I'm gonna drop some knowledge on you all......
1. Torches - there are two classes of lampwork torches. The cheap and the crazy expensive. The cheap includes the HotHead torch and Fireworks Torch. Don't use the Fireworks torch. It sucks. it is what I started with (cause I was given a kit as a gift). The Hothead is awesome. You screw a bottle of MAPP gas onto the torch and turn it on. The crazy expensive torches start at 4 or 5 hundred dollars and go up to thousands. You can only use soft glass in the HotHead but you can use hard glass in the crazy expensive torches. Also, the expensive torches are really complicated. They use two different gases: oxygen and propane. There are regulators and hoses and all kinds of crap.
2. Soft vs. Hard Glass - Glass for lampworking is either hard or soft. Soft glass melts at a lower temp. but expands a lot more when melted. When glass expands and contracts, stress develops. That means that the glass is more fragile. When you make a lampwork bead with soft glass you have to make sure that it stays hot while working or it wil crack right it front of your eyes. Hard glass doesn't expand nearly as much, so you can keep it out of the flame a lot longer and do more. Also, with soft glass, you have to make sure it cools very slowly after you are done, or it wil crack. I use vermiculite (for gardening). I put it in a crock pot and heat it for 30 minutes. The vermiculite holds heat, so when you put the bead in it, it cools off very slowly. Soft glass has a COE (coefficient of expansion) of about 96. Hard glass has a COE of about 128.
3. Other needful things - You need to attach the torch to a table or something to hold it steady while working. You need an L bracket screwed to the table. Here is a link to Delphi, who sells lampworking materials. http://www.delphiglass.com/index.cfm?itemsysid=150298&page=itemView
There are pics of the torch. You will need mandrels, the metal rods that you make the bead on. Bead release, in which you dip the mandrels so that they will come off the mandrel. Glass rods. Glass rods cost anywhere from 80 cents to like 4 bucks each, depending on the color of glass and if does certian things. (Like reduction glass turns metallic when heated a certain way and striking glass changes colors when heated).
4. Kits - There are kits for sale which will give you everything you need to start. I was given a Fireworks kit for christmas in 2004. Like i mentioned earlier, the Fireworks torch sucks. Thats my opinion, but it is one which is shared by a lot of peple. I would definetly buy a Hothead kit if I starting out now. In fact, I have a HotHead, and a minor bench burner torch (one of the expensive torches that uses two different kinds of gases), but I have never set up the minor bench burner. I got it as a gift from my dad, but I could never afford to go buy the tanks of oxygen and propane. They cost a couple hundred bucks. The HotHead uses a little tank of MAPP gas which is like 8 bucks. It only lasts about 4 hours, but hey, thats good enough for me.
5. Learning - You can either take a classes or learn on your own. I learned on my own. My kit came with 2 pages of instructions (which really sucked) but I just screwed around until I figured things out. Then, about 5 months into it, I discovered Cindy Jenkins book, "Making Glass Beads." If you are going to learn on your own, buy that book. It explains everything. I don;t have much advice on classes cause I never took one. I don't do well in classes like that. Anyway, I live in Austin and there is a bead store here that offers classes. Lampworking is pretty popular, if you are in a big cityyou should have no problem finding a class. i don't know how much they cost??
6. Internet - before I bought Cindy Jenkins book, I spent hours a day on lline learning stuff about lampworking. There is so much out there.
7. Awesome lampworkers - I am a baby when it comes to lampworking. Part of that is cause I started in March of 05 and had to take months off at a time to study for the bar exam. Also, I use a HotHead. Lampworkers that use the expensive torches amazing things that just aren't possible on the HotHead. But, lest you all think I am like a professional, I am going to add a few links here to lampworkers I think are amazing.
Smart Ass Glass - Sharon Peters is my hero: http://smartassglass.com/
Glass Artists.org - everything about glass - I'm going to put a link to the lampworking section - http://www.glassartists.org/Gct9_Glass_Beads.asp
Caswell Beads - the best cat beads ever - http://www.caswellstudios.com/lampwork_beads/1.html
Actually, thats it. I'm tired of writing now, and I am afraid this post is too long. Good luck everyone!!