Beads, beads, and more beads!

First, some tips on bead equipment. Larger mandrels are easier to handle, and give you more options in stringing. I really like 14 gauge bike spokes. They're a nice length and the bend for the head gives you leverage for removing the beads once they're done.

An extremely important part of getting the beads to successfully part from the mandrel is the application of the parting compound (bead release compound.) After a whole, whole, whole lot of experimentation, what we've found is that if you add maybe 2-3 ml of water to the bottle of release, then shake it like a mad person for three minutes, you get a very well-mixed slurry, far better than you could get by stirring. This results in a very even dip, and seems to make removal far easier. Since we started to shake not stir our release, we have not only had 100% success on getting the beads off the mandrel, we have often not needed to use pliers to grip the mandrel. The beads have been on only finger-tight after a little soaking in water.

Put a large bowl of cold water right underneath your flame. Every time you use a metal tool (NOT the carbon paddle) dip it in the cold water. Your tools will stick to the glass if they get hot but will squeak across it if they're cold. It's also nice for sticking a burnt finger in.

When you go to put a new rod in the flame, wave it well above the flame tip, for maybe twenty seconds, and slowly move it down into the flame. Rods that have not been used or have been broken and have a jagged end will usually spall small shards of glass as they heat up, whereas 90% of the time you can put a smooth-ended rod right in the flame without having anything crack. Filigree and particularly twists are far more likely to shatter on heating. Be conservative: preheat.

To get a really good bead started, get a large chunk of glass hot. I like having about maybe 1.5 cm of the glass hot to the point it's balling up and sagging before starting a bead. That gives me a guarantee that I'll be able to smoothly wrap a lot of glass. If you want a tall, skinny bead you can just throw glass on, and roll it on the paddle to get it to the shape you want. If you want a short fat bead, like a doughnut, you need to wind a very thin bead, to start with, and then a little fatter directly on top of the previous. Keep going a long, long ways out. Try and make a disc. When it heats up it will ball up into a nice doughnut shape.

The release compound on the mandrel needs to be just at the edge of turning orange when you try and add the glass. If it's cold, the glass will squeak and pull compound off the mandrel, making a mess on the glass.

Getting the holes to be smooth, like doughnut holes, is tricky. Generally speaking, what you want to do is apply the minimum amount of glass to the mandrel that you can, and add the subsequent glass so it overhangs the mandrel. When you're making a tall thin bead, you can roll it just about when you finish, which will push a little glass over the ends and make for nice holes that won't cut the string. You can also get almost finished, and then wind a little thin stringer on each end of the bead just around the mandrel but not touching it, and when that sinks into the bead it'll help form that smooth hole. Or you can use a bead reamer. That's the easiest -- but it is instantly recognizeable, and smooth, well-formed stringing holes are a mark of skill that talented beadmakers take justifiable pride in, because doing it consistently is *hard* work.

If you have a bead that looks great, shapewise, but is not centered on the mandrel, heat it up hotter than you usually would, so the whole bead is a light orange, and try and get it to sag back to being centered. As you do this, the hotter glass will tend to spread out to either side along the mandrel, increasing the length of the hole through the center and making the bead more likely to have jagged-edged holes. To prevent this, you might try using the paddle to keep the bead more doughnut-shaped than you want it to end up, while centering it, and then at the very end let it assume its final shape. You could also use pliers to (gently) squish it thinner and prevent it spreading along the mandrel until the bead is about finished.

I generally work with the bead either right at or just behind the point of the blue flame. It's in the flame when I want it hot to round it out; it's behind the flame and a rod is in the flame when I'm adding details to a bead. That way the rod has hot glass and moves, while the bead, being not quite in the flame, keeps its shape.

When you add dots, or even just when adding glass to the mandrel, use the flame to cut the glass off. Don't yank the glass rod away from the bead, trying to get the two to separate, because you'll just form a very long thin glass fiber. It isn't possible to pull the glass fast or far enough to get it to separate. Pull it slowly with the point you want to part right at the tip of the blue flame. It will glow yellow, then briefly white, and pull apart, leaving two nice ends with no long stringy thin things to get in your way later. Make this a habit from the very beginning. Always flame-cut, never try to pull-cut.

So you want to do lumpy, dotted beads just like Kristina Logan. Well, don't we all. Get the bead all pretty before applying dots. You don't need to heat the whole rod to apply dots, especially small ones -- less hot glass means smaller and more even dots. Using stringer makes this even easier, and helps in creating identically-sized dots. If you put a dot in the wrong place and the bead itself was fairly cool, so the dot is standing on the bead's surface like a drip of water on waxed paper, you can let the dot cool and snap it right off with a pair of cutters. If the bead was hotter and you made a big ol' splurchy dot in the wrong place, your only real hope is to heat the area of the bead up, then quickly blow on the dot so that it's a bit cooler and try and drag it slightly with a poker. This will allow you to move things a little.

