Setting up your lampwork studio

Have you been bitten by the lampworking bug? Are you thinking you’re ready to set up your own studio? Congratulations! I for one, highly recommend lampworking to someone who is looking for a unique way to creatively express themselves.

From the moment I took my first lesson and up to now, my lampwork studio has changed several times. In the beginning I had a million questions and spent a lot of time researching how things were done and how I should set up my own studio.

Questions like how much does all the equipment cost and what all do I need? Is it expensive? How do I set it up. Do I need a kiln? How do I set up my ventilation? One of the most researched questions in lampworking is regarding ventilation. More on that below.

For beginners and those who don’t want to spend a lot of money on their setup, there are great options within a reasonable budget. You will need the following:

  • a torch – a good starter torch is called a “hot head”. It runs on propane only and can be connected to those little disposable propane tanks or with a connector & hose, it can be hooked up to a barbeque tank. These are priced around $60.
  • a marver – a flat rectangular marver is easy to use and inexpensive. A marver is handy for shaping the hot glass. They price around $15 each
  • a dozen mandrels in either 1/16 or 3/32 diameter x 12″ long. 3/32 diameter are the easiest to use when you are starting out. They cost anywhere from $0.20 – $1.50 each. You can make your own by cutting down stainless steel welding rods purchased from your local welding supplier.
  • a ceramic fiber blanket or bucket of vermiculite. A fiber blanket is used when you don’t have a kiln or prefer to batch anneal your beads. A fiber blanket allows the bead to cool slowly. They are priced around $10 each
  • a propane tank and a hose to connect your torch to the tank. Once again, your local welding supply store is a great place to get things like hoses and connectors. On a hot head torch you are only working with propane so you don’t have to worry about regulators. These will run you roughly $40.
  • didymium glasses. didy’s as they are nicknamed are one of the more expensive items in your lampwork setup. These protect your eyes from soda flare and UV exposure. I would not suggest you work at the torch without proper eyeware. These will cost between $85-$125 each.

A decent beginner kit, with a hot head torch, a small flat marver, some mandrels, a fiber matt, bead release, some basic glass, and Didymium glasses will get you started for approximately $200. You can also get some great deals on equipment and supplies, including glass, at places like your local buy & sell, Facebook, and the lampwork forums.

A kiln is a more expensive commitment to your studio as they run anywhere from $500 to $2000. Kilns come in all shapes & sizes. Ideally, you want a kiln that is front loading and with a kiln door. Below are a few links to the most popular kilns.

One of the most researched question in lampworking is regarding ventilation…

Ventilation can be simple and inexpensive and it can be complicated and expensive. The purpose of ventilation is to evacuate the fumes from the torch and the glass out of your workspace. I’ve seen ventilation setups such as working in a garage with the garage door open or a covered patio and these are good options because you are ventilating your workspace but they are also weather dependent meaning in the winter or the rain it’s cold and/or wet so your work time is limited, your glass is cold and takes longer to warm up, your work piece will cool off a lot faster. Not the best option if you’re building a sculptural or detailed piece.

There are many tutorials available for selecting the ideal fan and setup for your workspace. Here are a few links you may want to review.

Ideally whatever room or space you use for your setup, you want a window or door behind you to bring in the replacement air. My work space is 6′ x 8′. It’s in my basement and is where the bathroom would be if we had one in the basement. I use the “bathroom” window to vent my fan and I have a door to the garage infront of me, a window to my other side and a door behind me. I created the ventilation set up I have now by using an 10″ inline duct fans, the ones you find at “garden centers” and I’ve attached it to a kitchen hood fan and about 4 feet of ducting. The ducting is attached to a piece of plywood cut to fit in the window and has a handhole I can access to open the window to vent the fan. I put a mouse pad over the hole so the exhaust doesn’t come back in to the workspace. I have a variable speed controller connected to the fan so I can dial it down to low or up to high. it sounds like a jet engine at high :). It hangs about 18″ over my torch. My entire ventilation setup cost roughly $250. The inline fan being the most expensive but all of the parts needed were second hand/used. Good deals come to those who look for them.

All totalled, a lampworking studio setup will cost you $500+ so you really want to be sure lampworking is something you want to invest in before buying all the equipment. I recommend taking a lesson from one of your local artisans who teach from home and take note of their setup. Terminal City Glass Co-op is a member driven glass arts facility in Vancouver. They offer studio time, equipment to work from, and lessons in both group and individual formats. They also have a hot shop if you find yourself drawn to glass blowing.

Enjoy beadmaking!