Long story short:
I use MAPP gas and a hothead torch (for now). I use soft glass rods by an Italian company called Moretti. The rods of glass are about pencil thickness, and about 10-13" long. The glass is melted in the flame, and once soft and pliable, it is wrapped around a mandrel. The mandrel is coated in a chalky paste like substance that keeps the glass from permanently sticking to the mandrel. A mandrel is a very narrow steel rod, there are various sizes (even ring size, haven't tried those yet). As long as the glass is kept warm, you can manipulate it into any shape and form you talent is capable of. Then your bead creation is placed into a ~950 degree kiln for at least 20 minutes. Cooled slowly and you have your bead.
Short story long:
The torch head was in my first kit, and they are very affordable. $45 for the Hothead, vs $160.00 for the Minor burner. Hothead uses one tank, the gas. The minor burner uses propane and oxygen tanks. And you need two regulators, it's quite pricey. But, the draw back for the Hothead is that it's noisy, and you can only make about 1/3 the beads as it's slower. Propane/oxygen is faster.
Why don't I have a Minor burner if it's faster? Well, when you fund your own supplies, and have to have the cash prior to purchasing, you buy what's most important first. I bought my kit with a credit card. Bought most of my glass with a credit card. Now I have a huge credit card bill, and that's not what this hobby was intended for. Not only do I love it, but I want to make some money too. So, when it was time to buy the second most important thing, the kiln, I decided I'd pay cash.
A kiln? you ask. A kiln is a controlled "oven" where I can anneal the beads. Annealing is important to glass structure. Wikipedia ( I think I love this site) defines it as: Glass is heated until the temperature reaches a stress-relief point, that is, the "annealing temperature" at which the glass is still too hard to deform, but is soft enough for the crystal structure of the material to flow together. The piece is then allowed to heat-soak until its temperature is even throughout. The time necessary for this varies depending on the type of glass and thickness of the thickest section.Glass is heated until the temperature reaches a stress-relief point, that is, the "annealing temperature" at which the glass is still too hard to deform, but is soft enough for the crystal structure of the material to flow together. The piece is then allowed to heat-soak until its temperature is even throughout. The time necessary for this varies depending on the type of glass and thickness of the thickest section. For more information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annealing_(glass.
Therefore, it was vastly important that I obtain a kiln as soon as possible, and after two year, I figures that time frame had long elapsed. After all, if I was selling glass as art, under my name, I certainly don't want someone dropping their bead and having it shatter.
So, I set out to earn the money myself. But to do that I needed to first-get rid of some of the bead stock I'd already built up. And second-find some way to do that. The Internet was the obvious choice: vast audience, open 24 hours a day. But a website would cost me over $20.00 a month, and for that, I might as well just charge the damn kiln.
Luckily, in one of my Saturday morning ventures surfing the net. I came across a great website, owned by a VERY talented bead artist. Lori, at http://www.loribeads.com/, and one day, while perusing (ha, through in another big word) her site, I saw this link: http://www.loribeads.etsy.com/. Well, now why would someone need TWO sites? I'll have to go check it out. By the way, you should check out Lori's site too, she's pretty darn funny.
And I found ETSY, a website to buy and sell all things handmade. Go check it out, http://www.etsy.com/. It's just like Ebay only better. It's way more affordable, and your items will stay in your shop for four months, vs the 7 days on ebay. The people on ETSY will pay what your products are worth, and the site is very user friendly. And they have cool stuff like my ETSY mini, that shows my products to the right of my page.
A couple of my popular beads are showing.