CiM Simply Berry or simply boring? Simply Berry is a transparent purple-ish red that is an exact colour match for the flesh of ripe blood plum fruit, or claret, or port-wine jelly. Well okay then, still not excited? It is completely unique to the COE104 glass colour range, there are Effetre colours close to it, but nothing exactly like it. So its important to know that it cannot be substituted and it’s impossible to hand blend a colour similar to it. Its a dense purple that looks pretty good against green, blue, tan/brown and grey glass and is right at home next to the CiM range of pinks, any pink really; it just works with pink. Simply Berry is a staple in the CiM range of glass colours and whilst it’s not particularly exciting, its a nice colour to have on hand.
At first Simply Berry appears to be one of those really intense purples that will look black if used all on its own, but it’s not at all like Effetre transparent purple or red toned glass. Effetre transparent purple and red glass seems to have a blue or brown undertone to it. Whereas CiM Simply Berry has a pink undertone, which probably accounts for why it is one of the more expensive transparent purple-ish colours. This means that when you layer it or pull it into stringer, you’re not going to get glass that fades out to lilac or bluish grey, it will stay a purpleish red colour. This also means that it can be used more frequently for dot design over darker colours than other really intense transparent purples because it doesn’t look black.
Simply Berry has a light transmission quality about it that means it doesn’t look bad at all when used all by itself in a spacer bead, it doesn’t look too dark or black, it looks just like it does in the rod. Its also looks great etched. Simply Berry is one of those transparent glass colours that looks good all by itself when pressed into a shape because of how it refracts light. The rods are stiff compared to other CiM colours, but not as stiff as transparent rods in other brands. Simply Berry prefers the cooler temperature ranges of your torch so that it doesn’t bubble up in the flame. It shows its berry colours best when layered over something lighter than itself.
However, Simply Berry is a changeable colour, it looks really different depending on what it is layered over. Over lighter opaques (I tried it over CiM Rose Quartz and Effetre Pastel White) and encased in clear it washes out a little and has a raspberry purple tone to it. I layered dots of Simply Berry over CiM French Blue and encased in clear and the result is that it looks very close to Effetre Dark Premium Violet (trans). Layering it over blue or green opaque glass makes for interesting colour combos. Its handy to know that Simply Berry washes out to a pinkish purple colour when layered and striped over pale opaques as that will make a difference to encased stringers.
When I used Simply Berry over Effetre Anice White I noticed a few things, firstly Simply Berry wants to bleed over it and secondly it develops a dark reaction line. In fact, when super heating Simply Berry and Effetre Anice White I got some interesting curdling reactions that looked as if Simply Berry was trying to web out over the Anice, I really didn’t expect that. I had similar curdling reactions with Effetre Ivory. Simply Berry when used in your own home made frit is pretty dark, so use it sparingly in blends. The odd thing about Simply Berry is that when I used it as stringer design it didn’t seem all that dark. I decided that it looked better when it was used to encase a pale opaque colour for stringer design. I also prefer it layered over Effetre Ivory rather than white, the colour just looks better to me for flower petals and dots.
Equal parts CiM Simply Berry mixed with CiM Cirrus, yielded a gorgeous soft dreamy purple colour. It did take a really long time to get the two colours blended properly, so be prepared to hand mix for a while before pulling stringers. There was a portion of stringer that wasn’t blended together completely and that gave a gorgeous wispy plum smoke effect, so there is a reward for being lazy. I also decided to mix equal parts Simply Berry with CiM Peacock Green, which proved interesting, mostly because Simply Berry completely took over and I ended up with a stringer that sort of looks like CiM Crocus. (Pic at bottom of this blog post with the bead made with the “crocus” stringer.)
So with all of that in mind, I thought that there might be something about Simply Berry that makes it a bit more special than just another pretty transparent purple glass. I broke out the Double Helix silver glass and started experimenting and what I found is those silver glass colours which have an original rod colour of dark purple, blue or tan brown react very nicely when layered on top of Simply Berry. Depending on the type of glass (striking or reducing) the reaction lends itself to the purple-blue range of colours of the silver reaction, probably because the transparent berry undertone is filtering through the silver glass layer.
It’s a different sort of reaction when comparing silver glass layered over opaque black glass or lighter coloured transparents or even Effetre purple transparent glass. My post here about my DH experiments talks more about the specific colours used with CiM Simply Berry.
CiM Simply Berry is a good all rounder. Its a smooth melting yet, fairly stiff transparent glass that is the perfect “port wine” colour. It works really well as a base colour for “raku” frit and can be encased deeply with no problems. Its a dependable colour and a good one to have on hand if you’re looking for a purple plum colour that works with pink glass.
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.
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.
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.
Studio Set Up – Part 3 discussed ventilation. It builds on the advice in part 1 and 2 about choosing the right space and torch for you. Now we discuss setting up a dual fuel torch In Part 4 of the Studio Set Up blogs. I’m going to discuss how to go about getting the torch connected to propane and oxygen. You may have the torch lying around waiting to be set up whilst you sort out some ventilation. You might have even purchased a beadmaking starter kit and have the torch set up and can’t figure out some of the problems with your flame, so you’re trying to find the answer online, and here you are.
The Studio Set Up Blogs are cautious and may seem tedious or worse, discouraging, but the aim is for you to not make (expensive) mistakes with your set up. I spent hours searching for advice before I set up my first studio and I thought I was adequately prepared. I wasn’t at all. I did a lot of things backwards. I wish I hadn’t bought the tools and torch before seriously considering where I was going to actually do the lampworking. I would have saved myself a lot of time if I’d considered the room properly.
I couldn’t lampwork for years because my husband has a serious asthma condition and the spare room was not suitable, even with ventilation. So there was my first studio, all set up and I couldn’t turn on the torch. It took a long time (more than three years) to find appropriate studio space close to home (I don’t have a garage or porch to modify). Whilst I was lamenting my stupid decision I reflected on some of the advice I was given. All of the advice was well intentioned but some of it was better suited to someone who had already been beadmaking for a while and not someone starting out.
Sadly, I noticed that I wasn’t able to tell the distinction between advice and golden rules when I was first learning about lampworking. I know now that if it sounds like you really should do it, it’s probably a golden rule and you should definitely do it first. And I didn’t, I got the torch and the glass and thought that all that other less exciting stuff wasn’t as important as it was because everyone was banging on about torches and glass. A lot of what you read online is opinionated advice (90% of this blog for instance) but the boring stuff makes up the golden rules (isn’t that always the way?) which is why I started with that information first.
Now… finally, lets get that torch turned on.
Propane (LPG) bottles and fittings In Australia, this is the easy part. You can get a 9kg LPG BBQ gas bottle refilled from some petrol stations or 7Eleven’s. In metro Victoria finding a service station that fills gas bottles up is a rarity, so I use Swap’n’Go. If you don’t want to buy your own gas bottle, you can participate in the “Swap’n’Go” program. Its a gas bottle exchange program, you bring in an empty bottle to a participating service station (or pay a $50.00 join up fee) and pick up a gas bottle.
