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Tips on buying Lampworked Glass Art Beads

I really enjoy using art beads in my jewelry designs. If you are familiar with my work, you’ll know that I use a wide range of different mediums: ceramics, polymer clay, pewter, silver, and lots of lamp work glass. Also, I tend to spread the love when it comes to buying lampworked glass. I buy glass beads from many different artisans. I don’t believe that all lampworked glass beads are the same. It’s not the saying, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. No, not true.

So what are we supposed to look for when buying glass beads? I wanted to share some quick tips on how I pick out beads.

Initially, color is the driving force, for my bead buying addiction. If it’s a pretty color, and unique, I’ve gotta have it. Not all lampworkers use the same types or colors of glass.
Next, I pay attention to the size of the beads. Keep a handy bead size chart near your computer when purchasing beads online. Heather recently mentioned a good one that you can get from Rings N Things.

photo credit- Lori Anderson

Sometimes it’s hard to see the really important details of the beads from the photos that you are seeing online. It’s nice, but sometimes not always common, to see several pictures of the same beads, at different angles. Pay close attention to the holes. You want to buy beads that have smooth edges around the hole of the bead. Any jagged edges can eventually cut through your beading wire or cording over time.

Check the bead holes to see if the powdery bead release has been adequately cleaned out. If you are buying beads in person and not online, bead release should not sift out of the bead when it’s tapped. When shopping online, you should be able to see the bead release if there are pictures of the bead holes.

Stay away from beads with lots of air bubbles, as they can lead to future cracking in the glass bead. Check to make sure the beads holes are nice and centered. Beads that are annealed correctly will help in the overall strength of the beads. The annealing process happens in a kiln. The bead comes out of the flame and into the kiln to regulate the cooling temperature of the bead. The temperature needs to cool slowly so that stress points and cracking does not occur later. Although it’s impossible to know by a photograph if proper annealing has taken place, you can also read through the descriptions or ask the artist if the beads have been kiln annealed. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist lots of questions about their beads.

I also make sure to read through the seller’s feedback before buying. You can see feedback on Ebay or Etsy sellers easily, and it’s a good way to see how happy buyers have been in the past. Great places to find quality lampworkers is in beading magazines, on Etsy, or beading books.
You can read more about the process of making glass beads all over the web, but I found these tips to be helpful in understanding the process.

Written by Lorelei Eurto

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20 Comment

  1. Reply
    Alice
    September 16, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I love lampwork beads. I stay away from mass-made lampwork beads since they tend to be made under unfair & unsafe work conditions. Plus they are not always kiln annealed–not to mention the fact that they are far from being unique.

    I've been fooled only twice, and now I ask if the seller makes their own beads and if they are kiln annealed.

    Great post and great information!

  2. Reply
    sandi
    September 16, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Great summary! I only buy lampwork from those who have mastered their skills – which can be years, and the reason I'm not interested in making my own! Cleaning and annealing are probably the 2 most important aspects of making beads.
    The challenge is always explaining what lampwork is and why the price of a design costs more.
    Another good source of lampworkers is the International Society of Glass Beadmakers.

  3. Reply
    TesoriTrovati
    September 16, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Great post Lorelei! I appreciate your feedback since you have learned much through your own forays into bead buying. Thanks for the inspiration! Enjoy the day! Erin

  4. Reply
    Leslie @ Bei Mondi
    September 16, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Very informative! I just purchased lampwork beads and was curious about the kiln annealing process. It makes sense now why it's such an important step. Thanks, Lorelei!

  5. Reply
    SummersStudio
    September 17, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Great post, Lorelei, with lots of incredibly helpful insights!

  6. Reply
    http://joymariesboutique.blogspot.com/
    September 17, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Thank you so much for the information. I design jewelery so I appreciate the tips you're providing.

    Best Wishes!
    Jessica
    http://www.joymaries.com
    joymariesboutique.blogspot.com

  7. Reply
    rosebud101
    September 17, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Excellent post and great advice!

