I get a lot of emails asking me how I started beadmaking. I also receive a lot of questions about starter equipment, book and tools, so I've put this page together as a way of giving you some idea of how to get started in lampwork.
My first bit of advice is read. Read as much as you can about lampwork. My first book on the subject was 'Making Glass Beads' by Cindy Jenkins. When I got this book back in 2004 I was a jewellery maker with a keen interest in finding out how these beautiful glass gems were made. I assured my Mum that I was "just doing research" and that I wasn't about to "get a blowtorch or anything!".
As you can see, I just had to have a go.
Instructional books I recommend are :
'Making Glass Beads' by Cindy Jenkins
'Beads of Glass' by Cindy Jenkins
'Passing The Flame' by Corina Tettinger
And for sheer bead eye candy, you can't go wrong with '1000 Glass Beads'.
I started out on Horace, my Hot Head torch, which was attached to my Dad's old Black & Decker Workmate. I used to work out in the back garden. When I look back I have no idea how I managed lampworking standing up with the breeze blowing the flame all over the place.
When Mum was sure that I wasn't going to blow myself up (or anyone else) she let me work in the kitchen. I upgraded to a snazzy camping table which meant I could sit down and work and then I eventually moved Horace to a computer desk that I picked up for a tenner at Staples.
I now work in my shed on a Carlisle Mini CC torch called Bob (I name everything) who runs on a 19kg tank of propane and one oxygen concentrator.
This seems to be the item of beadmaking equipment that all new lampworkers are most concerned about. When I started lampwork, I didn't have a kiln. I used vermiculite to cool my beads in. You can gently heat this up in a slow cooker or in a saucepan on a hotplate or you can use it just as it is. Vermiculite is that silvery-brown grainy stuff that you buy in garden centres and it's normally used to retain moisture in plantpots but it has excellent insulation properties. Dead cheap too. Please remember that vermiculite-cooled beads are exactly that; cooled, not annealed.
So what does a kiln do? It anneals your beads. Glass needs to be annealed to prevent fissures and cracks forming. My beads go straight from the flame into a hot kiln. They sit there until I finish melting glass for the day and then I ramp the kiln up to the annealing temperature. The beads 'soak' in the heat for an hour and then the kiln cools down slowly.
The annealing process ensures that the entire bead cools at the same rate. If you were to leave a bead out in the open air to cool the outside of the bead would start to cool faster than the inside. This internal stress causes cracks to form resulting in a broken bead.
My current kiln, Kenneth, is a Paragon SC2 with bead door which I bought from Paragon Kilns. A kiln is an absolute must if you intend to sell your work or pass your beads on to other people. As I say, you can start off cooling your beads in vermiculite and they can be 'batch annealed' at a later date. This means placing the beads in a cold kiln, ramping up to the annealing temperature, soaking and then cooling.
My biggest bit of advice to anyone starting out on the beadmaking route is simple - go slowly. It is mighty important to master making a round bead before you move onto encased florals! When I started beadmaking I was dying to have a go at flowers, scrolls, spirals, encasing, hearts and all those other amazing bead designs I'd drooled over in books and on websites but, and this is where I sound like Yoda, these skills come with time, patience and practice.
Thing is, if you try and run before you can walk you can become quite despondent. Making round beads may sound boring but it is a great way to learn how the glass moves, how gravity affects the beadmking process and how every single colour of glass is different to work with than the next.
Apart from the (probably annoying) tip about patience and practice my other bit of beadmaking advice is simple - enjoy it! Many people find the whole process of beadmaking very relaxing because you get totally 'lost' and absorbed in what you're doing. I started off lampworking as a hobby and it was a great way to unwind after a day's work.