i can see clearly now

Double Helix Zephyr glassOne of the perks of taking a class in an actual beadmaking studio was that I got to do some shopping while I was there! I’d completely run out of clear glass, so I wasn’t hopeful about doing any encased focal beads for the trunk show. But I managed to pick some up over the weekend, so we’re in business.

For many beadmakers, the search for the ‘perfect’ clear glass is frustrating. There are many options out there, some better than others. The problem with clear glass is that if there is a flaw or scratch within the glass rod itself, it shows itself in the beautiful clear casing that you’ve worked so hard on. That sucks. Nasty bubbles, ‘scum’, generally gross looking problems, all can ruin a beautiful bead. If you order plain old Effetre clear, that’s likely what you’ll get. The next step up is Effetre ‘Super Clear’. I’ve recently tried some, and I can’t say that I was all that wowed with it. Compared to the amazing clear I now use exclusively, it’s not that impressive.

We’re lucky that there are many more options in glass now than there were 10 years ago. Now, there is an amazing clear glass made by Double Helix, an American glassmaking company. I swear that their clear glass, Zephyr, will change your life. If you’re – ahem – willing to pay about $44 CDN a pound (compared to $12 for Effetre Super Clear). I’ll admit I was skeptical about this ‘magical’, frighteningly expensive clear glass, but after trying it out, I wouldn’t even consider using any other clear. It’s that good. Aside from the fact that it really is crystal clear without any scum or bubbling (hence no tedious stripping of your molten rod before you can apply a gather to your bead) – it melts like BUTTER, so encasing a bead is much, much faster. It’s just so easy to use. To me, it’s totally worth the steep price tag because it makes things stress-free and efficient, and my encasing always looks beautiful. I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m sure it’s made from Unicorn tears.

If you make the switch to Zephyr but still have a bunch of crummy clear glass you need to use up, there are a bunch of things you can do with it. The easiest might be to use it as the core of a bead that you’re going to cover with an opaque color – which has the added bonus of sparing your more expensive glass. If you’re going to etch a bead made with clear glass, I don’t think the imperfections will matter much. Here’s one other thing you can try: some say that pickling your clear glass does help, and I’m sure that’s true (read a discussion on LampworkEtc. about it here). In the past I’ve soaked mine in vinegar for a good long while, and it seemed to greatly improve things.

So now that I’ve acquired two whole glorious pounds of Zephyr, I’m looking forward to sitting down to make some beautiful galaxy beads, encased prairie beads, triangle beads… uh… flower beads…

I also treated myself to some raku frit that I’m looking forward to playing with. It does really interesting things, turning different colors depending on how you work it in the flame. Something new to experiment with is always fun.

I’m off to the torch today to see what I can do with my newly acquired beadmaking skills. Stay tuned.

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tiny tip: please release me, let me go

Fusion Bead release

Just hanging out, eating gluten free toaster strudel for dinner (I know, shame on me), and I spied my beloved bottle of bead release sitting on the counter. I’ve been meaning to say a few words about bead release. Ya, I know, boooooring. But the perfect bead release is sort of like the Holy Grail… Ye may seek and never find. What’s perfect for one person may not work for someone else, but I’ve finally found what works for me. If you’re just starting out, maybe I can save you some frustration.

For the non-beadmakers – bead release is a clay-like substance used to coat the mandrel (the stainless steel rod that a bead is made on) before you make a bead on it. It forms a layer between the hot glass and the metal so they don’t stick together. Thus, when the bead comes out of the kiln, you can actually get it off the mandrel. Here are what the beads look like still on the mandrel with bead release:

Beads on Mandrels

The bead release is dusty and powdery, and it has to be cleaned out of the holes using a dremel tool with an abrasive bit (under water, protect your lungs!). I use regular diamond whatever reamer tips (they’re cheap) but I’ve recently been told that the BeaDreamer is magical (and magically expensive – saving up for that).

There are as many bead release recipes as there are beadmakers. For good reason – if your bead release isn’t working it’s a major PIA. So there’s lots of experimentation going on to find the ‘perfect’ formula. All kinds of things can go wrong with your bead release, but the thing that’s plagued me the most is being nearly done a complicated bead with many many layers and tons of work in it, and having the bead release break. Seeing your lovingly crafted bead spinning around the mandrel with bead release flaking off is not a happy sight. Major sweatage ensues. Yes, there are a few ‘Hail Mary’ tricks that you can try in an effort to save your bead, but most of the time they don’t work.

Bead release breakage was happening to me so often that I finally began the search for a replacement for my old (and mostly ok for small beads) FosterFire. In my search, I came across a lot of weird and wonderful suggestions… blenders, chemicals, keeping the algae at bay (really!)… but in the end it seemed that a lot of people like Fusion Bead Release, and now that I’ve been using it for a while, I’m a convert. Here’s what I like about it:

– It has a nice consistency and when it gets a bit thick, adding water fixes it right up and it mixes well.

– It coats the mandrel with a nice thin, smooth layer of release, no bumps or gritty stuff. I think you could double dip very nicely though I haven’t tried it.

– It air dries quickly (within a few minutes) or flame dries in a few seconds – and I haven’t had any trouble with breakage either way.

– I can dip mandrels and use them weeks later and the release still doesn’t break.

– It holds up to large focal beads with multiple layers of encasing – and I am not particularly careful about pushing and pulling on the glass.

– It’s been perfect on every size mandrel I’ve tried – 1/16″ up to the 3/16″ for big hole beads.

The only small drawback I’ve noticed is that it can be tricky to get the beads off the mandrels. Really tricky. Especially with a long focal bead. Which make sense – the bead release doesn’t break when you’re making the bead, but it doesn’t want to break up when you’re trying to get the darn thing off the mandrel either. I’ve bent more mandrels in the past 2 months than I did in 4 years with my FosterFire. I just remind myself that I’d rather lose a 60 cent mandrel than a bead that’s worth $30.

So there ya go.

*This post is not officially endorsed by Grumpy Cat or Boo.

tiny tip – where old stringers go to die

stinger disposal

There are all kinds of little tips and tricks that make life as a beadmaker easier… I feel a bit dumb sharing some of them because they seem so obvious and simple. But if I didn’t know about them after many years in the bead world, maybe some of you didn’t either.

One of those things that is a pain is disposing of all those sharp nasty stringer bits that you’re done with. I used to dump mine in a bowl of water, but then I always had to deal with this nasty, swampy bowl full of sharp glass bits. Wait for the water to dry up, brush the nasty bits into some container so they wouldn’t rip a hole in the garbage bag… Ugh.

Then I read someone’s suggestion to get a big plastic bottle and drop the stringer bits right in there. Genius! It’s like my favorite thing on my work table. When it’s full, you just put the lid on and throw that sucker in the garbage.

I’ve also heard of people using those big tough dog food bags… that seems like a good idea too, though maybe a bit large to put right on your table.

I do have little jars that I keep hundreds of decent, usable stringers in (why??? I don’t know), but this is for the ones that I’ll never use again. Too short, etc.

Are you loving my geeky ‘nebula’ photo filter? The plastic stringer bottle really is that cosmic and magical.