Glass Beads: Art Through the Ages

by Doreen, Manager, Product Management Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

The main component of glass is silica (sand quartz), lime and soda or potash. Different minerals like iron (blues and greens), manganese (black), and gold (pinks, reds) are added to the basic ingredients to create colors. Colors are made opaque by adding calcium or tin.

Glass beads are one of the most popular and diverse types of bead on the market. They all have different names and production methods. Here's how a few styles are created.

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Lampwork Beads: (hand wound)

This is one of the few processes that can be made by a home artisan.

Here are some basic tools. The torch (or lamp) flame, runs on propane. The rods are made of steel and coated with a kaolin (clay-like) substance called bead release. This enables you to take the bead off the rod after it's formed. Sometimes when you buy lampwork glass beads, you'll find a powdery substance in the bag or on the bead. That's the bead release.

How it starts: The glass is heated to be made molten and wound onto a coated wire and heat-worked with hand tools into the desired shape. While the bead is steadily turned over the flame, fine filaments of glass are used to "paint" the glass bead with designs and textures. After cooling slowly in a kiln, the bead is removed from the wire rod forming the bead hole.

Cane Beads: (drawn hollow)

A difficult to make bead, a hollow pipe is used to collect a "gather" (molten ball) of glass. The bead maker blows down the pipe to form a bubble in the ball of molten glass. The colors or patterns are added to the glass and the hot glass is stretched (or drawn out). The bubble inside is elongated and forms a long tube with a hole running throughout its length. The softened glass tube is drawn out to the desired thickness and then cut into sections. The rough edges of the cuts are hand ground or smoothed by tumbling in sand.

Pressed Beads: (molded beads)

This type of bead has been made famous by the Czech Republic and lesser quality made in other countries by using old Czech Moulds. They are made by using hinged steel moulds mounted on machinery or tongs. The mould has a prong or wire in it to form the bead hole. The mould is squeezed over the hot glass, and when released, the excess glass from the edges is ground away either by hand or by tumbling. This process is used for creating complex shapes such as leaves, flowers and animals.

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