What is Lampwork?

This toolbox kiln anneals all of my glass to ensure it's durable.

This toolbox kiln anneals all of my glass to ensure it’s durable.

Lampwork is the ancient technique… of melting glass over an oil lamp — it actually has nothing to do with making lamps!

For me, a typical melting session lasts for 7.5 hours. I set the kiln (a reconstituted tool box with a digital thermostat) to 960°F to start heating, while I prep the stainless steel mandrels. Those are dipped in “bead release” and dried in advance. I then add marks along the dried bead release to indicate how long to make the different beads. You’ll notice that each item — wine stopper, bottle opener, cake knife, etc. — are all different lengths and need to be the exact size in order to fit properly.

This is a variety of soft glass in Moretti transparent and opaque colors.

This is a variety of soft glass in Moretti transparent and opaque colors

 

Where does the glass come from?

I use soft Moretti glass, a 104COE. That means that I am able to use a variety of colors and brands, but it all has to have the same coefficient — 104. I purchase most of my glass from Frantz Art Glass in Washington State. The glass comes in a variety of thicknesses, based on whether I plan to use tiny detail or larger “wraps” around the mandrels. While the kiln is finishing heating, I then fire up my torch by starting the propane and oxygen concentrator.

 

Stainless steel mandrel covered in bead release.

Stainless steel mandrel covered in bead release.

It’s all about the torch…

My propane tank is actually an extra gas grill tank, sitting on the studio porch. Rather than use oxygen tanks, I purchased an oxygen concentrator “oxycon” from a medical supply company. The torch itself is a “Nortel Minor”, which has been the same torch I’ve been melting with since 2008, as I’m comfortable with the size of the flame and heat distribution.

Once the flame is lit, I wave the first glass rod gently into the flame to warm the glass slowly. If plunged too quickly into the flame, the cold glass will pop and a shard will fly — typically to the left hand side of my work space. Luckily, I’m careful enough to not have gotten burned since 2008! Once the glass is molten, I roll it in any one of several crushed glass combinations I’ve created and/or I layer additional colors. All along, I use a graphite “marver” to shape the molten glass into my one-of-a-kind beads. Once I’m satisfied with the bead, I place it in the kiln for several hours to ensure its strength.The kiln cycle typically lasts over 7 hours to cool the bead slowly — anneal it — so it’s durable.

Fresh from kiln

These beads are soaking in water to remove some of the bead release.

Soaking & Cleaning

Given that glass looks very different when molten, whenever I open the kiln, the results are a huge surprise! The beads are then soaked in warm water for several hours to break down the bead release so they are more easily removed from the mandrels. Once the insides are cleaned out with a file, the beads are washed and ready to attach to the stainless steel implements to create lovely gifts.

Ready to Enjoy!

I hope you enjoy my glass creations as much as I enjoyed making them! I look forward to sharing my work with you.

Wine display

Completed wine stoppers!

 

Betsy Houde
Nashua, New Hampshire

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