What is Lampworking?

I think I may be putting the cart before the horse here in talking about raising money for an oxygen concentrator without really talking about what I want to do with it.

First let’s talk about lampworking.  Lampworking is the practice of making glass items with a small heat source. Modern lampworking uses a torch, but in the past glassworkers used a special lamp and fuel to heat the glass, hence the name lampworking. 


While there are several variations of lampworking, most artists use the same tools and equipment. First of all you must have a torch. Torches can range from a Hot Head (inexpensive single fuel torch) to Phantoms (much larger torch). Mine is a Major Bench Burner from Nortel. 



This torch is a higher priced torch, however, once I have it going, I shouldn’t ever need to upgrade.

Second is fuel and oxygen. Modern lampworking torches use propane or natural gas. 


Depending on the type of torch you can have either a surface mix or a pre-mix torch. What this means determines is where the fuel and oxygen mix in the torch. Surface mix torches have the fuels combine at the end of the torch. Pre-mix is an internal mixture.  I chose a surface mix torch. 

Oxygen is essential for a clean burning flame.  Small torches such as the Hot Head use ambient oxygen in the air to combine with the fuel. But other torches, including my bench burner, need a much more concentrated supply.  


Depending on the artist and the amount of O2 needed an artist may choose to use bottled O2 or purchase an oxygen concentrator. Oxygen Concentrators (or Oxycons for short) are a medical device that has been repurposed for artistic use. The concentrated O2 is pumped through hoses to the torch. 

Once you have your torch and oxygen supply, you then have to consider safety. In lampworking, you heat glass over 1000 degrees or higher to melt the glass. Just like wielding, special glasses or vision shields are needed to protect the eyes from flying debris and the glare of the heated glass. You are also going to need a flame proof surface to work on and a clean area. Glass does tend to pop and shatter so the area must be free of flammable materials. 

Because a lampworker is burning fuel and working with materials that could be harmful if inhaled, ventilation is also important. It isn’t enough to just have a fan pointing at you. Lampworkers need cross ventilation and a fan pulling fumes away from the torch. 

Next is the kiln. Glass is a very picky material. It doesn’t like being heated too quickly, nor does it like a fast cool down.  Once out of the range of the torch, glass will cool and crack. Annealing is the process of keeping the glass hot (but not hot enough to melt) and gradually cooling so that heat fractures do not occur. Again, this needs to be set up on a heat proof surface because temperatures can get high.

Lastly are the supplies you need to create beads. Glass can come in a variety of forms. Rods are used to make glass beads. Stringers are thinner rods. Frit is crushed glass. Mandrels are metal rods used to make the bead. Presses help make the lampworker make shapes.  There is such a variety of tools it is mind boggling. 

I have most of these supplies. I have the torch, kiln, safety equipment, and glass. I’m just missing one last piece of the puzzle-the oxycon.  

Please take just a moment to read this post and answer the quick survey at the end.  This will assist me in choosing a direction for a crowdfunder.

Thank you.

Here some great vidoes on other people making beads.

Calla Lillies


Feathered rainbow





2 responses to “What is Lampworking?

    • As far as I know, mixing different fuels with O2 doesn’t determine what kind of bead you can make. However, some types of glass will do amazing things in a higher (oxidizing) or lower (reducing) O2 flame. I’ve only worked with Raku which likes an oxidizing flame. This technique will produce very interesting colors.

      I’ll try to pull up more information and write a blog post later.


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