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What is Lampworking?

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  • Written By: Dana Hinders
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2016
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People interested in beautiful and unique handmade jewelry often find themselves wondering how to create lampwork glass beads. Lampworking is a craft that involves using a torch to melt tubes or rods of colored glass. When the glass is melted, special tools are used to shape it into beads of different sizes and shapes. The same lampworking techniques used to make glass beads can also be used to create delicate looking paperweights, figurines, or Christmas tree ornaments that are prized among art collectors.

Lampworking has been practiced for hundreds of years and has a long tradition of popularity in Italy and France. At first, crafters used the flame of an oil lamp to create their projects. Today, however, propane, natural, gas, or butane torches are most common, with either air or pure oxygen used as the oxidizer.

The most popular types of glass used in lampworking are borosilicate glass, or "hard glass," and soda-lime glass, which can also be called "soft glass." Borosilicate glass is usually considered easier for beginners to work with because it is more forgiving of small errors in technique, but it is also more expensive and comes in fewer colors. Lead glass tubing was once popular among people interested in lampworking, but concerns about health risks and environmental safety have diminished the demand for this material.

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It is common for people to confuse lampworking with glassblowing. Glassblowing requires that the crafter use a blowpipe to inflate a piece of liquid glass. In contrast, lampworking involves shaping melted glass by the use of gravity, various tools, or blowing into the end of the glass tube. However, both lampworking and glassblowing do use many of the same tools and a number of crafters are proficient in both areas.

When searching for examples of lampwork glass beads, you are likely to find an impressive variety of options to choose from. Some beads are simple circles or ovals with a textured dot pattern decorating the surface. Others are square, triangular, or rod shaped to provide the jewelry maker with more design flexibility. There are also a number of artists who use lampworking to make beads that are essentially mini-sculptures, capturing the image of everything from a single rose to a hummingbird.

Lampwork glass beads have a one-of-a-kind beauty, with no two being precisely alike. The International Society of Glass Beadmakers, a professional association formed in 1993, is the leading authority on trends in lampworking. This group also sponsors classes in the United States and abroad to assist people who interested in learning how to make their own glass beads.

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