When that one is empty, return it and pick up a new filled bottle. Depending on your state or territory, filling your own 9kg gas bottle will set you back about $27.00AUD and a “Swap’N’Go” about $35.00 AUD. My 9kg gas bottle lasts about 60 hours, different torches use gas at different rates. It is also possible to get gas bottles delivered to your door depending on your participating Elgas branch.
Gas bottles require a regulator with a pressure dial for precise flow rate indication. There are lots of regulators on the market, don’t get the flat saucer type they’re unsuitable. I tried to remember where I bought my regulator from and I couldn’t, instead I’ve linked a site that sells a regulator that is suitable for Australian and New Zealand residents, you shouldn’t spend more than $100.00AUD to get one.
For most surface mix torches you want to set that dial to 2.5 – 3Kpa.
Yes, it sounds low, but that’s where it has to be, much higher and you will change the flame chemistry to a reducing flame. This means you will radically change the colour of some types of glass when put in the flame.
Sometimes a reduction flame is good, but you don’t want that all the time. Your aim is for a neutral propane and oxygen mix.
You will also need hoses and clamps to connect your torch and gas bottle. Each country has a different colour coding system for gas and oxygen hoses. Your country might have red hoses for gas and green for oxygen.
It is best to get hose with fittings suitable for a regulator at one end and unclamped and unfitted at the other end (so you can clamp it yourself to your torch, which has a much narrower fitting than gas bottles).
LPG hoses will always be orange in Australia
Get the minimum amount of hose needed. Hose beyond 3.5 metres loses pressure or picks up impurities along the way, it’s not counteracted by increasing the pressure either.
You can always buy 5 metres of hose from a camping or hardware store with the fittings for a propane regulator attached if buying online doesn’t suit you (hose for gas is about $12.95 a metre usually) and then cut it to size.
When you get the hose with the regulator fitting, attach that end to your gas bottle regulator first (this stops you from cutting the wrong end off). Then run the hose up to your torch and leave some slack. If the hose is too tight the gas will not flow properly. Cut down the hose to length and clamp it to your port on your torch tightly.
The clamps you need can be found in the plumbing section of hardware stores and automotive parts stockists. They’re about .90 cents each.
If you have a surface mix torch you do not need flashback arrestors for LPG bottles. I have one because it’s required under my rental agreement. BOC in Australia, which supplies the welding industry has them if you need one. In America, they are most commonly sold in hardware stores. Different torches have different connections between torch and hose, if you are unsure always check with the manufacturer.
Keep an eye on your hose, make sure no cracks develop in it. Cracks can happen due to kinking (or tautness), extreme heat and cold exposure or gas left too long in the hose. To test for tight connections, fill a spray bottle with soap and water and spray onto the connection, turn on the gas tap lightly. If the soap bubbles at the connection point, you have a weak connection to the gas bottle. Tighten the clamps, or in worst cases, purchase new hose and new clamps. Keep testing to ensure your connections are secure. Gas sinks and displaces oxygen, it moves around spreading outward and very slowly rises to fill a room. Therefore small children and animals and anyone sleeping nearby will be first affected by gas leaks.
To keep hose out of the way, I used C clamps to tuck it up next to the bench without pinching the pipe. I wasn’t fussy, I just bought the cheapest types I could get. Clamps keep your hose not taut and not slack, if hose is too slack gas will rest in the dips. If hose is too taut the strain and pressure will cause cracks.
Many lampworkers “bleed” their hoses so that no gas or oxygen rests in the hose. I do this more often than not, once my torch is turned off, I reopen the tabs on my torch and let the gas and air escape (keep your ventilation running) then close them back up once the hose has been “bled”. You’ll know when all the gas and oxygen has escaped because the hissing will stop. This does not damage the ports on your torch.
That’s it, the gas is done. For the most part you can get everything you need from a hardware store or even a camping store. Do not skimp on the regulator, you definitely need one with an accurate dial on it because it must hold the pressure at a tiny 2.5kpa.
Oxygen Bottles and Concentrators The other fuel source for your dual fuel torch is oxygen and this is a little more tedious. Australia has a lot of rules about who gets their hands on bottled fuels other than LPG. You can purchase oxygen in bottles or you can buy an oxygen concentrator and produce an endless supply of oxygen. If you are hiring bottles you will need an oxygen regulatorand a flashback arrestor. Some oxygen regulators have flashback protection built in. When you purchase your regulator ask for the matching flashback arrestor that goes with it.
If you purchase an oxygen concentrator (oxycon), you don’t need a regulator or arrestor. Oxycons have a gauge on them to control pressure and flow. Oxycons are used very frequently in the medical industry, so you can often find 5lpm refurbished units around. Models will vary via brand, but all models have a gauge that shows pressure, some have a gauge to show purity levels and all will have a dial to control pressure (and some have a dial for purity as well). What is most important about choosing an oxycon is how many litres per minute (lpm) it produces. You also need to know how much lpm your torch needs to operate properly.
As a general rule of thumb lower end dual fuel torches, those with 7 ports will be fine to operate on a 5lpm. The more ports a torch has, the more LPM it will require to run. The next size up is 14 ports and you will need an 8 – 10lpm oxycon. Some torches have an “inner fire” of 7 ports and an “outer fire” of 14 ports, those definitely need a 15 to 20lpm oxycon or two 10-15lpm oxycon’s “Y’ed” together (that means the oxycons are connected together at the same pressure to run the torch sufficiently). Larger torches for borosilicate are much bigger again, 32 ports and up and definitely require “Y” connections to concentrators.
For instance, a Minor Bench Burner requires a minimum of 5lpm to run. I have my Minor running on a 10lpm, but it maxes out at around 8lpm, so obviously a 10lpm oxycon is overkill for a Minor Burner. Oxycon’s are sold in 5lpm, 8lpm, 10lpm, 15lpm and 20lpm. The larger the volume it produces the more expensive the units get and the harder they are to find in Australia. I bought my first 5lpm oxycon in 2006 second hand for $1500 from a company that refurbished medical devices. My second unit purchased new in 2011 was $2100. Oxycon’s were stupidly expensive ten years ago, but thankfully they have come down in price considerably. If you’re in the US, a 5lpm oxycon will set you back about $500 and an 8lpm or 10lpm around the $1200 mark.
In Australia oxygen hoses areblue and start at around $9.00 a metre. In some countries oxygen hoses aregreen, if you’re using green hose in Australia it is fine.
Oxygen Bottles Overview
Can cost between $60.00 and $90.00 depending on size for each refill or swap over.
You may need to swap them over every 45 to 60 hours of usage depending on your torch and what size bottle purchased.
Can be hard to procure from suppliers or may need a permit to use in a residential area (depending on council regulations).
Need to be chained up and secure at all times.
Have a naturally high litre per minute (LPM) rate.
Are a clean, almost pure source of oxygen.
Is initially cheaper than an oxygen concentrator
Oxygen Concentrator Overview
“free” limitless oxygen
“free” limitless oxygen
“free” limitless oxygen
Big initial start up price, but did I mention the free oxygen?
Can be noisy when running
Also, they tend to creep people out the first time they run (they sound like a machine breathing or can give people flashback memories of sick relatives).
You need to keep oxycon’s clean inside (dust free) and away from moisture or moist environments. (They all come with instructions on how to look after them and it’s very simple).
