Introduction: Intro to Glass Bead Making
Learning to make your own glass beads for your jewelry projects doesn't have to be a daunting or expensive task. You don't need to buy a kiln, propane, torch, etc. to make your own lampwork glass beads. What you do need is a semi-local artisan shop that has a studio and classes and also has open studio hours. In most cases, you have to take an introductory glass/flameworking class before you can access the open studio hours.
If you look in your area, you should be able to find at least one place like this. Often, if you check Groupon or LivingSocial, you'll find great discounts for classes. This is how I started to learn to make glass beads.
I make a lot of my own jewelry and lampwork glass beads tend to be my main pieces so after a couple years of buying beads and maybe not always being able to find (or afford) the types of beads I wanted, I took a beginner flameworking class.
This Instructable is in no way meant to replace an actual hands-on class, making glass beads is harder than it looks and you want to have someone standing there telling you to rotate the mandrel when you forget because you're trying to add more colors or shape. This is a very basic Instructable.
*Note: some of the beads in the photos are ones I bought, not made. I'm using them as an example as to the styles and effects that can be created*
Step 1: BoM
If you're doing your glass beads in a studio, the majority of tools and supplies will be readily available.
Propane (and oxygen)
Mandrels (steel rods)
Bead release(this is what you dip the mandrels in before bead making)
Tweezers, knife, glass cutters, pick, handheld molding tools etc. (for shaping, separating, adding details etc.)
Filtered lenses/sunglasses***extremely important***
Step 2: Glass
The studio you use should have glass rods readily available to buy, but they may have a limited selection. The individual rods don't seem like a lot, but you can get a surprising amount of glasswork done with just one rod. Rods are generally about $2 and up, depending on the color and glass material. A decent studio will have no problem with you bringing your own supplies.
Step 3: Making Beads
When you are first getting prepped to make your beads, you want to make sure all your tools are close to the torch so they get some of the warmth. You don't want cold tools mixing with your hot glass.
First, heat up your mandrel. But don't let it heat up for too long or you will burn the bead release off and need a new mandrel. While the mandrel is heating up, you want to slowly bring your glass rod into the tip of the flame at an awkward, upward/sideways angle. You want a bit of the glass to gather (gather=an accumulation of molten glass) at the end of your rod before you touch the mandrel. When the glass touches the mandrel you want to rotate the mandrel.
Step 4: Bead Making Part 2
Once you feel like you have enough glass on the mandrel and are satisfied with your bead size, you can put the glass rod down and continue to rotate the top half of the bead. If you put the entire bead into the flame it will drop. When the bead is completely orange you don't need to add additional heat and can pull it back from the flame.
Step 5: Adding Color/Designs
Once your bead is shaped, you can add more colors or designs by reheating a stringer (thinner glass rods) and gently touching them to your bead. If you want the colors to blend into the bead and not be raised, you want to rotate the tops of the beads until the second color is smooth.
Step 6: Annealing
Annealing is the controlled, slow cooling of glass beads (or any other glass objects) in a kiln over a period of hours until the beads reach room temperature. If your beads are not annealed, they will break. If you cool them too fast, they will break. If you look closely at the white bead, you can see 3 indents were decorations were initially, but fell off either during annealing or soon after.
This isn't to say that annealing will make your beads indestructible, they're still glass. But annealing helps to give the glass added internal stress protection.
A studio that does glass making and allows use of their studio will have a kiln that you can use to properly anneal your beads.