other shape and you can wear these beads without much fear of them cracking, other bead shapes require annealing. Glass is a fragile product and annealing takes away some of the fragility.
Why annealed beads are important for jewellery makers
So what’s with the whole annealing thing anyway? Why do glass workers need to fire their beads if they want to sell them? That question has been answered in detail through this wonderful blog by Everlyn Durberry.
If you are going to sell your beads, anneal them properly in a kiln to guarantee your work.
In short, if beads are butted up against other glass beads or the beads are in a bracelet which gets a lot of knocks, the chances of glass beads chipping and cracking are pretty high if the beads are not kiln annealed. Most mass produced beads from China and India are not kiln annealed, which is why you’ll often see broken and chipped beads in jars and containers in bead shops. When you raise glass beyond it’s stress point and hold it at a set temperature for about an hour, something magical happens; glass becomes stronger and more durable. Round glass beads will bounce off concrete without a chip, scratch or fracture line. I’ve got a necklace full of raised dot beads that I accidentally dropped, they bounced off the concrete and scattered all over the floor. That was five years ago and the necklace is still going strong. However, glass is glass and whilst round beads are more durable than any other shape if you aren’t careful with your beads they will break if dropped no matter how well annealed they are.
If you’re intending to sell your glass beads to other jewellery makers, you want to guarantee your work and they want to be able to guarantee theirs. If you’re making jewellery to sell, the same principle applies, kiln annealing properly is important because it’s your quality guarantee.
What is the difference between annealing and flame annealing? Annealing is a term used in both metal and glass industries. When you anneal an object you are slowly raising the object in temperature to just beyond it’s “stress point” – which is a type of melt point that removes any internal stresses within the object. The idea is to hold the object at just beyond this stress point for a period of time to remove any pressure inside the object. Then the item is left to cool down very slowly and this action will strengthen the object and provide it with long term durability.
Flame annealing is the technique of heating the bead at the end of your flame (increasing the propane slightly for a hotter flame) until it is lightly glowing red to remove any stress put into the bead, it is a type of annealing but it is not as good as putting the bead into the kiln. If you have a kiln with a bead door, you would pop the bead straight into your kiln (which will be standing by at a hot holding temperature) when you’re done working for the day, you will set the kiln into it’s ramp up to anneal temperature and ramp down mode. If you are batch annealing, you will rotate the bead out of the flame until it loses it’s glow and then place it in a fibre blanket or heated vermiculite to cool down slowly. After which it will go through a more strenuous annealing cycle once it has cooled down. When you have made a lot of beads and they’re all cooled down slowly in vermiculite you will run your kiln through an annealing cycle.
Here’s the thing with kilns, like torches, you have to find one that fits you. Kilns can be made from fire brick and/or fibre blanket and lampworkers need to get one with a digital thermostat controller otherwise you have to spend all day babysitting the kiln temperature. Try and get a kiln with a bead door to save yourself having to batch anneal. I bought a “batch anneal” kiln because at the time they were much cheaper than those with a bead door. I don’t mind having this sort of kiln. I can use it for multiple purposes like slumping cabs and fusing.
At the end of the day you’re going to buy something that fits your budget. In the back of your mind you should be looking to buy a kiln in a size that suits your needs with a quality digital controller that can be programmed. That may mean you get a kiln with a bead door and a fancy controller that can be programmed in a number of ways. However, if you don’t have the money and you cannot afford the bead door luxury and you think you will be buying a kiln for batch annealing with a simple controller, read on. I talk about my experiences batch annealing.
To buy or not to buy a kiln
If you flame anneal and cool down your beads slowly they shouldn’t break and you can wear them (I wouldn’t sell beads that aren’t fully annealed). If you have been given a kiln or you bought one with your torch, the best thing you can do is follow the digital controller manufacturer’s instructions to set the ramp up, hold and ramp down program (if you can’t find the instructions, google the brand; a lot of manufacturers have their instructions available for download in a .pdf format).
If you have a pottery kiln that doesn’t have a digital controller, don’t risk firing your beads, you could slump them, or not actually anneal them properly. You can get pottery kilns altered with a programmable digital controller (links to the bottom for Harco controllers in Australia). There are kiln firing schedules for glass beads available on the internet. I have a basic one listed below, which you can modify to your needs. When I say modify, what I mean is, different types of glass require different annealing schedules. For instance, my schedule is for COE104 glass, but you will need a different ramp and anneal schedule for Bullseye COE93, Satake (Soda Lime) COE113, Satake (lead) COE120, Gaffer COE96 and etc. To read more about different brands of glass, check out this detailed blog post by Robin Snuttjer.
Is my annealing good enough? Kilns are used to raise the temperature of a bead and hold it for a length of time beyond it’s stress point to eliminate any hidden stress fractures. All glass kilns do this, no matter the type. Firing your beads in a kiln to a proper firing schedule guarantees long life of your beads. The general consensus by lampworkers is that the best way to make sure beads are strong is to go from “flame to kiln”. I don’t necessarily agree that it is the best way to fire your beads, but it’s theeasyhassle freeway. “Flame to kiln” certainly eliminates the risk of breakage from improper flame annealing.
“Batch” annealing means you have to flame anneal properly because you will be cooling your beads down slowly first. Then you need to be careful about putting your beads into a fibre blanket or pot of vermiculite. “Flame to kiln” means you are less likely to crack beads from cooling down too fast in vermiculite or a blanket. Both “flame to kiln” and “batch” annealing methods will anneal your beads properly. “Flame to kiln” eliminates the cool-down step which is where most errors are made. If you are careful and patient, “batch” annealing will be fine for you. Don’t think that if you can’t afford the super duper expensive kiln your beads will somehow be less than wonderful. If you have a lampworker friend nearby you can always send your beads to them for batch annealing whilst you save up for the kiln of your dreams. That way your bead sales can help fund your new kiln purchase.
What is “strain” or “stress” point temperature and why is it important? I work primarily in Soda Lime glass COE104. If you are working with lower coefficient glass, annealing temperature will be higher.
As a general rule of thumb COE104 glass will anneal at 515 degrees celcisus (960F), this means that if you are using a kiln with a bead door you will want to “garage” the glass between 30-40 degrees lower than your anneal temperature to remove any stress in the glass. So anywhere between 920-930F and about 485-495C should be your garage (strain) point. Bear in mind that I make beads up to 4in long and up to an 1in wide so I do work at the higher end of the firing scale, also my kiln is huge.
If you are batch annealing, depending on your controller you will be able to ramp up, stop at the garage temperature (strain point), then ramp up to the annealing temperature for an anneal cycle. (My kiln controller cannot do this, so I must flame anneal carefully before putting my beads into a straight ramp to annealing temperature).
Soda Lime glass is usually annealed for an hour at 515c, but you can raise the anneal temperature slightly and drop or increase hold times depending on your kiln size and bead size. If you make large beads, it’s always better to slightly increase the anneal temperature to accommodate the thickness of them. Or you can go the other way and increase the annealing time. (I prefer to go slightly hotter and anneal for a little longer – only an extra 10 minutes). You don’t want to go beyond 545 degrees celcius for COE104, because raised designs, faceted and pressed beads will lose their crisp edges as Soda Lime will begin melting beyond that temperature range, if you are using Satake glass pay particular attention to annealing temperatures as it is much softer than Effetre.
For those of you that have kilns with controllers that can cope with stepped programs, one other trick is to bring the kiln out of anneal and stop it for an hour at the strain point before full ramp down. The idea is that with larger pieces of glass art, the second stop at the strain point puts the kiln into a position where the heat is evenly distributed and allows for any stress put into the glass that was not removed the first time (before annealing) to be removed.
But I heard that you can’t encase this glass? For temperamental glass (glass in the 104 palette that appears “incompatible” when encasing it) the advice from glass manufacturers is to raise your anneal temperature by a few degrees and increase the anneal time by 5 minute intervals. For instance, so many people tell me that they can’t encase CiM colours and I find that to be not quite accurate. Some CiM glass cannot be encased at all, just like some Effetre and some Vetrofond (and so on). However, most of it can be encased just fine when you increase your temperature and soak times. I never have the issues that others have with CiM because my kiln runs a bit hotter and longer than is necessary to anneal glass.
There is no “set and forget” scheduling if you’re mixing up brands of glass and changing your style around. There does need to be a bit of flexibility on your behalf to be ready to fiddle with your kiln controller settings if you decide to go suddenly from making very small beads to large ones, or to encasing beads when you didn’t encase previously. Like baking a cake, each oven is different, each cake is different so you will need to adjust your firing schedule to suit your purposes.
What is “flame annealing” ? Flame annealing is the practice of heating the bead up evenly at the very tip of your flame to distribute heat evenly through it before putting the bead away into a kiln, fibre-blanket, pot of vermiculite or pot of annealing bubbles. Some artists like to turn up their propane slightly to do so. I am in the habit of keeping the flame neutral so that I do not have any unintended reactions occurring in my finished design. It is extremely important to flame anneal for those of you who are “batch” annealing. Missing this step means that you will get beads cracking in your cool-down phase. I rotate large beads for up to five minutes at the tip of my flame before garaging them in vermiculite. If I forget or think I can wing it on a small bead or do not flame anneal a large bead for at least five minutes, its a certain guarantee that I will develop cracks in my beads.
My kiln firing schedule
After my beads have been flame annealed then cooled down slowly in vermiculite. I pop a big batch of them all into the kiln ready for kiln annealing. My kiln has a ramp up schedule of 5.5 degrees celsius a minute (330C an hour), holding at 45-60 minutes (depending on the bead sizes, I run big beads longer) at 535 degrees celsius (995F) before ramping down at 2.5C a minute (144C an hour). This isn’t a programmed ramp down as my controller cannot do that. Once the anneal temperature is reached my kiln will stop heating and cool down very, very slowly. I usually just let it run overnight and then turn the kiln off in the morning. I run my kiln slightly hotter because my kiln is so large, I found that a 515 annealing temperature was too cool for both the beads that I make (usually really big beads) and the size of the kiln.
