Learn To Bead

At Land of Odds / Be Dazzled Beads – Beads, Jewelry Findings, and More


Start Your Bead and Jewelry Making Education Here

Instructor: Warren Feld

is a series of 18 video tutorials with over 5 1/2 hours of introductory materials about all types of beads, metals, clasps and stringing materials for the beader and jewelry maker.

View these online.

This entire Orientation series is also
available for purchase on DVD.




Teaching Jewelry Making – 3 Approaches


Learn To Bead Blog…At Land of Odds
Over the years, I’ve found that people who bead and make jewelry have not necessarily learned how to make the best choices, when it comes to decide what beads, clasps, other findings, and stringing materials to include, and what Not to include, in a piece. People do not understand quality issues. They are often uninformed about workable materials and strategies to make their pieces more durable, more drape-able, and better able to move with the person as the jewelry is worn.

At The Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts and Land of Odds, we developed a curriculum that took a design approach concerned with teaching people how to make these kinds of choices. Everyone in our curriculum begins with this Orientation to Beads and Jewelry Findings class. We offer this opportunity for you, as well.

Before getting into the details about quality of beads, metals and the like, I always like to begin with some history.

Some History

Beads Are Used in Many Different Ways

    1. As money

For some reason, beads have some kind of intrinsic value that people can often come to an agreement on the value of beads. In some countries, people have more confidence in using the beads as their money, instead of their own coins and currency.

    2. In trade
This is more true historically, than today, but a little bit today. When two groups want to trade with each other, it’s hard to come to terms. Because people seem to be able to come to terms on the value of beads, beads were often used as part of the negotiation process.
When you go back 300, 400, and 500 years, and you had European explorers set out from different European countries, and went to China, India and Africa, North and South America, they brought with them “trade beads”. At first, they didn’t trade them. They gave them away as gifts. But when they arrived at these various and new places, the people there liked the glass beads. So the traders stopped giving them away, and started trading them.

Trade beads were glass beads. They were made in Venice, Bohemia and The Netherlands. People in Europe at that time looked down on glass beads. Glass was trash. They would never, ever use glass beads in jewelry. They primarily used the glass beads in tapestry projects where they could get a more 3-dimensional effect with the glass, than with the fibers.

When the explorers arrived in North America, the first things the Indians here wanted were blue beads, because they couldn’t make the color blue with the natural materials they were using. The explorers were especially happy about this because blue is the cheapest color to make. After awhile, however, the Indians met their needs for blue and started asking for yellow and red. It takes real gold to make the colors yellow and red. So the trading got a lot tighter.

    3. For power
People with the more beads have the more power. And in beading, you learn this very quickly.
About 400 years ago, among the Ogalala Sioux Indians in the Dakotas, there was a big womens movement. The women wanted more control over tribal matters, they saw an opportunity to assert themselves, and they won. And this whole event was oriented around beads.

So, about 400 years ago, you had French traders work their way across Canada, and down into the Dakotas. They brought with them these trade beads, and they traded them for pelts.

One of the major roles of women in Indian tribes was to make beads. They’d spend all day every day making beads out of stone and shell and antler and wood. When these French traders came with these pre-made beads, it freed up a lot of time. These women took advantage of that time.

One of the things they did to show that they won is they changed the costuming of the men. Before the movement, the men wore bead-embroidered strips down the full length of their sleeves (shoulder to wrist). After the movement, these strips were only tacked down halfway (shoulder to elbow). So when the men went off to war or hunting or whatever they did, they wore the mark of the women, because the ribbons would flow.

    4. For adornment
Sometimes beads are used just to make someone more beautiful. Among the Ndebele tribes in South Africa — these are women, you probably know, who wear metal plates to stretch their necks. They developed a very beautiful stitch called the Ndebele stitch. The only reason was to make themselves more beautiful.
Here is an example of the Ndebele Stitch.
    5. For religious and spiritual reasons
Sometimes beads are used for religious and spiritual reasons. You can picture a rosary in the Catholic church. By touching and moving your fingers down this bead chain, it helps people feel closer to God, and to remember the rituals. In Buddhism, they use something like a rosary. In Confucianism in China, they use something like a rosary called Immortal Beads.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, only priests were allowed to wear rosaries and have beaded adornments. They had their parishioners make them rosaries and beaded this and beaded that. After awhile, the priests with the more rosaries, and the more elaborate rosaries, had higher status. And the priests kept accumulating, and accumulating and accumulating.