Need to have the pressure dial at a rate consistent with what your torch is using up, too much pressure can cause problems with your flame.
If you know you’re going to be flameworking for years to come, put aside money to invest in an oxycon. Always get one that suits your torch, if you know you will be upgrading your torch in the not very distant future; purchase a slightly bigger size (go a 10lpm instead of an 8lpm) and just turn the oxycon down with your lower end torch. After your extraction unit an oxycon is your next biggest purchase on your list of very important things to buy. If you didn’t buy a desk or chair then the expected outlay (say you go a mid range ventilation unit and not an industrial grade extraction unit) will be around $2700-$3000AUD. ($1000 ventilation including associated costs – such as electricians fees, $1500-1900 Oxycon, $250 Minor Bench Burner). Throw in some glass and a few basic tools and you’re easily hitting the $3000 mark to begin your hobby if you live in Australia or New Zealand. The good news is, if you’re from the United States and some parts of Europe you can set up for about $1000 less.
I bet that Hot Head torch and your garage is looking like a pretty good option after you’ve had a look at some of the expected costs of a dual fuel torch.
A small note about oxycons and moisture, I put moisture absorbing pads (the kind with the little beads in them) at the base of my oxycon to draw out any moisture. Moisture will destroy an oxygen concentrator very quickly (as will extremely dusty environments) If you’re living in humid climates, I recommend you get the moisture absorbing buckets that hardware and supermarkets sell in the laundry aisle and keep that near your oxycon.
Also, keep your oxycon out of direct sunlight and remember to clean the filter on the back of your unit. Every few years have your oxycon serviced, it is astonishing how much dust they can pick up. Dust and moisture is the number one killer of oxycons. If you’re not going to be using the unit for a while due to holidays, cover it in a drop cloth (not plastic).
If your oxycon is causing your flame to “breathe”, then there are a few possible causes. My torch does this when I have the oxycon turned up to high (its producing more oxygen than my torch can use up). The other reason is that the sieves inside your oxycon could be blocked or nearing blockage. If this “breathing thing” is happening to you, don’t stress out. Play with the settings on your oxycon before you call in a service report.
Once the hoses are all connected and fitted properly, you can go ahead and start up your torch, but first you need to POOP. No, so not what you’re thinking. (Credit for this acronym goes to Pauline Delaney).
Propane On Oxygen On Oxygen Off Propane Off
When you start up a torch you want to turn the propane on at the LPG bottle.
Twist open the red dial on your torch (you may hear gas hissing at this point)
Light a match and bring it to your torch face
(keep your fingers under the nozzle). Behold, the marvel of fire.
Torch lit with fuel number 1 (propane)! If it’s flaming all over the place, turn the red dial down a little, if it’s barely a flame, turn it up a little.
Turn your oxygen on at the oxycon or twist open bottle taps.
Twist open the oxygen tap on your torch and adjust the flame for a neutral setting.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t look right, my minor takes about two minutes for the flame to set up correctly. If you hear a rushing or wooshing sound this means your oxygen is up too high, turn it down a little. The candles (the bright little flames at the very tip of your torch) should be blue and sharp, if they look long and yellow, you have too much gas.
To turn off the torch, follow the acronym.
Turn off your oxygen bottle tap or oxycon then twist closed the dial at the torch. Then turn off your propane at the bottle and twist closed the dial at the torch. Until you remember the order, get a sticky note and write POOP on it to remind you of the order. This order will reduce the chances of flashback.
Some people like to bleed their gas and oxygen lines, if you’re torching every day this isn’t necessary, if you are not it’s a handy thing to do as it lengthens the lifespan of your hose.
To bleed lines open the valves on your torch a little after you have turned everything off and let the air and excess propane escape for a few seconds (remember to keep your ventilation going, gas will sink and if there is a pilot light or candles burning nearby it could be an ignition point.) Gas sitting in hoses too long will develop an oily goop that will be forced through the hose and into your torch (which means your torch won’t work properly), so if you’re not torching regularly bleed your hoses.
The “Great” Plumber’s Tape Debate I have mentioned in this article and elsewhere in forums that I use plumber’s tape on the connections between my hoses, gas bottle and oxygen concentrator and I am met with some abject horror by some artists. I think it’s important that I explain a little bit about plumber’s tape because there is a correct way to apply it to your fittings.
Firstly, why you would want to use tape on your connections. Plumber’s tape creates a strong grip on the threads of your gas or oxygen bottle and your flashback arrestors and regulators. It stops leaks because it helps create a tighter seal and makes unscrewing and screwing the connections together easier, you’re also less likely to wear out the threads on your connections.
However, plumbers tape is plastic and is subject to degradation and the reason for why artists do not recommend that you use it is because of the urban legend that the degrading plastic can get into your gas or oxygen line and get stuck in your torch, effectively clogging it up. Yes, this can happen IF you don’t wind the tape on properly and IF you do not check it every so often. Like anything when it comes to equipment you should be looking at it every few months to see if its still in good working order and connections sealed with plumber’s tape are no different.
Simple steps for successful connection with plumbers tape
I have used plumbers tape for years on my connections and I have developed some good habits around using it which is why I support the use of it. So I’ll list what I do and you can refer to the photographs for a clearer picture of how I do it, following these steps will ensure successful connection without any dramas.
1. When you wind plumbers tape on, make sure it is only on the thread of your gas or oxygen bottle.
2. Do not “double wrap” the thread, use only enough to go around once and to seal the tape down. Do this with your thumb and gently push the tape into the grooves so it “sticks”.
3. Never wind tape right to the end of the thread, always finish the wind with an edge of thread exposed where it is closest to the nozzle.
4. Keep your connections secure, if you are unscrewing them a lot, the tape will degrade quicker.
5. Every time you disconnect your regulator from your oxygen or gas bottle and flashback arrestor from your regulator, replace the tape.
6. If you use tape between your torch and your hoses, keep an eye on the connection. This is less likely to degrade (I’ve replaced the tape only twice in 9 years) but it can still happen at that point as well, particularly if you lean up against the torch or hoses a lot at that point.
Plumbers tape is fine to use as long as you maintain it and ensure that it is not fraying. It will save your thread connections and help ensure that the connection is tight and not leaking from anywhere. If you do not maintain it, there is the possibility that a fragment can break off and work its way through your pipes and into your torch. A good rule of thumb is to replace the tape every time you change your bottles over.
Now, you’re ready to play with fire and glass… but only if you have some mandrels prepared!
Studio Set Up – Part 2 discussed adequate light and how to pick a torch. In Part 3 of the Studio Set Up blogs, I assume that your torch is chosen (but maybe not purchased yet) and you’re looking for information about the importance of ventilation. You may also be considering torch and ventilation placement. In this blog post I attempt to clarify some points about set up and answer some big questions about adequate ventilation.