Problem shooting beads breaking from stress fracture
One day I sat around and measured the rate the kiln lost heat because I was trying to figure out why a lot of my beads were cracking. I worked out that one reason was because I was not flame annealing properly, I roll my bead at the end of the flame for a good 2-5 minutes before putting it into a pot of heated vermiculite now. Flame annealing is my guarantee of reducing stress fractures in long and thin beads, pressed beads and shaped beads (like “Goddess” beads). The other part of the reason for my bead breaks was the kiln schedule I was using. I had programmed a stock standard schedule that I found on the internet, but what I didn’t take into consideration was the fact that my kiln is SO HUGE that the firing schedule was not annealing my beads hot enough or long enough. So now, I run my kiln slightly hotter than most bead firing schedules you will find online to accommodate the quirks and size of my kiln. I’ve drop tested a lot of beads since changing my program to the one specified above and I’ve had no breaks since. If you have a big kiln (the inside of my kiln is 40cm x 40cm x 40cm) go with a slightly hotter anneal temperature and soak for 45-60 minutes for every inch of thickness in your bead. For example, my four inch long by one inch wide barrel beads anneal for about four hours. You cannot “over anneal” your beads, so it doesn’t matter if you also have half inch round beads in with the big four inch beads. If you want more information about glass annealing, I recommend reading Bandhu Dunman’s Contemporary Lampworking books.
If you are having problems with beads cracking when you accidentally drop them or even after a few months of wear, look at how you work before going out and buying a new kiln, or blaming a particular brand of glass. The artist puts stress into the glass, we can remove the stress if we change some elements about how we work. The kiln schedule can remove a lot of stress if you are stopping at the strain point for long enough before going into an anneal cycle. Annealing cannot remove the inherent stresses in badly constructed beads, beads with bubbles along the length of the mandrel hole (a poorly made first wind), beads that have been allowed to cool down too quickly outside of the flame, beads that are too thin on one end, beads that you have let the ends go cold on, will all have a lot of internal stress. Any of these severe internal stressors will eventually crack the bead.
Things to consider if you are getting a lot of cracked beads
1. Am I putting my bead away too cold (even if you are going flame to kiln, putting beads away too cold will result in a lot of stress which means cracks down the track). Beads should slightly lose their glow before being put into a kiln, vermiculite or blanket. (I put the bead under the desk in the dark to see if the surface is still glowing, if you put a bead into vermiculite (or fibre blanket/bubbles) too hot, these products will stick to the surface, distort or imprint on the bead.
2. Am I flame annealing and keeping the bead warm as I work? Beads heat from the centre outward, the edges of beads get cold before the middle (yes, even on a round bead) Beads with ends that are rapidly colder than the rest of the bead will crack if they go into a pot of vermiculite. So be mindful to roll heat through a bead as you’re working on a design. If you’re going flame to kiln, you can probably get away with having cold ends.
3. Is my kiln temperature right for the beads I’m making? Most of my beads range between 1in and 3in. I make big beads and big beads need a slightly higher anneal temperature and anneal soak length. I still make mistakes though, recently a very big bead came out of the kiln cracked and I know that it was because it cooled to quickly coming out of the program. This is a limitation with my kiln, I cannot hold at a second strain point.
4. Experiment with your controller and get to know your kiln. Keep notes and test your kiln regularly, you may get cold spots in it.
Batch Annealing Overview Batch annealing offers the same durability as flame to kiln annealing. Round beads that are flame annealed and cooled down properly will last a long time as they are. If you have purchased a kiln with no bead door (like I have) you will be batch annealing your beads because you cannot go from flame to kiln. This means you will need to purchase a fibre blanket or crockpot and vermiculite. Vermiculite is a natural insulator and it’s very cheap. It’s great for slowly cooling beads down in. I prefer vermiculite to a fibre blanket and I don’t use annealing bubbles because they’re hard to get in Australia, but my understanding is that they work in the same way that vermiculite does, with less dust. I also prefer to have my vermiculite heated up as I am less likely to have beads cracking in warmed vermiculite.
The stuff is mostly sold in 100litre bags, whatever you don’t use can be mixed into your potting mixes or used for hydroponic cultivation (it also absorbs water and can be used to keep plants hydrated). Some companies sell vermiculite in a small size bag, always purchase a small grade size of vermiculite (its too hard to bury beads in big chunky vermiculite) and find out if your bag has been sieved, to ensure minimal dust. I put the crockpot onto high before I start my torch session (vermiculite absorbs moisture, so heating it up will remove moisture).
After the torch session is done from high I’ll turn it to medium for an hour and from medium to the off position. It takes about 4 hours to go cold. I then store my cooled beads in my kiln, when it’s full I’ll run the annealing schedule. Vermiculite is a natural product and isn’t hazardous to your health if used sensibly, just make sure you get a small size with low dust. DO NOT peek at your beads once they’re in the vermiculite until it is completely cooled down. Peeking at “warm” temperatures to us, will almost certainly put stress into the bead and lead to cracks. (I used to peek, but now I don’t too many beads have cracked on me due to impatience).
The very blunt (but truthful) pro’s & con’s list of “batch” annealing
I usually run my kiln at the end of a week with 30 or 40 beads, this saves on a lot of electricity. Pro.
I didn’t buy a fibre blanket, but that is one method of cooling beads down slowly. Kilns usually have fibre blanket or fire brick in them, fibre blanket and vermiculite is inexpensive. Pro.
Another method is the crockpot full of vermiculite. I can set the crockpot to heat the vermiculite, guaranteeing a slow cooldown for my beads. I found a new (old) crockpot in a junk store for about $10.00. Pro.
Flame annealing beads and cooling beads down slowly in a crockpot or fibre blanket offers some durability and for round beads, this is actually enough for them to last, well, indefinitely. (Ancient people didn’t use sophisticated kilns and archaeologists are pulling up glass beads all over the place. Food for thought!) Maybe Pro?
Batch annealing means you have to actually wait until there is enough beads to warrant running the kiln. This also means you have a silly amount of beads to clean at once when it’s done. (ugh, I hate bead cleaning). Con.
Multi program controllers and kiln annealers are expensive, a good quality second hand one will set you back at the least $800.00 AUD (that is if you’re lucky enough to find one with a controller and a bead door). You’re more likely to be paying upwards of $1800 AUD for a kiln with a multi program controller and bead door. Con.
Fibre Blankets and Crockpots rely on the bead having a lot of internal heat. Long or thin beads crack more easily because the heat is not centred in one place, so they must be flame annealed carefully (which can alter the composition of some glass types, that is, you’ll see noticeable colour changes or reactions happening some times). Maybe Con?
If you don’t flame anneal properly and then put the bead away in the blanket or vermiculite a cold spot could develop a crack and ruin your bead. Con.
You can’t disturb beads once they’ve been put away into a fibre blanket or vermiculite. Jostling them about to fit more in, will more than likely introduce a cold spot. When I’ve made a lot of beads and I’m running out of space in my crockpot, I forget this basic rule and always, I’ll get a bead with a crack (bugger my impatience). Con.
If you read through that list and thought the fuss of batch annealing is not worth saving a few hundred dollars, then I recommend getting a kiln with a bead door. I will always keep my big batch anneal kiln, but I certainly do want a small kiln with a bead door to sit on top of it for the days that I make hugely elaborate beads and want them to survive. Hugely elaborate beads, like large “Goddess” beads don’t have a good life expectancy in a fibre blanket or vermiculite if you don’t flame anneal well. The uneven heat within a bead like that means it is very likely going to develop a stress fracture, you really must be consistent with flame annealing.
Kiln electricity usage
Kilns are expensive to run, they use up a lot of power. This might be very important to you if you’re an “off grid” person. Most bead makers distinguish between a true kiln (one that can anneal, slump, fuse and tack glass) and annealers (can anneal only, that is; bring glass up to it’s stress point and then cool down) If you have an “annealer” running for a long torch session whilst you “garage” your beads in it, then set it through an annealing session you will see a big spike in your electricity bill. The other rule is, the bigger the kiln the bigger the electricity bill. When I had my studio in my home. Running the kiln a few times each month saw my electricity bill doubled. I was a bit surprised actually at how much power a kiln uses, so I make sure that baby is full before I run it these days. There are some kilns that operate like an annealer (that is, they have a bead door on them and will hold for long periods of time at a predetermined temperature) but can also slump, fuse and do all the other things a bigger kiln does. These are the most desirable kilns on the market because of their compact size and versatility.
How to stop glass “kiln striking” in an annealer type kiln.
One other difference between batch annealing and flame to kiln annealing is that you can overstrike certain colours (particularly silver glasses) in annealers that are garaging beads for a while. The only way to get around this happening is to make test beads up to check how much flame striking is needed before going into the kiln. Just make a few small beads in the colour you want to experiment with and try them out at different strike ranges, then pop them all in the kiln. Try to keep track of how much flame strike was on each bead. Make a chart or use a permanent marker on the end of the mandrel to colour code the beads to identify how much a bead was struck before being put into the kiln. With this way, you can guarantee the colours you want in your silver glass beads.
Silver glass manufacturers Double Helix, Striking Colour (Unfortunately the owner and manufacturer of Striking Colour was in a terrible motorcycle accident and has not been able to produce glass for some time) and R4 or Precision104 as it’s now known suggest doing this exact technique on their respective websites and they also offer tips and advice on different annealing cycles to try for certain glasses.
…and if you just need a controller, in Australia you can purchase a controller to suit pottery kilns here or here. Controllers made in Australia are usually manufactured by Harco.
Lastly, think about what you make. If you’re mostly a bead maker getting a kiln with a bead door is probably the best option and its better to save up for it. If you want to slump and fuse, find a kiln that can do that and maybe forgo the bead door. If you’ve been given an old ceramic kiln, it’s salvageable by getting a controller fitted to it. If you bought a kiln years and years ago and are thinking of an upgrade, then I hope you found what you needed here.
Studio Set Up Part 7 is a general discussion about advanced tools. I movebeyond the first 60 hours of lampworking and explore the various types of tools on the market that help an artist refine or expand their style. I explored essential tools for the new lampworker in Part 6, along with my experiences of learning how to shape glass with gravity, heat and a marver. In this blog post I share my understanding of how certain tools are used and talk aboutthe most popular types of tools, which are brass presses, tong presses, special mandrels and graphite shapers. These tools are popular because they’re affordable and provide options to lampworkers who sell their beads regularly. In exploring beyond basic tools, I hope to share an understanding for what you are buying, the reasons behind purchasing a tool and how tools can benefit you as an artist. This is a very long blog post, so I have decided not to include kilns, instead Kilns will be discussed Part 8. I have subtitled everything in this post to make it easier to skip to the parts useful to you. I’ve also been very sick with Bronchitis for the past few weeks, so the photos for this post will be updated at a later time.
