Glass beads are usually formed using factory production methods (there are several) which can produce vast quantities of identical beads very rapidly.
The oldest method of making beads is by hand. Clearly this is much more time-consuming and, because they are hand-made, each bead may be very slightly different from the one before. It is for that reason that all sizes for lampwork beads are approximate.
These beads are known as “Lampwork” or “Wound” beads.
The artisan bead maker will sit in front of a gas torch and heat rods of glass until they melt. He or she will then wind the melting glass around a “mandrel”.
A mandrel is a simple stainless steel rod whose diameter will match the hole size required for that particular sized bead. It is covered in “bead release” to enable it to be withdrawn when the bead has cooled.
This process continues, using rods of different colours if required, until the bead has been completed.
After completion, the bead cannot be allowed to cool quickly as this sets up internal pressures that can result in the bead fracturing. Instead it must be “annealed”.
Beads are annealed by placing them in a kiln or annealing oven at a temperature between 900 – 1100º F (482 – 593ºC) and then gradually reducing the heat to zero. This gradual cooling allows the internal stresses to dissipate and for the various layers of glass to bond together.