At one point, one of the Popes felt very threatened, because the priests were getting as adorned as he was. So he issued an edict, that said everyone could wear rosaries and have beaded adornments.

So the fact that you can wear beaded jewelry today, instead of making them for your minister or pastor or whatever, goes back to the insecurity of one of those Popes.

    6. As symbols for communication
Sometimes different colors have different meanings and different patterns have different meanings. Or they serve as special symbols.
Among the Zulu tribes in South African during colonialism and Apartheid, you had some tribes that adopted Christianity and identified with the colonialists, and you had others that did not. Among the tribes that did not, they developed a very elaborate communication system using beads.

Besides what colors were next to each other, these tribes used a lot of triangles in their patterns. It was important whether the triangle faced up or down, and again, what color it was.

So they might go home at night, and do a beaded hat, or a beaded doll, or a necklace, or shirt, or loin-cloth, or blanket — something beaded. They’d come out during the day, and flash it. It might say something very general, like “I’m mad at the world today.”

Or it might say something very specific, like “I’d like to get together with you after 8, but not before I’ve met with your brother.”

These tribes kept up this communication system all during colonialism and Apartheid — 50, 60 years. When Apartheid ended, no one carried on the tradition.

Today, Zulu beadwork is very fashionable, particularly in Europe. But no one knows what they’re saying. They’re just doing pretty patterns.

Beading in the United States Today
A Social Movement Dating Back to the 1960s

Beading in America today is also part of a social movement that started around 1960. In 1960, two new stringing materials were developed and adapted by fine craftsmen.

The first was called NYMO thread. Nymo was developed by the shoe industry to attach the bottom of your shoe to the top of your shoe. It is widely used in upholstery.

The second was called TIGER TAIL. Tiger tail is a nylon coated flexible, cable wire. Cable wires are wires that are braided together and encased in nylon.

Before 1960, people strung things either on silk or cotton thread, or on nylon fishing line. Silk and cotton naturally deteriorate in 3-5 years. Fishing line cracks easily in ultraviolet light and heat.

So before 1960, there really was not a durable stringing material. And beading, for the most part historically, was just a home craft. Beading did not attract fine craftsmen. Did not attract artists. Did not attract academics. Did not encourage people to explore and push the envelop with the craft.

Now, when you look at beading historically, you occasionally do see some elaborate beadwork. Usually, when you see this historically, the beadwork was done by people who were slaves or serfs or indentured servants. You see French beaded purses in the 1920s. France passed labor laws in the 1930s, and there are no more beaded purses. You see Russian bead embroidery in the 1800s. They deposed the czar, and there is a dramatic decline in Russian bead embroidery.

A rational person is not going to spend all this money on beads, and spend all this time making something, if it is going to fall apart.

So, it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that there were some alternatives, and they were discovered and adapted by fine craftsmen. This movement started in Southern California, and slowly worked its way across the company.

The fact that you can get excited about beads today, even thinking about selling things — forty years ago, you would not have had those thoughts. You would have looked down on beading.

Beading has a very different dynamic than other crafts, because it is very new to being considered an art form.

Not All Beads Are Alike

Beads are made in many countries around the world, but few are made in the United States. Making beads is a difficult task. Bead-making is often done by workers who are exploited in some way, and this is a reality of the craft.

Not all beads are useful for all projects. Beads come in all levels of quality and sophistication. Knowing which beads to select for your project, given your design and/or marketing goals, is a key skill every beader needs to learn.

The easiest ways to know a lot about the quality of a bead (or other jewelry part or finding) is to know what country it has been made in.

With globalization, we don’t necessarily know where things have actually been manufactured. We go with what it says on the label. Some Austrian crystal is made in China. If the label says “Austrian” we attribute higher qualities to the product; if the label says “China”, we attribute lower qualities associated with Chinese crystal.

Some beads will pass through several countries before they end up on the shelf. One country may make the core bead. Another country may do some finishing or shaping. Any country may add a coloration effect. Still another country may string them up into masses. All this before it ends up on the retail shelf of your local bead store.


Let’s start with glass beads, and the larger kind which you buy individually or on a strand. These typically would be 4mm and larger in size.

Let’s focus on some 6mm round beads, and pretend they are made in different countries, to give you a sense of what “quality” means.

We’ll start with the Czech Republic.


The Czech Republic is your major source of these “larger” glass beads for jewelry making purposes.