Why tools rock!
For the bead maker who doesn’t like spending long periods of time shaping glass and wants to focus on decoration. Brass presses and graphite shapers are necessary. For the bead maker who loves to make sets of beads but doesn’t want to fiddle around calculating the exact amount of glass needed for each bead to perfectly match and just wants to get on with the job of decorating. You will want tools. Lots of them.
I’m not enabling your addiction, I’m merely reinforcing what every lampworker already knows. You can never have too many tools.
The logic behind choosing a tool
I don’t own all the tools that I have on my wish list, I would be very poor if I did. That means this isn’t a comprehensive guide to every tool on the market. I will explore and explain a bit about the tools that I have which can be grouped into four categories; brass presses, graphite shapers, specialised mandrels and tong presses. When I began buying tools I wasn’t thinking long term, my exact thoughts were “ooh pretty, I want that one”. I was not looking at bead making tools as a business investment, I was looking at them as a possession to own. For anyone living in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia and New Zealand, I’m speaking to you), any sort of tool that is not manufactured locally (just about all of them) should be treated as a business investment. The cost of buying the tool in a foreign currency and then the prohibitive shipping means that lampworkers in the Southern Hemisphere pay double per tool.
I bought 3 tools from Devardi two weeks ago, in US dollars the invoice for the tools was $48.93USD. If I lived in the USA the price of postage would be gratis, but I don’t. The postage charge to Australia was $28.00USD (39.90AUD), with the conversion rate my order worked out to be $109.90AUD. I was refunded $5.70AUD in overpaid postage and Devardi do not have a S&H fee. Which means that 3 tools cost someone living in the United States $48.93USD, cost me $104.20AUD. Gee, I better hope that I use those tools since they are such a big investment. Another thought strikes me, these tools need to pay for themselves. When I buy a tool I ponder on its usefulness. Is it a shape my customers would like? Will they buy beads made with this tool? Will this tool be worth the money invested in it? I bet you thought I was kidding about tools costing twice as much for people in the Southern Hemisphere?
Picking your Tools You should always pick tools that appeal to your sense of style. Don’t buy a tool because some other artist uses it and you’ve noticed they get a lot of sales. Buy a tool that will expand your design possibilities, excite and inspire you to create more or lead your aspirations to achieve the most out of your bead making style. If you do that, you will naturally produce beads in shapes and designs that will appeal to a wide base of customers. If you’re only making beads for yourself, then you will be impressed with how much you can grow your creativity when challenged.
When you’ve decided on the tool to buy, you should think about what you want out of this tool and really, this goes back to the central reasons for why you bought a torch in the first place. Are you going to be selling these beads or is this a hobby that you’re going to indulge yourself in? If it’s the latter, just buy what whim takes you (oh, I wish I could). If it’s the former and you intend to sell beads as a business, I use this formula to work out the cost effectiveness of purchasing that new tool.
What is the grand total cost of this tool?
How many beads do I expect to make with this tool once I have mastered it, per year?
How much would I charge for those beads?
Then I do some simple mathematics, for a cost benefit analysis understanding of what I need this tool to do to make it worthwhile me purchasing it.
This isn’t really scientific or completely accurate, I don’t factor glass or time into the cost. All I’m trying to do is judge the rough length of time this tool will take before it pays for itself. From there I can work out if it’s a “need” tool or a “want” tool. Do I need it because fashion styles are changing? Do I need it because I have been struck with an amazing idea that I want to see translated into a shape I can’t make with gravity and my current tools? Do I want it because I’m bored and it will inspire me? All of these are good reasons for buying a tool.
I bought the Devardi Graphite Double Ogee 3 Slot Shaper [$18.95USD] Grand total for this tool is $38.47AUD
(tool = $27.07AUD) + (postage = $11.40) – I divided the total postage by 3 because I bought 3 items.
This tool is a lot trickier than I expected and there’s a bit of a learning curve. I expect that I will make about 40 beads a year with this tool, but will probably only sell about 20in that time frame.
I estimate the beads to sell between $8.00 and $18.00 AUD a unit because the tool has three sizes on it. Averaging $12.50AUD a unit
$12.50AUD x 20 = $250AUD per annum. Even without factoring the glass and time in, if I sell 20 mid size beads a year made with this tool, it’s a pretty good investment.
If I do end up purchasing the tool (which I did in the case of the Devardi tools) I keep this little cost benefit analysis on the back of the original invoice. At the end of the financial year I’ll look back on my taxable items (I’m a registered business) and see if the tool actually did pay for itself, if it was a good investment after all. If it wasn’t a good investment, but I still really like the tool I will recalculate (say I only sold 10 beads that year, and I have 30 lying around.) I’ll put the new formula down and review it next financial year. After 2 years if the tool still hasn’t paid for itself. I’ll make a decision on if I keep it or sell it to recoup some costs to buy a new tool. If I haven’t used it much and it’s just sitting around, it should go. So far, I haven’t sold any of my tools. I have a bunch of them earmarked for sale, but when I look at the original cost prices, sometimes, it’s just not worth reselling them!
Companies that sell various tools based on tool type
Brass Presses Overview I use the term “Brass Press” to denote a stamping type press with a handle. The press body is made entirely of brass and the handle is usually made from wood. The press may align itself with pins (Perlenpresse, Bavarian Beads and Zoozii’s) or be aligned due to a base (CattWalk). Why then, would I buy primarily CattWalk presses if I have to pay for the extra expense in both shipping and cost of a base? Actually, CattWalk never charges for shipping. So that was something I factored in when making my choices. But really, when it comes down to it; I find a press with a base a lot easier to use.
Differences between “pin” and “base” brass presses
No one now really speaks about the differences between pin presses and base presses. I think it was a hot topic several years back, but there are so many toolmakers around making pin style presses these days, the issue seems to have evaporated. Presses with pins will have two brass rods attached to the base of the tool, and two holes drilled into the top of the tool to line the press up. Presses with a base have the bottom part of the tool clamped into the base, and the top part is lined up with a guide pin on the base. The argument for pin style presses is that they line up better, and I think they do, there is certainly less room for error with the guide pins. However, I used to have real trouble dropping the press down onto pins and lining the top and bottom up properly. Which is why I still have so few pin style presses. I wear prescription glasses and one of the things I’ve never done is wear my prescription glasses for lampworking. I find clip on didy’s very annoying; so, I do my lampworking not wearing my prescription lenses. (Talk about making it hard on myself). I cracked so many Kalera beads because I was not quick enough to line up the pins. Brass presses really chill your bead, so you need to reheat it properly and press fairly quickly otherwise it will get too cold and crack. The obvious solution is to wear glasses, but it was more than just having a bit of blurry vision for not using pin presses much. It was the handling of them. It actually took me a long time to get the knack for using a pin press, but once I got the hang of it, I went out and bought a few more.
Benefits of Brass Presses
You should be able to use the top part (with the handle) of any brass press for shaping. For instance, the top of a CattWalk #3 Wide Crunch press becomes the perfect thing to shape plump olive beads. I can use the top part of my Zoozii’s Kalera Long & Lean press to shape square beads, but, a press without pins, has another bonus. The bottom part of some CattWalk presses can be flipped over for a different press option. So you’re getting more flexibility out of this style of press. However, pin presses are by and far more popular and they come in a ridiculously enormous range of styles. Ridiculously.Enormous. I have 10 presses from the European manufacturers on my wish lists and because they have so many cool new styles, I keep adding to this list.
Versatility of Brass Stamp Presses
Brass stamp presses are fairly versatile, there are presses available that don’t require a set amount of glass to make a shape. I tend to buy presses that allow for flexibility. Either I choose a press with a few different sizes in it, or I choose a press that has many design options. For instance the Kalera press doesn’t have to just make long beads, it can make little stubby pillow shaped beads too. Although you can buy presses that are limited in their structure but offer something to a bead maker that they can’t easily achieve with a marver, such as faceted edges, amorphous shapes, thin and flat rectangles and embossed patterns.
Skill Sets of Brass Stamp Presses
Brass stamp presses require practice to use properly. They also require refinement of skill, you will find some presses easier to use than others. You will also need to learn how to fill the cavity properly so that your pressed bead looks as intended. The good news is that most brass stamp press manufacturers have instructions on their website to use their products and most presses are really easy to use. Some press styles take a little while to master properly, particularly the type that have bits that stick out such as the Butterfly presses by Perlenpresse. These presses can be very frustrating to use, unless you have really good heat control I wouldn’t attempt a complex press. Other press styles look easy, but require some fiddling to get right, such as the very popular Cleopatra shape from Bavarian Beads. You should consider that no matter what press type you pick, there is a bit of a learning curve to them all. The book “Hot off the press” by Lori Greenberg is fantastic if you’re struggling to use presses.
Why do my beads crack after I use a brass press?
Because brass presses really chill the bead after being pressed it is essential that you develop the habit of bathing your bead in heat immediately after pressing and as you’re decorating. Once the bead has been pressed, up your propane just a tiny bit to make a slightly hotter flame and roll your bead at the very tip of your flame for thirty seconds or more to avoid potential cracking. The larger the pressed bead the longer you will have to soak heat, for instance the Cattwalk Focal Marquis press requires a good minute of gentle reheating once it has been pressed into shape.
If you have pressed a thin flat bead and you intend to decorate the sides, ensure that you stop decorating periodically and bathe heat through your bead as you work. Beads that crack a lot after being pressed is entirely due to being too cold. Some torches have much more ambient heat than others and so you don’t have to heat soak as much, however if you’re on a Minor Burner or a Hot Head you must heat soak regularly. This adds a lot of time to actually making a bead, but it’s worth it because they won’t crack.
The power of a brass press is that you can produce exactly the same shape bead again and again. Jewellery designers love “sets” of beads. If you’re making beads for a living, you can actually cost out your precise materials for each pressed bead based on glass volume, rod cost and time taken. This might be very important to you if you need to turn a profit or work out your hourly rate for commissions.
In 2016 I procured a gorgeous “puffy” heart press and a pentacle stamp from Ray Skene who makes high quality brass stamping tools. Ray has extended his services to make custom presses, as far as I’m aware he is the only tool maker doing this for artists directly. That means, if you have a shape you have dreamed up Ray is the man to make it happen. His business “Lampwork Tools” is located in the United Kingdom. Visit his page, you won’t be disappointed.
