Thursday, June 19, 2014

Teaching Lampworking- one-on-one

Below are some notes for  teaching  people to do lampworking for the first time. I'm primarily using this to help gather my thoughts. What is below represents, for me, the idea introductory session. However, the session outlined below would take a good bit of time, and in a demo session, someone may not want to stick around that long, or there may be a line of people waiting to try.

Overall, my goal is to get students making beads quickly and simply as possible, so they can see how fun and easy it is. However, I also want them to be successful (so they will want to do it again!) A one-on-one lesson like this would not include a lot of history or background, unless the student asks questions.

I plan to modify this document over time as I learn more about teaching.

1. Discussion of Recommended Attire:
  • Safety Glasses: To protect against flying glass (glass can shock if it is heated up to quickly). IMO, regular safety glasses will do if someone is just learning, though at some point I may want to let the students look through my glasses, so they can see what things are like with the soda flare removed. I have regular glasses to lend
  • No loose clothing or hair
  • Clothing with natural fibers is highly recommended, as are long sleeves. I have fire resistant arm guards I can share if needed. I also purchased a leather apron that students can use after seeing a friend use one to teach beads.
  • Close toed shoes are recommended.
2. Safety: Since we are playing with fire, this is very important to discuss!
  • Fire is hot. You may get a small burn (think cooking), but, if we are careful we should be just fine.  I have aloe gel if anything happens.
  • Do not get up out of your seat with the torch still on. If you  need to suddenly get up, just turn the torch off at any point, by turning the knob to the left.
  • Do not reach above the torch, or across it in front of you. If the student needs something they can't reach, I can help them get it.
  • Pay attention to where you put your glass rod and other tools, and remember they will be hot if you have used them. Always point the hot end of the glass rod or tools away from yourself. Even better, use a glass rod rest.
  • If small pieces of glass chip off your glass rod, that is normal, don't let it startle you too much. If a large piece of glass should fall off, don't pick it up (it is likely to be hot). If something lands on you, just brush it off (this is why we want natural fibers in our clothing).
  • When making a bead, if the bead feels like it is not sticking to the mandrel, stop immediately, and put the mandrel down on the metal tray, or dunk it in the small glass of water we have off to the side.
Note: Everything I have students do from this point in, I will talk through, demonstrate, and then have them do.

3. Review tools (in addition to glasses, discussed above)
  • Torch head
  • Mapp Gass
  • Clamp for torch to attach it safely to the table
  • heat proof surface for infront of the torch.
  • Glass rods
  • Mandrels coated in bead release.
  • Marver for shaping the bead
  • Fire extinguisher (just incase)

 4. Getting a feel for the glass/pulling stringer
  • Turn the torch on (have students practice this)
  • Take a full length rod of glass (preferably one very noticeably changes color when hot (like yellow) and introduce the middle of it high into the flame. Talk about why we start high in the flame (to heat the glass slowly so it doesn't shock and crack). Talk about the need to rotate the rod constantly for even heating.
  • Once the rod starts to change color, slowly move the rod down closer to the flame (just above the inner blue cone), continuing to rotate it. Discuss the color change in the glass that occurs as it heats up. Tell students not to put glass in the blue part of the flame, stay an inch or two above that.  They will know if they are working too low in the flame, because the flame hisses (demonstrate this). Glass can discolor if worked too low in the flame.
  • While the part of the glass in the flame gets hot, glass is a poor conductor, so the rod itself remains cold.
  • Once the glass is molten (where it starts to sag and move on its own), you can push and pull the ends of the glass rod slightly to get a feel for what the molten glass feels like.
  • Before the glass gets too hot, take the rod out of the flame (towards or away???), let it firm up a bit (its color will change back), and then put it back in the flame, and repeat the above process (a few times if desired). You an always take the glass out of the heat briefly if it gets to wobbly, or you need a few moments to think and reset yourself.
  • Hold the rod in the flame until a small ball of glass forms in the middle (the ends of the rods can be pushed slightly in to help this).
  • Move the rod in front of the torch (towards or away???), count to 3, and then pull slowly but firmly on both rods (don't pull too fast!). Watch the class stretch out, become thin, and then cool. Congratulations, you have pulled your first stringer. We use these to add decoration to beads.  Over time, and through practice, you will learn how to reliably make stringers of different thicknesses and lengths. This is also just one way to make stringers, there are others. Repeat a few more times.

