ELIZABETH RYLAND MEARS

 

FLAMEWORKING: A HISTORY AND EXPLANATION OF TECHNIQUE

 

Flameworking, also called Lampworking, is a method of working with glass in its hot form and has nothing to do with the making of lamps. The reason it is called "Lampworking" is that originally the glass was worked in the flame of an oil lamp. Today we use bench torches of various sizes and descriptions which are fueled by propane or natural gas and oxygen or forced air. Glass rods or tubes of varying diameters are held in the flame of the torch. When the glass has softened, it is then blown and/or sculpted. Formerly in the domain of scientific glassblowers and souvenir makers, flameworking became a technique used by serious glass artists in the late 1970's. It is growing in popularity with artists as a hot glass technique because it allows the artist to work hot glass with a minimum of equipment and space for a studio. The works created vary in size from beads to large sculptures.

Two types of glass are used by the flameworker. They are "soft" glass and "hard" glass. "Soft" glass is a soda lime or lead glass, and the "hard" glass has as its flux, borax. The differences in heat- shock tolerance and workability between the two are great, and because they have extremely different coefficients of expansion they are not compatible at all (that is, they cannot be worked together in the molten state because as they cool they will always crack). The only way the two different glasses may be combined is to be glued together in the cold state. Usually an artist will have a preference for one or the other of the two types of glass and work almost exclusively with one or the other.

Flameworked glass is usually smaller, more delicate, and has more detail than glass blown or sculpted from a furnace. The artist begins with cold, solid rods or tubes of glass rather than a mass of hot molten glass. Many of the metal and graphite tools and forming techniques are the same for the flameworker as the furnace artist, and as flameworking gains in popularity, more tools and techniques are being adapted.

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