Beginner Beads, or
my fuglies can beat your fuglies...

Some friends who'd never seen the new house came over to visit last night, and one of them, a talented fellow who's tried leather-work, ceramics, blacksmithing and is an avid knitter, had never seen a bead made before. I did a demo, an amber dottie (he picked the style and color.) He remained equally fascinated by the end of the demo as the beginning, so I asked him if he wanted to try it himself (no matter how much people enjoy watching you make beads, they'd vastly prefer to try. Even if they won't admit it, either to you or themselves.) My job then was to try and teach him. And what a flood of memories that brought back...

The very first beads I made were actually not bad, if you discounted the fact that I destroyed the second one, and the first cracked. I have the third one, an opaque lime green with orange spots and for a totally beginner bead, it's not too-sickmaking.

But that was under the tutelege of my first teacher, Peggy Prielozny. After I got home, I needed to practice using my own tools, on my own time. Being cheap, and knowing it would cost 2 grand to set up a lampworking studio, I tried adapting my meco brazing torch to the task. Let me give you a tip: if you're wanting to start out cheap, just stick with the hothead. You'll get much better results.

I feel the worst are down just a bit, but these are good competition. Can you spot the glass amongst the rejected stone beads? Well, my color sensibilities were doing okay...hard to imagine that I actually saved these monstronsities with the idea of stringing them some day.

Besides, as anyone who has put some thought into this realizes, it's not the torch that's so expensive—I picked up a used minor for $125—nor even the regulators, at $80 or so a piece (you can get them cheaper, if you work at it a bit, but I'm lazy) nor the oxygen tank (that's another $120 used, at least around here)—it's the kiln. And, as I've mentioned to folks just now wanting to get into beadmaking, competition has brought kilns down in price.

Mine is an Arrow Springs AF99, and it's not as slickly finished as some of the others—the top doesn't even stay completely closed at fusing temperatures—but it's safe to use, owing to quartz-tubing shielded elements, and it's multi-purpose. I've annealed, fused and cooked pmc with it. (My fancy multi-step controller doubled the price, but I love setting it and walking away...but this is not as critical as you might think or as I believed when I thought beadmaking wouldn't be worth doing with out it.)

And, of course, modern beadmakers have the option of going with an oxygen concentrator. Deals can be had for as little as a couple hundred bucks, and they pay back for themselves immediately in terms of safety (no oxygen cylinders to punch through walls or the trunk of your car) and very quickly in terms of price (lessee, $120 for tank plus 5 refills at $15 a pop that last approximately 10 to 15 hours a piece...plus a bonus discount of $40–80 ’cuz you don't need the oxygen regulator any more—sure, they use a little electricity, but otoh you're not spending time, gas money & depreciation to drive to the welders to get ’em filled—even a 4 mile trip will even out.)

In fact you can buy a glass-beadmaking kit for under a hundred bucks (be sure to wear some kind of eye protection!) and a professional setup, including kiln and good ventilation, will cost you less than a thousand, if you shop carefully.

So why? Well, there is a point to all this, besides the fun of it (they're not called fun ugly beads for nothing after all:)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Oh, he said, and went back to work. By the end of 35 minutes or so I could see he was tiring. It is exhausting to work glass as a beginner because your concentration is split so many ways—watching the glass melting off the end of the rod, watching the bead on the end of the mandrel, rotating both, keeping track of the heat base of both, particularly the bead, so it doesn't crack, trying add or shape glass or the while, plus adjust the flame as needed, and work with any tools...I tried to practice an hour every day, six days a week, when I was first learning, and I well remember those early feelings of exhaustion. My practices were limited to 45 minutes to an hour because that was all I could endure, not because I didn't need the practice.

But I think that, just as so many other techniques have propagated during the past 10 years, so have teaching methods. So there you have it, the point of this post: you too can make glass beads. It's fun to play with fire. It's easier than ever, and yours will assuredly look better than mine:) for I truly believe people ramp up much more quickly than they used to. Or perhaps I was just a very slow learner.

But then, I've known that since 2nd grade.