Monday, May 26, 2008

What is Lampwork?

I'm constantly being asked "what is lampwork?" I figure it's about time I give you an answer which is detailed but not toally boring.
Glass lampwork is the centuries old art of melting glass with a flame to produce handmade “lampwork” glass. The word lampwork came from originally using oil filled lamps to heat glass to a molten stage. Although we still refer to this process as lampwork, it’s also called flame working or tourchworking glass.
Simply put lampwork is the art of creating glass beads over a flame hot enough to melt glass to it’s molten droopy stage. Today we use special torches that burn a mixture of propane and oxygen to produce a clean flame for glass.
Mostly likely you’ve heard people mention Murano glass in one form or another when speaking of glass works and beads. This is because glass making became widely practiced in Murano Italy as early as the 14th century although the art of making glass beads has been around since ancient time. Murano is still known for it’s abilities of producing some of the best glass and glass work in the world.
In the process of making lampwork beads, glass rods are melted over a torch into it’s molten stage then wound around a steel mandrel to form a shape or bead. While the glass is molten various colors of glass and materials such as silver or copper or other bits of crushed glass are added to achieve the desired look. While the glass is kept molten over the torch, it is formed and manipulated with graphite, stainless steel, wood, marble tools and paddles and constant movement in order to achieve it’s ultimate shape. The process is called marvering. The molten glass can also be shaped by using decorative presses. While the glass is still hot, or after re-heating, the bead may be decorated with fine rods of different colors called stringers. The trick is to keep the glass hot, the mandrel spinning at all times, and adding different colors of glass while it remains a constant temperature without distorting the beads shape or colors. When glass is molten it looses or changes color. It is the talent of the artist making the bead to choose the proper glass rods, remember the colors and materials they are working with in order to complete the ultimate result.
Once the desired bead shape has been achieved the glass must be carefully annealed..
Annealing is a process of cooling down glass in a high temperature kiln, usually at 900 to 975 degrees depending on the glass type. This process reduces stress and avoids thermal shock to the glass bead. This process takes several hours as the temperature is gradually reduced down to room temperature. If the bead is cooled too quickly it will break from stress.
After the annealing process is complete the bead is then removed from it’s metal mandrel, and cleaned.
The process of making lampwork beads is time consuming however, the outcome is rewarding.
Julie Teeples is a professional artist and jewelry producer who makes and uses lampwork beads and fused glass in her jewelry designs. To view lampwork beads and additional information about her work please visit To read more about the author and her work please visit