Monday, November 26, 2007

Tools Of The Trade Part 1 - The Torch

Probably the most important tool (or at least in the top two) for any lampwork artist is their torch. Without this tool, we would be unable to melt the glass and create our work. In my short career as a glass artist, I have used three different types of torches. Allow me to elaborate...

Hot Head Torch

This is the first torch I ever used to melt glass and was one of the tools that I received in the kit that came with my first beadmaking class at O'Reilly's Stained Glass in Crystal Lake.
It uses a single fuel source, a canister of Mapp gas or some other gas, to melt the glass. The design of the head pulls in oxygen from the air in order to create an appropriate flame for working the glass.

It's a very good head for learning how to work the glass because it is just hot enough to melt the glass, but the glass does not get so that it becomes too runny and hard to control. Many lampworkers start off on this particular type of torch, but it does have some drawbacks (at least for me).

I'll just say it outright: I am impatient by nature. I do not like waiting for something or spending large amounts of time on a single task. While I know this torch has a very loyal following (some folks use them for years), I worked with this torch for exactly 3 weeks, and here's why:

Aside from the noise that this torch makes (and it is very noisy), it takes a long time to get enough of the glass melted in order to create the bead I was working on. It would take 5-10 minutes just to get enough glass onto the mandrel for the bead I was making, and I wasn't making large beads yet since I did not have a kiln yet (more on that in a later posting).

In addition, since there is not a separate oxygen fuel source, the flame tends to cause some colors to not come out properly; they may come out in a completely different color than they are supposed to. Oxygen is a key ingredient to working with glass as you will see in upcoming posts since it reacts with the metals in the glass to create the various colors.

Minor Torch

After my three weeks on a Hot Head, I anxiously awaited my tax refund, and then set out to upgrade my equipment. One of the things I purchased was a new Minor torch.

This is a minor torch, and as you can see it is quite different from a Hot Head. First of all you will notice this torch has two knobs, a red one on top and a silver one of the side. That's because this is a dual-fuel torch. It uses two gasses to create the flame for melting and manipulating the glass.

This torch uses propane (which is controlled by the red knob) and oxygen (the silver knob) to create a hotter flame that is much quieter and better suited to melting the glass.

Many glass artists use this type of torch exclusively for their work. I used this torch for about three years of my nearly four years of lampworking.

When using a minor, the glass melts much faster, the bead colors are brighter and the flame can be adjusted to create several effects by adjusting the amount of oxygen in the flame (more on this in a later post also). I enjoyed using my minor, but it too had a few drawbacks such as its lack heat surrounding the flame and the inability to adjust the flame's width for doing detail work like laying down vines or melting in dots onto one of my grapevine beads.

With larger beads, not all of the bead could be in the flame and would tend to cool too quickly on the end outside of the flame which can lead to cracking and/or breakage which can be quite disheartening after working on a bead for twenty or thirty minutes and ending up with nothing to show for it but a pile of broken glass.

Carlisle Mini CC

Which brings me to the third torch, and the one I'm currently using in my glass work.

The Carlisle Mini CC is brass torch which creates an ambient pocket of heat around the flame to help keep the piece warmed enough to reduce the breakage on larger pieces. I still need to work on keeping the whole piece warmed while I work, but this torch does give me a little more wiggle room in that department.

The flame is also a that it does not push against the glass with the force that the flame from my minor did. I know this sounds odd, but once you've worked with glass, you'll know what I mean.

The heat enveloping the torch also comes in handy when pre-heating a glass rod before putting it into the flame for melting which can reduce cracking and shattering of the rod before I can use it.

The cracking of a glass rod when being introduced to the flame is known as Shocking the glass. You may also hear it used as an adjective when describing a particular color as being Shocky (prone to cracking and breaking).

In addition to the ambient heat, the flame on this torch can be adjusted to wider or narrower by adjusting the amount of propane and oxygen supplied to the torch, which is another feature I really enjoy.

I hope you've enjoyed this quick comparison of torch features. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them and I'll try to reply with an answer.

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