Monday, 10 August 2009

7 Things You Need to Make Glass Beads - Glass

At a bead fair I was discussing with a potential bead maker about what kit they should buy when they started. So what kit do you need?

  1. Glass
  2. Something to heat the glass with
  3. Mandrels to wrap the glass round
  4. Bead release to stop the glass sticking to the mandrel
  5. A way to cool the beads down so they don't thermal shock
  6. A way to clean the bead release out of bead
  7. … and a kiln if you want to sell your beads

Yup it really is that simple. But I have to say it’s scary that this is the minimum you need to make a glass bead, given the amount of tools I have hidden away in my shed.


There are a number of types of glass on the market but in the UK the cheapest and most easily available glass is soft glass with a CoE of 104.

OK so what does that mean? A CoE or coefficient is about the rate of expansion of the glass. Basically different glasses cool at different rates. A bead with a two different types of glass in will crack with what's known as a compatibility crack, when one glass cools quicker… not good if you’ve spent ages making a bead.

Satake Glass

This is amazingly soft glass has a CoE of 113 or 120. It is favoured by Japanese bead makers, and wow can they make some lovely beads. They often have a very distinct style due to the lower melting temperature and wonderful colour pallet. In the UK it’s quite hard to get hold of this glass, the main supplier being Satake Glass USA. To use this glass effectively you need a special burner.

104 Glass

When people talk about glass beads they often talk about Murano glass.

You can get Murano glass rod or another brand Venice glass Effetre (3 brothers who split from Murano glass) to make glass beads. Effetre. In the UK Effetre is often what people start with.

There are a number of brands of glass which are have a CoE of 104

  • Ask
  • Effetre
  • CiM Messy Colour
  • Double Helix
  • Lauscha
  • Northstar
  • Reichenbach
  • Vetrofond

Theoretically they can be used together in the same bead. I say theoretically because every now and again glasses that you think should work together give you cracks that look like incompatibility cracks.

The supplier I use in the UK is Tuffnell Glass, or Off Mandrel who I think give a great service.

Bullseye Glass

Bullseye has a CoE of 90. It is slightly stiffer than 104 and cools when you are working it more quickly. This means it is great for fine stringer work. Bullseye also has the most amazing pinks and purples. The best place in the UK to get it is Warm Glass, Off Mandrel or Creative Glass.

Borosilicate Glass

Pyrex is a brand of borosilicate or boro glass. Boro glass has a CoE of 30 to 33 and is classed as a hard glass… and wow is it hard in comparison to soft glass. You need a hot torch to work it but it does have some fantastic advantages. The colours you can get from Boro are amazing due to the amount of gold and silver in the glass. It is also great for sculpture and making glasses. Available Tuffnell Glass, Off Mandrel and Creative Glass

There are other glasses on the market and I guess that this is only an introduction to the glasses out there.

So what do I use?

I tend to use Effetre glass coloured glass and Lauscha clear glass for encasing my beads. I tend not to use the silver glasses or reactive glasses, but that’s because I tend to make beads with a sculptural quality. It’s also because I’m a bit of a miser and some of the glass can get really expensive… especially if you are importing them from the states.

End Note

The only way to know for sure if a glass is compatible with another is to do a compatibility check. I will write another article explaining how to do this.

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