Lampworking (or flameworking) is a type of glasswork where the artist uses an extremely hot flame to melt glass which is then shaped with various tools to form a bead. Lampworking derived its name for the oil filled lamps used to melt the glass. These days, oil filled lamps are no longer used. Instead, lampworkers now use a gas torch or a dual fuel torch using a combination of gas and oxygen.
The most common type of glass used for lampworking is soda lime glass which is sometimes called soft glass. Borosilicate glass can also be used and this is referred to as hard glass. Soft glass and hard glass cannot be mixed together in the same bead due to compatibly issues. Soft glass melts at a much lower temperature than hard glass. Due to the nature of the glass, soft glass is more prone to thermal shock than hard glass. Therefore, a bead made from soda lime glass must be made in one go, not allowed to cool too much before being placed in the kiln for annealing. If the glass is allowed to cool too much whilst making the bead, it will crack.
Before a bead is made, a mandrel (stainless steel rod) must be dipped in bead release. The mandrel and a glass rod are then heated in the flame. Once the glass is molten, it is wound onto the mandrel. When the lampworker is happy with the basic bead shape, the bead is decorated with other colours of glass or metal inclusions such as silver leaf. When the bead is finished, it’s annealed in the kiln. After annealing, the mandrel is removed creating a hole in the bead. The hole is then cleaned to remove all bead release. The bead is then ready to be made into jewellery.