Anyone who has worked on more than one kind of lampworking torch knows that there is a world of difference between one torch and another. I though that a short history lesson about the kinds of torches they use on Murano and Venice would be interesting.
The name lampworking came from how the early beadmakers heated their glass. They used an amazing contraption that ran on lamp fuel and a foot bellows (note the photo of the antique lampworking station). The beadmaker would light the torch and intensify the flame by pumping air into the torch mouth to make the flame hotter. To me, this seems like an amazing act of coordination and I think all beadmakers should rejoice that we have such fine torches to pick from these days.
When I started going to Murano to buy glass, I went looking for other beadmakers in Venice and Murano and discovered that the beadmaking done by individuals was almost an underground way to make a living. Yes, there are a few beadmaking workshops, but these establishments are run by one person. The person running the shop does all the glass buying and selling of the beads that are made and the beadmakers under them do not get to decide what beads they want to make, but are told what to make and the designs are usually very traditional. These workshop beadmakers do not get to experiment or play around with color or new design.
There are torches that run on gas and oxygen on Murano and Venice, but in order to obtain bottled oxygen, you need a prescription from a doctor. The reason for this is so the government can track who is getting oxygen and this way they can find the underground beadmakers. The bottles of oxygen are very expensive and have to be delivered by a special boat with a crane. I have seen these kinds of boats delivering oxygen and it is a very big production to get a bottle of oxygen in Murano.
The way the beadmakers who don’t want to be found handle this problem, is to run their torches on natural gas and push air into the flame with an aquarium pump. This might seem impossible, but these artist stack up heat resistant bricks in front of their torches ( about 8 inches away) to produce a tiny alcove or baffle that bounces the heat back towards the torch flame tip to make that area hotter. They have to work slower, but this technique creates a unique atmosphere which allows them to work with glass rods that would boil in our hotter propane / oxygen torches. This is the kind of torch set up that they make murrini covered beads in because the heat is soft enough to not boil the glass.
I have seen many Italian made torches that use natural gas and oxygen. These torches produce a slightly softer flame than most of the torches used in the U.S. I have posted some photos of Italian studios; one is of Vittorio Costantini working on his Italian made torch and another of a boat that delivers oxygen. I have included two more photos of ventilation systems on Murano and one that shows how they use the heat wash of their torches to pre-heat their glass.