There were two days of glass bead making at the Pennsic Artisan's Row this year. Below are pictures from the first day, where Bruni and I spent the whole day making beads, and where I got to share documentation with people!
Arts and Sciences Display
Using Bruni's extensive knowledge of pottery, and some research articles we found (particularly this one, and the citation mentioned in this online article), we made an experimental bead kiln. After talking with Bruni, I've included a few thoughts below, but hopefully we will get more written about this later!
From Bruni I learned about building with clay. We used coils, which was a common period method, and we scored the coils to get them to stick to each other better. The article listed above discussed another person's experimental bead kiln, where they used clay, straw, and sand. We included some straw and sand in our kiln, but not as much as the article suggested, so that is something to play with in the future. When making the hole in the side of the kiln to blow air into, we extended that small pipe into the center of the kiln. This was a suggestion made by a camp member, so that the kiln would heat evenly. During our previous try at kiln building, the side of the kiln with the air hole got hotter than the other side, and cracked.
We dried the kiln for several days before firing it. I learned that firing wet clay causes it to pop and shatter. Our bead kiln popped once or twice when we fired it (Pennsic was damp!), but it held up pretty well. We added coal (with no lighter fluid). Once we got a fire going, we used an air mattress blower to increase the heat. This worked, and the kiln was able to soften the glass (which you see above). It did not get as molten as when using a torch, but it was definitely soft, and that is enough. The air mattress blower worked to increase the heat of the kiln, but it was a definitely too strong (even holding it at a distance from the air hole). A bellows, or manual air pump would be better.
This is me trying to make a bead. Next time, adding more coal and letting the fire heat up for longer (as well as getting a more regular source of air flow into the kiln) might help get the glass a bit softer, making it easier to shape and work. I don't think the bead held onto enough heat to let me shape it much outside the kiln.
The finished bead. Coil marks are still visible, but they are also still visible on some extant beads I have seen. I had to use cutters to cut the piece if glass off the rod, as the kiln was not hot enough for me to flame cut the glass rod as I would do with a torch. If we can get the Kiln just a bit hotter, using a better air source and more coal, I think this will work well.