Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hi everyone, I was going to say christmas is creeping up on us, but more accurately it's racing towards us at a cracking pace! I hope everyone is getting their christmas shopping done early to avoid the crowds, most of my christmas shopping this year has been/will be done online in my effort to try to support small business & handmade. It also means I can avoid the shops as much as possible (because as anyone who knows me well will tell you, I hate shopping with a passion!).

Last time we spoke I mentioned that I would tell you about the different type of glass I use in lampworking. I use mainly soft glass (also known as soda lime glass) & it can have inclusions in it like silver & gold which gives you a different effect when you melt & then work it. It is also called 104 glass which, without going into great detail, means that it's Co-efficient Of Expansion (the amount the glass expands & contracts when it's heated) is 104. This is very important as, in general, glasses with different COEs don't play well together & if mixed will often develop incompatibility cracks throughout the bead. That is a very simplified explanation of what is a very involved & complicated subject but it's probably enough for you to understand the general gist.

Soft glass comes in 2 main types - opaque & transparent. Opaque glass is in general softer than transparent glass & includes colours like white, ivory as well as opaque shades of all of the colours of the rainbow. There are some colours that are not very well represented in the 104 colour spectrum, a hot/intense pink is one hue that can be difficult to find as is an intense lavender/purple (for those Aussie's amongst us, the colour of jacaranda flowers).

Transparent colours are in general much stiffer than the opaques & can be harder to work, depending on what you are doing with them. One application where transparents are superior to opaques is sculptural pieces, the extra stiffness that the transparent glass gives means that you can keep the piece warm more easily without melting all of the features into a blob like you are more likely to if you use a soft opaque like white or ivory. One surprising fact is that the most common forms of black glass is actually a very dense transparent dark purple & if applied thinly it dilutes back to it's base colour (reddish purple). To combat this glass manufaturers have made a couple of "true" blacks, the most well known of which is Intense Black.

But apart from those few small chinks in the colour pallete, soft glass has an amazing range of colours & is one of the most popular lampworking glasses in use today.

Next time, we will discuss the silver glasses & their use.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hi everyone, I hope you are all enjoying my posts on how I make my lampwork beads. This last week our lovely children used up all our internet allowance downloading games & videos on YouTube so I was stuck with almost dialup speed connection for the whole week which is no fun, hence why I have put off doing this post until our new month's data allowance started.

Now, where were we? Ohhh that's right, our beads have been annealed & have cooled overnight in the kiln & the next morning we can take them out. So, here they are, still on their mandrels after they have been annealed.

The next step is to pop them in a bucket of water & let them soak for a few minutes before gently holding the mandrel in one hand (or in my case pliers!) & twisting the beads off. The water softens the bead release (remember, that's the white stuff on the mandrel that stops the glass fusing to the metal permanently) & lets you remove the bead easily, it also stops any bead release dust flying around as it's not very good for your lungs to inhale it.

After they have been taken off the mandrel the next step is to soak them in a small tub of water for a few minutes more before cleaning the bead release out of the bead holes. To do this you can use something like a pipe cleaner or a diamond tipped bit in something like a dremel which is what I do most of the time. Here is a pic of the beads in my bowl & the bit that I use for cleaning the holes, it's on a flexible shaft coming from the dremel which means it's easy to manoeuvre.

So we've cleaned the beadholes, now there is nothing more to be done but rinse them in some clean water, wipe them over & dry them, check them for cracks or sharp ends/holes & then photograph them so they can be listed on Etsy or FaceBook.

And here's our finished bead - you can find this one & some of the other ones from this blog post in my Etsy shop

I hope you've enjoyed this small insight into how lampwork beads are made. I do have a short video that I will post soon (when Eddie has downloaded it off the camera & I can edit it!), but in the mean time, please come & visit again as next time I will start a series of posts on the mysteries of the glass itself. :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

After you have pressed your bead & removed the chill marks it will be ready to pop in the kiln for annealing. Annealing is basically slowly cooling the bead to relieve internal stresses in the glass. As glass is heated, it expands & as it cools it contracts again & this causes stress in the glass & if not cooled slowly enough the glass will suffer thermal cracking. For a bead to be properly annealed, it is necessary to cool the glass in a controlled manner through a predetermined temperature gradient. We do this in a kiln, a picture of mine is below.

You can see in the pic on the right, the little flap that lifts up, that is called the bead door & is where you put the bead when you've finished making it onto a metal rack inside that keeps it off the kiln floor. The beads are kept at an even temperature after you make them (called "garaging") until you are finished your beadmaking session, then you kick off the rest of the program which slowly cools the kiln down over a number of hours. So, now our beads are cooling in the kiln overnight, pics of the beads when they come out tomorrow :) .

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Things are getting busy here, we are coming up to the end of the school year for us here in Australia & then the summer holidays & Christmas. I have been spending a lot of time torching & doing all the photography, photo editing & listing that is involved in having an Etsy shop.

Last time I posted I spoke about putting the molten glass on the mandrel & today we will talk about shaping it using presses.

The most basic ways to shape glass are by using gravity & by using the heat of the flame (with no other counteracting forces, glass flows towards the heat). You can make some shapes like this, but if you want to make lots of bead shapes, the quickest & most efficient way is to use a marver or a press. A marver is simply a flat paddle of graphite that you roll the molten glass on to create shapes like barrels & bicones. You can have handheld marvers or ones that are torch mounted - I have both & each of them is used for a different technique, the handheld one gets used for rolling a bead whereas the torch mounted one I use a lot to tidy the ends of the bead.

Presses on the other hand given an almost infinite array of shapes & what you can make with them is really only limited by your imagination (or rather, the imagination of the person making the presses). Presses are usually made from brass as molten glass won't stick to brass & it is very strong (unlike graphite which is very brittle & breaks easily - ask me how I know, go on, ask LOL).

If you want your press to make a good impression (pun intended!) the most important thing is that the sides meet up exactly in line so that the edges of your beads are sharp & crisp. This has led to the development of 2 main types of presses, the first type have prongs on 2 diagonal corners which you slip into holes on the corresponding corner of the top half of the press & that guides the top of the press into place. In this first picture of the bottom half of the press you can see the groove where the mandrel sits, the hollowed out part of the press where the molten glass is to be shaped & the prongs in the corners. Next to it is a picture of the press when it's closed so you can see how the top fits on it.

The other type of press has a base section into which you slip the bottom half of the press & the base then guides the top of the press into position as you press down on it. The bottom half of the press is held in place in the base with screws so it can't move around while you are pressing. The type of base that I own has 2 sides to it, one for larger bead presses like the lentils that I make a lot of & a second side for smaller presses which are often the ones used to make sets. Here is a pic of both sides so you can see the difference.

And lastly, here is a pic of the lentil press with the top on it so you can see how it fits nicely on top just by using a little pressure against the base.

Tomorrow we will speak about annealing & thermal cracking, see you then!