Carving Beads from Wood
I’ve made beads in one form or another most of my life. The media changes over time, so do the purposes for the beads. I don’t generally make beads for the sake of making beads. I make them to incorporate into other projects.
I’ve made beads out of paper, polymer clay, stoneware, wood, glass, and other stuff I don’t remember. These days, it’s mostly wood and glass, mostly in support of my pottery projects.
I make large wooden beads for bell clangers, light pulls and zipper pulls. Most are made on the lathe although lately I’ve been hand carving a few. It’s been a humiliating experience involving blood in all the wrong places. (The reason for band-aids in the wood shop isn’t always about keeping the wound clean. It’s more about keeping the work blood-free.) My first hand-carved beads aren’t necessarily what you’d call pretty. Pretty is overrated. I aim for interesting. I sometimes miss the mark. Maybe more than sometimes.
Here are my lessons learned for hand carving beads:
Beads are functional.
Unlike a lot of other woodcarvings, beads get used for stuff. Designs should take this into consideration. If bits of the carving would fall off if the bead is knocked around, it doesn’t belong on the bead. Beads often take a lot of abuse. Simple, shallow designs are often best.
Make sure your work is firmly anchored.
Mounting beads in a lathe is great for this if you have a locking headstock. Often I will turn the bead to its rough shape on the lathe, then carve details onto the surface. Once this is complete, I can cut it off for further finishing. (I frequently do the finish on the lathe as well for things like beads.) If you’ve a lathe, this is the way to go.
When a lathe is not available, I’ve made a little jig in which the bead blank mounts onto a drywall screw mounted on a thin board (mine is about 3/8 inch thick). You want the screw to be able to turn freely through the mounting board so you can sock your bead blank tightly against it. The drywall screws (inch and a quarter, #10, I think) worked well for a bead blank drilled with a 1/8 inch hole. For larger/smaller bead holes, you’ll have to adjust the screw size.