VENTILATION Overview Everyone has an opinion on ventilation because it is very determined by your space and your torch, what works for someone may not work for you. This overview is to help you understand what ventilation is and possible solutions to your inquiries. Lampworking fumes are classed as both “fume” and “dust” as both are released when we melt glass and run our torches. I’m not even going to pretend it’s not expensive to install an extraction unit. If you go this route it will be the priciest thing you purchase. My studio is in rental space and subject to OH&S safety standards, I had a laundry list of precautions to check off before I could even work in there. The most important thing was how to ventilate the space safely and the best method of doing so. Ventilation needs to be in front of your flame preferably, whist you can install it above your flame try not to install it over your head as the fumes will pass by your face on their way up and that is what you’re trying to avoid.
Every country and even different states within a single country have different rules regarding fume and dust extraction. You will need to speak to a qualified and registered electrician who can install extraction units to find out estimated costs in your area. What you want to ask for is an expert who installs small scalefume and dust extraction units to discuss your set up. It’s no point going to a company that only does large scale industrial extraction units for big glass blowing studios. Some countries use the word ventilation and some countries use the word extraction. In Australia ventilation means something different to extraction, extraction is the pricier and proper way of removing surface dust and air impurities. It sucks the fumes and dust out of a very specific space and removes them completely from that space. Extraction units dispel fumes outside after capturing dust particles in filters, their air intake is filtered and also comes from a clean source of air. You can use the yellow pages online or google for companies in your area that will install these units, have them come out and quote you (thankfully that is free) and talk to you about your space (you can learn a lot by talking to different companies about what you need). Ventilation in Australia means a system that can provide an adequate flow of air so that fumes do not build up, it incorporates a low level of extraction. Ventilation units create air flow by sucking up fumes in a general area and relying on mesh screens to catch dust. Air intake is not always filtered or not filtered well and is from within the general vicinity of the unit.
The steps to getting an extraction unit installed Firstly, a measure of how many cubic squares of air in my studio had to be taken. Then, a record of any draughts, breezes or air exchanges was made to get the standing air purity level (not too pure; it’s an old tyre factory after all, but my studio is surprisingly air tight for such an old building). Then, I had to run the torch and the carbon dioxide levels were tested at different time intervals without an extraction fan or ventilation running. Then, I had to have a swab test for heavy metal residue and have an air purity test after the torch was off to test the fume and dust level.
When all of this was measured the EPA told me how many particles were in the air after a typical lampworking session and what sort of ventilation I would need for the room to be safe. I ended up with a great unit for about $2000.00 AUD all installed, I can’t smell any hint of fumes when I torch. The only downside to this is that it’s so powerful it can suck up silver leaf and enamels, so I need to be careful where I place my graphite pads. Sounds like heavy stuff? Well, yes, you don’t want to mess around with your health.
You’re also probably thinking, oh wow, please tell me there is a cheaper option that isn’t going to clock up big dollar signs? Yes, there is, but it works like this;
Ifyou’re going to be torching for up to 8 hours a day for five days a week, working with silver laden glass or lots of metal inclusions get the super duper deluxe extraction unit installed after having chemical residue testing done. Your lungs will thank you.
If you’re not going to be doing this much torching each day (hell, maybe not even in a week) then there are other options that won’t hurt your pocket (as much) and will save your health. Although the important thing to note with these cheaper units is that they will not suck up those minute heavy metal particles very well, they’re not strong enough. So balance this into your set up equation and wipe down surfaces regularly.
An open door or window is not adequate ventilation for a lampworker.
An open door or window with a fan circulating air is not adequate ventilation for a lampworker either.
You are risking your health and others around you if you do not ventilate or extract dust and fumes properly.
So what can I get if I won’t be torching more than a few hours a week? A good quality ventilation system used in your average commercial kitchen
Yep, that’s right, a canopy extraction unit. This will work well for most small studio set ups and the added bonus is you can get a powerful ventilation unit at scratch and dent sales quite cheaply. Any electrician can install them quickly and with less expense than a serious extraction system (In Australia you must employ the services of a registered electrician).
Get a commercial canopy hood if you’re going to be using a lot of silver glass (these thingys have multi speed powerful exhaust fans that are made for sucking up lots of fumes and reducing oil particles in the air and they often come with overhead lights).
Also get this type if you have space in your roof to have the unit as they are very noisy (they sound like 747s taking off)
Get a canopy or pull/slide out hood if you’re not going to be working much with glass that has a high metal content or not for long periods. They are less powerful than commerical kitchen hoods.
This type is handy if you don’t have roof cavity space, it can be mounted against a wall with the unit outside, either attached to your wall or on the ground.
Make sure that your regularly wipe surfaces down if you do not have really strong ventilation, one of the things the EPA noted was that the heavy metals adhered to surfaces when I did not have the ventilation running. Along with bead release, enamels and all the other things lampworkers use, getting into the habit of wiping down your studio will keep dust down but will also limit chemical residue build up. If you touch surfaces with heavy residue build up; your skin will absorb the metals. So keep your work station as tidy as you can.
If you do choose to use a kitchen ventilation system you should be cleaning out the screens (you can run most through dishwashers these days) regularly too. Edit 2019, my original extraction unit was calculated on my Minor Burner, when I upgraded to my Mega Minor Burner my extraction unit couldn’t keep up with the additional fumes I was producing from melting glass faster. My solution was to bring back my original electrician who adjusted the settings on the unit (lodged in the roof) to increase the uptake flow. If you upgrade your torch, this may also present as a problem, the quick solution is to open an extra window or door but that might not be possible. If you upgrade your torch, you may need to upgrade your ventilation system at the same time.
Lastly, a word of caution; If you feel light headed, are constantly yawning (this is the first effects of lack of oxygen) and/or when you inhale it feels like a burning or scratchy sensation and/or your chest is suddenly tight. Stop immediately!! Turn off your torch and ventilate the room by opening all doors and windows. Keep your extraction and ventilation running and go outside into fresh air and do not go back and torch. If this is happening to you then you need to get a better extraction unit in and no skimping (and no torching, because you are putting yourself at serious risk).
Zoozii’s used to have a page on their website that discussed how they had their studio tested (in the way that I did). Unfortunately that page is no longer on that website. There is this interesting discussion here about lampworking and pregnancy. What this author writes about is really interesting and an important reality check.
Disclaimer: My advice is not set in solid gold. It’s only advice, I can’t tell you what you should have or shouldn’t have. I have an extraction unit based on scientific measurements of the pollutants in the atmosphere whilst I melt glass, my health is my number one priority. You should get an extraction unit and not just a kitchen rangehood if you intend to make beads very regularly.
Author’s Note: I didn’t include details or links in my blog about how to make your own ventilation system. It is cheaper to build your own if you are in the US or Canada, but not here in Australia because a registered electrician has to install the unit. The cheapest option is buying a kitchen canopy hood and having that installed over your workbench. There are instructions around online if you are curious. Also, in some older buildings electrical wiring in Australia is not red, yellow and green, the cable is actually black, red and brown or you may get yellow, brown and red cable. So any instructions I do post may be confusing anyway.
Studio Set Up – Part 1 discusses the primary problem of finding a space suitable for bead making. In Part 2 of the Studio Set Up blogs, I assume that you have a space and you’re now pondering how best to get the room ready to install a torch. You might be questioning if having a lot of light is important or not when it comes to setting up a torch. Or you might be wondering what kind of torch to get, if so, then Part 2 will attempt to answer the question of what torch is right for you and give you some advice on lighting solutions for when you get that torch.
