Monday Made It — using a torch!

This year for Christmas with my in-laws, we decided to pull names and get “the perfect gift” for the person who’s name we drew.  I was ecstatic when I drew my mother-in-law, Judy, who loves to make her own jewelry.  We’ve been talking about taking a lamp-working class for quite a while and getting her a class seemed like the perfect gift!  This past week we spent 4 days in Virginia Beach learning the art of lamp-working from Ann Scherm Baldwin of Schermo Beads.
 Below is a picture of a piece of jewelry Judy has made before.  The yellow and blue focal beads are lampwork beards. If you haven’t heard of it before, lamp-working is the art of melting glass around a steel mandrel to create a glass bead. 
The rest of this post is going to be a ginormous amount of pictures that were taken over the last couple of days with some captions.  I do hope you enjoy the creations we made.  
This was our set up!  The picture on the left is the torch that I got to use and the picture on the right is the kiln we used to anneal our beads.  Annealing holds the beads at a constant heat long enough to make them very strong so if you accidentally drop them they don’t break!
 These are pictures of all the amazing glass rods we used!  The top right picture is only a very small portion of Ann’s glass.  Each rod is about 12 inches long and can have varying diameters. Most of the rods we used were about 1/4″ wide. The picture on the bottom right are stringers (see below) and the picture on the bottom left are twisted stringers made up of 2-6 colors.
 The first thing we learned was how to pull a stringer.  First we turned on our torch (which are at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit – yikes!) and started dipping our glass rods quickly in and out of the flame.  You can’t hold the glass in the flame right away or it will thermalshock (read explode little shards of glass due to the temperature changing too fast).  Once we had heated enough we melted a blob of glass to the tip of a mandrel (top right) and started to pull in a very deliberate, steady motion (middle right). In the bottom right picture you can see my tiny stringer (I didn’t pull fast enough) as well as Judy’s.  First task accomplished AND I didn’t burn anything, anyone, or myself…. check!
 Next was time to make a bead!  First we tempered the bead release on the mandrel.  On the left, if you look you can see about an inch in the mandrel changes colors to a dark grey.  Another inch in you will see it changes to a lighter grey.  Heating the bead release helps with the removal process on day 2. After heating the mandrel, again you head the rod in a quick in and out manner and form a small barrel of glass on the rod.  At this point, after using the torch and a graphite paddle to shape the barrel (middle right) you start adding more melted glass.  The more glass you add the larger the bead.  Glass can continually be layered in many colors and designs.
After adding more glass to the outside, and working on spinning in a slow, continual manner to let gravity help pull the bead into a circle, Judy added small turquoise dots using a stringer.  
 After adding the dots (you can keep them raised at this point if you want, or you can melt them in as we did with our design) she put the bead back in the flame to slowly melt the dots in.  At this point it doesn’t seem too hard, but keep in mind the mandrel has to keep moving and the bead needs to stay warm (read 1000-1200 degrees).  It’s a lot of movements happening at the same time – think pat your head, rub your belly, hop on one foot, while winking!  After making each bead, they are placed in the kiln for the evening and held between 940 and 980 degrees for many hours then slowly cooled to room temperature.  This process (annealing) makes them very strong. 
At this point I put the camera down and started creating other designs ( you can see them below very soon!).  After what seemed like about an hour (actually it was closer to 6 hours) we stopped for the night and all went out for diinner – BAHAMA BREEZE!!!! Love that place!
The next morning we were so excited to get back to Ann’s so that we could see what we had made!  We pulled out beads out of the kiln and started the cleaning process.  First we soaked the mandrels in water to loosen the bead release.  Then we used pliers to hold the mandrel still so that we could wiggle the bead off.  After that, we used a dremel and water to remove the read release and clean out the middle of the bead so it can be used in jewelry later 🙂
 While I was using the dremel and cleaning the beads, Judy was dipping mandrels for us to use for the day.  She first filled up a tub with the bead release, then dipped the mandrel straight in and back out, then set them out to dry. It was a good thing she made a lot because we made a ton of beads on day 2!
So that was the “basic” (bwahahahah) process.  We spent 2 wonderful days with Ann learning how to create lampworking beads as well as use various techniques along the way.  Below are all the AWESOME (I have to say that because Ann would be mad if I made fun of my beads!) beads that we made.  Some turned out pretty well, some not as much…. some I love parts of, some I just laugh at!  Regardless, it was SUCH a learning opportunity! 

Left – the first four beads I made on day 1!!  Super exciting! Judy and I had such a wonderful trip!  We learned so many cool techniques, and made a new friend.  Thank you, Ann, for such a wonderful trip!
Now, to figure out a way to put my favorite bead into a piece of jewelry so that I can show it off at school!!!  
  A HUGE thank-you  to 4th Grade Frolics for the link-up! 
Categories: Monday Made It.


    • You can buy these in craft stores, but the really amazing, non-factory ones can be found on Etsy and Bead shows! My MIL and I love going to Philly each year in August for the huge Bead Show! So much talent in one place!

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