Graphite Shapers Overview I didn’t buy a graphite shaper until two years ago. Although I don’t use them much, when I’m having a bad day and nothing is going right, it is so nice to reach over, grab one and get that bead shaped without hassle. Overwhelmingly my shapers are from CGBeads, I purchased one recently from Devardi because I wanted to see what the difference was. Graphite shapers such as those from CGBeads have a defined bead shape, unlike presses which squash the shape into a bead, shapers rely on spinning hot molten glass in a cavity or across a grooved surface to acquire the shape. They take a certain amount of glass to shape the bead, too little and it won’t have a nice smooth shape. Too much, and the bead will develop wrinkles.
Differences between “cavity” and “profile” graphite shapers
I find CGBeads shapers very easy to use because of their cavity style. They have a beautiful smooth quality finish. The trick is to shape the basic bead, add the right amount of glass, heat until just soft and spin the bead into the cavity to get a perfect shaped bead. Its a very small learning curve. If you already know how to make beads, a CGBead “roller” just cuts down the time to make them.
I’m not fond of the blocky handles, I find them a bit cumbersome, but I’m not fond of the handle on Devardi shapers either. I think I’m very used to the slim handle on my paddle marver. The Devardi tools, most of which are forming or profile marvers (you roll the bead along the length of the forming tray or grooved profile) have a definite learning curve to get the nice sharp definition that you can get very easily from CGBeads cavity bead rollers.
I really love the shape of the Devardi tool I have and they seem pretty good. I think overall, I prefer the way CGBeads design their tools because I find the cavity much easier and quicker to get the shape right. Then there is the price difference, Devardi shapers are a fraction of the cost of CGBead shapers. My guess is the price difference is due to the type of graphite used and the difference in finishing the graphite, perhaps the labour costs in creating the tools as well. Either way, if you’re in the US a Devardi tool is very inexpensive and a good entry point into this style of tool.
Tong Presses Overview
The most famous of all tong presses have to be the ones produced by Carlo Dona. They are a huge investment, so I have never purchased one. However they make the most exquisite bell shaped flower presses. Interestingly Devardi also make bell shaped flower presses. Since I don’t have a bell press from Devardi either, I can’t do a comparison on which one is better. Although at the price Devardi charges for their tools, it’s a low cost risk to see what they’re like. Based on the two tong presses I already have from Devardi I will say that they make pretty nice beads, but for really tiny mandrels. The tongs line up well and whilst there is a seam mark visible in one of the beads pressed from a tong its easily smoothed out.
A good mid range priced tool are the Jim Moore tong presses he has a small but very select range of tongs for lentils and cushion shaped beads, along with some embossing tongs which are exquisite. I keep thinking that I should buy one, but the logical business side of me cannot justify the cost. I need to sell more beads.
Comparison between “tong” and “brass stamp” presses
The interesting thing to note is that tong tools work in much the same way as brass presses. You need to know how to gravity shape a bead in order to fit it into the tong and press it correctly. So in that sense, I think tong presses have a higher learning curve than brass pressses, because a brass press is more forgiving. If you have too much glass in your bead, your brass press probably has another cavity and you can add glass to make a bigger bead, but your tong press only has the one size. You can pull glass off a bead carefully to reduce the size, but it takes practice at spot heating on a chilled bead, so that you don’t pull the entire bead off the mandrel. Tongs travel well because they are lightweight and make an excellent choice for artists who teach and do demonstrations. Unlike a brass stamp press which needs to sit flat on a table you can lift the tong up to demonstrate bead shaping to an audience. I remember a debate on Lampwork Etc Forum about what was the “best” lentil shape and overwhelmingly the Jim Moore Lentil tongs were the favourite for the overall shape.
Brass texture Stamps and Pads
There are a lot of tools on the market. Let me rephrase that, you won’t ever own or use all the tools on the market. You will wish you did at times when you see someone use a tool in an unexpected way and fall in love with that design. I wish I owned some texture pads, such as the ones that Karen Leonardo (she calls her tools “imprint” tools) or Jim Moore sell. These are small brass stamps with wooden handles that can be used to stamp a design into glass. I could really see these sorts of texture stamps fitting in well with my organic designs and that is what a lot of artists use them for. EDIT: I actually bought a Jim Moore spiral texture stamp and I love it. It offers a very different look to the Spiral Plank that Cattwalk make (which I have) and it is as easy as stamping it into your bead whilst the glass is hot, but not too molten to distort the shape. The Leonardo texture stamps have a much wider range with some very cool patterns, I have a few stamps on my “wishlist” from this supplier as well. I still wish that I had a good quality pair of parallel mashers for the rare occasions I think a bead would look better squashed, graphite marver pressing can be wonky if you use uneven pressure and once it’s flat, it ain’t going back.
Do your research, look at all the tool makers and see if you can borrow some to use.If you are in an area where you can borrow tools from a studio tool library, go and do that to see if you love the tool enough to buy it. If you don’t and you’re not sure between one brand or another, go with your gut instinct. You’re an artist after all.
The Big Hole Mandrel/Ring Topper
I originally wasn’t going to talk about these types of tools, but they’re right up there for popularity. Big hole mandrels make big hole beads and rings. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. The Ring Topper Mandrel is a special tool that allows for a cabochon top with a threaded bottom for switching ring tops out on a ring base. You can also buy Cabochon Mandrels to make cabochons in the flame rather than in a kiln. I’ve got the big hole mandrels and they’re never disappointing to use. They challenge you in a whole other way when it comes to heat control. I think they’re awesome to use after the 60 hour mark to really refine your “bead-under-the-flame-warming” habit. I don’t own any ring topper mandrels yet, I would need to dedicate some serious time to mastering how to make a cabochon in a flame. Then the cleaning of them would probably drive me loopy. You do need to get silicone carbide grit to clean the base of cabochons and ring toppers made in the flame.
I hope this post has been interesting and gave you some insight and perspective that you might not have considered before buying a tool. If you are looking at becoming a registered business, all of your tools can be considered tax deductible. (they are in Australia). Now if that isn’t incentive to go out and buy tools, I don’t know what is!
In Part 5 of the studio set up blogs I discussed bead release and mandrel preparation in exhaustive detail (I know I’m exhausted from proof reading it), but bead release is one of those things that if it’s going wrong can be most frustrating. This post turned into such a long-winded discussion about all the different tools and suppliers and what tool to get when, that I had to break it in two separate blog posts. In the sixth installation of this blog series I tackle the discussion of what tools to buy on start up, very specifically, what tools to get within the first 60 hours of making beads. I have included a lot of links to different suppliers so that you can do some price comparing. In the first 60 hours I don’t think it is necessary to buy a kiln. Although I will talk about kilns in the next post on tools. At the end of this blog post is a list of tool manufacturers and suppliers for Australian residents.
It was an overcast Sunday in 2006, I’d spent the entire day learning how to be ambidextrous, my left hand sometimes still doesn’t know what it wants to do. I had to learn how to spin a mandrel, apply glass, apply heat, use stringer, keep the bead round and well, none of that was working out right. I was exhausted and irritated with my slow progress. I couldn’t get the shapes I saw in my head to happen on my mandrel. A question by another student summed up my train of thought. “Should I use a press to get the shape that I want instead of making beads the slow way?” I listened eagerly to the answer and was at first disappointed. The teacher, Pauline Delaney paused for a moment and then said “later maybe, you should learn to get basic shapes with gravity and a marver first.” I can’t recall the conversation beyond that point, I was excited there were tools that could do the shaping for me and I was also busy feeling guilty about not wanting to follow teacher recommendations.
What I did in the next few weeks was to completely ignore Pauline’s advice and go on a tool-spending spree. Brass presses were really having their moment in the sun, and I was in love with all the fancy shapes I saw in beads for sale on eBay that were impossible to get (or truly difficult to achieve) with gravity and a marver. I went out and bought some Cattwalk presses; a lentil trio, a tile trio and a marquise shape. I’ve used the lentil the most (all my first lentils cracked). I used the smaller cavity in the tile trio once (turned out pretty well, but I never felt the urge to use it again) and the marquise shape once – in disgust I put the marquise press away because what I did make, exploded off the mandrel. I still have all my presses, and I’m slightly biased to the Cattwalk brand, all my presses bar one come from that company, but I realised that I wasn’t going to make anything better with a press until I figured out heat control and gravity forming beads.
TLDR; Before 60 hours of lampworking If you don’t want to read the full and detailed list of tools below, here’s a quick version of what is recommended for a new lampworker to use in the first 30-60 hours of lampworking.
Didymium or ACE Didymium glasses
Glass Nippers or Mosaic Glass Cutters
Flat benchtop marver
Razor tool or knife
Tungsten rake or poke
If you are leaning toward sculptural beads (e.g animals, aliens or robots) you should also get a Stump Shaper
If you like flat beads then get a pair of parallel mashers, although keeping a flat bead warm all over whilst doing a design on one surface is tricky, but as a beginner this is a great style to practice heat control on.
Fun marvers, such as the holey roller, grooved marver or flower frog
Crockpot full of vermiculite or Fibre Blanket
THE FIRST 60 HOURS Books to build skills I looked at my marvers and realised that using them was the only way I was going to learn heat control. So, back to marvering and gravity to shape beads. I couldn’t use presses until I understood and mastered the basic heating and manoeuvring of glass for myself. I made a lot of hollow beads to practice heat control. I shaped a lot of rounds and donuts, then figured out how to make tapered tubes, cylinders, barrels and bicones only using gravity and a marver. I got the hang of making a perfectly round bead (Larry Scott’s trick in Cindy Jenkin’s book Beads of Glass helped me “get it”). A lot of the beads I made with gravity and a marver cracked as well but I persevered and started reading more into heat control. I read Bhandu Dunham’s epic glass saga and got a greater understanding of the characteristics of molten glass.
I learned how to create perfect puckered ends, rounded ends and straight ends through Jim Kervin’s little books about Jim (James) Smirchich’s heat and gravity shaped beads. I learned how to get bicones and triangles and discs by reading about Heather Trimlett’s techniques, such as the “40 bead challenge”. I had a copy of Corina Tettinger’s book (bible) and it didn’t leave my side for the next six months. These artists use gravity and simple tools to get all the shapes they need, if it was good enough for the masters, it was good enough for me. Pauline is right, the information coming out in publications from the most influential teachers were all saying the same thing. Heat, gravity and a marver are the most essential tools for learning how to make beads.
If you learn how to heat glass and move it with gravity first then you will encounter fewer problems when using presses or making beads outside of your comfort zone (like, long flat beads or thin tubes). By the end of those thirty hours my heat control was better and my understanding of how glass moves was significantly increased. After six months I could use the lentil press with much more success, although I’m still very cautious around that marquise shape. The first sixty hours of bead making took me about 12 weeks to reach. I didn’t feel confident enough to sell beads until a full year later and only after friends asked me. You can probably tell where I’m going with my list of tools that are essential on start up, can’t you?
Marvers (Yep, plural, you probably need at least two)
I love my marvers. I’d say I make more than 70% of my beads with a marver and gravity only. I love them so much that I have four of them. I’ll explain why a marver should be your first “shaping” tool. Marvers are made from hardened graphite. Some have handles and look like a paddle, you can get torch mounted marvers, raised marvers and some are just a flat block. Graphite is also used to make bead, marble, paperweight, murrine and vessel shaping tools.
My lampworking starter kit came with two marvers;
A flat benchtop marver
The benchtop marver was great for laying out leaf and frit to roll my bead on, but it hurt my wrist to bend at the angle needed to do any serious shaping with.
and A tiny little paddle marver.
I found the little paddle marver more useful for actual shaping of a bead, but it was too small and my beads were getting bigger. So I bought a bigger paddle marver and put the little one away.
Graphite paddle marvers are available in a variety of lengths and widths, some with rubber handles and some with wood. Choose one by taking note of how you work. If you keep “running out of space” you should get a longer marver. If your beads are falling off the edge, get a wider one.
Modifying a marver into a stabiliser
Although as my beads got bigger and longer I began having trouble stabilising my mandrel and my beads were losing shape because my hands shook. I’d read about stabilising mandrels in a glass paddle (Bhandu Durham) and that didn’t appeal, but then I recalled Jim Smirchich’s technique of modifying a marver – a tailstock (read here about a lampworker who has blogged about this specific marver). I measured a corner that matched back and front on the little marver, then cut a corner off it with the grinding wheel of my Dremel, sanded it flat, then drilled a hole in that flat corner, voila, a mandrel stabiliser.
Torch Mounted marver
I only purchased one a few years ago and my primary reason for buying it was to keep murrini warm. I don’t do any shaping with it. Although some people find them very handy for this. I keep a small brass disc shaping tool on my torch mounted marver for easy access.
“Fun” Marvers There are a few “fun” marvers on the market and one you can pick up from a thrift/junk shop that will give your beads a different look. These are a good tool for beginners, you can play with texture on a bead and learn some nifty tricks with these tools.
Grooved aluminium marvering pad (Aluminium Ridge Shaper)
This tool leaves ridges and grooves in your bead, which can be left on it’s own or encased for some cool effects.
Holey Roller marvering pad
This tool leaves circular impressions in your bead, particularly cool for organic designs. You can knock your own up by buying off-cut perforated stainless steel sheet.
Vintage Flower Frog
These flat back steel blocks have upright spikey nails embedded into them. If your roll a hot glass bead over, they will leave a whole bunch of tiny holes that you can encase for a bead filled with little decorative air bubbles.
Carving your own design into graphite pads
You can buy plain graphite and have a go carving your own design (such as spirals or wiggly lines)
Tweezers (You’ll need at least one pair of tweezers to start with)
My basic starter kit came with a whole bunch of tweezers. Tweezers are handy for gripping the end of glass to pull a stringer or twisty. They’re also good for pinching things out of glass (such as scum or inclusions) and are useful to push, pinch and manipulate glass with. Paddle tweezers are also good for flattening out petals and leaves without making any imprints. My favourites are the smaller sizes that I use for pulling and applying stringer, pinching out designs or inclusions. It’s good to have at least one pair on hand. I went on to buy a few more different kinds of tweezers to see what I liked.
Needle nose tweezers
These are good for pinching out things from a bead without distorting the design (such as a flake of bead release)
Flat paddle tweezers/Petal Puller Tweezers
Very small flat paddle tweezers can help thin the walls of disc beads (useful when making wound hollow beads. Petal Puller tweezers do what they say, they help you shape glass on the rod to create petals for dimensional work.
Large paddle tweezers
These are handy for creating square beads. I modified my pair by carefully bending back the arms to form a V which helps to form the base of free-form heart shaped beads.
Standard (snub nose) tweezers come in two styles, ridged grips and smooth grips.
Ridged ends are really handy for making ruffles in glass, they also grip better which is handy for stringer pulling
Smooth ends are slipperier (I’ve sometimes lose grip on the edge of a stringer) but because they don’t leave an impression in glass are useful for manipulating sculptural designs.
Cross Lock tweezers are mostly used in bead knotting as the tweezers lock into place and can slide a knot down nicely. They can also be useful for getting a strong hold on Murrini. I find that they’re very useful for pulling out inclusions from glass rods as the lock means you can heat and pull in one motion. Tungsten Pick tweezers have the added bonus of not heating up easily, and having really pointed ends that are useful for poking holes and dragging glass into designs.
Lastly, consider a pair of pliers with spring form handles (you can get a lot of different kinds). Whilst they’re not exactly a pair of tweezers they perform the same function and you can save yourself money by raiding the toolbox.
Knives, Blades and Stump Shapers
Another useful shaping and design tool is a knife or blade edge, like a razor tool. These come in a huge range of types. From your every day stainless steel knifes picked up in a variety/junk shop to specialised brass tools that are so expensive you will scream like a banshee when significant other “borrows” them for a purpose not intended and ruins the edge. (True story, I haven’t forgiven him. Keep expensive tools away from thieving handymen).
Knives, blades and stump shapers are useful for cutting lines into dots to form petal creases, moving, shifting and smoothing glass down for textural and sculptural designs. Before I found a set of dental tools I used an ordinary craft knife with removable blade. For sharp creases and lines look for tools that come in brass and stainless steel primarily, such as:
The second shaping tool with an edge is a stump shaper, whilst not as sharp as a knife or a blade these tools have a handle and a blunt edge that can be used for shaping, they come in all different widths, dimensions and styles.
Stumpchuck Stump Shapers (Loren Stump’s brand of tools)
Graphite Stump Shaper
Brass Stump Shaper
Stainless Steel Stump Shaper
Pokers and Rakes (either or, but most people get both) Pokers and rakes are mostly made from Tungsten because these tools are used in glass when it is very hot and soft. Tungsten can absorb a lot of heat and cools down quickly, which means it doesn’t stick to glass easily. You can get stainless steel pokes and rakes, but you will need to chill them after prolonged use as stainless steel sticks to glass when it’s hot. These tools are primarily used for design purposes, such as poking holes for trapped air bubbles and raking dots and lines for effects.
Poker: A long thin rod with a sharpened end and a wooden handle. Does exactly what it is named for. Use it to poke holes in dots then slather a transparent glass on top to trap an air bubble for a pretty design. Can also be used as a rake to drag or push dots and lines around.
Rakes: These are Tungsten pokers that have a 90 degree bend in them, making it easier to hold your mandrel and drag the surface of your bead to feather, or rake dots and lines into shapes. Can be used as a poker as well
Mashers – BBQ, Tweezer style and parallel (if you like flat beads) I’m not sure why these were popular as some made an absolute hash out of your bead. BBQ mashers were everywhere about ten years back. I think tab style presses have largely relegated this tool to the storage cupboard. They basically mash your bead flat. The BBQ and Tweezer style presses by their very design mean there is a lot of fiddling to get a perfectly flat bead. Parallel Mashers are much better to use if you want a flattened bead. I’ve never bought a pair of these, as I flatten my beads between my paddle marver and my bench marver. Parallel mashers give a more even finish though. There is a comprehensive review here of TP Mashers, probably the best parallel mashers around.
The not very fun, but very necessary essential tools – Rod rest (I ended up with three of them, two for glass rods and one for tools.)
– Glass cutters (Get the nipper kind, you can cut your murrini as well)
– Didymium Glasses – don’t use welding glasses it isn’t enough to protect your eyes from soda flare (I started off with regular didy’s, but wanted a lighter frame and ended up with a pair of ACE didy’s, which have darker lenses and supposedly offer better retina protection. I’m not an expert, I just bought what was comfortable.)
A specialised mandrel toolmaker known as “Inspirational Toolworks” now sells through Zoozii’s. Some of your local suppliers will stock tools by these companies, also try Etsy and eBay for these tools as many of these suppliers sell through there or you can pick up second hand ones.
Things to consider when buying metal or graphite tools When choosing a tool decide what it will be for, shaping or moving glass? 1. Graphite is slippery, glass will slip over the surface of it. Its useful for shaping the base bead shape.
2. Metal is grippy, glass will grip to the surface of a metal marver. Its useful for dragging glass across the surface of a bead. (Brass tools are handy for smoothing encasements without distorting the base bead).
3. A bead roller or forming tray uses gentle heat and a spinning motion to shape the bead, because these tools are graphite the bead will slide across the surface and get a nice smooth finish (if you are using the correct amount of glass in the tool).
4. Brass presses push and mould glass into shape, the press will leave distinctive “chill” marks or ripples and the bead has to be reheated to gently smooth them out.
Most marvers are made of either brass or graphite.
1. Graphite heats up quickly and holds heat for a long time if used continually, although a cold graphite marver will chill your bead.
2. Brass heats up quickly but does not hold heat as easily as graphite, brass really chills beads. Although brass can stick to glass if you’re not being careful to space your working time out with a particular tool (like a small brass poke).
3. You will need to slowly roll heat through your bead at the top of your flame to make sure your bead hasn’t chilled all the way through (which will cause it to crack in half).
4. You can keep a jar of water next to you and a cloth to “cool” your small brass tools down.
My batch of CiM Glacier is so old, that some of the rods have the original tag name for it; “Blue Slate”. Although CiM went on to produce a different glass with a similar name (Blue Steel), which is an altogether different colour. Glacier is a solid cool pastel blue, that is soft and buttery to melt in the flame. I’ve never had it ping or crack even without pre-warming the end of a rod. Its a very forgiving glass as it is hard to burn and holds heat deep in its core, which makes it a good base for finicky designs.
I’ll confess that I’ve only recently fallen in love with Glacier, I thought it was such a “blah” colour for a long time. I didn’t think how this particular shade of non reactive, non streaky, just very plain blue was anything special. I was so very wrong. I’ve gone from hardly using Glacier to spending the last six months constantly using it.
