Introduction: Bubbly Glass Bead Bracelet

About: I work in IT, but enjoy a variety of things. I'll usually do something until I'm almost good at it and then move on to something else. There's probably a clinical diagnosis for that, but I've never asked. I …
In this instructable, I'll show you how to make your own glass beads and turn them into a bracelet. This particular method of glassblowing is called lampworking

  • Sodium Flare protection / UV protection safety glasses
  • propane or MAPP gas torch
  • mandrels
  • bead release
  • drill & bits

  • glass
  • baking soda
  • copper winding wire


A note about the tools:
In the videos I'll be using a dual fuel oxy/propane torch, but if you're new to the game, you won't need anything that elaborate to start off with, especially not for little beads like these. I began doing it using an old propane plumbing torch. You can get a bernzomatic or similar mapp gas torch from most hardware stores, or a specific "hot head" torch from the above glassblowing supply sites, they're pretty cheap.
The mandrels I'm using here were made out of some 1/8" TIG welding rod, my very first ones were repurposed bicycle spokes. Anything should be fine, as long as it's stainless steel. 
I really recommend buying some bead release, but some people have had some success using plaster of paris. The main difference is that bead release can be dried in the torch flame, plaster needs to air dry over several hours, and can still produce noxious fumes when heated.

As far as the materials go, you can use just about any glass you want (old bottles, etc) but if you're using recycled glass, you won't be able to use 2 different colors in the same bead, or they will break. For the glass in this instructable, I'm using Effetre glass that all has the same coefficient of expansion. Nepheron has a great instructable on how to make beads with recycled glass. Here is another good video on how to cut your own glass stringers out of a bottle to make beads with. 

Step 1: Making the Beads

Once we have our mandrels dipped in bead release, our glass ready, and a tablespoon or so of baking soda on hand (and maybe a fire extinguisher) it's time to don our safety specs and fire up the torch. 

I would recommend starting out with small simple beads, like the little spacer beads between the bubble beads. Since they are just one color, now would be a great time to experiment using recycled glass. ( ) My spacers are from a Fentimans dandelion & burdock bottle. 

To make a bead: hold the coated mandrel in one hand at 90° to the flame and slowly heat it while you also preheat the glass with the other hand. The mandrel has to be warm enough for the hot glass to stick to it, but doesn't need to be glowing. Preheat the glass very slowly and carefully at first, too quickly will cause a thermal shock, exploding shards of glass everywhere. 

Once you see the tip of the glass glowing, it is hot enough to immerse in the flame. Gently roll it in your fingers to heat the tip evenly, and once there is a sagging, glowing drop (gather) of glass on the end, apply it to the coated section of the mandrel while rolling the mandrel. The molten glass will adhere to the mandrel and itself, and when you have used up the gather, "cut" the glass rod away from your new bead by holding it in the flame until the thread separates. 
Repeat this process until the bead is as large as you would like it. 

For my bubble beads I apply a base color of opaque glass, heat the whole bead to glowing and as soon as the glow fades, roll it in the baking soda. It will cool down quickly, so keep it warm in the very end of the flame while heating up some transparent glass in the base of the flame. Once you have a good gather of molten transparent glass, apply it to the outside of the bead to encase the opaque color. As soon as you put it on, you will see the bubbles begin to form from the baking soda. Heat the transparent glass to make the bead nice and symmetrical (not like my beads), but don't heat it up too much or the bubbles will burst and leave you with craters. It takes some playing around with to get it right. 

  • Always hold the glass rod or stringer perpendicular to the mandrel
  • If your bead is asymmetrical, heat it to molten in the flame, constantly rolling the mandrel, and let it cool
  • Wait until the bead has stopped glowing before putting it into cooling bubbles

Step 2: Annealing the Beads

If beads aren't annealed, they can often break due to internal stresses from being cooled down too quickly. If they're going to break, they normally do it before they reach room temperature, or later when you try and take them off the mandrel, but can even spontaneously crack months down the road. 

To get my beads down to room temp in one piece, I use "Japanese annealing bubbles". They keep the glass insulated so it cools down more slowly, but they still don't actually anneal anything. They are sometimes more appropriately called cooling bubbles. Then I can anneal a whole bunch of beads in my kiln in one batch. 

There are many ways to get by without a fully fledged bead kiln though. There are little microwave kilns, bonecholampworks has a very clever instructable on how to make one out of an old waffle iron, but my favorite and the most reliable method, is to ask another lampworker for help. There are lots of great forums like Frit Happens and Lampwork Etc. all of them full of very helpful artists who will usually help out a newbie with annealing for a small fee, or even for free. I did it this way for a whole year before I finished building my own kiln. 

If you do have your own kiln, you probably know how to use it, so I won't go into that here. 

Step 3: Making the Bracelet

For the bracelet chain I used some recycled copper wire to make a chain using a technique called viking knit. You can find copper winding wire inside most electronics: speakers, motor stators, inductors. Or you can buy it at Radio Shack. It comes in all different sizes, I'm guessing the stuff I used here is about 28 gauge. 

There are lots of great video tutorials on YouTube about viking knit, and cbm104's instructable also explains it very well. I suggest you check them out for the exact method, it's not hard to do, but quite hard to explain. 

To get the right size chain for the size of your bead holes, you should use the same mandrel for the viking knit as you used to make the beads with. The way it works is: the wire gets looped through itself and coiled around the mandrel. Once you have enough chain woven, you remove the mandrel and draw the chain through a series of decreasing holes. To get the chain small enough to fit the 1/8" bead holes, I had to start with a 7/32" hole and work my way down in 1/32" increments. As you progressively draw the chain through the holes, it will decrease in diameter and increase in length. It's roughly a 1:2 ratio of pre-drawn to post-drawn length, but I always make a little extra.

The clasp is made from some larger wire, a paperclip would also work. Put 4 turns of it around your mandrel, then shape an eyelet on the end. Do the same again for the other half, but this time shape a hook instead. Once you have your beads strung onto the chain, mix up a drop of epoxy and dip the tip of the chain in it. Then insert the chain into the coiled end of the clasp, and crimp it onto the chain with a pair of pliers. Once the epoxy is dry, it's ready to give to somebody as a handmade gift, or wear it yourself! 

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