Where to position your torch Depending on your eyesight and how you like to work you may want to work in a room that is lit by natural light. My torch is positioned in front of the pillar flanked by two windows. I like my studio light and bright after making the mistake with my first studio of working in a dark room with badly positioned lighting. My current studio has too much natural light in the mornings. When the sun is in my eyes I can’t torch, sometimes the light is so bright I can’t even see my flame and I have to work around those times. When you choose your space, grab a chair and position it about where you think your torch might be. Then spend a few minutes or so at different points of the day sitting in it to understand how the light moves in that space. Some things to consider are:
Do I need to invest in blinds, UV laminate or lamps to get the right amount of light where I will be working?
Will I need to put in power points near the work station for lamps or employ someone to install overhead lighting?
Will my ventilation system have lights in it and what colour are the globes? (did you buy a kitchen rangehood for ventilation? they often have lights in them and they’re often yellow toned)
The room doesn’t have a lot of natural light, do I have the spare cash in my budget to buy a lamp or change all the globes?
If the room you have chosen doesn’t have any natural light, then you may need to install more overhead lighting. Depending on your light, you may also find yourself changing light fittings for higher or lower wattages. If you aren’t getting enough light think about where the primary light sources are in your space.
Will changing all the globes in your space to “daylight” globes give you some “natural” light?
Make sure the only light source isn’t from behind you, it will cast shadows over your torch as your work.
Avoid overly yellow or blue toned lighting, these colours radically affects how glass looks when melting. It also affects the colours in the flame and can lead to some “interesting” colour combinations or eye strain.
Think about getting inexpensive L.E.D. clip on reading lights, L.E.D lighting can come in yellow or slightly blue tones, choose the slightly blue tones over the yellow. I use a clip light with slightly blue globes when I’m working nights, they are handy, but they will change the colour of some purple glass to blue.
Sometimes it’s quite hard to gauge how much light you will need until you have the torch running and you’re making beads. Think back to the lighting in the studio where you learned to melt glass, was it easy to work in? Were you able to see the flame properly? If you can’t remember what the lighting arrangement was like (or you didn’t get lessons in a studio) or you want to know where the studio got their lighting from it’s very easy to call up and ask for information or to ask online in a glass beadmakers forum or search Youtube and watch how other bead makers work.
Some glass changes colour under lights, there is a particular range of glass that Creation is Messy makes (more notably than any other manufacturer) that colour shifts significantly when exposed to fluorescent light, incandescent, fluorescent and daylight. For instance, pink and purple glass can look blue under fluorescent lighting and blues can look grey. Lighting is a crucial factor in your studio configuration, you do not want to pick up a rod of “grey” transparent glass only for it to be a transparent blue instead. Where possible, change globes first to “natural or daylight” tones before going the more expensive route of getting an electrician in.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT TORCH
My advice for how to choose a torch to suit you When I started lampworking in 2006 there were only a few kinds of torches available in Australia. There was the Hot Head, the Nortel Minor Bench Burner and the National brand of torches. I learned on a Minor Burner and loved how fast glass melted. Personally, I don’t like the sound of a Hot Head when its running, its hissing drives me insane. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want that torch because everyone I spoke to seemed to curse the Hot Head for being too slow to melt glass. So I ended up with a Minor Burner. So is, this how you choose a torch? Just listen to everyone else? Well kind of.
The only real way to know what kind of torch suits you is to go and try them out. Unless you have a lot of contacts in the glass community or a lot of access to studios with loads of different torches, you won’t really get that opportunity. Watching other lampworkers on youtube may help your understanding of the different flames different brands of torches produce. It may also be helpful to ask question in online forums. However, the reality is, you have to buy a torch and try it out for a little while and work out your flameworking style. Torches can grow on you and you can outgrow them as well. So don’t buy something you feel compelled to use because you spent a mint on it. Sometimes its more cost effective to start at the cheapest end of the market and upgrade over time.
Hot Head Burner Outline Pro’s – Hot Heads are really inexpensive both up front and long term – They are very easy to set up – You can attach it to a gas container and flame on anywhere – You can get a bracket to attach the torch to a bench for a more organised set up – You can get glass to reduce easily (a little too easily) – With practice you can strike “silver” and other “striking” glass – It will teach you patience and heat control
So is that it? Well that depends on how you are going to approach flameworking. I personally find the hot head annoying and skipped straight to a dual fuel torch. Although some of the best artists around today started on a Hot Head before they invested more fully in equipment. So if you weren’t able to take a class and really want to get into making beads but don’t want to spend a lot of money on something you might not like, buy a Hot Head and see if you have the fortitude (read; patience) to go for a complete set up and a more expensive torch.
Hot Head Burner
– Very noisy once all connected – I personally think they are smellier than a dual fuel torch – Some colours can change in the gas rich environment, which means a Hot Head burner has its own learning curve – It’s much slower to melt glass on a single fuel torch (melting Borosilicate COE33 is impossible, melting Bullseye Glass COE90 will induce coma, System96 can put you to sleep. Okay, my bias is showing. BE and S96 will melt on a HH, but COE104 glass is quicker, but its still a snore fest. – It’s hard (not impossible) to strike glass. (Covering the vents with aluminium baking foil is a technique for getting the best striking effects from a Hot Head torch)
After hearing all the “faults” of a Hot Head, I thought wow, they sound terrible I’m not going to get one. So, I got a Minor Burner. I didn’t stop to ask if there might be other torches around that I could buy. I actually thought my only choice was between a Hot Head and a Minor (it never occurred to me that other brands were available online to buy from the US, I know, I can be really stupid sometimes). I bought a Minor because I’d learned on one, it was readily available and everyone said it was better than a Hot Head. For me, in 2006 I went for the best torch I could afford and find. However today, my advice to a new lampworker would be a lot different. It should depend on your initial confidence and skill as a bead maker. Don’t buy an expensive torch now because of the long term. Buy a torch for your immediate skill level and just beyond. If you buy a torch that melts glass too quickly as a beginner you may find it all too hard and give up before you even properly start. Another thing to remember is that If you buy a dual fuel torch you are up for twice the cost. Not just in the actual price of the torch but in the fuel to run the torch as well.
I’ll be upfront about my initial skills, they sucked. I was really bad at heat control, I was terrible at going slow (and I burned out so many colours). I just wanted the glass to melt already! But I did know that I was in it for the long haul and the Minor Burner was something I would buy anyway after learning basic skills. If I had really been listening to Hot Head users I would have found some golden advice as a novice bead maker.
“You’re forced to go slow on a Hot Head and you really learn how glass melts. You learn where the “sweet” spots are in the flame. You learn that patience is necessary for getting the best out of your glass. You learn to control yourself and the Hot Head teaches you to be a more understanding glass artist.”
Everyone I know who started on a Hot Head no longer uses one, but they do credit it for helping them understand molten glass and being better bead makers once they got more powerful torches. I think if I had started on a Hot Head torch and worried about getting a kiln later I would never have bought a Minor Burner, I probably would have skipped straight to buying a much more powerful torch because I would have been confident to use one after I’d mastered basic skills with a Hot Head.
