What are Lampwork
"Lampwork" means glass that is formed and decorated in a torch flame
hot enough to melt and work the glass.
"lamp" in lampwork came from the oil lamps and blowpipes originally
used in seventeenth century France and Italy. Blowing by mouth or with
a bellows into an oil lamp flame with a small pipe makes just
enough heat to soften and form the soda lime types of glass.
lampworking is done with a fuel gas (usually propane or natural gas)
and oxygen torch, hand tools and molds to decorate and shape the
These are homemade torches built from brass pipe
The torches and the small kiln used as a bead annealer
beads are made by winding glass rod or strips that are softened in a
torch flame onto a metal mandrel (rod). The mandrel / rod has
been dipped in a bead
release, a clay-like mud that hardens up like a brick in the
of the torch. The bead is then shaped and decorated.
After the basic bead is wound on the mandrel / rod it's often decorated
more hot glass or metals for different colors. Sometimes the decorated
bead is encased in clear glass. The tricks and moves used to form and
decorate the glass haven't changed much in Centuries.
bead release keeps the glass from sticking to the mandrel while you're
making the bead. It also lets you break the bead loose from
mandrel after the bead has been annealed and cooled.
Bead release is fragile once heated and cooled so it breaks loose
easily (if the bead release has been formulated well) so you can get
the finished bead off the mandrel by holding the mandrel with pliers
and twisting the bead.
You can buy bead release ready made:
Or you can make your own:
Let it sit overnight before using.
- six to ten parts water
- five parts kaolin or any other clay like ball clay
- three to five parts of a flux like nepheline syenite
or any other feldspar
- three parts diatomaceous earth.
You can "tune" this recipe. If the release crumbles while
you're working on the hot bead, add more flux to the mix so the
other ingredients melt together together some more.
This makes it harder to break the bead loose when you're done, so
increase the amount gradually until the
bead release is tough enough hot for your style of working but not so
tough you have to fight it to get the bead loose when it's cold.
You can get the materials (except the diatomaceous earth) at a
The diatomaceous can be found at pool supply stores.
Once the bead is made it has to be annealed by cooling it down slowly
in an annealer (I use old kilns for this) so it doesn't have a lot of
internal stress that would cause the bead to shatter or crack later.
When the bead has cooled, it's broken off the mandrel and the bead
release that's left in the hole is cleaned out. The easiest way is
something like a Dremel
tool with a diamond tool bit used
wet or you can use a hand
Go to the "Lampwork Bead How To Article" in the site index if you want
to see all the pictures with explanations.
Here's something for the more advanced Lampworkers...
This was an article I wrote for the Glass Art Society Newsletter
It's something I made to get around the problems of lampworking dense,
high lead colors like the color bars furnace workers use.
Here's a little something I've found to make my flameworking torches
more versatile. It's really not anything new, the flameworkers in
Europe have been doing it for a while.
The idea is to combine compressed air with the oxygen or gas to produce
a softer and colder flame that is much gentler on the soft glasses.
Most of those gorgeous colors in soft glass were never designed to
withstand the high temperatures found in a pure gas and oxygen torch
flame. These colors react to excess heat by doing any number of rude
and ugly things such as burning out the oxides, turning brown or
surface pitting. Another benefit is that things happen more slowly in
the cooler flame.
The picture makes this look a bit more complicated than it actually is.
All I'm doing is putting compressed air that is controlled by a needle
valve into the gas line just before the torch. In the picture the
compressed air line comes in on the right side where you see the white
plastic line and the brass quick disconnect. The line then passes
under the torch, and connects to the needle valve (green knob in the
picture) you see on the left side. After the compressed air has
gone through the needle valve it goes to the brass tee where the air is
mixed into the gas in the red gas line just before the torch.
It only requires a small amount of compressed air volume and
pressure to do this. There is not much strain on the air compressor.
All that is needed is compressed air coming in at a higher pressure
than the gas or oxygen.
I also use an inexpensive air flow regulator at the the air compressor
to lower the air pressure. It's not in the picture. I can run this
torch setup without the regulator but the lower pressures available
with the regulator make for easier adjustment and less fluctuation of
the flame. Changes in the torch flame can happen with no change in the
needle valve position by having the compressed air pressure going up
and down as the compressor cycles. Any kind of regulator that is set to
a pressure below the lowest tank pressure will help smooth this
out. I'll eventually upgrade from a flow regulator to a pressure
regulator to help further minimize the pressure and flame changes.
A needle valve can often be found inexpensively at salvage places. If
that doesn't work I buy them new from Carlisle. They used to be around
$20-30 but it has been a while since I bought a new one. Carlisle
knows them as "Fine Thread Metering Valves". Their part numbers on
these run from 16A001 to 16A015, depending on what size pipe thread
they fit and if they are straight or a ninety degree angle. You
can find Carlisle at www.carlislemachine.com. If there is
an arrow on the side of the valve it needs to be pointing in the
direction of the air flow when installed. This keeps the pressure off
the shaft seals when the valve is not open.
The plumbing and hoses I used on the torch in the picture are a "late
night special" composed of what I had available on the shelf. All the
brass is common pipe fittings like you would find at a building supply
or auto parts store. The red hose is welding torch hose. The white and
black hose is plastic semi truck air brake line with compression
fittings. A heavy truck parts supply store is a great source for a wide
and unusual variety of compression fittings and that plastic air brake
line. The air brake line comes in a number of sizes, is incredibly
tough and is very inexpensive. Commercial heating and air conditioning
suppliers usually have these too. Many commercial building heat/air
systems are controlled by compressed air.
I usually use pipe fittings when I can. It's always so much quicker and
easier to hook everything up with things that I can get locally. I use
teflon tape to help seal the pipe threads. When I converted this torch
the only needle valve available at the time had compression fittings so
I had to mix, match and adapt the fittings between pipe and
compression. Compression fittings can be an advantage when I want to
position something exactly. Pipe thread fittings don't do that as
I fire the torch by lighting the gas and oxygen mixture and then very
gradually letting a tiny bit of compressed air into the flame. A large
variety of adjustments are possible and the compressed air adjustment
is very sensitive. Too much compressed air will just blow out the flame.
The flame can fool you, it can look nice and blue and still be
reducing. I check the flame for reduction by melting a piece of white
opal glass in the flame and then seeing if it shows any brown or black
stains. I've also found that a large flame will often reduce things
close to the torch head but is just fine further out in the flame.
I ALWAYS use a backfire preventing safety valve on the gas line where
it goes to the regulator just in case something goes wrong and the
flame burns back into the hoses. I get the backfire valve from the
local welding supply.
Different torches like different things, so, no telling what a
particular torch will be the happiest with, air in the gas or air in
the oxygen. It's easy enough to switch the air injection over to the
oxygen line and see if a torch might be happier that way.
I never would have known just how easily this could be done
unless my friend Sky Campbell had been game to do a little
"investigative surgery" on one of his imported bench burners. Thanks