How to Make Glass Beads

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Man has made glass beads for more than 2,000 years and has used them in many ways, from decorations to currency. Techniques of the glassmaking industry were trade secrets until the early 17th century. A popular method of bead making produces "lamp worked" or "wound" beads, so-called because the glass rods were heated in the flame of an oil lamp and the molten glass was wound onto a rod.

Things You'll Need

  • Work Boots
  • Clean Rags
  • Exhaust Fans
  • Torch Kits
  • Vermiculite
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Matches Or Charcoal Lighters
  • Didymium Lens Safety Goggles
  • Emery Cloths
  • Mandrels
  • Pliers
  • Workbenches
  • Pipe cleaners

Getting Ready

  • Coat a mandrel (a metal rod for building beads) with bead release (a fireproof material for coating a mandrel) by dipping it into the jar. Let it dry.

  • Secure a propane, MAPP or oxygen-propane torch to a heatproof work surface with a clamp or place it in its stand.

  • Wipe any dust or oil off a glass rod with a clean rag to prevent contamination.

  • Put on didymium lens safety glasses.

  • Light your torch with a sparker or barbecue lighter with the gas on low, turning it up when lit.

Making a Bead

  • Heat the coated mandrel in the flame, moving it behind the flame when it becomes hot.

  • Warm the glass rod slowly in the outer part of the flame. Moving the rod in and out of the flame at first will help to prevent the rod from popping.

  • Bring the glass rod into the hotter part of the flame as it starts to glow.

  • Rotate the glass rod as the glass melts until a blob forms. The molten glass will have the consistency of thick honey.

  • Touch the tip of the blob to the coated part of the mandrel through the flame.

  • Rotate the mandrel to wind the melting glass onto the mandrel.

  • Pull the glass rod away when the wound glass is big enough, separating the new bead from the melting glass rod.

  • Rotate the new bead in the hot part of the flame until any irregularities even out.

  • Rotate the new bead against a marver (a flat, heatproof ceramic, metal or graphite surface) if shaping is desired.

  • Keep rotating the mandrel until the glass stops glowing.

  • Cool the bead slowly in a fiber blanket or heated vermiculite.

Finishing Your Bead

  • Allow the bead to cool to the touch (approximately 30 minutes).

  • Grasp the mandrel with pliers and the bead with your fingers, and twist and pull the bead from the mandrel.

  • Clean the bead release out of the bead hole with a small brush or pipe cleaner.

  • Wipe your bead with a cloth to remove any dust or fingerprints.

Tips & Warnings

  • The hottest part of the flame is the tip of the inner, blue cone.
  • Keep turning the glass rod and mandrel to heat them evenly.
  • If the glass is too cool, it will be hard to wind around the mandrel and may cause the bead release to release too soon.
  • Use gravity to help shape the molten bead.
  • Thick areas of glass cool more slowly than thin areas.
  • If you use vermiculite, heat it in a Crock-Pot.
  • Wet or soak the mandrel with water when removing the bead to help reduce airborne bead release dust.
  • Grind off any sharp edges around the hole with extra-fine emery paper.
  • Heating the glass rod too quickly will cause popping, sending hot glass pieces flying.
  • Putting your bead into the fiber blanket or vermiculite when too hot will leave marks on the bead. The bead should make a clinking sound when lightly tapped against a hard surface.
  • Do not attempt to reheat a cooled bead. Internal stresses may cause it to shatter.
  • Using a torch will create a lot of heat and carbon monoxide. Prevent a buildup of both of these by working outside or ventilating your work area with an exhaust fan.
  • Always keep your heatproof work surface clear of all flammable material.
  • Molten glass exceeds 1,000 degrees F and can cause severe burns on contact. Even glass that doesn't look hot can still be hundreds of degrees.
  • Always remember which end of your glass rod is hot.
  • Bead release can create hazardous dust when dry. Keep your work area clean and wipe up any dry bead release with a damp cloth.
  • Tie back any long hair and avoid wearing loose-fitting long sleeves.
  • Improperly heated or cooled glass can pop and shatter, sending glass pieces flying. Always wear safety glasses and shoes in your work area.

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