ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Lampworking: Making Handmade Glass Beads

Updated on June 20, 2008

Lampwork - Making Glass Beads

Lampwork glass © Janet Crosby
Lampwork glass © Janet Crosby

What does "lampworking" mean?

Lampworking is an old term, used to describe the first torches used -- oil lamps with a foot pump or other type of blow pipe to add oxygen to the oil flame and make the flame hotter. The flame was used to melt the glass into shapes, goblets, beads, etc. and this technique has been used since ancient times.

Today, people use propane-oxygen torches. Natural gas or other similar fuel may be used alone or in combination with oxygen for a variety of torches on the market. While the term "lampwork" is still commonly used, it is now preferred to use terms such as flamework or torchwork to more aptly describe this technique or the resultant art (i.e. flameworked glass beads).

Making glass bead with propane-oxygen torch

Making a glass bead © Janet Crosby
Making a glass bead © Janet Crosby

Glass used for flameworking

Glass used for lampworking is most often in rod form, and suppliers can be found in Italy, the US and around the world. There are two main types of glass: "soft" or soda-lime glass and "hard" or borosilicate glass (common trade name: Pyrex).

Soft glass comes in a large variety of colors and has a high COE of ~104 (coefficient of expansion), meaning that it expands and contracts much more than hard glass in the heat/cool cycles. By comparison, hard glass COE is 34. This means that you must work carefully with soft glass to keep the piece hot while working, or it will crack! A good kiln is essential. More about that in a bit.

I use soft glass for the majority of my beads. Most of the glass I use is originally from Italy, purchased from a US supplier. There are also a few glass companies in the US Pacific Northwest that produce glass for lampworkers.

Samples of soft glass rods

Photo © Janet Crosby
Photo © Janet Crosby

Flameworking tools

The most obvious tool is the torch. I use a propane-oxygen torch called a Minor, made by Nortel. It is important to learn from someone who has lots of experience with torches and working with glass, as safety is not something to be taken lightly. Propane and oxygen are highly explosive, and must be handled with care and respect.

Didymium Glasses are special glasses to reduce the soda flare (bright red flame) and protect your eyes. Here is a photo of these glasses. Extra filters are needed if working with hard glass, as you can burn your retinas over time. Eyes are so important! Wear protective eyewear at all times when at the torch.

There are many, many hand tools on the market for lampworkers. I admit that I am not much of a tool person, so my main tool selection is pretty sparse:

Flamworking hand tools

Flamworking hand tools © Janet Crosby
Flamworking hand tools © Janet Crosby

Basic hand tools for flameworking

From left to right:

  • Tweezer masher - this is great for pressing and shaping beads.
  • Razor blade - this is a regular razor blade in a pin vice handle. I use this to cut indentations in the glass for lips and other sculptural elements
  • Long-nose pliers - basic pliers for squishing and squeezing the glass.
  • Brass shaper - brass moves glass well, and I use this to push the glass where I want it.

Making a bead

Making a bead © Janet Crosby
Making a bead © Janet Crosby

Making a bead... and cooling it slowly

Another tool necessary to make beads are mandrels. These are steel rods of varying diameters that flameworkers use to wind the glass around. It is essential to use some type of bead release to dip the mandrel in before adding the glass. This prevents the glass from permanently fusing to the metal and allows for easy (hopefully) removal of the bead.

Bead Making Kiln

As mentioned earlier, a kiln is essential to making quality beads that won't crack after they cool. Cooling the beads slowly at controlled temperatures is called annealing, and it adds to the strength and integrity of the finished piece.

At the torch, the flame is 1600 to 2000F. To cool to room temperature quickly is a sure-fire cause of cracking with soft glass (hard glass can withstand temperature changes better, but still needs to be kiln annealed).

When the bead is still hot, it is placed in the kiln, usually at a temperature of 950F (for soft glass - higher temp for hard glass) to cool slowly over several hours. I ramp my kiln down over a period of 8 hours.

Beadmaking Kiln

Beadmaking kiln © Janet Crosby
Beadmaking kiln © Janet Crosby


Ventilation is of extreme importance when flameworking! Unfortunately, many people are either too excited to start flameworking, don't know how to properly set up ventilation, don't have enough money to pay for a proper system, or any combination of these elements, and therefore don't set up a system to protect their health.

Heavy metals are what give glass its color -- lead, copper, silver, gold are some of the common ones. Once these metals hit the flame they vaporize. You can't see, smell or taste these harmful gasses, but they can do many types of damage to your health. Some effects are quick; headache, dizzy, some are long term and take years to show up; lead toxicity etc.

Be safe -- use proper ventilation!

Below is a typical exhaust fan and hood set up. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss ventilation setup, but I hope to add a hub on that in the future.

Ventilation set up

Exhaust fan and vent hood © Janet Crosby
Exhaust fan and vent hood © Janet Crosby

Glass is a blast, but safety first

Glass is my passion and is amazingly fun, however, I was very careful to fully research the costs and risks of working with this medium. If you are interested in trying this type of art, please seek the help of a qualified teacher for hands-on lessons in learning how to safely operate the equipment and work with the hot glass.

You can see more of my glass work on my web site or in my Etsy store.

Below are some of the books I have found to be particularly helpful in learning new techniques.

Lampworking books that I own and recommend:


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)