What is Lampworking?

Lampworking Glass

Lampworking is an ancient art that is thought to date back to the fifth century BC. It is used to make small glass objects like beads, vessels and figurines – often of animal and botanical subjects.

The term “lampworking” derived from the old oil-fueled lamps that glass workers used to use. They would blow air into the flame using a pipe. Today gas torches are used as a source of heat so this method is also called flame working or torch working.

Bead by Mandela Wheel

Intricate glass bead by artist Mandela Wheel.

Lampworking is a technique where glass rods are melted and manipulated using a single heat source. Lampworking and torch artists use gravity, tools and hand movements to manipulate the glass. Special glasses are worn to protect against eye damage from staring into the flame while working the glass. These glasses are like the sun glasses we wear to protect our eyes from the glare of the sun.

Modern torch set-ups allow for a high degree of control making it possible to create intricate and complex art forms. Often multiple layers of glass are painstaking applied to create these miniature pieces of art.

Bead by Joy Munshower

Beautiful glass bead by artist Joy Munshower.

Although art pieces created using this method are worked in a flame it is necessary to cool them evenly in a kiln down to room temperature to prevent stress fractures and cracks. This is known as “annealing” the glass.

I have taken lampworking classes and can appreciate the skill and artistry that is needed to create these small beads and art pieces. Trust me patience and concentration are also a must. Next time you are at an art fair look for these small glass treasures to take home. You can find some excellent glass bead examples on this Pinterest board I created called “Beautiful Beads“.

Glass Blowing vs. Glass Fusing

Often when I mention that I am a glass artist I get asked if I blow glass. Usually this leads to a discussion about glass blowing vs. glass fusing.

Myles Freedman

Myles Freedman blowing glass in the hot shop.



Blown glass is created using a technique that involves inflating molten glass into a bubble with the aid of a blowpipe. The glass is then manipulated by swinging it, rolling it on a marver, shaping it with tools or in a mold. While working with the glass it is important to keep the piece evenly heated and not allow it to get too cold. This is accomplished by placing the glass piece in a glory hole on a regular basis or by heating it with a torch. Most glass blowing is done at a temperature between 1,600 °F and 1,900 °F.

This coral was cast in the kiln.

This coral was cast in the kiln with a mold.

Although fusing glass is very popular today, it was just as popular in the golden age of Greece and the Roman Empire. With fusing the glass is softened and shaped in a kiln. Fused glass is sometimes called kiln formed, warm glass or, kiln-glass. Many different techniques can be deployed in the kiln depending upon the desired results. Slumping, draping and casting are all methods done within the kiln. Most glass fusing occurs at temperatures between 1,100 °F and 1,700 °F.

Glass blowers often call fusers “bakers”. Fusers sometimes call blowers “flower, pumpkin and marble makers”. Despite the good natured teasing both blowers and fusers are passionate about their craft and share a love of glass – it’s just that their approach to the medium is very different.

Pink and Blue Glass Vase

Pink and blue “lingerie” vase fused by Julie Coll and rolled/blown by Myles Freedman.

Recently there has begun to be some collaboration between blowers and fusers. This started with fusers wanting to roll their glass panels and have them blown into vessels. They desired to stretch their glass options beyond the kiln and explore alternative shapes and forms.

My background is based in glass fusing but I am starting to learn glass blowing. I have a big trophy project currently in the studio that I am completing with a glass blower, Myles Freedman. It has been fun to work together and see our different approaches to glass.  I’ll post more on the trophy project next week.


What is Glass?

The explanation can get a bit complicated but I’ll try and keep it simple and not too technical. In science classes we are taught about the three states of matter being gas, liquid and crystalline. Although glass is a solid material it is a type of matter with a non-crystalline or amorphous structure. Glass is neither a liquid nor a solid but shares qualities of both.

Glass is created by heating dry materials to a viscous state and then cooling quickly. (Viscosity is a liquid’s measure of its resistance to flow.) The quick cooling process prevents a regular crystalline structure from forming like with a solid. Instead the atoms get locked in a disordered state like a liquid. So glass has the rigidity of a crystalline solid with the random atom structure of a liquid.


In nature glass is formed in one of three ways. When silicic lavas from a volcano are cooled quickly obsidian is formed. This is also known as volcanic glass. Fulgurite tubes are crusts of glass that are formed when sand is melted by a lighting strike. Fulgurite tubes are sometimes called “petrified lightning”. The third naturally occurring glass is moldavite. It does not contain a crystalline structure but rather a diagnostic pattern of striae and bubbles. Because of this it is believed that moldavite is formed from the outer surface of meteorites that have fused and melted during entry into our atmosphere.

The man made glass that we are familiar with is made by melting silica (sand) and other materials together. Some ingredients are added to stabilize and strengthen the glass like potash, lime, boric acid or caustic soda. Other additives like ground metal oxides are used to color the glass. Some colors of glass like pinks, reds and purples can be expensive because gold is used in the manufacturing process. There are many colors and types of glass available today.