If you’re reading this article you’re either caught by the highly contagious lampworking bug or you’re just intrigued by the unusual article heading!  In any case, this article is long overdue in writing because I’ve since adapted my lampworking studio into a glass fusing studio as a matter of creative life or death!

So, why bother to write this up you may ask?  Well, I hope that by doing so I may help a few other glass artisan newbies in creating a safer environment.

This article is also for my own future reference, should I ever achieve creating the art “school” of my dreams where the flame would be at the heart of it!

Think about your physical space

Studio space under design

I was lucky enough to learn about spatial design through an excellent art programme I attended for 14-16 year olds who were destined to apply for art college after high school. I really loved this discipline although I later chose graphic design as my major study. That said, the interfaces between ourselves and everything we feel on a sensory level is at our fingertips to embrace and beautify (or destroy, depending on your leanings!)

You’ll need plenty of movement around your studio equipment and workbench, with access to storage and tools, and ample space for air to circulate. Many artistic endeavours include the handling of potential toxins, which need to be extracted from of the air and replaced with good air to create an atmosphere for living creatures!

‘Before’ photo showing the environment with the welding carpet; spot all the combustible fixtures and furniture that I later removed!

The floor space must be as non combustible as possible. I used a product from the welding community to cover a 3m2 floor space. Consider what would happen if molten glass fell on your floor for some unforeseen reason! The surface should allow you time to act quickly to avoid a fire…The same should be applied to the workbench, storage units, tables, chairs, etc. I opted for stainless steel furniture and storage, which can look rather clinical!

I installed metal blinds, metal lamps with daylight spectrum bulbs (these bulbs have lovely light for working with coloured glass in the day and night) and used metal clips and clamps where needed. Paper and other combustibles are kept away from the kiln area.

Whilst on the subject of fire and burn equipment, it should be obvious that ABC fire extinguishers should be readily available, along with a first aid kit for burns and cuts, etc.

Think about your flame configuration

Your torch is going to use either piped fuel and air from the environment or piped fuel and piped oxygen, depending on your requirements to attain the right heat and control for your lampworking. I have listed the more common fuel approaches, and its useful to be aware of what options there are before you purchase the torch.

Many countries have regulations and guidelines for the active use and storage of fuel gas in the home and commercial workplaces, which includes the maximum size of tanks you can utilise. It can be quite an eye-opener to read these (and compare how countries differ!). If the regulations are not clear, then make more enquiries and read as much as you can about how fuel gas works. You are the master of your gas installation so it needs to be under your control! In my humble opinion, a glass artisan must have as much knowledge as possible to be in complete confidence in his/her tools.

Once you know your gas and torch can be installed in your studio environment then you might want to seek the services of a gas engineer to set you up and/or regularly check out your configuration. Daily leak testing and regular maintenance comes as part of the ownership of such equipment, and luckily there are plenty of sources on the internet on how to do this.

  • Air and fuel gas mixes [1] :
  • Methylacetylene-propadiene propane (the familiar MAPP gas is the trademarked product that is now no longer produced…. only substitutes are available)
  • Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)-propylene (replaced MAPP gas and is useful for fuel/air torches (as opposed to fuel/oxygen torches))

From what my research has shown, these kinds of gases are available in cannisters (in very small sizes to serve a few days usage only) and are mostly used by plumbers, DIYers, hobbyists… for brazing and soldering, jewelry and metal-smithing, etc. Hence, they are known to be used domestically and temporarily. However, read the regulations of your country for usage and storage, and make sure you know how to recycle the cannisters when they are finished!

Oxygen and fuel piping to torch

  • Oxygen concentrator

    Oxygen and Propane [2] is the most common configuration in lampworking now, and piped oxygen is more likely to be sourced from an oxygen-concentrator or generator than a oxygen tank these days, but again it depends on your requirements and personal preferences.

Domestic LPG plants can also be configured by a gas engineer to pipe LPG into your studio space, with a dedicated pipe to your torch. In some countries, this kind of piping must meet certain ‘fixed pipe’ regulations, as opposed to ‘temporary’ pipe regulations.