Glacier completely loses any of it’s streakiness (not that my batches have much streakiness to them at all) when heated over a long period of time. It’s a very solid soft pastel blue colour that etches to perfection. (Yeah, I am in love with this glass). Glacier looks better etched. It is nice when it’s glossy, but the soft blue it becomes when etched is very hard to resist.
The beauty of CiM Glacier is in how well it mixes with Effetre pastels. When Glacier is superheated and swirled with Effetre Dark Ivory it still maintained it’s density and didn’t spread out as I expected a soft glass would. I had to really twist and twirl the two colours together to get some reaction. When superheating where Glacier and Ivory meet there is some frazzling, caramelising and mixing of the two colours. Although, if you do not superheat, you can keep a very sharp line between Glacier and any other opaque glass. I’ve personally fallen in love with the blend of Ivory, Glacier, Avocado and Copper Green.
When you pair Glacier with Effetre Violet Pastel a slight watercolour reaction occurs. Glacier will seep out over Violet Pastel in a way that looks remarkably like water paints. Moreover, Glacier in thin trails or stringer takes on a more lavender hue. It took me far too long to work this out, because I had pulled a bunch of Glacier stringer once and left them sitting in a jar with the purple stringers because I’d completely stopped paying attention that day. Much later I grabbed one of these “lavender” stringers and used them with Effetre Violet Pastel then when I was asked to repeat a bead, I couldn’t figure out what glass I’d used.
So, I went looking for a “lavender” glass that was giving me those lovely watercolour reactions and didn’t find one. If you look at the beads in the last photo, this is the reaction I’m talking about. A very thin layering of Glacier will look like pale lavender glass. Be mindful of this if you want blue trails or a slender tube bead to look more blue, you’re better off using a blue like CiM Zachary or CiM French Blue that doesn’t colour change when used in small quantities. Only recently did I put Glacier and Violet Pastel together again and there was the magic. I’ve gotten the same (but less intense) effect of layering Glacier stringer over other Effetre pastel purples and on CiM Gelly’s Sty as well. Etch the watercolour reaction sometime, it’s worth doing. Etching pulls out some striations.
However, CiM Cirrus and CiM Glacier do not play well together when Cirrus is used as a stringer design over Glacier, it will always devitrify. I haven’t noticed any other colours doing that over Glacier, it could be a quirk with Cirrus. It bears more investigation.
Glacier is a dependable blue that has a few little tricks waiting for you to discover. It fits so well with other soft muted colours and works equally well with fiery reds and yellows. It is a must have colour for your stash because it is so versatile.
In Part 5 of the Studio Set Up blogs I discuss tips and tricks for getting your mandrels prepared. This blog focuses on three main areas, making bead release, dipping your mandrels and cleaning your mandrels. Now that the torch is set up and the studio is looking more like a work space the invitation to melt glass is calling. If you’re beginning this craft, don’t underestimate how important good mandrel preparation is. Mandrel prep is the first step to do before you can make beads. There are a lot of different brands of bead release on the market, more than likely a pre-made blend will suit your needs. If you’re in Australia and you’re not satisfied with the local stuff that may mean spending some large sums of money to get a mix from the US. I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret, if you get to understand how bead release is made, making your own is pretty awesome.
In Part 4of the Studio Set Up blogs I discussed turning on the torch safely and where to get the fuel needed, however having a torch and studio is useless if you cannot get your bead release correct. One of the greatest pains in the backside for any bead-maker is bead release that doesn’t do what you want it to do. This blog should help you create good habits for either making your own bead release, preparing your mandrels and, or keeping them in tip top shape to make sure you’re getting the most out of your gear.
What are Mandrels? Mandrels are rigid stainless steel wires used to put the hole in the bead. They are coated with a clay and silica mixture, called “bead release”, which is a temporary clay agent used to extract the bead from the wire mandrel. You can make your own mandrels and bead release or buy these products ready to use. I don’t cut my own mandrels because I find it really time consuming. If you’re in Australia you can get Stainless Steel 316L rod from BOC. 316L rod is the specific kind of stainless steel that you need for mandrels.
The size most lampworkers use is 1.6mm and up (by far the most popular size is (3/32) 2.4mm). I really like the (1/8) 3.2mm for making bigger holed beads that fit round leather cord. These mandrel sizes will be roughly the hole size of your bead. If you have the tools lying around to cut your own mandrels, you may find it cathartic or handy to cut whatever size you want. If you’re like me and really can’t be bothered; mandrels are available at most glass retail outlets online and they’re inexpensive. Mandrels that are sitting in an annealer for long periods of time go softer quicker and bend easier, so you will replace them more frequently, because I batch anneal, my mandrels last longer.
New mandrels are shiny and smooth and look lovely. You don’t want them like that at all. Bead release won’t stick well to a slick surface. The easiest thing to do is pull on some rubber gloves and give them a scrub with some steel wire and soap to rough up the surface a little and clean off any oils from being handled. If you have picked up some mandrels second hand you’ll notice they’re a nice brown colour. They turn this way after being fired a few times in a kiln.
An introduction to Bead Release. There are so many different types and brands of bead release on the market today. There are two basic types “flame dry” and “air dry”. Some air dry release can also be dried in the flame. What this means is that for some releases your mandrel must be dipped and left to dry and other releases can be dipped on the fly and your mandrel can be dried in the top part of your flame slowly. Flame dry release needs to be dried very slowly at the top of your flame, otherwise it will explode off. Artists will advocate for their personal preference, but I’m not bothered by which type of release I use. I tend to dip my mandrels in the evening after I finish a bead making session as a sort of wind down activity. This means that I have dried mandrels ready for the next bead making session. Regardless of which type of release you end up going for they all contain about the same ingredients. Crucial ingredients are water, kaolin and alumina hydrate. When I first wrote this blog post I wasn’t a big maker of my own bead release. I had most of the ingredients lying around to “fix” up batches that had gone wonky. These days though I rotate around between premixed pots from a variety of different sellers or I make my own.
I have read a heap about bead release, I have experimented a lot with different ingredients and recipes. Subsequently I have a lot of notes from a long time ago (the notebook has yellowed from age) when I was so frustrated by failing release. This blog post is so very, very long because I explore some of what I have learned over the last 10 years.
One of the things I’ve read is that alumina hydrate must be calcined for it to produce the best quality bead release. This means that if you’re buying alumina hydrate from a pottery craft supplier, you need to heat the alumina up to about 1200 degrees centigrade then let it cool before use. That’s a fair amount of effort and it requires a kiln. Whilst I believe that calcined Alumina Hydrate stops hairline cracks appearing in your bead release, at the end of the day it doesn’t particularly matter if it’s calcined or not. So long as you adequately dry your mandrels and heat them up properly before you wind glass onto them, you will be less likely to develop hairline cracks across your release.
Why are there so many different types of Bead Release?
There are a lot of different theories and recipes about bead release. It’s a beadmaker holy grail quest, in a sense. Finding that one perfect release that holds, never cracks, never flakes, where beads just come off mandrels easily and cleans out of holes perfectly. It doesn’t seem like such a big ask does it? Well… These days it is pretty easy to just buy good quality bead release. As the saying goes “you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince”. Bead Release is a bit like that. You may find a brand that does all of that, or your brand used to do all of that and now something is wrong and you need a quick fix.
One thing that is universal about bead release is that there are all different types and brands because humidity and heat effect it. You need to get one that suits your humidity levels, what someone recommends in Texas, might not work in Tasmania. The other thing about bead release is that it needs to have a good suspension of all its ingredients in the mix. Sometimes bead release that is pre-made can have batch runs that don’t suit your environmental circumstances and the dreaded cracking, breaking and “spinning beads” happen. One thing I try and do in this blog is to help you understand what might be causing the problems with existing releases as well as learning how to fix them, and making your own release if you can’t find a commercial one that suits you.
Something else bead makers should be aware of is seasonal changes effect your bead release. Bead release that I have no trouble with in winter, is problematic for me in summer because the searing temperatures bakes my release and makes it go flaky, and I’m not just talking about what it does in the jar sitting on the shelf. For the new bead maker, you will work this out as you go and will more than likely have a few different pots of stuff lying around for different seasons. So don’t think that the first thing you buy just has to work because someone else says it does.
Making your own Bead Release
Should you be motivated to make your own bead release, here’s some of the more popular theories. Some people use Kiln Wash all on its own (kiln wash can be a mix of alumina hydrate and kaolin, but it could also be a mix of alumina oxide and kaolin). Some people add Bentonite Clay (available from health food shops) to pure Kaolin then mix with pure Alumina Hydrate. Then there are a few “optional extras” such as Graphite and Diatomaceous Earth that can be thrown in to stabilise the blend.
There is a lot of sifting to make sure all the lumps are out and you haven’t even added the water yet. Then there are conflicting arguments about the perfect ingredients. Bead release is part clay and part other stuff. (Fancy technical term there) that holds under high heat but also can wash out of your bead in water. We’re asking it to do a lot, but that explains why it is mostly clay.
There are other conflicting pieces of information online about bead release, such as you don’t have to calcine your alumina hydrate (you don’t). Kiln wash on it’s own is strong enough (it’s not), measurements are pointless (they’re not), tap water is fine, no – tap water is bad; only use distilled water. Distilled water is a variable you can control, if you’re using rainwater or tap water and you suddenly have problems with your release, after adding more water. That’s your problem there.
I gave up trying to figure out how to make my own bead release after a few false starts (Edit: April 2015. I always give up, but then I go back and try things again). If you want to experiment, the ingredients I listed above are what you need or you can try this recipe below as a base line then increase or decrease the percentage of things as you go to suit you. All of the ingredients for bead release are very fine powders so wear a good respirator when making beadrelease otherwise those tiny particles will find their way down into your lungs. I’ve personally tried a simple mix of 50/50 Kiln Wash (Kaolin and Alumina Oxide based kiln wash) and added Alumina Hydrate with a good chunk of graphite. This isn’t a bad mixture, but it won’t work in presses or if you’re tugging at the glass. You can just use Kiln Wash 80% + Diatomaceous Earth 15% + Graphite 5% as a very stable release that will work in presses as well.
