Creating Handmade Beads with Polymer Clay

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The most basic tools any jewelry artisan needs are:

Round Nose Pliers: Used to create loops with wire

Chain and Flat Nose Pliers: Used to bend wire, open jump rings and hold onto small objects

Wire Cutters: Flush cutters with a flat side are best to make clean cuts on wire. If you ever use steel wire, you will need memory-wire cutters

The above: Round Nose Pliers, Chain and Flat Nose Pliers and Wire Cutter are the bare basic tools for jewelry artisans and a must have. Other tools are needed for different kinds of projects, but to get started making jewelry these 3 tools are the very basics.

A ball pin hammer with a flat side and a rounded side is essential for flattening and to texture wire and metal.

If you want a more elaborate craft tool box for other hand crafts add:

a hole punch
craft knife
rubber stamps
cookie cutters
paintbrushes with soft synthetic fibers

Felting and Sewing Tools include:

foam sponge (preferably a dense foam felting sponge
felting needles
sewing and beading needles
large darning needles can be used to shape polymer clay

Additional tools for polymer clay bead making include:

a mini hacksaw to use for sawing wood and twigs
pin-vise drill which is a hand held mini drill used for making holes in soft materials such as wood and polymer clay
embossing heat tool
rotary tool, sanding bands, drill bit and a diamond drill
embossing heat tool
Styrofoam blocks
mold putty
leather spoon

If you desire to make beads from polymer clay, you will need in your toolbox:

pasta machine or clay conditioning machine
cutting blade
sculpting tool

Polymer clay is lightweight and is available in a large variety of colors. You can make some beautiful beads from lightweight polymer clay. Tip: Never work on a wood surface making polymer clay beads. Always work on glass, tile or plexiglass.

Working with polymer clay is somewhat like “playing with dough.” The first step is to condition the clay by rolling it over and over and pinching it. Fold it, pinch it, fold it, pinch it.

Baking Tips:

Always follow the manufacturer (of your clay) instructions.
Use an oven thermometer
Monitor baking time carefully

Be aware that polymer clay releases noxious fumes when baking.

Tip for using your kitchen oven to bake polymer clay:

Cover them tightly with a foil tent
Place a piece of paper on bottom of pan to prevent shiny spots from appearing on your finished beads
Never use kitchen utensils for working with polymer clay as it will make them unusable for regular food preparations later.

Correct storage for polymer clay is:

A cool, dry place wrapped in baggies or waxed paper

Tips for making small beads from polymer clay:

Air-dry the clay for a ceramic look finish
Air drying also makes small beads last longer

Conditioning the clay before use releases the moisture necessary to form your beads and also provides a smoother finish. Be sure to pinch off just a small amount at a time to work with and leave the rest of the polymer clay sealed tight in a baggie.

A few basic types of beads you can create with polymer clay are:

Sgraffito Beads: These beads get their name from a pottery-decoration-technique called “Sgraffito.” The finished result is a painted surface carved away to reveal a design.

Obre Beads: To make the Obre effect, use the Skinner Blend Technique first developed by Judith Skinner. The Skinner Blend is a color graduation. You can use every color in the rainbow, and it makes a perfect Obre effect without too much fuss.

You can also make faceted and deco beads using polymer clay.

For further reading about making beads with polymer clay check out the book written by Heather Powers entitled: “Bead Making Lab 52,” published by Quarto Publishing Group, USA 2016. She includes many, many illustrations, step by step instructions and photos.

In her book, the number 52 stands for “52 explorations for crafting beads, from polymer clay, plastic, paper, stone, wood, fiber, and wire.”

Reference used: Bead Making Lab 52, by Heather Powers

Article written by: Connie Limon, Bead Jewelry Artisan

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