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How are Glass Beads Made?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Making glass beads is an art that is found in some of the earliest histories of humankind. Beadmaking often involves creating intricate beading designs for jewelry, as well as bead work that can be used in tapestries. Today, much of the glass beadmaking that takes place is done in a manufacturing setting that can mass produce glass beads of all sizes, shapes and colors. Still, there are artists that prefer to engage in glass bead making that often produces beautiful and unique work. Here is some information about making beads by hand, including some safety tips.

Essential in the process of beadmaking is the mandrel. The mandrel is a metal rod that is made to withstand the amount of heat needed to form the glass into beads. It is a good idea to have a number of mandrels on hand, as you will require one for each bead made during the session. Along with the mandrels, a heat source is needed both to create the molten glass and to aid in the formation of the glass around the mandrel. A propane torch is an excellent choice for use. As a working surface, there is also the need for a flat heatproof tabletop with a clamp for the torch. A glass rod will serve as the raw materials for the project. Protective clothing, including safety glasses and hand coverings, will also be necessary.

Lighting the torch, adjust the flame and begin to heat the glass rod. Start by heating the end of the rod, then slowly working the rod back and forth through the flame. This will allow the rod to heat evenly, avoiding the possibility of shattering and bringing the task of making glass beads to a halt. As the rod begins to glow evenly, bring the glass into the hotter section of the flame. The glass will begin to take on a white appearance, and will melt. As this happens, touch the molten glass to the tip of the mandrel. Once a connection is made, rotate the mandrel, working the molten glass onto the metal rod. As the bead forms, separate the glass rod from the mandrel and rotate the bead in the flame for a moment, to clean up any irregularities in shape.

To begin the cooling process for the glass beads, rotate the bead on the flat fireproof surface. The bead will soon cool enough to allow the bead and mandrel to be placed on a fiber blanket, where it can continue to cool. After about thirty minutes, the bead should be cool enough to disengage from the mandrel.

This process can be repeated to make a series of glass beads. Once the beads are all constructed and cooled, the bead holes can be cleaned out with the use of a pipe cleaner. As a final step with the glass beads, wipe them with a clean cloth to remove any dust from the surfaces before the cooling is complete.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On May 19, 2011

@indigomoth - I love bead shops, particularly those that offer classes so you can learn how to string your own glass bead bracelets or necklaces. They do have a lot of cheap beads, but my local bead shop also showcases more expensive beads, including those made by local artisans. I also occasionally pick some up from a craft market. I sometimes sell my own jewelry, and I find that using a unique bead can make it more likely to find a buyer. People like to know they are wearing something that is one of a kind.

By indigomoth — On May 19, 2011

There are some fantastic and unique beads available online from independent artists. They are often quite expensive and might be more suitable for the center piece of a necklace, or as earrings. Glass bead jewelry has really come through a renaissance recently, with a lot of stores online or on the streets providing so many different kinds of beads. But, it is still nice to have something that has more of a story, and a glass bead made by an artist can provide that kind of value.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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