So about that Minor Burner? Well I still have it, but its in storage and no longer my primary torch. I have tried other torches and yes, just about every other torch out there on the market burns hotter. But hotter and faster isn’t necessarily better. Making glass beads isn’t a race. I get the best results when I slow down, adjust my flame to suit the nature of the glass I’m working with and take my time. That was a hard lesson to learn for an impatient person like me. So even though I might have wanted a bigger and better torch when I learned that there were other brands out there, I knew I didn’t need one until my skills improved. Torches are like cars, in the sense that when you find the one you like to drive you’ll never want to drive anything else, until you outgrow it. Initially I hated my Minor as I couldn’t figure it out, but I have really learned to appreciate it as I became better at making beads and understanding flame chemistry.
Do what I didn’t do and go try a bunch of torches out before you buy your forever torch. If that isn’t possible, do a lot of research on Youtube and watch other torches in action.
Edit 2016: Since writing this blog post I’ve tried out a Mini CC, so I’m going to add that to my list of torches because it is very different from a Minor Burner but is around the same price range. I’m not reviewing any other torches because I’m not an expert on them. I do hope in the future that I can interview people who work on other torches for this blog.
Nortel Minor (Bench) Burner Pro’s – Even in Australia, this is the cheapest dual fuel torch on the market (anywhere from $250 to $350AUD, shop around) – Its been around for a long time (since the 1950’s), so all the bugs have been ironed out and you can find good ones second hand at about the same price as a new Hot Head. – Its a 7 port surface mix torch (the flame is hot enough for boro on the right oxygen concentrator) which is really easy to use and offers a variety of flame types. – Surface mix torches mean that they don’t get hot to touch and they’re unlikely to build pressure and blow the nozzles off. (Anecdotally, I know other brands that are not surface mix that have done this). – Its actually pretty portable. You can unbolt it and move it quickly without fuss or stress of “breaking” it. – I’ve used mine for 10 years and I think they get better with age. – It runs well on a 5lpm oxygen concentrator (I have mine hooked to a 10lpm because I was considering a Mega Minor Burner at one stage) and I prefer it on a 10lpm, although it never surpasses 8lpm. – It is very forgiving if you don’t clean it, the carbon shoots out of the ports eventually. Mine hasn’t clogged once. (I’ve been told off for not cleaning it) Yes, yes, lampworking cardinal sin is to not clean the soot out of your torch regularly. I’m sorry! But honestly, I think cleaning torch ports is a lot like cleaning ears, leaven them alone and only get the stuff you can see. – You can control the flame easily with the gas and oxygen dial on the torch. This means you can affect a pure neutral, striking and reducing flame instantly. The heat spots in the flame are very defined, which makes it easier to understand where the right spot is to melt glass fast, slow or keep it warm.
Con’s – It can melt Boro but very, very slowly. Watching paint dry is more fun. – COE 104 takes a long time to melt on a Minor Burner on a 5lpm oxygen con, and it’s much slower than soft glass on a more powerful concentrator or bottled oxy. – You cannot get pinpoint accurate flames. You can lower the flame right down, but it will be never be pin prick sharp like what some other torches can achieve. This might be important to you further down the track as you refine your skills. – Minors do not have a very wide radiant heat range. Which means long, wide and narrow beads need to be heated carefully. This also means that sculptural work is harder as bits and pieces sticking out will cool very fast. You will constantly be heat soaking. – This also means that the “sweet” spot for doing stringer work in is a lot narrower and harder to find. However this is not only a Minor Burner issue, other brands of more powerful torches also have a narrow radiant heat spot. – Draughts, air conditioning and very strong ventilation can pull, distort or blow the flame around too easily. (If I breathe hard the flame is all over the place, I find this annoying since I tend to breathe out hard when I’m trying to slow down. Again, that is particular to me.) – When I ran mine on a 5lpm concentrator I wasn’t happy with the flame. The flame was much weaker than being on an oxy bottle and everything was reducing too easily. I was frustrated a lot and actually really hated the torch. (Again, this is particular to me, lots of other people run their minor burner on a 5lpm concentrator with no problems)
I’m not advocating for either torch in particular, what I am saying is; test drive a few torches with different set ups. The same torch on different oxygen set ups can behave differently. Tanked oxygen gives different results from a low or high powered oxygen concentrator. Even if you are thinking of upgrading from a Minor Burner or a Hot Head to something else, look around and test it out. Don’t just read a blog (irony!) or listen to someone else’s advice, get stuck into it and find out for yourself. For nearly six months I was dead certain I was going to buy either a GTT Cricket or a Nortel Mega Minor Bench Burner. I went out and bought the new oxygen concentrator first in preparation for a Cricket. Then, I connected the bigger concentrator to my Minor and I found that I loved the combination and didn’t bother purchasing the new torch (Edit 2019, I bought a new torch in 2015). That isn’t to say I’m not thinking about buying a new torch someday, just not right now. My priorities lie in getting an annealer rather than using my huge kiln all the time. (Edit 2019, bought a new kiln too)
Carlisle Mini CC Torch Since writing this blog post I’ve had time to work on a Carlisle Mini CC for about 8 hours over the weekend whilst doing a workshop with Kim Fields. Since developing my skills as a lampworker, my beads have come a long way from round. My preferred style is for long narrow beads or for very large barrel or tapered bicone beads. Usually my beads are hitting the 3in mark in length. Minor Burners do not have a wide radiant heat range, certainly not wider than about a half inch on either side of the flame. I find that I spend a lot of time rolling heat through my beads after almost any form of surface decoration because of the narrow radiant heat band. The Minor Burner is perfect for detailed beads up to 1.5in in width. My problem is, I like to make beads twice that size. I have good intentions of staying small, but it never works out. I also like to work as fast as I can and when I’m spending half my time rolling heat through my bead it means I’m not making beads at the speed I need to in which to actually make money or profit from. So this puts me into a depressing mood, because I have to scale back the size of my beads to work comfortably within the means of my torch. Whilst the flames temperatures between a Mini CC and a Minor are comparable there is a huge difference in flame style.
Carlisle Mini CC Torch Pro’s – The Mini CC when compared to the Minor Burner has a softer, “fluffier” flame, which means the radiant heat distribution is a lot wider and hotter. – This wide radiant head band means the torch is very good for sculptural or very large detailed beads – You don’t have to roll heat through larger beads like you do on a Minor – Its very good for stringer application work, as the bead will not get cold as you’re focusing on one spot for detail. – Cost wise, if you can find one in Australia they are comparable to a Minor Burner. If you can’t you will be spending a little more for it as shipping from the US is expensive. – The flame is very easy to see even in bright light, I’m not sure why this is. Its much easier to use in broad daylight when compared to a Minor.
