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Advice from glass bead makers - enamelers


Hello Orchidland, I’m sure this concept is not new, but since I’ve
never tried it or talked to someone who has, the question goes out to
all you wonderful people.

I want to add a colored glass coating to the little balls on the end
of my sterling and gold headpins. Here are the questions. A. Can I
use glass canes as I’ve seen bead makers use or is powdered glass
for enamel the way to go?

B. I’ve read about the need for raising the fine silver before
applying the powdered glass. Would this be a concern for this

C. Can the application (either cane or powder) be made with a torch

D. I suspect protective lenses are needed - what kind? E. Any other
bits of wisdom are very welcome!!

Thanking everyone in advance. Judy in Kansas, where the forsythia is
fading to be replaced by the dramatic fuchsia of redbuds dotting the
Flinthills. Tulips are everywhere and I mowed the grass! Oh yes,
wonderful asparagus every night and after the next rain it’s morel
time!! Mmmmm, I’m salivating!

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
B.A.E. 237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhatttan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936 FAX (785) 532-6944


I would go the way of the enamel.

The reason that you would not want to use glass rods is that you
will most likely have a stability issue with the silver being the
core of the glass itself. You can introduce foreign material when
you are working with glass, but only to a certain percentage
(usually about 15%, I believe) I can add silver to my beads but not
in great quantity. I can also add precious metal leaf as well, but
again, you can only go so far. This goes for adding glass with
different expansion coefficients together as well.

As for the enamel part, you can enamel on the sterling but you may
get unwanted color reations with certain colors like reds if you do
not put a layer of enamel flux on the silver beforehand. Bringing
the pure silver up to the surface always helps.

And yes, you can enamel with your torch.

You do not need protective lenses with the enamels but you should
use a respirator. If you were working with glass rods you would
DEFINITELY need the lenses.

Feel free to email me if you have problems or further questions.




My main medium is glass (lampworking and fusing), so I’ll try and
take a stab at answering your question from a “rod” angle.

The main concern you’re going to have is that the glass rods "work"
at 1400 F and melt around 1550 F, depending on the type of glass, so
you will have to be very careful not to soften the headpin when
applying the glass. I do know that some beadmakers actually make
their beads around silver and copper tubing with no problem. Of
course that’s tubing, not thin wire.

Here’s how I would try and do this technique:

What you’ll need:

  1. Glass rods: Use a soft glass because of the lower melting
    point. Effetre (Moretti), Bullseye, and Czech glass are the common
    manufacturers/types. Effetre will be the easiest to find and is not
    expensive. I would not use borosilicate (pyrex) because it has a
    working temperature of 1700 F.

  2. Protective didymium glasses. These protect against the sodium
    flare given off by working the soft glass. They run around $35.

  3. Some form of propane torch, preferably a glass torch so you’ll
    have both hands free. You can’t use acetylene with glass because
    it’s too dirty a fuel, at least that’s what I’ve been told by several
    glass teachers. I haven’t tried it myself, but I believe it to be
    correct. Since you’re going to be working very small, there is a
    torch called a hothead which fits on the small benzomatic propane
    bottles. These aren’t very expensive (about $30 or so). You’ll find
    it much easier if you can secure the bottle. Some sort of
    stand/holder is available for this (try if you can’t find a local
    lampworking supplier). If you want an oxy-propane set up, the
    National 3A + stand or the Nortel minor are the next, least expensive
    torches ($100 - $150 + hoses).

  4. Vermiculite (Home Depot garden center should have it. It’s
    mixed in with dirt for potting plants. It’s also a good insulator
    that doesn’t burn from the heat of the cooling glass. You’ll need
    enough to fill a large metal can (coffee cans are good). Some
    beadmakers put it in a crock pot and set the crock pot on low.

  5. Something to hold the headpin while you work it – such as a pin

Once you have all that, then

  1. Since the head pins are small, I would slowly encase & layer the
    head with very small amounts of glass. To do this, first you want to
    "pull a stringer". You can buy stringers instead of rods, but the
    color selection is limited. The store where you buy the rods will
    probably be able to explain how to pull stringers. It’s not hard.
    You can try and use a full size rod, but you’ll probably wind up
    applying too much glass to the top of the headpin.

  2. With a low, neutral flame, first dip the end of the stringer
    quickly in and out of flame to gradually warm it – don’t get too
    close to the surface of the torch. Soft glass fractures if you heat
    it too quickly: it will either spit glass fragments at you or

  3. Next slowly introduce the glass more directly into the flame
    until the tips starts to turn molten. Doesn’t take much heat with
    stringers. The glass will glow.

