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WHAT IS LAMPWORKING?
Lampworking is a type of glasswork whereby the artist utilizes a hot flame and various tools to wind and/or blow molten glass, usually onto special rods called mandrels, forming beads, figurines or other similar miniature artwork. Lampworking got its name from artists some time ago that used hot lamps to melt their glass. Modern day lampworking or flame working utilizes generally three types of fuel, either Mapp Gas, propane or a propane/oxygen mix. Forced air is also used in some applications to provide considerable heat.
A variety of torches are available to handle a wide range of lampworking techniques. For soft glass, (soda-lime glass) with a coefficient of expansion (COE) between 90 and 104, a special Propane or Mapp Gass torch can be used. Often this is beginners' first choice, since it is rather inexpensive. More specialized work requires a torch that mixes the propane with oxygen for a hotter flame. The most common type of torch that mixes both propane and oxygen and is used for soft glass is a "surface mix" torch. This type of torch does not mix the propane and oxygen until the gases exit the torch head. A torch that mixes the propane and oxygen internally (prior to the surface) is called a premix torch. Although some artists use a premix torch for soft glass, most use a surface mix torch because it is cooler than the premix torch.
However, a premix torch is more common with artists that work with a different type of glass called borosilicate glass (hard glass or boro) that has a COE of 33. There are some surface mix torches that do become hot enough to work with borosilicate glass, but a premix torch works best and is more common with boro users. There are also combination torches that have both premix and surface mix torch heads attached.
When lampworking, the artist must anneal their glass artwork, best done immediately after the artwork is complete. Annealing glass objects greatly reduces the chance that the glass will crack and break later. Annealing requires a kiln that can reach excessive temperatures. Check with your glass manufacturer or distributor to find which temperature is best for the glass you use. Also check the proper method for annealing. Each type of glass requires a different annealing schedule.
Don't forget your safety equipment. Be sure to research the correct safety eyewear for the type of work and torch you will utilize. Long term light and infrared emissions from the torch and glassware can damage your eyes without the proper eyewear. So it is imperative to protect your eyes. The correct eyewear also blocks some light (sodium flare) from the flame while lampworking, allowing the lampworker to better see their glass work.
Be sure to also properly ventilate your work area. Working with hot glass forms toxic fumes that can be very damaging to your health.
The best thing to do if you are just beginning lampworking is to research as much as possible the myriad of information on the internet and in libraries on bead making and other flame work. Most artists love to share their ideas and techniques; and there is a lot on the internet and in books. This sharing of ideas not only creates a strong lampworking community, it provides incentives for a wide variety of artwork and great interest from buyers and collectors. People just love to watch lampworkers at work, and then love to buy their artwork. Good luck!