I have been teaching a class every Spring and Fall about how to make glass beads. The class is offered for 2 hours on Tuesday nights for 5 weeks. I was nervous about 6-10 adults lighting up propane torches inside the high school classroom but that fear quickly passed.
I start out by teaching the safety aspects and the history of Lampworking. Then I start going over what each person needs to get to start melting glass rods into beads.
The first thing to get is a propane torch. Many people already have one to fix plumbing leaks. We start with propane and you can go to MAPP gas later, which is hotter.
The propane tank is clamped to the work station by a C-clamp and an L bracket through the hose clamp around the tank. This keeps the torch stable and secure. I have a protective sheet under the work area to catch hot pieces of glass. Playing with fire requires you to be very careful. The fire is a good teacher - it is always hot!
Since you will be playing with very hot items, you need something to rest them on. The top rest is a commerical rod rest, the middle rest is made from a long threaded rod with two large nuts on each end. I have even used the white piece of tile moulding. The glass rods are over 1000 degrees when they are melted so you do not lay them on the table. The sudden cooling can cause thermal shock and shards.
These items are used to move the glass around. The long rods are called mandrels and are usually stainless steel welding rods. I have the people in the class cut wire coat hangers to make the mandrels for starting out. The leather belt with holes is used to remove the glass bead from the mandrel which is held by pliers. The knife and pick can trace patterns and plunge flowers or the center of eyes. Not your eyes , the eyes of flowers or evil eyes.
This must be bought, it is a ceramic blanket to cool and anneal the hot beads.
The jar is bead release so the molten glass bead will come off the mandrel when cooled.
Of course you need lots of colored glass rods to melt. Some are opaque and some are transparent. The rods are heated until they are like taffy and you wind them on the bead release on the mandrels.
Lots of rods are a true sign of addiction! Playing with fire is very addicting.
You can get oxygen and propane torches for $400, a kiln for $600 and really get a lot of $$ tied up in your hobby. I teach Grassroots Glass Bead Making and show how to get started for about $40, if you can collect some of the equipment and tools from home.
This book will speed you on your way, if you don't take a class. I spent about 350 hours of torch time to learn what I teach my students in my 10 hour class. You can watch You-Tube videos and practice but a class is what will speed your learning curve.
The science and art of glass bead making is a very interesting hobby. I have students who make jewelry and now can make their own beads for their projects. Once you learn the science, you start practicing the art of trial and error with the flame and the glass rods. If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't learning.
After you make the basic bead, then you learn how to add color, dots, circles, and stripes.
What do you do with all these beads? Whatever you want!
Playing with fire is fun!