May 8, 2014

Glass Beads

The art of glass is an extreme craft--extreme in temperature, extreme in cost, and extreme in the amount of energy it can consume. I am also an extreme beginner. Glass is around us everywhere, which makes it remarkable that we are so detached from the process of glassmaking. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my first time glass blowing. That was a couple of years ago, but this year I learned to make glass beads via glass torch at the Bay Area Glass Institute in San Jose.

As glass beads are much smaller than the pieces I made in glass blowing, the conditions are much more...temperate. The flame (propane and oxygen) is only a few hundred degrees and much more manageable than the 2,000+ F crucible and glory holes. Another notable difference is that the glass starts in the solid state to be melted into the molten malleable state instead of starting molten. There is still a safety hazard, so we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes from the negative effects of staring at the bright yellow flame for hours at a time.

To make a bead, first melt some glass and wrap it around a stick with your indicator color already melted on (my indicator color is white). Then, depending on the design, melt other colors on as spots or stripes. You can have extra additions be melted into a smooth layer or stand out. Marble color combinations are also an option. You can also change the shape of the bead with tweezers or rolling the glass on the flat black surface right below the flame.

After the glass arrangement is done, it's time to put it in the cooling oven (annealer) where the glass gradually cools from a few hundred degrees to about 80F. Small pieces can break off in the process, so at this point the turnout of the beads is still up in the air.

There's lots more I could mention about the bead making process, but that's the jist of it. Here are all the finished beads from my first time using the torch!

This long bead was made in one piece, but I guess something happened in the annealer to make it split into three pieces. I could superglue it all together, though.
This was my first attempt at an owl. It's not easy! And the left wing broke off in the annealer, so this owl is disabled.
This was my second attempt at an owl. Both wings stayed on, but the nose burned off in the kiln/annealer.

There was no formal lesson on how to make a butterfly, but I tried to figure it out myself. I guess it worked out alright.
All the finished beads!

I also have an exciting announcement! Next week will be Hat Week! Check back every week day next week for a new hat or two I've made recently starting Monday, May 12.

Happy Crafting!!

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