Consistency is key - that's what they say, isn't it? But it's actually pretty hard to make beads one after another at the torch flame that are exactly the same size as each other. I won't ever sit down to make *just* a pair of size-matched spacer beads. Just two beads. And have them match!
After all, working with glass rods in a flame is unpredictable! I find I am making micro-adjustments all of the time, for a number of reasons:
- The glass rod is becoming shorter
- The bead-in-progress is getting bigger
- ...and many other things
The bead-in-progress looks bigger when it's molten than when it's a little cooler, finished, firm and heading for the kiln to anneal. Its precise size at any given moment varies and is therefore difficult to estimate - hot things are bigger than cooler things, right?
Particularly with smaller beads, a tiny tiny difference in actual measurements makes a very visible difference to the size of the bead itself - a 9mm spacer bead looks vastly smaller than a 10mm one, for instance!
So, how do we get round that issue of sizing, and specifically size-matching?
I find that during any making session, I settle into a fairly narrow size range in terms of the beads I'm producing. Muscle memory, habit and many years of practice all mean that I'm fairly tuned-in to sizing, but despite this there will inevitably be differences from bead to bead. Rather than sitting down at the torch and knowing I am making beads that are specifically and utterly and 100% precisely 12mm in diameter (which is not possible - I am not a robot!), I know instead that the beads I am making in that session are within a range of sizes, varying from 11mm to 13mm, or from 14mm to 16mm, or in the case of many of my spacer beads, waaaaay smaller, like 6mm to 8mm.
Once the beads are made, annealed and off their mandrels, I spend a great deal of time size-matching my work. I string most of my sets of beads in tapering size order, with the largest bead of the bunch in the middle, graduating to the smallest. And for my tapering sets I always, always, always size-match them in pairs. The centre bead is obviously a single, the two either size of the centre bead make up a size-matched pair, the next two are likewise, and so on. For my 'cocktail' sets, the size-distribution is random, but most of my work is size-matched.
And the best-kept secret to size-matching? Make LOTS of beads, and THEN match them up. Shhhhhh, don't tell anyone...