  4. Next pass the head pin quickly through the flame a few times to
    warm the metal.

  5. Then, keeping the headpin out of the flame, get the end of the
    stringer molten again and touch it to the top of the headpin. The
    molten glass should adhere to the metal without melting it – I

  6. Let the glass on the headpin solidify, then apply a bit more
    glass. Repeat until you have the amount of glass you want. Also,
    occasionally pass the top of the headpin through the flame to keep
    the glass encasing it warm. If you let it cool too much, it will

  7. Last, put the encased top of the headpin slowly back in the
    flame to shape it, if needed. Molten glass, like molten metal, likes
    to be round. Be careful not to melt the glass completely. Soft glass
    works very easily and will melt in the 1/2 second you take your eyes
    off of it.

  8. When you’re satisfied with the shape, take it out of the flame
    and let it cool some. You’ll see the real color return to the glass.
    I would wait about 10 sec? (you’ll have play with the time) then
    bury the head pin into the vermiculite. The trick is to let the
    glass harden completely so the shape won’t be ruined when you put it
    in the vermiculite, but not to let it cool to the point it will

After making beads, I always kiln anneal them. If you don’t they
usually crack because the glass has been so strained. Since you’ll
probably be applying a very small amount of glass, you might be able
to get away with out doing so. You’ll have to make a few and then
work with them. If the glass casing on the headpin starts to crack
into pieces, you’ll have to anneal them the new ones you make.

Hope I haven’t left any steps / considerations out. Probably did.

Let me know what you eventually wind up doing. If I have time, I’ll
try and experiment with some brass headpins I have. Got a pretty
full schedule, but you’ve made me curious.



Dear Judy in Kansas, You have stated “that you’ve piqued my
curiosity, and you have looked over my website”. Well, there are
things that we are made aware of each and every day. There are
always new things to learn. Among these is the use of paste solder.
It is not taught by many schools and therefore, many are not
familiar with this form of solder. It is an easy way to get the
solder into exact placement and to also keep from having to go
through several steps before you can be ready to solder. You
eliminate the sanding of the sheet solder, cutting the pallions
(chips), fluxing the pallions and fluxing place where you are going
to join with the solder, placing the pallions, drying the flux so
that the pallions do not jump off the project and then finally
applying heat to make the solder flow. With paste, it is a point
and shoot approach if it is in a syringe. Decide where you want to
place the solder, apply to the piece and then add heat from the
torch to make the solder flow. Paste solder is not for each any
every application, but most will work wonderfully well with paste
solder. We have eliminated all the work in making your own powder
solder. Isn’t that wonderful!!! It comes already to use. You said
"Please help me understand a couple terms: IT and Eutectic. Why and
how are these solders used. (I’m familiar with the ranges of easy
through hard solders.) With my own silver work, I mostly use hard.
I use the easy on repairs because I have no idea of what was used
initially." The terms IT refers to a formula that melts at a
certain temperature, in this case the flow is at 1475 degrees F. It
is the solder we carry that has the highest melting temperature.
Many enamelists (those using high temperature vitreous enamels) use
this formula for doing the findings on their pieces. Many enamels
will melt below that temperature allowing a temperature difference
that will allow the finding intact. The other formula that you asked
about, Eutectic, is also for vitreous enamel work as well as many
other applications. This formula is one that vitreous enamel can be
applied right over and the enamelist will not have any problems with
bubbling or cracking of the enamel after it is fired. It is the
temperature where two metals (copper and silver) melt when used
together (alloy); it is a lower temperature than either metal will
melt at when used alone. The flow and melt temperatures (F 1435) in
Eutectic (for silver) are exactly the same. Eutectic is used for
filigree work when a person wants to enamel over that work, or make
a plique azure piece. You can enamel over the solder without any
problems. I used the Eutectic to solder my findings onto the pins
that I recently exchanged at the SNAG conference is St. Petersburg,
Fl. I had copper with a brass finding. I do hope this has answered
some of your questions. Please feel free to ask if more remain. Beth


Hi Judy, I have done a little of this with glass canes on sterling
wires, and I found that it worked well. Working directly on the
silver worked better than directly on steel mandrels - e.g. not
using bead release - I think maybe something to do with the
expansion rate of silver compared with steel. I didn’t bring up the
fine silver, and I did do this with a torch. The only problem was
the silver getting very hot- I was holding it wearing thick leather
gloves ( duh), next time I will use pliers etc. :slight_smile: have fun,


Hi Judy, If you look in the Glass Technical Forum of Wet Canvas
(, there is a thread all about “Sterling headpins
with glass ball ends”, including photos.

Good Luck!