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Glass Bead Making

Glass Bead Making

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When we think about which was or which were the first ever developed human arts, we usually think of ancient cave paintings. Well, that is totally a very well known and proclaimed assumption, since representation of reality through this kind of expression is one of the oldest and best-preserved evidence of humans expressing themselves. But what happens with contemporary art like glass bead making?

Let’s think back, what criteria do archeologists, art historians, anthropologists and other researchers, scientists and specialists must apply when talking about the most ancient piece of art’? 

Do they need to discuss the concept of art as a creative abstraction of reality with intention and meaning? But then, what happens to language itself? Does it count as art itself? Or is art itself language?

Let’s talk about one of the oldest human arts

Music instruments are among the oldest and well conserved findings that represent evidence for making hypotheses about the human innate motivation for arts. But it happens to be that, as old as archeologists and anthropologists go in the past, the harder it gets to get to a stable conception of art. 

This is not exactly the case as with glass bead making. Glass was at first discovered by accident when humans achieved the controlled usage of fire and experimented with materials like wood, clay, metal, and specifically other earthling materials. So, at around at least 3,000 years ago, glass bead making is now considered among the oldest human arts.

But if this practice is so old, how do you make glass beads then? Does that mean that we have already dominated the techniques and have made everything? Well, for sure we have not, because, as we will see, the evolution of this art itself means that there is now new and more efficient equipment that is being utilized for glass bead making and that it allows creativity and imagination to expand and grow, even more, to new horizons. 

Let’s start with the basic but not least important stuff.

How do you make glass beads? 

Making your own glass bead masterpieces is very often about setting up the environment. In order to create the best results while glass bead making you should consider even your own body and how it unfolds in the space you will be working in. 

Whether it is your home, workshop, or a private studio, the set and the settings are, at first, when you start to delve into the art of glass bead making, as important for your work, as the technique you will develop. We could say that knowing where your tools will be, whether you will be sitting or standing and how you will approach fire is kind of part of the whole glass bead making technique.

So, could we develop a step by step guide on how to make glass beads? Of course, we can! We are always here to help.

  1. Prepare the Set and Settings

Generally speaking, having a nicely prepared and good workspace helps having a good glass working session. Cleaning up the glass working area, putting away objects you would not like to be damaged and bringing near the instruments and tools you will need facilitates the whole process and lets you flow. 

  1. Prepare the Mandrels

Apart from clamping the torch to your workbench and carefully adapting the gas sources, preparing the mandrels is a key step for glass bead making. You should apply a bead releaser to the mandrels you will use and wait until it is completely dry.

  1. Light the Fire

First, open the gas valve and then light up the fire. The flame must be adjusted until it has a sharp edged blue cone shape. 

  1. Glass Bead Making

Use your dominant hand to hold your selected glass color. Slowly bring it close to the tip of the flame. When it glows, start rotating the rod. With your other hand, bring the mandrel close and start to press the tip of the rod onto the mandrel. Start rolling the mandrel away from yourself. You probably will catch up with the process from here.

Which equipment do you need to make glass beads? 

Here is a list of the equipment you need for glass bead making.

  • Torch
  • Propane
  • Mandrels
  • Bead releaser
  • Annealing kiln (lampworking kiln)
  • Glass rods
  • Marvering pad

Apart from these, you could consider tools that help you manipulate glass, such as tweezers, glass cutters, picks and molding tools.

Do you need a kiln to make glass beads?

The answer to this question may have different approaches.

Common issues regarding the process

If you have already made glass beads you have probably encountered the problem of glass beads breaking apart when trying to release them from the mandrel. This can become very frustrating when you actually love the result of your glass bead artistic process. 

When you achieve that drawing in your glass bead you wanted or that figure that took you a considerable amount of time to shape, and at the end, in spite of taking so much effort on releasing the bead from the mandrel with a lot of care, it breaks, that’s the moment when you realize something is missing.

Don’t worry, there’s a way out!

So, let’s get back to the subject. Do you need a kiln to make glass beads? Well, lampworking kilns solve this problem. They help glass beads to slowly cool down, so they do not ever go through the point of thermal shock and the glass never stresses, becomes fragile nor breaks, allowing your masterpieces to be more durable and resistant to impacts. 

So, depending on your goals we could answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.    

Just remember that the whole glass working art is very ancient, so there have been many artists and glass working practitioners that have come before you, and as they have crafted and produced a lot of fine and beautiful masterpieces, they have made a lot of mistakes. 

To make mistakes appears to be simply part of the natural course of art, until you realize there are no mistakes, there are always new discoveries through unknown experimented pathways. 

If anything goes wrong during the process, you could think that you are not alone and you have never been, there have always been new apprentices that eventually become masters and that preserve and they almost literally pass the torch upon the next generation of glass working artists.

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