Con’s – The Mini CC when compared to the Minor Burner is harder to see the heating zones, because it really is a fluffy flame you actually have to work quite close to the front of the torch which can effect more temperamental glass colours. – That wide fluffy flame is impossible to pinpoint down without losing a lot of heat. The minor is very good at getting down to a very hot small flame. – It runs better on tanked oxygen rather than an 8lpm Oxycon, although it is pretty good on a high end 10lpm oxycon when the purity level can be controlled. – It is fuel hungry, which means that you will go through oxygen and gas a lot quicker than if you’re on a Minor Burner. – It can melt boro slowly (so only just faster than a Minor Burner)
I have never made sculptural beads with any success on a Minor, my sticky outie bits crack far too quickly and easily, so I gave up completely thinking that I sucked at sculptural work. This was not the case with a Mini CC, it took me about forty minutes to get the hang of the torch. The first bead I made cracked in the kiln, but once I had understood the flame chemistry of this new torch there was not one problem with any of my beads cracking for the rest of the course. It dawned on me that I was a coping really well in a class that I was very challenged by because of the Mini CC. Then, I had my second epiphany, I could do sculptural work. Whilst my beads are nowhere near as impressive as Kim Fields I definitely did not suck as much as I thought I would and not once did Kim have to save any of my beads.
I love the flame on the Mini CC, that wide radiant heat band is an awesome thing to have for people like me who love making huge beads. However because the flame is so fluffy I felt that I didn’t have as much fine control over the flame as I do with the Minor. I felt that when it came down to it, I was actually working way too hot and that wasn’t something I could counteract easily by turning the torch down. Ideally I’d have a torch that combined the best flame chemistry of both torches.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN UPGRADING YOUR TORCH If you are looking to upgrade your torch from say the basic Hot Head, Minor or Mini CC consider your needs:
Are you still working small?
Do you want to melt glass faster?
Are you interested in sculptural or off mandrel work.
Are you considering moving from soft glass to Borosilicate?
What sort of flame suits your bead making style?
List all your needs then explore the different torches online to understand what will tick all your boxes, or most of them.
For instance, after using the Mini CC I’m pondering if it will be useful to me to sidegrade to a Mini CC or upgrade to something like a 2 stud GTT Sidewinder? I don’t know, The Mini CC is good, but not exactly what I’m looking for and I’d want to try out the Sidewinder before I buy it and that means finding a lampworker who is at least in the same state as me to try it out. Then there is still that Mega Minor Burner I have my eye on, will that offer me the combination of the wide bushy flame of the Mini CC with the heat sink capacity of the Minor Burner??
Don’t know, I’ll procrastinate a bit more and wait for the right time. Edit 2019: I ended up buying a Mega Minor Burner in 2015 because it was being sold at a reasonable price second hand. However, the torch was pretty much new and hasn’t been broken in, so it hadn’t developed that wider band of radiant heat yet. I’ve put about a thousand hours on this torch and it has only just started to feel like some of the older torches I used at a glass blowing class with Davide Penso.
I’m the sort of person who would like to try before I buy because I don’t want to make an expensive mistake. Which you still make anyway because when you get a brand spanking new torch from the shop, it is never going to be like a torch that has seen some glass action. However, rorches really do get better with age.
CONNECTIONS TO OTHER ARTISTS Lastly, a lot of people ask about where to go to find other artists to hire/borrow time at their torch? In Australia there are several groups connected via facebook which incorporate Australia, NZ and surrounding islands artists. You can contact me through my Facebook page to join the group which will put you in touch with other Aussie artists, some of whom might be in your vicinity. We’re a very social group despite the geographical distance between us, we have newbies, experienced, hobbyists and professional beadmakers. Unfortunately, there are no organised chapters of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers in Australia or New Zealand. In North America, the ISGB is your first port of reference to finding lampworkers in your area.
Whilst this isn’t the expert advice on torches you might have been looking for, it gives you an understanding of three types of torches that most lampworkers start out with. Another great resource to ask for opinions and advice from other lampworkers is the Lampwork Etc forums, this is largely for a North American audience, but I have found these forums friendly, helpful and overwhelmingly full of people who really want you to be the best artist you can.
I have set up two bead making studios. My first one was in a spare room in my home. In my excitement and urgency to get underway I made a lot of mistakes with that one. My second studio is in a factory and it took me a long time to find my perfect space. I had a clear idea of what I needed, after learning from the mistakes with my first set up.
A lot of people new to bead making ask very similar questions about how to set up for the first time. There are some great books around that give very helpful advice. I personally found Corina Tettinger’s book; “Passing The Flame” to be the most helpful. Although, being in Australia and so far away from suppliers and manufacturers I had another layer of complication when it came to procuring everything I needed to begin making beads. In these blog posts, I try and address studio set up questions, provide answers to common problems and give my perspective on running a hot glass studio.
What do you want out of making beads?
The first thing you should do (after you have had an introductory lesson and decided that beadmaking is for you) is decide what you want to get out of making beads.
I want to sell what I make (at shows, galleries, shops, online) as soon as my beads are proficient
I will not be selling my glass beads (it’s just a hobby)
I’ll be using my beads in my (suncatchers, jewellery, garlands, etc) and selling finished objects (at shows, galleries, shops, online)
I may give some beads away as gifts, but not sell, well maybe one or two pieces… if someone asks me…
I’m not going to start selling right away, but I will eventually
By answering these types of questions you will determine what sort of studio you should be setting up. For instance, there is no point setting up a studio with a kiln if you have no intention of ever selling your beads. By understanding the direction you intend to pursue with your new hobby, you can determine how much money is likely to be involved up front and what your first purchases will be. You can also project how much you will need to save for future purchases.
Choosing your studio space: I know… I know… everyone wants to buy the torch first. Actually the most important thing is to figure out where the torch will go. When melting glass a lot of fumes are produced and you need adequate ventilation and not to mention space for all the stuff you’re going to accumulate. If you have children, animals or anyone that suffers from asthma living with you, setting up inside your home is not a great idea. Cats need to be kept away for their own good and pinging glass can hit sleeping dogs beneath you (put a bed in a spot away from your desk if you have a pet that likes to be your shadow). If inside your house is your only option for a set up you must install an extraction and ventilation unit for the health of yourself and everyone else in the residence.
Important questions such as;
Do I have enough space for all the equipment needed for a lampworking studio?
And is the space suitable for a gas bottle, an oxygen bottle or oxygen concentrator? Need to be answered after familiarising yourself with the equipment needed by a lampworker.
If you’ve answered these questions after looking at the proposed studio and decided it’s not going to be suitable, don’t despair. If you are new to lampworking its not essential to get a really hot torch, perhaps you will be best off with a torch that doesn’t need oxygen, like a Hot Head torch that attaches to the front of a gas bottle. This means your torch is portable and you can potentially make beads wherever you want. If you’re looking around at what spaces are available to you and can’t see an option that fits your budget, you may find that hiring hot glass studio time with another artist is the best solution for right now, until you can afford to create a studio that suits your needs. Don’t force a room to become a studio if the space is unworkable, it will never feel right and you might get injured working in a room that just isn’t meant for hot glass.
How to work out if your space is suitable: Oxygen and gas bottles located inside your home are not usually covered by home and contents insurance (it’s not in Australia). Working in a factory, shed or garage has advantages as they’re not classed as residences. That means you can have bottled oxygen and gas inside with you, which is easier. If the room you want to torch in is inside your house there are some questions you need to consider;
Are you prepared to drill through walls?
Does your home and contents insurance allow you to have gas or oxygen bottles inside or near the external walls of your home?
You may need to consider buying an oxygen concentrator instead of using bottled oxygen if you live in a region that requires a permit to have oxygen bottles in residential areas.