A lot of times, I’m going to qualify things as “for jewelry making purposes”. All jewelry moves when worn. This puts a lot of force on each individual component. You need to use higher quality pieces for jewelry, than you would for something stationery, like a beaded Christmas ornament.

I’m going to give this Czech glass a grade of “B”. We would consider the price to be above average.

These beads are:
Generally perfectly round
The beads are not perfectly round, just close.

The beads on a strand are similar in size and shape.
They are not exactly the same size and shape, just close.

The beads have a good size hole

The hole from bead to bead pretty much the same size

These holes would be called “Generally Smooth”
“Generally Smooth” is a marketing term. The hole of a bead is actually quite rough. The hole of a bead looks like a broken Coke bottle. If I took a Coke bottle and smashed it against the edge of a table, the resulting jagged rim — that would be called Generally Smooth. They can get away with marketing because your eye can’t see it. But you always have to be concerned about the holes of your beads cutting your stringing material.

The Czechs use colored glass in the manufacturing process.
If your bead scratched or chipped, it would be the same color on the inside.


Another major source of what we’re calling large glass beads is Japan. I’d give these a grade of A These beads would cost about 3-5 times that of the Czech beads.

These beads are:
Generally perfectly round
Beads on a strand similar in size and shape
Good size hole
Hole from bead to bead pretty much the same size
Holes would be called “Smooth”
And you are primarily paying for a smoother hole.
Use colored glass


A third major source of larger glass beads is China. In China, I’d give these beads a grade of D or F. These beads would be 1/2 or less in cost than the Czech beads.

These beads would be:
Generally perfectly round
Beads on a strand similar in size and shape
Good size hole
Hole from bead to bead pretty much the same size
Holes would be called “Generally Smooth”
…meaning they look like a broken Coke bottle.
Tend to use clear glass and colored coatings

The Chinese tend to use clear beads with colored coatings. These coatings are not well-applied, and chip off easily. Your beads end up looking like chipped nail polish.
Recently, the Czechs have been using coatings, as well. The coatings are better applied. Their goal is to achieve unusual color effects that they can’t create with glass alone.

[NOTE: The best gemstone beads come from China. China gets A+ for gemstones. ]


A last major source of larger glass beads is India. In India, I’d give them a grade of F—— . The India glass would be a fraction of the cost of the Czech beads.

These beads would be:
Not perfectly round
Beads on a strand Not similar in size and shape
Some holes OK, some too small, some too large
Hole from bead to bead varies widely
Holes would be called “Rough”
They can’t get away with marketing, because your eye can see how rough the holes are.
Traditionally uses colored glass, but is experimenting with coatings and decals like Chinese to keep the costs down

Choosing Which Large Glass Beads To Use

Now this doesn’t mean that you don’t use Indian and Chinese glass beads, and only Czech and Japanese glass beads. You always pick your bead based on what you are trying to do.

If you are making fashion jewelry that is only going to be worn once or twice, then your India glass would be your best choice. Not only are they cheap, but the irregularities make them look funky. And funky goes hand-in-hand with fashion jewelry.

The Chinese beads would be OK because they are cheap. But there is nothing funky about them. They look very machine made.

If you are making an heirloom bracelet that is going to be worn alot, put away, given to a granddaughter or niece, and that person is not going to wear it, then your Czech beads would be your best choice.

If you are making an heirloom bracelet that is worn alot, put away, given to a granddaughter or nice, and that person is going to wear it, then from a design standpoint, your Japanese bead would be your best choice. If you are selling these things, however, you’ll probably have to back down to your Czech bead.

I can have an heirloom bracelet done with Czech beads side by side with one done with Japanese beads. The Czech one might sell for $100.00. The Japanese one might sell for $400.00. “$400.00” is a hard sell. To your customer, both bracelets would look exactly alike. And the things that are different are either things they can’t see, or things that may not happen for 30 or 40 years.

So, basically, in beading, there is no perfect bead for every situation. No perfect clasp. No perfect stringing material. Everything involves making choices and tradeoffs and judgment calls.
The more you understand the quality of the pieces you are using, and the clearer you are about your design goals, (and, if you are selling things, your marketing goals as well), the more prepared you’ll be to make these kinds of choices.

Making Beads

    Pressed Glass

There are many ways to make glass beads by machine. The major way is called “Pressed Glass” — basically molding them.

To oversimplify this, to make a round bead in pressed glass, you would take two half cups, fill them with molten glass, and PRESS them together.

