Metal Fuming Tutorial: Give Your Lampwork Glass Beads a Gold (or Silver) Glow

28 May 2012

Fuming glass is the technique of applying metal particles to the surface of a lampwork glass bead. I found this project while looking through the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine archives (from the October 2004 issue), and even though I've learned how to do it, lampworking still seems like wondrous alchemy to me! The addition of metals--though in a very fine, delicate, soft form and not hard like I normally work with them--is even more fascinating. Fumed metal lampwork glass is a great way to add a touch of metal to your glass bead creations to coordinate with metal components for jewelry designs. Enjoy this tutorial on adding a touch of metal to lampwork glass beads.

 
Fumed Lampwork Glass Beads
by Lauri Copeland

Fuming metals onto glass is a great technique that adds sparkle to your glass beads. Fine silver or gold with a high karat content are most commonly used for fuming. For this particular project, 22K or 24K gold will be used. This is available from a variety of sources including bits taken from a gold coin, casting grain, wire, gold leaf or foil. Just be sure that your piece is from 22K or 24K gold.

Safety First! You must have very good ventilation while you fume with metals. A fuming hood or a system that draws the "vapors" directly out of your studio is necessary. Breathing these fumes is hazardous.

How to Fume Metal on Lampwork Glass Beads

  1. Begin by pulling a stringer from a rod of white boro. Melt the end of the white rod until you have a blob that is the size of a small grape. Immediately remove the glass from your torch and grab the tip of the molten glass with tweezers. Pull into a stringer that is approximately 2-3mm in width. Set the stringer aside for later.

2. With a piece of gold on your marver, heat the end of a clear rod until glowing. You will only need a very small piece of gold that is slightly larger than a pinhead. This size will be enough for several beads. Quickly place the hot tip of the rod straight down onto the piece of gold. If the metal does not stick on the first attempt, repeat until you are successful.

Note: A metal marver may help the gold retain the heat. A graphite marver is fine but may absorb more heat and draw the heat away from the gold, making the process slightly more difficult. Once the gold adheres, carefully set the rod aside. Try not to knock the rod to prevent the gold from popping off the glass.

3. Wind a small, clear base bead on the mandrel and then wrap a layer of pomegranate (or color of your choice) glass over the clear and work in the flame until you have an even base.

4. Using the pre-pulled white stringer, add a design to the bead. Apply dots, squiggles, or a design of your choice.

5. Melt in the white stringer until it is smooth against the bead.

Keeping the bead warm in the outer part of the flame, adjust the torch flame toward a more oxidizing flame. (An oxidizing flame is one that is rich in oxygen. The flame will become tighter and may have a slight hissing sound.)

6. Introduce the gold into the side of the flame, just above the blue cone. Try to keep the glass rod out of the flame. Overheating the glass will cause it to "swallow" up the gold. As the gold begins to heat, it will ball up. Use caution as it can easily fall off the rod. Continue heating until it begins to sputter and a green hue begins to travel along the length of the flame. These green fumes are the gold particles that will adhere to the bead. Rotate the bead in the outer region of the flame.

The bead will have cooled to the point that the metal fumes will stick. If the bead is too cool, you may need to reheat it to the point just before it reaches a dull glow.

The gold will fume onto the bead in stages. It will begin by forming a slight pink color. As more fumes are applied, the surface will appear more metallic. The heaviest layer will result in a mirror finish. For this project, aim for a moderate layer of gold.

7. Adjust the flame back to a strong neutral flame. The last step is to encase the bead with clear. While keeping the bead warm in the outer flame, melt a large glob at the end of a clear rod. I am using a 7mm rod. Once again, aim for a molten glob that is the size of a small grape. Lower the bead down into the flame to apply the clear casing. Begin by pressing the clear onto the bead. Rotate the mandrel to spread the clear around the entire surface of the bead. If necessary, apply extra clear to fill any gaps.

8. Finally, heat the entire bead until you have your desired shape. You may use a marver for shaping if you like. At this point the bead may appear mostly clear or slightly pink. The color will continue to develop during the annealing process. The beauty of this pomegranate color is its ease of use. These ruby colors will easily develop without over-striking!

9. Place the bead in your kiln, set at the borosilicate annealing temperature, 1050°F.

Feel free to vary your beads by trying different colors for the base and the stringer. You may also leave the gold fume on the surface of your bead without encasing. However, the gold may wear off over time if it isn't applied just so. Gold fuming will add a new dimension to your lampwork vocabulary. Enjoy! --Lauri

For more inspiring and instructional lampwork glass projects from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, download our new lampwork eBook 10 Glass Bead-Making Projects.

About the Artist: Lauri Copeland lives in Overland Park, Kansas, and is an active member of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers and Glass Arts Society. Participating in several national shows, teaching bead-making classes, and selling online keeps her head spinning. Lauri's beads can be seen online at Wildfire Designs and she can be reached via E-mail at wildfirebeads@aol.com.

 


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