4. Practice rotating the mandrel without fire!
  • The mandrel is usually held in the non dominant hand, and glass is added with the dominant hand.
  • Put the mandrel in the students hand in an overhand grip ( to me, this grip feels more secure for something that will be constantly rotated). Have them practice turning the mandrel away from them. It should be don relatively slowly! Rotating too fast wont let enough heat sink into the bead to shape it.
  • Put a glass rod in the dominant hand in an underhanded grip (this grip allows the hand to be place perpendicular to the mandrel when adding glass, this will result in better beads in the long run). Have the student rotate the rod back and forth (it does not have to rotate around in a circle, both sides of the rod just have to be heated.
  • Then do both of the above at the same time.

6. Making a small bead (do this a few times)
  • Turn on torch (can do this for the student at the start)
  • Introduce the end of the glass rod high into the flame. Once the glass is glowing, slowly bring it down in the flame and heat it up as demonstrated in section three, making sure to keep rotating it.
  • The glass should begin to form a small ball, and it should have a consistent glow.
  • While the ball on the end of the glass rod is forming, pick up the mandrel (with bead release on it- so the glass does not stick to the bead), and preheat it by putting it in the flame above the glass rod for about 10 seconds (rotating it gently). The mandrel needs to be hot for the glass to stick (demonstrate it not sticking) However, the metal is thin and not a great conductor, so the end of the mandrel you are holding will stay cool.  
  • Once the mandrel is preheated, turn glass rod perpendicular to the mandrel. Position the mandrel right outside the flame (towards the back of the flame)
  • Have the tip of the glass rod pass through the flame and touch the mandrel gently. Just the tip! As it touches, pull the rod back very slightly and rotate the mandrel away from you slowly. Try to make a complete circle with the glass you have melted. We leave the rod in the flame as we do this so the glass stays soft and continues to melt. There should be a small triangle of molten glass between the bead you are winding and the glass rod (think fiber drafting triangle).
  • Once a complete circle has been made, continue to turn the bead away from you slowly, but also stretch the glass rod back slightly towards you to thin the stream of glass out. If the glass stiffens and you can't pull it this way, just leave the glass in the fire for a second or two until it gets molten again, and then resume turning and pulling. Eventually the stream of glass should be thin enough to break. Put the glass rod down, hot part away from you or on the glass rod rest.
  • The bead is bumpy now, but we can smooth it out in the flame. Continue rotating the bead away from you but move it into the flame. If the bead gets too hot and wobbly, just bring it higher in the flame, or slightly outside the flame to cool it down. Rotate until the bead is mostly round, glass wants to be round, so the bead will even out a good bit. Also, remember,  this is a hand made item, and your first bead, so it wont be perfect, but don't worry about that!
  • Bring the bead higher up in the flame until it is just barely glowing, while continuing to turn  (flame annealing- we are brining the temperature down slowly).
  • I can then turn the torch off for the student. And we can put the bead to anneal (cool down slowly so it does not later crack).
6. Shaping the Beads (show barrel shape only, gives a  larger decorating surface. Can discuss more shapes later in advanced lessons.)
  • Demonstrate rolling the bead into a barrel shape.
  • Glass must be hot to shape it. Don't try touching the bead to the marver unless its glowing (it wont do anything).
  • Touching the bead with anything cools it, so you have a limited amount of working time.
  • If it doesn't work at first, you can always heat the bead and try again.
7. Applying dots with the stringer you made.
  • Never put stringer in the flame
  • Have bead to the back of the flame, the stringer on the side of the flame (show students how it will melt there!).
  • Heat slightly and then touch the stringer with the bead, press a little bit, and then pull back, and cut the little stringer that forms off in the flame.