This is an email in response to references for starting out in Lampworking.
Hello again xxx,
Our show went well thanks for asking. I am more than glad to point you in the right direction. I'm going to give you a list of web sites that should help. Also just as a general guide I am going to lay out what you need to get started. As well as some terms to help you with your purchases.
First off you will want to determine what kind of work you are going to want to make. If you are just trying to make beads you may want to consider using soft glass. These are beads that would be strung onto a necklace or possibly pendants. Soft Glass has a C.O.E. (Coefficient of Expansion, the rate at which glass expands and shrinks) of 104. If you want to use Borosilicate (a hard glass that has a higher melting point aka Pyrex) glass COE 33 then you can make much larger pieces but you will need a more efficient torch. You could get a basic kit and try both kinds of glass. They melt differently so you may find that you like working slower with the Boro or faster with the soft glass. Just a couple more things about the glass itself. Soft glass is a lower temperature melter and you need a more delicate flame technique. Boro has a higher melt and you can get tubing for hollow forms. You will see what I mean when you go to buy glass. Also never mix glass with different COEs they will crack and break while cooling together. Any glass with a COE of 90 or 96 is for fusing in a kiln and is not made for lampworking.
Alright here is the meat and bones of what you need, to have a home studio. Your best option starting out if money is an issue, is to pick up a starter kit that's already assembled. This will contain your torch, hoses, and regulators. A good kit will have more here is one I have found that has some soft glass, tools and glasses here. Otherwise see if you can find a kit with a Nortel Mega Minor, Mini CC or the Bethlehem Alpha as starter torches. If money is really not an issue then you should consider getting a larger torch that you can grow into. I recommend a Nortel Red Max, GTT Lynx, or the Bethlehem Bravo as your first torch, beyond what I have shown you in the kit link. These torches will work great, the Nortel will tolerate a bit more abuse seeing as how you are a beginner you may want think about that. A multistage torch (a torch with inner and outer flames all in one torch head controlled separately) is what you are going to probably want if start making large production pieces.
Then you have to get your gasses flowing. You need oxygen and a fuel either natural gas or propane. First off for your Oxygen there are a couple of options 1. Oxygen Concentrator: Can be used easily with the Lynx, Alpha and the kit torch. These cost a bit up front but keep you from having tank rentals and refilling fees. 2. Compressed Oxygen: I just touched on this, you can get compressed oxy from a air/gas supplier but you have to refill and rent a tank they are also heavy to move around. This is what I use I have always used it and don't know much about the other option except that it is an option. For your hoses if you are going to buy them your best bet is to get them brand new off the shelf. No need to cut corners here this is for your own safety and longevity of your torch. Use the T-Grade hose since this is the only one rated for propane and will run any fuel type. Type R is only for natural gas and will rot if you run propane in it. Leaky hoses equal not safe, in my book safety is always first.
*a side note: There are lots of different torches out there and they all work. Most people prefer what they are familiar with or what they learned on so a lot of torch talk is biased. It is probably a good idea to get the best torch you can afford and if you need to upgrade in the future either sell it for money towards a new torch or keep it as a back up. It's always good to have a back up. There is no torch that will make you a better glass blower. The best money you will ever spend is on lessons. So quite honestly take a lesson and see what your teacher has to say about torches. You may even be able to find a person on the forums whom is a local lampworker, who would be interested in giving you some pointers and letting you try out their torch.
Just a couple more terms for the torches 1. Premix: the fuel and oxygen are mixed inside the torch. These normally come with tips you can change out for different styles of flame. I am not familiar with these types of torches so this is a far as I go with the description. 2. Surface Mix: This is a torch that mixes the gasses at the exit point on the torch and can have a wide variety of flame characteristics depending on your settings with the knobs and gas pressures. These are what I use and am familiar with I find them to be easy to teach others on so you may find it easy to learn on. Also most torches are surface mix including the kit torch link i gave you.
Lastly for the home studio it is good to have a bench or high table to mount your torch on and have your workspace. I recommend putting down a piece of sheet metal to keep from burning your wood table with the hot glass. You will need some graphite tools mainly a marver and possibly a reamer. Get some tweezers long ones at least 6-10" to grab your work with. Forceps are a great tool for grabbing as well, these can all be picked up at the suppliers I list. MOST IMPORTANT safety first, your health and longevity is what will keep you making work for a long time. You NEED safety glasses with special lenses that filter the sodium flare from the glass melting in the torch. The sodium flare is damaging to the eyes. If you can't see you can't work, so this is a must have. You should also know that there are fumes that can be damaging to your lungs that come off the melting glass so you will need to ventilate your studio space. This is one of the easiest things to do as you can set up in front of a window get a small ventilator fan from the hardware store pop it in and your ready to go. Any other way to pull the air away from you is fine as well. This is easy but very important.