Generally, opaque cores with transparent outsides look good for beginners, as do beads that are just opaques. Completely transparent beads have an obvious hole through the center, that even with a bead reamer still shows heavily, and you have to be pretty good with your glass application or you'll have uneven, weird-looking bubbles down in there. If you want bubbles, put them in with a poker and clear-coat. If you don't want bubbles (and you shouldn't have bubbles by mistake, generally) lay down glass in even, thick layers, and don't coat over holes. Lay down a roll, heat until it's moderately even, and lay down another. The glass will flow to kick out any bubbles.
This is particularly crucial when trying to clear-coat. I still haven't figured out the ins and outs of this, so any advice here is purely experimental. The problems I have when I'm clear-coating are: bubbles, and spots where the underlying bead rises to the surface of the bead, ie spots I didn't cover with clear. Unfortunately, the solution to the second problem creates the first. I clear-coat with a rod that I've gotten a big huge clump of hot glass on, touch gently and roll a thin strand evenly out of the big clump, around and around. When this is finished I look at the layer I've added and anywhere I see a gap down to the underlying bead, I use a poker or a paddle to moosh the clear glass down to close the hole. (You could just blob a bit of clear directly over the gap, but this guarantees big bubbles.) By doing this, I can at least minimize the wobbles in the inner bead.
Some of the Moretti colors work funky. One of the purples will tend to form a very rough, sandy texture when it is on the outside of the bead. The ivory segregates and forms a beautiful (but unexpected) pattern like the veins in a leaf, in brown, amid nearly white. Several of the heat-striking transparents aren't particularly transparent if they've got any thickness to them (particularly one red and the electric yellow, which ends up looking like a big glob of rubber cement -- not to say you shouldn't use it; it looks great as a dot on the surface of a bead but you shouldn't use it if you're expecting a big thick yellow transparent section) and should be used as a thin cover-coat over a clear center. Generally speaking, all of the transparents rapidly become opaques when their thickness exceeds about 1 cm.
It is possible, but very tricky, to make a hollow bead. This is my system: I make a core, opaque, which is a very long, very thin bead, that I form and roll so it is nice and even. On one end of this bead I start winding glass so each new layer is directly on top of the previous, forming a disc. If it starts to wobble, lean, collapse, I use a pair of smooth-jaw, long-nose pliers to mash it back into a disc. I build this disc out to maybe 2 cm in diameter, make sure it doesn't have any holes in it, try and make it fairly even and such. Then I go to the other end of the core bead, and make another disc on the other end. It is critical that while doing this you keep the first disc hot enough to be slightly pliable, or else it will absolutely and invariably shatter as soon as it gets back in the flame, but not so hot as to let it sag and touch the core or the other disc you're making. Make the second disc the same general size as the first, spend some time with the pliers making sure both are nice and flat and uniform, then very gently heat both so they're nicely pliable and start touching the edges, nudging them together evenly. I touch four times on each disc, then another four, (cool the tool in the water so it doesn't stick!) during which the two discs come in contact with each other at four points, then nudge the holes together, and if necessary weld any holes shut with the heated rod. It's also critical to do this as quickly as possible to prevent it collapsing. Once you've got the whole thing shut and airtight, heat it like mad for a bit, so the air inside will expand and inflate the bead. I've tried to make about 8 hollow beads, and have succeeded twice.
Experiment with shapes. Make beads that look like squash and fish. It's easy and rewarding. Experiment with textures -- roll a hot bead across a computer CPU heatsink or metal mosquito screen or a fine cheese grater. Poke dents into it with cold glass stringer, leaving a little dot of color in the bottom of the dent. Mash some of your beads. Make some rectangular or triangular. Poke deep, sharp holes with a needle and dab some clear glass on top and just barely heat the inside so that you've got a sharp-ended bubble deep inside, or dent a hole and blob on top and heat it so you've got a nice round bubble.

Whenever your bead touches any tool while it's hot, it'll form a lumpy, windy surface texture because of the quick cooling. If you like this texture, fine, but generally you'll want to briefly heat the bead after touching it with a tool to get a smooth surface back. If you touch the bead with a metal tool and the tool sticks to the bead, your only hope is to pull the tool slowly out and flame-cut the glass. If you let it cool and pop the tool loose, the glass will tear off the surface oxides on the metal and there will be a permanent goobersplotch in your bead. (You could put an opaque dot on top of this to disguise it.)

There are a zillion other things to know, but they're still in the future for us.

If you've got some ideas, and tell us.

This page written by John Bump on 7/14/00, last modified 12/22/00

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