So.....you want to learn lampworking (a.k.a. flameworking, torchworking, beadmaking, etc.), but
you're not sure where to start. Well, what follows is my advice on how to get started in this
amazing art, should you want to try it out.
The very first thing I recommend to anyone interested in making glass beads is to take a local
beginner's class in lampworking. Taking a general beginner's class is a relatively inexpensive way to try melting glass without
making a huge commitment. You can find introductary classes in many cities around the
U.S. - and I imagine there are quite a few in many other countries as well.
There are lots of places online that you can find information on classes that are near you.
The first place I recommend checking are the various glass art forums and websites. Some of
them have specific sections on classes.
Here are some links that might help you find online and offline classes:
You can also check your local area by searching the web (Google.com is my favorite) using the terms "lampwork class", or "glass beadmaking class", and your city. Many glass supply companies and local colleges have these
classes available, as do local glass studios and artists.
There are certain things you should make sure the class offers before signing up. In my opinion, the most important thing a lampwork class should include is a section on safety.
Melting glass can be dangerous if you don't take certain precautions. Make sure the class is given in a well-ventillated room. When I took my first class, I had no idea that a poorly ventillated classroom could actually make me ill - and it did. An open door is not proper ventillation. The room should have a vent hood of some kind over the torches, and there should be plenty of make-up air coming in from outside. Safety glasses should also be provided to filter out soda flare so you can see while you work, and to minimize eye strain. If you are learning how to work with borosilicate (a.k.a. hot glass or boro), you need more eye protection than just the standard didymium lenses that are usually used for soda-lime glass (soft glass, what my beads are made with). Make sure the teacher tells you about ventillation and other safety precautions during the class.
Another thing to look for in a decent class is a section on setting up your equipment and operating it safely. You can learn that from books, but it is so much easier to have an expert with you when you learn to turn on the torch for the first time - trust me! :)
The rest of the class content can vary widely - but I personally recommend that the following things be covered in an 8 hour class:
Preparation (dipping mandrels, setting up workspace, etc.)
Glass properties (COE, compatability, temperatures, etc.)
Melting a gather
Wrapping that first bead (YEY!)
Basic bead shaping
Dots (the basis for most bead decoration)
After that, the techniques you want to learn can be up to you. There are a lot of classes that are 2 days, with the first day being the above stuff, and the second day being a mix of practice time and learning new decorating techniques.
Once you have taken a class or two, and you've decided you absolutely must melt glass on your own, you may wonder...what do I do now? You basically have two choices - you can either rent torch time from a nearby studio, or you can set up your studio. Lots of people do the torch time rental, but there's nothing like having your own space if you have the means! If you do decide to rent torch time, chances are the location where you took your class will either offer it or know where you can go.
If you do decide to set up your own studio, here's where the real homework assignment comes! Equipment varies wildly - and what you decide to go with is mostly a personal preference issue. You'll need a torch, some kind of ventillation, fuel and most likely a source of oxygen (unless you go with a Hot Head torch, in which case fuel is all you'll need.). you'll also need mandrels and other assorted tools - and glass! The fun stuff!
When you take your class, your teacher will most likely provide some info on where to get all this stuff, and what to get. We also have an extensive list of vendors right here on Coloraddiction.
I would also suggest reading up on the different types of equipment and glass before you make your final decisions. Costs will vary (of course) depending on the type of beads you'll end up wanting to make, and you'll want to be sure you know what you're getting before spending that cash.
There are lots of books out there on lampworking in general, so I have made a list of my faves over at Amazon.com, with a sentence or two on each one.
A question that's on the mind of many a beginning beadmaker is.....do I need a kiln? It's a good question, but depending on who you ask, you might be somewhat frustrated by the huge variety of answers. My personal opinion is that it depends on several things. If this is just going to be a hobby for you, and you don't plan on selling your beads or making them into items to sell or give away, then no, a kiln is not necessary. If you plan on making small beads which can be batch annealed at a later date, and you know someone who will do this for you, then you can probably live without a kiln. However, if you plan to sell the beads or make them into jewelry, you should probably invest in a kiln. These days, kilns are getting less-expensive and more tailored to the beadmakers out there. Having one sure makes life easier for those of us who really want to make sure our beads have the best possible chance at lasting a good long time. I personally want someone finding my beads 1000 years from now and knowing that they are actually beads! :)
I hope you enjoy your journey into beadmaking, and that you find it just as blissful as I do!