Welcome to the Glass Workshop Tour

All of our lampwork beads, decorations and barware are made in our Yorkshire workshop. Come on in.

Our lampwork studio is conveniently tucked into the garage. Lampwork itself doesn’t need masses of space. Storing the glass rods used for lampwork? That might need some more room.

borosilicate glass rods in a storage cube, sorted by colour

All of the glass rods are carefully labelled. Some glass is very straightforward. The colour it is in the rod if the colour it stays after it’s been melted. Other colours start as one thing and end up as something very different. So labelling rods lets us keep track of what we can expect.

glass rods in a storage cube, sorted by colour

There’s a second reason for labelling rods carefully – we work with a couple of different types of glass and they don’t play nicely together.

Soft Glass (it’s not actually soft) is what’s used for much of the lampwork you’ll see, especially for beads. It’s relatively easy to melt. So if you want a choice of of 27 shades of blue – soft glass gives you that choice as it’s available in hundreds and hundreds of colours. If you’ve ever been to Venice most of the glass produced there is soft glass.

We also work with borosilicate glass. It’s quite possible you have some of this in your kitchen where it’s often called Pyrex. Borosilicate glass needs more heat to melt. Take it out of the flame and it sets up a lot faster – which can be useful or really tricky depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

Just to complicate life further we also work with recycled glass – but that’s a story for another day.

Working in the garage has many advantages. There’s nothing soft and flammable in there. The floor is concrete. When you’re working with glass it’s possible for little bits of splinter and fly off rods, so a wide area where nothing is flammable is essential.

rack of lampwork tools

There’s gridwall on the wall in front of the torch which is great for handing tweezers, rod cutters – and a very tatty looking pair of mole grips which are almost 20 years old and which are great for getting stubborn beads off mandrels.

The workbench is an Ikea stainless steel kitchen unit. That makes it the perfect height to stand at or sit on a tall chair. It’s nice to have the option to do both and to be able to move between them, especially when I’m making a lot of one thing. The tweezers are my most used tool – made with tungsten points so they can be put into the flame and hot glass doesn’t stick readily to them. I suspect most lampworkers have several sets of jewellery pliers with burnt and misshapen ends, so although these tweezers were expensive I won’t need another pair for years.

a pair of tweezers with tungsten points on a stainless steel workbench
close up of the two torches which make up the midrange plus

It sounds obvious – but lampwork (or torchwork as it’s sometimes called) uses a torch to melt glass. I started off with a hothead torch which can run on mini glass cylinders – it’s a great introduction but it’s very noisy and not very hot. So I upgraded. My next torch was a Nortel minor which uses propane and oxygen. The I upgraded again to a Nortel midrange plus so I have the bigger torch under the smaller one, and that’s used for most of the borosiliate work I do.

close up of dripped mandrels for making glass beads

Beads have holes through them – and in lampwork those holes are created by winding molten glass round a metal rod which has been dipped in bead release. Big holes need big mandrels like the 5mm ones shown here – these are perfect for making the beads which go onto bracelets like Pandora and Trollbeads. Smaller holes use finer mandrels – so for beads which are going onto a chain a 2mm mandrel would be a good choice.

mandrels in a tin on top of a small blue kiln

This isn’t the first kiln I owned – but it’s the first kiln I owned that worked properly. Nicknamed Kevinchino (because Kevin the kiln, but he’s very very little) this kiln is brilliant for days when I’m not making a lot of something or where it’s very small. It’s just big enough for a large tin of mandrels (tin from our favourite Italian restaurant Stuzzi!) to sit on (and at a push I can fit a mug of coffee on there too to keep it warm)

large paragon kiln with both door open

One of the good things to come out of the Covid pandemic for us was that lots of lampwork classes went on line. That gave me the chance to take lessons from teachers in the USA, and having started blowing glass it quickly became obvious that a bigger kiln was going to be needed. So kiln number 2 arrived. It lives on a very sturdy trolley at the edge of my workbench and there’s plenty of space for tools underneath.

safety glasses for lampworking with brown frames and dark lenses

There’s one last thing to mention on the workshop tour- eye protection. When you melt glass in a flame it gives off flare – and if you’ve ever watched someone melt glass you’ll know that flare makes it almost impossible to see what is going on. Over time the flare causes eye damage too – so glasses have special lenses which cut out most of the flare making it safe to work. They’re not sunglasses – sunglasses don’t work.

 

So that’s us – a quick tour of where every glass link, bead, decoration and more is made.