What if your insurance won’t cover oxygen or gas bottles in or near your home?
Will you be happy with a single fuel torch like a hot head and using space outside on a porch?
If you don’t want a single fuel torch, do you have space and the budget for a studio shed in the back yard?
Can you modify the porch by glassing it in or can you move into the garage, so that you truly have your own space?
Sometimes finding the space is easy and sometimes its not. A lot of lampworkers ignore their house and contents insurance policy by using gas and oxygen bottles inside their home. In my first studio, I found out that my policy allowed only for gas bottles outside on the external walls of the home. I had to drill a hole through the bricks for the pipe. It turned out to be a poor solution, because the pipe was so long (anything over 2.5 metres is going to present issues) that I lost pressure between the bottle and the torch (I couldn’t just turn up the pressure on the bottle, it affected the flame chemistry on the torch). If you have found a space and worked out where you can position gas or oxygen bottles nearby, you may also have to consider the following;
Are you prepared to remove carpet, floor boards and lay tiles? (pinging glass will burn holes in carpet and wooden floors)
If you don’t have the option of tiling, are you able to lay down a sheet of metal to protect the floor? (and will your desk and chair be stable on it?)
Do you have an old rug (that you don’t mind if it gets burned) or can you get a cheap rug from a discount store to cover your floor? Rugs aren’t the best solution as glass can smoulder in them and cause fires.
If you have concrete, is it sealed properly? (unsealed concrete is dusty)
Do you have plasterboard or wood panelling that needs covering? (hot glass can fly all over the place when you’re learning)
Brick or tiled walls are best. If you don’t have that option you can cover plasterboard up with metal sheet.
These are some of the reasons why so many artists work in a shed or garage. The practicality of the situation means that their home is not breached by massive modifications and the freedom to be an artist (and make a mess) is afforded to you by having a space you’re not stressing about keeping clean or burn free.
By far the most important consideration is how you will install proper ventilation into that room. You can’t get away with only an open door or window as a source of ventilation. You do need a door or window open for a supply of fresh air, but you also need an actual extraction unit or ventilation fan as well (I cover this in a blog on ventilation systems). Glass is coloured with metals and oxides. When you melt glass these oxides and metals burn off and disperse into the immediate atmosphere. These particles will settle on any surface (and down your lungs) if not sucked up and dispelled outside and away from your source of fresh air. Over time, the particles will inflict serious health risks to your lungs. Look at your space, get up into the roof if you have to and see where the beams are and how much space is available to you outside of your studio (a potential place to rest a ventilation unit). Then work with a qualified electrician to select a ventilation unit that is suitable. Some things to ask yourself are:
Will you be able to sit an extractor unit in the roof cavity? (mine is in the roof cavity with a pipe leading down directly in front of my torch)
If not, can you attach an extraction hood (like a kitchen canopy exhaust fan or “rangehood”) to your wall above your workstation?
Will you be able to place the unit right above or in front of the torch, which is where it needs to be?
A hot glass studio requires electricity. Do you have power to that room and enough power points? I found that I needed a lot more than just one double socket. Running an extension cord from your house and using a powerboard seems like an easy solution, but it comes at a price. You would need to know that if your kiln, heater/cooler, radio, oxygen concentrator, etc are all running off that one extension cord that it wouldn’t overload your circuit breakers. If that is all okay, make sure it won’t overload if someone decided to run the microwave/toaster/washing machine etc inside your home at the same time. If you’re determined to go with that option then, the extension cord would have to be thread through a piece of agi pipe and buried under the garden to ensure it didn’t get damaged by the elements if you forgot it outside one day. Then again, someone clumsy might trip on it and unplug your entire studio even with that precaution. If you can’t afford an electrician, the good old extension cord to the garage trick is a very short term solution, that I don’t recommend.
Another thing to consider is that cleaning beads makes a bit of mess. Do you have a sink nearby or do you want a sink in your studio? I used to make a mess of my kitchen trying to clean beads, and it was annoying for anyone else trying to use the kitchen. However, the kitchen in my first house was tiny and the laundry had no bench. If you have a lovely big kitchen or laundry, you don’t need to worry about having a sink in your studio.
Natural lighting is important in beadmaking. Glass colour can change under different types of lighting. LED and Fluorescent/Incandescent lights are known colour changers. This is a fun aspect of glass for your buyers to enjoy, but its not something you want to get mixed up about when making glass beads. Changing globes to a more natural light is not hard to do, but if the overhead lights are behind you and your going to cast shadows over your workspace, another hidden cost is buying lamps or having an electrician install a light over your workspace.
Is the room dim or bright, will you be able to see the flame?
Is the room drafty, potentially blowing your flame around?
Does it have a lack of air movement or have no window for fresh air?
Does it get extremely cold or always warm?
These small things effect your torch and ventilation placement, which may change how you intend to lay out the room.
Some of these things may bear hidden costs that you might not have budgeted for initially.
It may also come down to the fact that your ventilation can only be in a certain place because the electrician cannot install it anywhere else due to space restrictions and your workable room has suddenly become less workable.
Ambient Temperature Changes in your Studio If you come from a very hot climate, you will need to assess how hot the room gets just from natural sunlight. A dual fuel torch in a small room will increase the ambient temperature by up to 4 degrees celcius. So be prepared for that. If you live in a very cold climate, certain limitations will need to be considered, for instance, you may not be able to put your extraction fan outside because of freezing temperatures icing up the filters. You may need to build an insulator box and keep the entire extraction unit inside, with a vent leading out through a wall or window.
What if you have no space anywhere that is suitable?
Sometimes you just need to get on with it and make it happen for the ball to get rolling:
Set up a trolley with your equipment and get torching in a ventilated space like the verandah, porch, garage, shed, in the garden under the trees using the most portable single fuel torch you can find. Just practice! If the passion for bead making has really hit you or you decide its time to get more serious about lampworking, then you might want to consider renting space and setting up a studio. Or getting a loan to convert a room/garage or buy a shed for the backyard to create a studio.
If lampworking is the thing for you to do on a more permanent basis and you have the finances to improve your surroundings and create a studio, go for it. Set goals and work towards getting that space, that torch, that kiln and that oxygen concentrator, along with glass, lots and lots of beautiful glass.
If you are already lampworking and know its the hobby for you:
Seriously consider the space you want to set up in. Don’t be afraid to modify it/build it if necessary to suit your needs if lampworking has become your passion.
Go for the quality installments that you can afford now, then save up for the rest.
Set your goals accordingly and reasonably. I’m assuming you already have your torch and a small space that you’re looking to improve. If you’re looking to upgrade your torch that is secondary to a quality extraction unit, then oxygen concentrator/s, then the kiln of your dreams (in that order).
Remember, you can batch anneal your beads or send your beads away to be annealed, so a kiln isn’t as necessary as it appears whilst your starting out.
If your room needs modifying that takes precedence before anything else, particularly if you cannot get ventilation in. You cannot torch without an extraction fan and you don’t need an oxygen concentrator right away or a kiln. What you do need is , the right space, ventilation and then, the fancy tools.
See, I told you buying a torch wasn’t the most important thing to do first!