The last Bead Release recipe I had in my notebook is one I found online. The general consensus on the Lampwork Etc forums was that this recipe was a good all rounder that did well in presses and cleaned off easily (this notebook dates to 2007, so I’m pretty sure the recipe isn’t on the forum anymore). The reason for the extra Kaolin and Alumina Hydrate in the recipe is to counteract generic Kiln/Batt Wash that might not have enough of either for stabilising beads.
EDIT April 2015: I did make the Lampwork Etc recipe bead release recipe below when I ran out of Foster Fire this year and it works perfectly, it does not budge or crack when used in a press. I was making a lot of long narrow beads at the time and added a little more Diatomaceous Earth for hold. I found it the perfect release for the extended shaping and marvering I was doing. This release does not like to be heated up and cooled down too much as it will release as you’re working on a bead. This recipe is great for long beads or where your mandrel is not being flashed in and out of the flame. The only downside is that it isn’t as easy to clean out as Foster Fire, but then again we’re talking really long beads so they’re a pain to clean anyway, but it’s not as terrible as Super Blue Sludge. To honour where I found the original recipe I’ve named it after the best forums for glass bead makers going around. Now that I’ve talked it up, here’s the recipe:
The teaspoon measurement gives you an idea of ratio, I usually multiply this teaspoon ratio by 4. I spoon each ingredient into a sifter with bowl beneath.
Sift all these ingredients together until free of lumps and pour into a tall plastic jar with an airtight lid. (If you’ve made a lot, store the excess mixture in zip lock bags)
Add a few clean marbles or a clean super bouncy rubber ball (optional) to your jar.
Carefully pour in a little distilled water (for years I used tap water and perhaps it’s Australian tap water, but it is not good for bead release)
Cap the bottle and shakereally hard for a good five minutes it’s a great abdomen and arm workout. Five minutes seems long, but trust me on this… you need to mix it really well.
Some people make a modified mixer attachment for their Dremel to mix bead release, other people put it into a blender. Whatever you do, make sure your release is mixed really well.
Check the consistency
If the consistency is thick and gluggy, add a bit more water and shake really well again.
If the consistency looks like pancake batter, you’ve got it right.
If the consistency is too watery, put the jar aside with the cap off and let some of the water evaporate.
Bentonite + Diatomaceous Earth means release is easier to clean out of beads. The fine particles of Bentonite provides holding power but also separates the Diatomaceous Earth a little from the Kaolin in kiln wash making your bead come off your mandrel easier. You can substitute your heaped teaspoon of Bentonite with a level teaspoon of Graphite if you’re finding it hard to get the beads off the mandrel or cleaned, but Graphite on its own doesn’t provide holding power. Graphite is a lubricant, so if you put too much, your release will always break when the mandrel gets cold and that is really frustrating. So err on the side of less is more when adding graphite to a bead release mix.
Bead Release Woes
I’ve had a lot of experience with screwing up my bead release, in abject desperation I bought some very expensive bottles from overseas. I still had problems, until I added kiln wash to the mixture I bought from the US. I was fairly epic in the way that in every single batch of dipped mandrels, most would turn out useless in the flame. Cracking, flaking, breaking, exploding off the mandrel and once, a spectacular shower of release once the flame hit the mandrel.
You name the issue and I have managed to make it happen. The only true way of ending any issues with bead release is to prepare your mandrels and the mixture correctly. If you buy bead release it will most likely come to you in dry powder form (although a lot of American brands of release come to you wet), so follow the steps above for mixing bead release well and below for having clean mandrels free of residue which could impact the quality of your bead release.
Mandrel Preparation Don’t take shortcuts with cleaning and preparing your mandrels. You might not have a problem at all with your bead release. Save yourself the heartache of blaming your bead release until you can eliminate greasy mandrels. After all it might be that your mandrels that are greasy or dirty from being handled causing your release to prematurely crack or break. Or your bead release isn’t adhering to the metal surface properly, because they’re too smooth.
Mandrels must be thoroughly scrubbed with soap and rinsed with hot water on purchase and after each use.
New mandrels should be “roughed up” by scrubbing them with steel wool
Wear rubber gloves so oils from lotions and your skin cannot sit on the mandrel when you are cleaning them.
Dry mandrels on a towel in a warm room or lay them out on a dish cloth in the sun. Resist the urge to “rub” them dry with a cloth.
Store cleaned mandrels in a place where they won’t come into contact with anything (I have my clean mandrels stored upright in a coffee jar).
Don’t handle your mandrels with your bare hands until you are prepared to dip them, ideally the end you touch should not be the end you coat in bead release.
Dipping Mandrels There is a trick to doing the whole mandrel dip. The trick is; pull the mandrel out slowly and on a slight angle. The slower you pull the mandrel out of the bead release the thinner the coating is. Thinner coatings of a good consistency release will dry quickly and thoroughly, will be more stable in the flame and less likely to break or flake. You will also get a bead hole closer in size to the actual mandrel which makes it easier to explain to people buying your beads how big the hole is.
If you dunk your mandrel in and out of the release quickly, you will get a thicker coat of bead release. In some cases this is good to know if your release isn’t watery, but if it is, be prepared for a lot of drippy mandrels. Some people double dip, and only some bead release brands allow that. If you like a thicker layer of release, double check or do some tests before double dipping every single mandrel.
I used to be really paranoid about dipping mandrels. I’m not a particularly religious person, but all my Catholic upbringing comes back to me when I’m dipping mandrels. Since taking more care with my mandrel prep and mixing release better I haven’t had any of the disasters that used to happen in the past;
Take a clean mandrel without touching the end you want to dip and slide it into a just shaken jar of bead release.
Then slowly pull the mandrel out (slow = thinner coating, fast = thicker coating)
Let the mandrel sit above the jar for a moment whilst any excess release beads off.
Jam your mandrel into a container filled with sand or vermiculite to hold the mandrel up without it leaning (gravity will move wet release).
Let your mandrels dry out of the sun and any breezes. Some people like to sit their mandrels on their warm kiln if they’re in a rush and need them to dry quickly.
Breathe out, now do at least ten more (or however many you think you’re going to use up in the space of three to five days).
Some bead release can handle being dipped and left to sit for months and others can’t. As a general rule of thumb I dip about ten mandrels at a time because I use about that many in one torch session.
When bead release is completely dry, look over your mandrels. If you see little rough edges where powder hasn’t dissolved properly you can gently “finger sand” your mandrels to smooth them out.
Bead release will look grey when wet and white when dry. In winter, with the studio warmed by the heater (dry air), I give my mandrels at least an hour of drying time before I use them. In Summer, because the humidity level is higher (moist air) I’m more cautious and tend to leave them overnight under the desk where they’re out of the sun and heat. I also use my flame dry release more in Summer, because all the releases I own really don’t like humidity.
Heating Mandrels and Bead Release When your mandrels and release are all dry and your torch is lit and everything is ready to go, there is one last step on your road to perfect bead release and that is your flame preparation. Mandrels and release have to be heated gently, so that they can expand together in the heat without cracking. This seems like a no brainer and yet, the temptation to chuck the mandrel straight into the flame is high on my “stupid things I do” list. A bit of patience when heating your mandrels up will make a great deal of difference with how well your bead release performs in the flame. Remember, different bead release brands like to be heated up differently and that is due to their nature (flame dry release, needs to be very carefully heated) but as a general rule of thumb, the following can be applied to most brands of air dry release.
I waft my mandrels in the top part of my flame to gently heat the entire dipped length of the mandrel.
Then I rotate my mandrel through the higher part of my flame making sure every part of it has flashed red from heat (your release should also get grey “scorch” marks on it). In the case of using Super Blue Sludge or Dip’N’Go sludge you want the release to change from grey all the way to white.
Before I apply my glass, I spot heat the area on the mandrel where my first wind of glass is going to go (your release should go white). I pull the mandrel back and forth to also heat around the spot area (so that the length of mandrel that will take the bead is also white). Then I wind on my glass.
If you do all of that in the flame, you have a much higher chance of perfect bead release that holds tight, doesn’t flake or crack, no matter what brand you are using. Its important the mandrel is well heated after the initial phase of introducing your mandrel and bead release to the flame. Your glass will not get air bubbles trying to rise to the surface of your bead from cold or moist release and your bead won’t suddenly “release” mid way through making it, (spinning bead syndrome) because a good heated connection was made.
Lastly, do not spot heat so intensely that you cause your bead release to crack. You just want the release to be hot enough to take the first wind of glass for a good connection. It takes practice learning how much heat your release can take, some brands take a lot of punishment and some don’t. The “Lampwork Etc” recipe above is pretty forgiving, but moving the mandrel in and out of the hottest part of the flame a lot will cause it to release prematurely.
Cleaning Mandrels A little trick I taught myself is the “two bucket system” (I’m giving it a fancy name). Basically, you want two plastic buckets, the kind that kids use at the beach placed in your sink or laundry trough (to contain any spills). One bucket should be filled with very cold water and one with warm (as warm as you can handle) sudsy water. The idea is to make your job cleaning beads and mandrels as easy as possible. Drop your mandrels with the beads still on them into the bucket of very cold water, the cold water will contract the metal just a fraction, making the beads easier to twist and slide off. It also means that the bead release along the rest of the mandrel will easily crack and slide off as well. You won’t have to scrub very hard to get the release off. As you’re twisting off your beads, have a bucket of warm sudsy water next to you ready so you can pop your beads into that bucket, where they can soak a little while.
To clean out the bead hole I use a Dremel with a diamond reamer bit. If you don’t have a Dremel you can always use a hand held bead reamer to clean your beads in the warm water in the bucket. Set your cleaned beads aside on a dish cloth to dry. When you’re finished all your beads, using a cigar pipe cleaner (these pipe cleaners have stiff plastic fibres) run it through the bead holes to pull out any excess residue of clay and water, then leave your beads to dry completely.
You can clean your mandrels using the sudsy water after you’ve cleaned your beads. Don’t forget to dunk the clean mandrels into water without soap to remove the soap residue. Lay out your mandrels on another dish cloth to dry completely before storing them away. After all of this cleaning, both buckets of water will be cold and you can go out and water onto your lawn or garden bed. (Clay based release down the sink will end up clogging the drain eventually). If you are using a dishwashing detergent that isn’t safe for your garden, you can pour it over your driveway or footpath onto weeds. Dishwashing liquid will stop weeds growing up through the cracks in pavement. (Well my soap detergent does!)