Kilns how did I almost let this slip by. Your best bet is to find someone who has a small used kiln for sale or a friend who has one you can use. Check the forums and classified ads for glass kilns. I have a couple for sale but they are primarily ceramic kilns. You could use them but you may need to modify them a bit. Annealing (curing your glass, allowing it to cool slowly and harden evenly to keep your work from breaking) is very important when you are selling your glass. You can make pieces and cool them slowly in a crock pot full of vermiculite(a packing material can be purchased from seed and feed stores) or in some Kaowool (a white ceramic fiber blanket comes in sheets from ceramic suppliers) which comes with the kit from earlier. They will not technically be annealed though. What you could do at that point is what we call a batch annealing where you put all the pieces you have made and want to sell or use, in a kiln and fire it on an annealing cycle. I am attaching to the email an annealing cycle from Northstar Boro glass company. If you decide to use Boro this is going to be helpful but if you use soft glass you will want to get a cycle from your glass company or a forum. You can use the attached one as a reference to get an idea of what to do.
Trust me when I say you will want to consult the forums this information is readily available and talked about by the community. To really make a decision you should register with the forums that I am going to recommend then do searches for the questions you have. Since I do not work with soft glass, premix torches nor Oxy Concentrators you will want to ask or see what the community says about such things before making a purchase. This will also help you get an Idea of what you want to get out of your glass work.
I know this is a lot of information and what I have here is just the tip of the iceberg. Just writing this email has made me realize how much work I have already done. Just do not get overwhelmed the joy of making art is worth every penny and minute spent figuring out where to start. If you ever find yourself in the Salisbury area and want to stop by my studio give me a call in advance. I would be more than willing to show you around my studio and let you see how my torches work. Also if you want a lesson normally I recommend 2 hours if you can fit it in your schedule.
Here are the references that I promised you. I will start with the forums, register with them it's easy and you will be able to search, read, question, and comment all you want.
www.talkglass.com Lots of Boro workers here if you are looking for answers to working with COE 33, tubes, and torch tips.
*Both sites have Soft and Boro workers it's just that they are primarily dominated by one or the other in my opinion. This helps me as I refer to talkglass for most of my issues. Checking both sites while trying to figure out where you want to start is a good idea. You will find many tutorials on the forums as well. General Info and Tutorials
www.theflowmagazine.com This is one of my favorite sites for lots of info. If you subscribe you can get a lot more out of it but there are plenty of free tutorials and a forum (albeit not a very used one). This site also has a resources page that lists lots of suppliers and other resources obviously. I find it very useful.
www.hotglass.com I am not very familiar with this magazine but you may want to check it out.
www.waleapparatus.comI know this company is in PA so you might want to consider visiting them. Superb deals on Nortel torches right now. Also they have a good variety of torches and tools. Sometimes they can be a bit over priced though. However when there is a deal it's a deal.
www.carlislemachine.comThis is a torch manufacturing company in NJ. They have a school which has open torch times every now and then. So it might be a good way to play on some torches to get a feel for them. They also offer refurbished CC torches for lower prices with a year warranty.
www.dichroicimagery.com Good selection of tools and always a clearance section. Also all the things Whale is lacking in supplies, at decent prices.
www.mountainglass.comThis site is a supplier but they also have a resources page that could be very helpful to you.
www.sundanceglass.comThis company is in CA so I don't know how much you want to order form them. The site is also a bit confusing to navigate but you can get through it. They have a lot of stuff and a school so if you ever find yourself on the west coast you may want to stop by. Also couldn't hurt to check out their "tips and tricks" and "how to" tabs.
* There are other suppliers like Frantz Art Glass but I have not used their sites much and cannot give a good account for customer service or prices. You can use the resources page on the flow magazine to find other sites. You may want to hop around the web to find the best prices on what it is you want to buy. Some prices are the same across the board but sometimes there are sales or clearance tools available that might make you pick one site over another.
Well I hope this helps. I know it's a bit long winded but I already wrote it so I'm not deleting anything. Feel free to email me with any further questions you may have but I should have covered most of it in this email. Heck this email could be one of your best resources at this point so hang on to it. Also I want to add that there are a lot of books and dvds out there that could help you get started making work.
Have fun and make more art, Robert Johnson Artist Amused Studios www.amusedstudios.org 410-603-0774
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