Where they’ve been pressed together, this sometimes leaves a seamed ridge or a color change. You see this, if it’s there, along what would be the equator of the bead. With the ridge, they tumble the beads to smooth it out, but they’re not always 100% successful. With the color change, on some beads it looks like a natural part of the bead’s coloration. On other beads, however, it’s hideous.

Whenever you buy a strand of beads, be sure to look at all the beads on the strand to be sure you can live with what you are buying.


There are many ways to make glass beads by hand. The major way is called Lampworking.

It’s called “Lampworking” because these beads were originally made over lamp flames. Another name for this is called “wound glass”, because you are winding glass around a steel rod, using the flame to soften the glass.

I don’t know if you have ever seen someone make glass beads by hand. I’ll try to describe this.

You have an artist who sits at a work table. He is sitting in front of a torch, with the flame shooting out away from him. He takes a steel rod called a mandrel. The thickness of this rod determines the size of the hole of the bead. He holds the mandrel on either end with his thumb and two forefingers on each hand, and turns and continually rotates the mandrel using the thumbs and fingers on both hands. The flame is shooting out over the middle of the mandrel.

Surrounding him are rods of different colors of glass. He usually starts with a clear rod. He holds the rod at the flame and above the mandrel, dripping the glass onto the mandrel. Now if he stops turning the mandrel, or takes it too far from the flame, the glass at this point is like water, and it will fall to the table. So he pretty much as to keep turning. To make a fairly simple bead, about 1/2″ in diameter and with a little decoration, could easily take 40 minutes.

The artist might then take a blue rod of glass, and melt a dot of blue onto the bead. And keep turning. The artist then grabs what looks like a dental tool. He stops turning a second, and uses this tool to pull on the blue. This is called “raking”. He’ll turn some more, then stop for a short moment to rake some more. This is how you start to do a pattern of picture.

When the artist has the bead built up the way he wants, he then puts the mandrel with the bead on it into a hot kiln, and lets the bead cool, usually overnight.

Note: It’s important with lampwork beads that the outside of the glass and the inside of the glass cool down at the same rate. Otherwise the glass fractures, and the beads will break. They may break in the kiln. They may break when you take them out of the kiln. They make take a week, a month, or even a year before they break, but they will break.

Lampwork beads are made in countries all over the world. On the high end are lampwork beads made in the United States and various European countries. On the low end are lampwork beads made in India, China, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

With lampworking, pricewise, it’s either low end or high end, nothing in between. The lampwork beads from India are very inexpensive. They don’t worry about the cooling down process (annealing) and there are a few other craftsmanship issues. All the beads from India, thus, will crack, chip and break easily. The lampwork beads from India are copies of famous lampwork beads done in Venice, Italy. A bead from India might retail for $2.00, and it’s Venice counterpart might retail for $20.00.

I had someone take our Orientation class at The Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts in Nashville. She had lived in Venice for awhile. She said a lot of the things sold in souvenir stores there and labeled “Venetian” actually came from India. There’s a real easy test. If I take the bead from India and drop it on the floor, it will break. If I take the bead from Venice on the floor, it may or may not chip. Great test!#@%&

Lampwork beads, also low-end, from China, Taiwan and Indonesia are nice, in that they copy more American styles, rather than the Old World styles of the India/Venetian glass. But there are the same cooling down and other craftsmanship issues, so these beads also crack, chip and break easily.

So, as a designer, if you want a handmade look, you have some difficult choices. If someone wants a handmade look necklace, and they will only wear it occasionally over the next year or two, then your India beads are fine. If someone wants a more investment quality piece, most people cannot afford a whole necklace made up of quality lampwork beads. You’re looking at $600-800.00. So, typically, you would just use one or perhaps three quality lampwork beads, and have a lot of cord showing, or a lot of filler beads.

Druks and Fire Polish Beads

I want to give you a couple of names for beads.

Most larger glass beads can be sorted into one of two groups: druks or fire polish.

Druk means plain, smooth, roundish. Not necessarily just round. Roundish. You can have a round druk, or a druk rondelle (saucer shape). If you are looking for a plain jane kind of bead, usually the word “druk” will get you the furthest.

Fire polish beads have at least one slice or facet on it. Whether coming out of a mold and ground into shape, or hand cut, the faceted surface and edges can be splintery and sharp. So before these glass beads can be used, these surfaces and edges need to be smoothed out. One way this is done is to run the bead back and forth in a flame, thus “fire-polishing”.

So you can have a round fire polish bead, a teardrop fire polish bead, an oval fire polish bead, an 8-sided fire polish bead.