Lastly, when your beads are completely dry, run some clear nail polish through the bead holes (I learned this trick in a book) and that will make them nicer to photograph and also nicer to string up for jewellery makers. If you have a transparent bead and you’re having trouble trying to get the nail polish brush down the hole, another trick I taught myself is to thread a piece of tightly braided string (not yarn) and just paint the string in clear polish and slide the bead across it to get the clear polish through the hole.
Premade Bead Release Brands This is a list of bead release brands that I’ve either used or am using. Some of them come from Australia and others from the USA. Chockadoo and Beadglass ship their bead release flat in ziploc bags, but some, like Foster Fire ships out wet in sturdy plastic containers. There are heaps of brands out there, but these are the ones that I’ve personally tried and liked over the years or brands friends swear by.
No other issue genuinely frustrates a bead maker more than when bead release isn’t doing what it is meant to be doing, this FAQ section may help you solve your bead release drama.
What do I do if my bead release has dried in the container?
Just add distilled water. For really dry releases (so dry that it’s crumbly or looks like hard pan clay), add distilled water and allow 24hours for the mixture to absorb it. Give it a bit of a stab with a thick mandrel and then keep adding distilled water (stabbing and mixing it) until you have reached the consistency you want. Bead release never goes off, you can keep resurrecting it. I’ve resurrected a completely dry jar of release that was as hard as rock, it took 3 weeks to do but it’s doable (and I use that release with no problems).
I have green/brown/black/orange gack growing in my bead release Double check your bottle before you turf it out. Sometimes when mixtures settle, coloured elements like graphite will leave little blackish/greenish streaks against the side of your bottle that will look like some festering growth. If the “growth” is floating on top, scoop it out and reshake the jar. I haven’t yet seen bead release grow mould or algae but if you have got something unidentifiable scoop as much out, reshake the bottle and do a few test dips. If the release holds in the flame, don’t worry. If it doesn’t, turf the release out and eliminate what you think may be causing the growth (rainwater, old beads with dirty holes in the jar as “mixers” etc.)
My release keeps cracking or flaking Bead release will do this for a few reasons, flaking is usually due to bad adherence to the mandrel. Your mandrels might be new and not scuffed enough. Your bead release might be too thin and there wasn’t a thick enough coat to last in the flame. Some brands of bead release flake when there is too much moisture in the air or if they’ve been left to dry for a very long time.
Cracking can be down to a few things as well, one of the main reasons is prolonged heating in one spot and marvering or squashing glass repeatedly. The extensive heating and cooling, expands and contracts the mandrel which causes bead release to crack. Cracks can also form if mandrels haven’t been introduced into the flame correctly and allowed to heat up slowly. Release will also crack if it hasn’t dried properly and was put into the flame too quickly.
You should expect some cracking in your bead release particularly if you’re heavy handed with marvering or using tools. I usually develop cracks or have my release flake if I’m being particularly tedious about marvering the edge of a bead. The constant pressure against cold graphite weakens the spot immediately around the edges of beads.
I have gotten better with understanding which way I can move the glass on the mandrel without having the release crack, it’s practice. Your bead release will also crack less when you realise that you don’t need to work low in the flame all the time, working upward and slightly below the flame will ensure your release doesn’t overheat and start pulling away.
The other thing I can tell you, is that you get better at understanding what consistency your bead release should be based on your environment. My “pancake batter” is on the thinner side in winter and thicker in very dry summers. Yours too will change depending on your circumstances.
A tip for rescuing release that constantly cracks:
If none of these issues are causing your bead release to crack, then it might be the release itself. Sometimes the bag of dry mix you’re scooping from has settled and you don’t have enough of the ingredients mixed into your jar. I have had some success fixing up mixtures of release by adding a heaped teaspoon of superfine milled Diatomaceous Earth (links to the exact brand that I use) to the existing blend. The Diatomaceous Earth increases the holding capacity of the release and stops it from cracking due to cold and moist air or from using in presses.
Also, check the bottom of your wet mix jar, if you can see a lot of settled content get in there with a chopstick and mix it all up and reshake your jar, adding water where necessary. For bead release to work properly it needs a good suspension of all ingredients. The stuff settling in the bottom is the clay component, without the clay mixed in properly you will get release cracking. You can sometimes fix a jar of wet release by adding either a bit of clay (such as Kaolin) or a bit of Diatomaceous Earth. One reason for why jars of mixture suddenly “go bad” is that over time of use, not shaking up the jar properly has caused an imbalance in your mixture, depleting some of the key ingredients whilst others settle at the bottom of the jar.
I’m getting air bubbles in my glass when I start a bead Bead release needs to be dried properly before you can wind glass onto it. If you haven’t properly heated up your mandrel the moisture in the release will cause bubbles in your base bead. These bubbles will lead to a lot of internal stress. The bubbles will eventually cause fractures which means beads will crack further down the track. Go back through my post on heating up bead release and follow that, you shouldn’t get those tiny bubbles forming in your bead.
My bead release is all frothy If your release if frothy in your container it could be that something in there is fermenting. Smell test your release, if it smells vinegary throw it out. I think this happens when a large insect lands in your release. If there is no such smell and your release looks fine in the container but when it starts to dry on the mandrel the bubbles all begin to come up (so that your mandrel looks like an ‘aero’ chocolate bar) there was potentially oil or water already on your mandrel before you dipped it.
If that wasn’t the case, the atmosphere might be so warm the bead release is drying to fast.
Aaannnddd….If that isn’t the case, shake up your bead release mixture really well and dip again. If the same thing happens, add a heaped teaspoon of kiln wash or batt wash or your dry bead release formula to your container and reshake and dip another mandrel. Sometimes if your release isn’t mixed properly or there isn’t enough of the clay component suspended bubbling up as it dries can happen.
If you have any problems that are really persistent, drop me a message with an image of your problem release on a mandrel. I’ve had so much drama with bead release over the last ten years I could probably help diagnose the problem.
Canyon De Chelly was in the original line up of colours launched by Creation is Messy in 2006 and is still in primary production today. My batch of Canyon De Chelly dates from 2006. The rods for this glass are a smooth greyish-green to brownish green depending on the batch and the light (natural light seems to bring out more of the brown tones). Each batch varies a little, with some interesting concentric circles of different colours through the middle. The most interesting thing about this glass is the array of bruised pastel colours that will show up if you work the glass just right. Canyon De Chelly is named after the mystic canyons in the USA where the Navajo resided for thousands of years. Just like these great canyons, the glass is as changeable as the rocks that soar up hundreds of feet into the sky.
You can trick a variety of colours out with careful heating and cooling and Canyon De Chelly will reward you with a range of pastel tones, rather than the sandy brown colour it’s most known for. The method for tricking out Canyon De Chelly’s colours reminds me of the technique used with Reichenbach Iris Orange Raku R-108 (“Raku” for short) to make it pop. In one sense I think of Canyon De Chelly as a striking glass (because it can kiln strike a little) in another sense, when I’m working this glass in the flame I treat it as if it is Raku’s little brother.
The colours are not as intense as Raku but they are very pretty in their own right and a lot nicer than the brownish tones most people like this glass for.
Here are my tips for pulling the soft pastel “bruise” colours out of Canyon De Chelly. If you want to make these beads and you do not batch anneal, make them at the end of your torch session so that your beads are not soaking too long. Canyon De Chelly will strike all the way to it’s golden sand brown colour if the beads are sitting too long at a high holding temperature. You will lose the colours you’ve developed in the flame.
1. Get used to working slowly and out near the top of your flame if you want the bruised pastel colours. (This means you should be working about two inches above your normal working zone).
2. Don’t melt a big gather of this glass to make a bead. Apply slow even heat to the end of the rod and wind the glass on to the mandrel. (A big hot gather will strike to a rich ochre brown)
2. Any shaping and melting should take place in the top part of your flame. You’re working this glass cool and slow, if you bring it down to melt hot and fast you will strike it all the way to brown.
3. Once the bead is the size and shape that you want, bring it down into the middle part of the flame (where you normally work) and heat it all evenly. You want the glass to glow red, from a slow deep heating. Do not get it molten.
4. When the bead is glowing red all over (for a good sized round bead this will take about a minute), move the bead out of the flame completely, rotate the glass in cool air (This is also a good time to use any shaping tools). As it cools the bead should go white, you may think you’ve burned all the colour out, but you haven’t.
5. Slowly introduce your bead to the flame, green, then blue, then purple will develop (in that order) first. To get this colour range you don’t need much heat. To stop the reaction and to develop brighter purples, greens and blues, touch the glass to something cold. A brass marver is good. If you like those colours, flame anneal way out at the tip of your flame ,if you are batch annealing to stop the strike. If you’re going straight to kiln, don’t let this bead sit too long before going into an annealing cycle. (The brighter you can get the colour in the flame the richer the colour will be after finishing in the kiln).
6. Keep heating if you want the darker grey purple tones and light caramel tones, if you go this far and touch your bead to brass or cold graphite you will pull back some of the paler blue, green and purple tones.
Other interesting things to note with Canyon De Chelly is that you can layer dots of it on top of itself and you will see a variation (as if they were two different glasses). You may also get a thin black line around, for some reason this glass when merged with itself develops striations. It’s not exactly black, it’s looks almost like a transparent vein (see heart beads).
Also if you heat up a gather with intense heat and dot it onto your existing bead Canyon De Chelly will go a rich cocoa brown (see the very tip of the big heart bead for the colour reference). Hades and other dominant dark pastel colours like to spread out over the top (see lentil bead for reference).
My Kiln Firing Temperature
My kiln has a ramp up schedule of 5.5 degrees celsius a minute (330C an hour), holding at 45 minutes at 535 degrees celsius (995F) before ramping down at 3.5C a minute (210C an hour). I do run my kiln slightly hotter than normal firing temperatures because I mostly make very big beads. For Canyon De Chelly you may want to run your kiln to 505C (940F) to keep as much of the bright colour developed in the flame.
Lastly, Canyon De Chelly is a soft glass (it doesn’t need long to etch) even after it has been correctly annealed it is prone to chipping. When cleaning bead holes out with a Dremel the glass will chip at the edges of the hole if not careful, so go slow if using a Dremel or electric tool to clean out the bead holes. I’ve only ever seen this chipping happen with Lauscha White Kryolith and Canyon De Chelly, it’s a sign that this glass is very soft.
Update: I was reminded recently that Canyon De Chelly is another one of those CiM glasses that does not like to be encased. Canyon De Chelly dots layered in trans glass for petals and such is fine, I haven’t noticed any cracks doing that.