Propane gases are available in cannisters and tanks of varying sizes from 1lb cannisters (16.4oz = 464.93218g = 1lb 0.40 ounces) through to 20 lb tanks and bigger. These are available in DIY stores, fuel stations, gas suppliers, etc. It’s important to know the regulations of your country for usage and storage, and again, make sure you know how to recycle them when they are finished!

Where propane can be used indoors for temporary usage, the general consensus for safe management is to stick to using a <=1lb size cannister of propane for the torch and store it outside, along with one other cannister as backup. This kind of gas usage can lead to recycling issues of the cannisters, however, some countries are lucky enough to have suppliers who provide refillable 1lb cannisters for propane.

Connected tank to torch piping: POL to KLF adaptor, regulator, flashback arrestor and fuel pipe hosing (left to right)

I highly recommend reading as much as you can on propane gas on the forums [3] – I found a few sites very useful when I decided my original working environment was NOT suitable for lampworking, such as the articles written on the Mike Aurelius website.

  • Oxygen and Natural Gas [see footnote 2 as some of these torches are suitable for the Natural Gas configuration]. Domestic-use piped gas can also be configured to provide a dedicated fuel source to your torch. Your local gas engineer should be able to advise you on this as a possible solution.
  • From what I’ve read on several glass forums [3], it is possible to use premium grade butane gas depending on your requirements for the heat and control in lampworking. I have used a butane lighter (and a candle!) for bending 1mm stringers and it does this pretty well – the glass can get sooty as it softens (but this washes off) and I use my fume extractor to handle the sooty flame whilst melting. Having worked with the propane flame, the butane flame is not an experience I would want to pursue for 4+ hours. However, it depends on your requirements and what gases are available to you in your country… There are many lampworkers using butane successfully and sharing their experiences on forums.

Avoid rusty propane tanks, like this one offered at a petrol station in Belgium!

Whatever gas options you choose, refer to the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the product you buy. These usually contain everything from chemical content, handling and storage information, and emergency advice. Here I found a useful fuel comparison chart.

As for lighting the torch, avoid anything hanging about the workbench that could become an unwanted flame like a box of matches or a flammable fuel lighter. The spark lighters or piezo lighters are considered more safe for this purpose.

And don’t forget the special safety glasses required for glass working. Choose the right lens grade for the type of glass you work with.

Think about the fume extraction!

Manipulating molten glass comes with a number of considerations you need to make for extracting harmful or nuisance substances as you work. Burning fuels at the torch produces “carbon dioxide, water, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, as well as trace amounts of unburned fuel and other contaminants” (extract from [4]), and, some processes like fuming glass with metals or using glass powders, for example, also need particular attention for safety.

Kiln and fibres (the kiln is used to anneal glass; this one has a bead door to make it easier to easily pop in the mandrels as you work)

Fibres and particles, including those related to kilns and kiln furniture, should also be carefully handled (see [4]) for more information on safety/hazards, and read the manuals for your equipment and materials] . I use particle/dust protection masks, safety glasses and gloves wherever possible, as well as routinely keep my workspace as clean as possible from dust and mess!

Fume extraction equipment and ventilation need to be designed when you begin sketching the workspace. There is much to consider for the right ducting, piping, extracting fans, filtering…. so where do you start!?  I read this forum article and took it from there. If you really need help, people recommend contacting your warm glass supplier for advice.

In my studio, I opted for a very large working space with windows and good air flow, purchased a portable fume extractor from the welding community and special hosing and attachments from the car racing engineering community. The hose can be bent towards the source for direct extraction. This extractor also has a clean air filter that pumps out air that is cleaner than the air it first sucked in. This approach was the most expensive part of my budget, even more so than the kiln I bought, but its paying off because I feel pretty good working in my studio. Gas detectors also should be installed in every building as a matter of alarm protection.

Have good clean fun!

  1. Read more on Hot Head torch and the Conkinect torch
  2. Read more on: GTT torches, Nortel torches, Bethlehem torches, National Torch  and Arnold Gruppe torches
  3. Forums: WetCanvas, Verre et Perles au Chalumeau, Frit-Happens, LampworkEtc, Hot Glass, The Melting Pot
  4. Read the ISGB safety guide

Originally published: Saturday, November 17th, 2012 at 16:25 in Atelier, Inspiration


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No tags for this item


You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


Security question * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

See also:

%d bloggers like this: