Let’s talk about lampwork beads and their cost. All of my beads are handmade, same with my findings for jewellery making, but that’s another story.
Lets use this bead as an example, a decorated focal bead. Before I make this style of bead there is a certain amount of prep work first. Stringers, Murrini and Shards need to be prepared a base bead is then made, using a press and it is decorated with frit, then a shard, the stringers are added and finally the murrini. All told it takes me roughly an hour to make the bead. Typically a bead like this would retail at around £18
But what does it cost to make a bead like this?
Initial set up
I started out with a hot head single fuel torch it was a Christmas present, after much begging, from my husband. The kit he bought me had the torch, a kilo of glass, a bead reamer, mandrels and bead release and it cost around £60. With that I still couldn’t make beads as I needed propane to fuel the torch, at first I started with bottles of MAPP gas (£14 and lasted 2-3 hours) before buying a bulk fuel kit for £40 and a large bottle of propane for £28 which lasts me around 5 months. I also needed specialist glasses that protect my eyes from the UV rays and the sodium flare given off by the torch a cheap pair costs £40.
I then upgraded my torch to a basic duel fuel setup. (£175 for the torch and £235 for the oxygen generator)
Now I use an upgraded set up with two oxygen generators and a Nortel mid range plus (£325.)
That first kilo didn’t last long, I used it up learning how to make beads. glass rods cost anywhere from £3 a quarter kilo up to in excess of £30 a quater kilo. a quarter is generally about 10 rods of glass and I will use a rod to make a set of 5 beads on average.
Under the heading of glass there is also frit (crushed glass) and murrine (patterened rods of glass cut into small chips rather like a stick of rock.) Once set up glass is the largest contributor to cost, it gets used quickly not just for stock but also to test ideas to continue to bring out new designs, of course not everything works and a few beads usually end up in the bin.
An essential part of glass work. While I could happily learn to make beads without a kiln cooling the beads slowly in vermiculite they were prone to stress. all beads have to be annealed in a kiln to remove these stresses. I was lucky enough to be able to get a second hand kiln for £200 from someone that was upgrading to a larger one.
After a year with the small kiln I was able to upgrade to a larger one that cost around £600
Most of my beads are made using tools in one form or another. I wouldn’t be without my marver top on my torch and my selection of ‘proddy’ and ‘pokey’ tools for moving the glass. I also have beadrollers and presses for more complicated shapes and as guides for making even beads for sets. Tools range from £5 to £80, though there are some that are around £150 upwards.
A space to call my own, thankfully my father in law built my studio space so costs were low there, I needed a bench to work at and shelving and storage for all my tools, books and glass. I also needed ventilation for health and safety reasons. On top of those things I had electric wired into the studio to run the kiln and oxygen generator and lighting so I could see what I was doing.
Books and Classes
I am mostly self taught, mostly through trial and error and books. I have a small library of books and magazines in my collection. After 5 years I did begin taking classes to expand my skill set. Books are priced much like any other reference material, the lampworkers ‘bible’ retails for around £60-70. Classes are priced anywhere from £25 to £300 upwards, dependent on how long the class is and who is teaching it.
I’ve bought everything I own over a time, expanding my studio when I have had extra revenue to make the purchases.
As well as all of that there is the time I have invested learning and developing my craft, Typically around 10 hours a week is spent at the torch since 2006.