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Making Lampwork Beads at Home

A type of wound glass bead that even a beginner can make, lampwork beads have been made for over 2,000 years. They were originally made over the flame of an oil lamp, which is where they get their name.

Modern glass bead makers, from individual hobbyists to commercial factories, use specially made propane torches that sit on a tabletop. You'll need one of these, or at least a propane torch that will stand up on its own.

Grab a couple of glass rods in the colors you want to work with.

You'll also need a stainless steel rod, called a mandrel. It's dipped into a bead release product that keeps the glass from sticking to it.

Now you get to play with fire. Start to dip the end of the glass cane into the flame, allowing it to heat up slowly. Turn the cane around between your fingers as the glass melts, to keep the blob from falling off. Soon it will begin to melt and turn into a molten lump at the end of the glass cane. Keep turning it until it reaches about the size of a small marble.

At this point, put the steel rod into the flame to heat it up, focusing on the exact spot along its length that you will place the molten glass. Keep turning both the steel rod and the glass cane with the molten blob at the end until the rod is hot.

Elongate the molten glass by laying it on the steel rod and pulling it up to create a strand. Wrap the strand around the rod, forming a bead. Keep turning the mandrel, letting gravity help form the bead into a sphere around it.

Cut the melted glass strand from the rest of the unmelted glass cane by holding it in the flame.

Put the mandrel into the flame, turning it so the bead becomes more round and the rough edges smooth out.

Begin adding different colors to the bead by melting thin glass canes and applying the molten blob to the bead. Add blobs of color all around the bead, one at a time. Be sure to keep the bead in the flame as much as possible, so the glass doesn't cool off too much.

Keep holding the bead in the flame after you've added the contrasting color and continue to turn it. This will cause the blobs to flatten and create a pattern. If desired, use a metal awl to fashion the hot blobs into interesting shapes on the bead core.

Melt the tip of a clear glass rod and wind the resulting strand over the top of the bead. This will seal the designs in clear glass, giving the piece greater depth.



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