In early 2004, my wife convinced me that I should start making glass beads for her textile art handbags. I bought the necessary equipment on a holiday in the USA, and the rest is history... Well not quite. It is expensive to buy all the stuff the books display, so I tried to improvise and come up with good alternatives. Here are some of my solutions.
© Copyright 2006+ Arthur Sale
Last Modified: 27 December 2010
This is my workbench, ready to start work. You can see the Nortel Minor torch (with graphite marver attached) bolted to a marble tile.
The workbench is a home woodworking bench made of steel with MDF surfaces (I scrapped the backdrop part), covered by black marble tiles which I picked up at the building supplies junk yard. They serve as a marver plate and stand up to dropped pieces of glass.
Beyond the torch is a stainless steel bowl from Chickenfeed (cheap as the name suggests) filled with vermiculite (from the Animal Tucker Box - for kitty litter). I dunk hot strips of glass in here to cool, and smallish beads on the mandrel. Bigger ones go into my pre-heated kiln (behind me) to anneal slowly or a bead annealer which I built from a toolbox.
I often use strips of System 96 (Spectrum) glass about 3-5mm wide instead of buying expensive Moretti or Bullseye rod. A 300 x 300mm (12x12") square of glass makes a lot of strips. I also buy some Spectrum rods. Firing the strips in a kiln makes them even more useful and less likely to break in the flame. This is supplemented with some System 96 stringer (and I pull some of my own from the strips), noodles, and rods.
This photo shows a ready-use box I made to hold the strips and other glass. It is basically a box made out of MDF (thick base), holding short pieces of plastic tube. I cut the sections from electrical conduit 20-25mm (1") diameter, about 50-75mm (2") long. Too short and the rods won't be upright. Just decide before you make the box whether the tubes will be "close-packed" - each layer nests in the slots of the previous layer - or "rectangular" - each layer is the same as the one before - and make the box to fit your chosen pattern pretty exactly.
This photo shows two things. The first is my mandrel stand: a piece of angle aluminium cut with notches in one side. I used a hacksaw, but a triangular file would do the same. This holds hot mandrels temporarily and ready use implements such as the bead rake and the razor blade holder.
The second feature is the mandrel drying and ready-use stands. A block of wood drilled with appropriate holes for each size of mandrel (not right through the block and not too large). The mandrels are dipped in a recycled spice jar filled with my usual kiln separator mixed up to a thick cream consistency, placed in the stand and left to dry vertically. The drying rack then serves also as the ready-use stand.