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[ Home: Glass Art: Journey of a Thousand Beads ]
"Journey of a Thousand Beads"
Page 1 of 5

Author: Dale_Lynn, Contributing Editor

Journey Of A Thousand Beads
(Thank you Jeri for the title.)


I can tell you the exact day the madness started, March 10, 2002. A few days before that I was driving around when I spotted a sign, "GEM & MINERAL SHOW", Local VFW Hall.

On the above mentioned date, while my wife and I were taking our Sunday ride, we happened to stop by the show. As we have been into some cast silver jewelry making and rock polishing some years ago, we kind of knew what to expect. The whole show was not any real surprise, pretty much as you would expect any rock and mineral show to be.
What got my attention was a gentleman doing a demonstration on "bead making". Actually he was doing enamels on copper tubing. As I watched I saw him take a copper tube and place it in the flame of the hardware store typical propane torch. As it heated he explained what he was going to do next. He then proceeded to roll the copper tubing into a few thin lines of enamel on his work surface. Back into the flames with the coated tube, couple more times into different coloreds and a little swirl added with a ice pick and, there it was, a bead!. Kids were carrying them off as fast has they cooled down after he made them.

(Note little copper centers in each bead.)
Since I had a little knowledge of enamels from past "artsy" experiences, I thought no problem. I can do this. Went home and got on the computer and searched the internet for enamels and bead making. Search results were dismal, I only found a few sites with materials, and one site with an actual set of step by step process for enamels on copper bead making. Wow I thought, there should be more about this, after all it's a crafts thing. More searches, more poor results.

Next day I made the rounds of the local hobbies and crafts stores (I can do this, I'm retired). Not a thing on enamels. Back to the internet. Days with poor results. Suddenly a inspiration light goes on, what are all these words I have been seeing for days, but not connecting with, "lampworking", "flameworking", "hot glass beadmaking", "marble making", - MARBLES? -, "annealing kilns", "mandrels", "soft glass", "borosilicate glass" and many more.

More internet searches, WOW!! Whole world out there on making glass beads and marbles by "lampworking". Several days, (more like a week and a half) of intensive internet searches, devouring almost all information I could find ... dozens of sites with some of the most beautiful beads and marbles I have ever seen. And YAH!, lots of details, how to pictures and text. I've got to do this I am thinking.

As the beginning of week three, unfolds I am armed with the address of a local shop, about 40 miles away, and since it's a nice day for a drive, I head over that way, I find the street, I find the address, I find the shop, CLOSED. Bummer. Sign in windows says open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. ACK, it's a Tuesday.

Wednesday dawns pleasant, sun is shining, car is full of gas, its 9:00am, I'm excited. Drive over to neighboring town, arrive early. Shop is not open yet. I sit in car and listen to radio and wait. Time to open comes, and goes, nobody here. Wait some more, owner is late, finally 15 minutes after the hour he shows up and unlocks door and opens the place up.

I wander in!... Wow, a whole new world, the show room is small, but lots of neat glass stuff! The disappointment sets in, this just looks like a typical gift shop showroom. Looking at door in rear of show room, I see a sign, "retail shop through this door- welcome, come on in". As I step through the door excitement rises also a little bit of confusion. I see a large bench with burners on top of it, air ducting and exhaust fans, these I recognize from looking at all those internet sites. There are racks of glass, all colors and sizes and types. A show case with mandrels and tools and paddles and bead release. Suddenly I wonder what I'm getting myself into.

After taking to the owner and confessing to be an absolute novice with no experience, he just kind of grins at me. I talk my self into buying a few odd remnants of Moretti glass, some broken rods and short odds and ends. After all I really don't want to commit to this till I see if I can make beads. Owner is very understanding. He even throws in a small sample bottle of bead release. Wow I have spent a whole $3.40 and now I can make beads. After all I have a torch at home and I can stop by the local welding shop and get some stainless steel welding rod for mandrels.

Once home, I cut welding rods into mandrels and coat them with release. I know how to do this because I have read all about it on the internet. Once bead release is dry, I drag out the old Benz-O-Matic propane torch out if its hiding place on shelf, I set it up on bench with a clamp so it stays where I want it. I heat the glass, hmmm, its not heating, it just shatters. OUCH. You big dummy, internet sites say you have to introduce glass to heat slowly. I try this again. Better luck slowly. Glass begins to glow and I start my gather around the mandrel (I know these words because I have read all about it on internet sites). I get this gob of hot gooey glass around the mandrel and kind of get some sort of round shape to it. Better stop while I'm ahead. I put the round shape into a can full of vermiculite to slowly cool so it won't shock. I forgot to mention, I did pick up a bag of vermiculite at local garden store to cool beads in. Remember I have read this on the internet; I know how this is done! I proceed to second bead. A little better but not much. But I am beginning to know the glass. Get to point where I did on first bead and work it a little more, seem a bit better. I put that one in can to cool and try a third bead. Hey, we got it mastered now! OOPS! I dropped the mandrel, hot glass bead burns a dark spot in work bench top. Oh well, just another dimple in bench top to keep the others company made from other past projects. The bead is a disaster though, better quit for the day. A while later I go out and pull mandrels out of can and look and my new bright precious beads. BUMMER, big time. The are two of the most pathetic misshapen grayed out beads I have ever seen. How can this be?

Back to evening on internet! After many searches it is determined that my torch is not hot enough and I am just burning the color out and putting carbon into the glass. Hmmm. I have an Oxygen and Acetylene cutting torch out in shop. Tomorrow will try it; it's a lot hotter than a small propane torch.

The next morning I set up Oxy-Acetylene torches. Now have lots of heat, so I proceed to melt glass at a phenomenal rate, glass turns molten and flows beautifully, beads are even taking a better shape! Time goes buy and I decide to quit for a while and let my beautiful beads cool. Later, I pull the out of the vermiculite can, wow, great shape, really poor colors. Bummer. Seems Oxy-Acetylene torch has the heat, but Acetylene is a very dirty fuel. Dang. What should I do now.

I Head out to local hardware store and buy biggest head I can find for propane torch. Will try that tomorrow. Mean while I will spend evening on internet, doing more research. ALLRIGHT!!!!? Find address of another "glass" retailer near me! Wow, two sources of glass and materials both some distance away bit still close!

Left is Oxygen Acetylene welding torch. Definitely has the heat. But Acetylene so dirty a fuel your beads will be all gray and sooty.
Definitely not good for glass work.


Right is generic "hardware store" propane torch. It does not have enough heat to do anything but make the tiniest bead. Definite disappointment with this one.
Left is Hot Head torch on 1 pound disposable MAPP gas cylinder.


Right is Hot Head on 10 pound bulk MAPP gas cylinder. Note: hose and special bracket to mount torch.