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Lampwork is a term for a hot glasswork method – the method of using a flame to melt and form glass into handmade glass objects such as beads, marbles, and sculptures. An example of cold glasswork is stained glass art or any glasswork process that does not involve heating the glass in order to shape it. Fusing and slumping are considered to be warm glasswork.
Modern day lampworkers typically use a torch connected to gas (often propane or natural gas) and oxygen to create and maintain a flame with sufficient temperatures, although some lampwork items, including glass beads, can be created with a fuel-only torch (Hot Head) and MAPP gas. A lampwork torch, safely secured to a tabletop or workbench, remains stationary as the lampworker moves the glass in and out of the flame creating their piece either on the end of a glass rod or on a steel mandrel, with the aid of gravity and tools. The term lampwork references a very ancient glasswork technique which originally used the flame of an oil lamp, hence the word lamp.
Often when people see lampwork objects they will ask if the object was glass blown. Lampworking and glassblowing both involve melting (using fire) and shaping glass, but glassblowing is a different type of hot glasswork which involves blowing and inflating molten glass fused to the end of a hollow tube known as a blowpipe, or blow tube (a hollow steel mandrel can also be used). Stemware and Christmas ornaments are popular glass blown items. Glassblowers, glass smiths, and gaffers are terms used to refer to individuals who blow glass.
Lampwork is accomplished by shaping molten glass on the end of a solid glass rod or on a round steel mandrel and does not involve blowing air into a tube to expand or inflate the glass. Lampwork is also referred to as torchwork or flamework.
In summary, both lampworking and glassblowing involve heating and shaping glass. Glassblowing includes blowing air through a hollow tube to expand and shape hot glass at the end of the tube. Lampwork is accomplished by manipulating molten glass on the end of a glass rod or mandrel.
Some artists lampwork and blow glass. Skills and familiarity with the properties of hot glass and glass chemistry, as well as knowledge concerning how to use tools and gravity to shape molten glass is important in both disciplines. These abilities paired with creativity have been a part of the human story for a very long time. Beautiful artistic expressions in the craft and innovations in the industry continue to draw artists and buyers alike.