  8. Reply
    Lisa Lutz
    September 17, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Excellent post!
    I am a lampwork bead artist, and I take great pride in the beads I make and sell. It's hard to compete with lower priced mass produced beads, when buyers don't know what to look for and why they should consider buying handmade!
    Thanks!
    Lisa
    http://www.BeadCrazed.etsy.com
    http://www.BeadCrazed.artfire.com

  9. Reply
    Carol B
    September 17, 2009 at 3:46 am

    Great info! I love lampwork beads and hoard them. I hardly ever buy them online, preferring to see them in person. Your tips are very helpful!

  10. Reply
    Mortira
    September 17, 2009 at 3:50 am

    Wonderful tips! I just purchased my very first pair of handmade art glass beads, and they fit all of these criteria. I can't wait to use them – and then get more!

  11. Reply
    Tabitha
    September 17, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Hey there! I just found your blog via a twitter search for "bead jewelry" and I love it! I just started a bead blog/website and have been looking for inspiration for things to write about, etc. Anyway, thanks for the tip on lampwork beads!

  12. Reply
    SteamPunkGlass
    September 17, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Great to see this advice out to bead buyers, as I am a bead maker!

    Also look out to see if the seller is an SRA (Self representing artisit) and registered on the sra site as genuine.

    It's doubly important to check for bead release as it can be nasty stuff to breathe in. Please don't be affraid to chat to bead makers, we love the excuse to chat about making beads and glass things, but be warned we might not stop talking! 😉

  13. Reply
    Lorelei
    September 17, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Thanks so much everyone! I am glad you found this post to be helpful! I had been wanting to write about this for several months so I am glad that it finally came to fruition!

  14. Reply
    Donna Davis
    September 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks for the information.
    One note: If I have powdery beads, I string them and take them to the bathroom sink. I use a little liquid handsoap and wash them thoroughly. Usually the release washes out.

  15. Reply
    Sue Doran
    September 17, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Is there any evidence (other than anecdotal) that suggests beads with bubbles in them are more likely to crack? Many lampwork bead makers incorporate bubbles as a design element such as poked dots and aquarium beads. I deliberately force bubbles of carbon dioxide to appear in many of my beads as a design feature using baking soda. I have been making them for literally months now. Some of the jewellery I made the beads into have failed to sell or have yet to be made into jewellery and not one has cracked yet, I have had no returns and the earrings I have kept myself in 3 different colours are all still fine. They also pass the freezer test whereby beads are put into the freezer overnight and then quickly "defrosted" by "thawing" them in warm water. Surely any weaknesses in these beads would have shown up by now? I can't think why bubbles entrapped within properly annealed glass would weaken a bead any more than other design elements routinely used such as fine silver wire, metal foils or frit of differing COE.

  16. Reply
    glassbead, isinglass design
    September 17, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Here's my two cents about buying lampwork beads. I wrote a blog about it a while ago. I think it covers most everything- except color!
    http://isinglassdesign.blogspot.com/2008/01/hot-glass-what-is-lampwork-and-what.html

  17. Reply
    Lara Lutrick
    September 18, 2009 at 2:47 am

    Great information. I hope it helps people find more great lampwork bead artists and great beads.

    I agree wtih the poster above whom said don't be afraid to contact the bead maker, we LOVE to talk about our beads.

    Lara Lutrick

  18. Reply
    Connie
    September 18, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Great topic! Really helpful for someone like me who has no idea what to look for. I know very little about lampworked beads. Going to a bead show for the first time, so I'm gathering all the info I can.

    Thanks!

    Connie

  19. Reply
    planettreasures
    September 20, 2009 at 7:51 am

    I love buying handamde lampwork beads, and supporting glass artists.
    Im also trying to learn to make beads muself, and I love th picture of the beads, I love the way the holes go in at the ends, my holes always come out!
    More practise required!

  20. Reply
    Patty
    September 21, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Thanks for an informative post,Lorelei. The lampwork community appreciates all the help it can get in educating the beading public about our work, and the skill and care that has gone into each and every bead. *Please* ask questions before you buy – most of us will happily answer them.

    I might add to those who find that the beads they purchase still have bead release in them – clean them out *wet*. As SteamPunk and Donna Davis already suggested, the dry powder is not good to breathe in, so do clean them under water, or at least with water. There are plenty of inexpensive bead reamers out there that will do the job.

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