Some beads that you find will have a rainbow effect on one side of the bead. This sometimes looks like an oil slick. The effect or finish is called an AB effect. AB stands for Aurora Borealis. This effect appears on just one side of the bead – it doesn’t go all the way around.

There are many ways to make this effect, and most tend to be expensive. You’ll find manufacturers continually seeking to find less expensive methods.

To oversimplify the general process, you start with a plain bead. You dip it in a chemical, and put it in a flame or hot sand bath — some source of heat and pressure. The chemical explodes on the glass, it adheres to the glass, and creates a certain coloration.

Over time, the effect will begin to show scratches and eventually wear off. On most quality beads, the effect lasts a long time. On some quality beads, there are some surprises. So, if this effect is critical to your piece, you’ll want to take one bead, and see how easy it is to scratch off. On some Chinese beads, I think they spray the effect on, because I can flick it off with my fingernails.

They do make the effect where it goes all the way around the bead. To do this, they have to take the beads with the effect on one side, reposition them, and apply the chemical and the heat and pressure. When the effect goes all the way around, the color is called AB AB. So if we were using color names for black beads, we would have:

jet (no effect)
jet AB (effect on one side)
jet AB AB (effect all the way around)

There are over 50 different color effects.  For example:

They come out with new ones frequently. But most often you only find the AB effect.

Crystal Beads

Crystal is glass with lead in it. The more lead you put into the glass, the brighter the glass is. If you looked at glass under a microscope, it would look like a sponge. Basically, anything you put into glass, whether a dye or lead, will leach out when the glass gets wet, through washing or sweating.

Lead causes health effects. The environment in the US today is very clean, so the risk here is minimal. Lead poisoning occurs when the lead level in your body reaches a certain threshold. In terms of jewelry, lead gets into the body two ways. The major way is through the mouth. People either put jewelry in their mouth, or they touch their jewelry with their fingers and put their fingers in their mouth. The other way lead gets into the body is through the skin. It’s absorbed through the skin.

They began regulating the amount of lead in crystal around 1970. They didn’t take most of it out at once. They’ve been gradually reducing it. And they can’t take it all out, because then there would be no glass crystal, and the world might fall apart.

It turns out, as you go back in time, there’s always more and more lead in crystal. The barrier to putting lead in crystal was the price of the lead, and lead always went up in price. So, there’s more lead in the 50’s than the 60’s. More in the 40’s than the 50’s, and so forth.

Today some products, like crystal or pewter, are allowed to be labled “lead-free”. “Lead-free” does not, unfortunately, mean free of lead. It means that the amount of lead that may leach out of the product is below the current international standard.

Crystal beads are very, very popular. They are more expensive than glass, but not that much more expensive. They are always in short supply. Always in high demand. The market for these beads is a little screwy. And this particular bead is one that many businesses actively try to scam their customers on.

I want to give you a sense of what those scams are, and what questions to ask.

    SCAM #1: Selling You New Stuff, But Labeling It As Old

The older the crystal, the more lead it has. Lead is what gives the crystal its brightness. So, the older crystal is much brighter and prettier. Older crystal also has some faceting and coloration effects that only recently have been matched or duplicated. But they can’t duplicate the brightness, because of restrictions on lead content. If you hold the old stuff up next to the new, all the new stuff would like like cheap plastic.

Most of the older crystal has all been collected up, so people are not used to seeing it. People are genuinely trusting, so it’s an easy scam.

So, you can go into jewelry stores, bead stores, antique stores, flea markets and on-line, and find new stuff labeled as old.

You are not going to carry around with you a chart that shows color brightness by year of manufacture. But there is a very easy test.

If someone says something is old — an old bag of beads, or an old piece of crystal jewelry — all you have to do is put your hand out straight in front of you, and tell them to put the beads in your hand. If the beads or jewelry are old, your hand will drop. You’re not used to how heavy things were. Even if they’re from 1970, your hand will drop. When you get back to the 1920’s, one bead will make your hand drop. Each bead is like a lead pellet. If your hand doesn’t drop, maybe the beads/jewelry aren’t as old as they say, or maybe they are new.

    SCAM #2: Selling You Stuff From A Country Other-Than-Austria, But Telling You It’s Austrian (Swarovski crystal)

Just like the druks and fire polish beads, crystal beads are made in lots of different countries. Knowing what country they come from tells you a lot about their quality. The scam is selling you product from a less valued country, and telling you it’s top of the line. They either tell you they are going to give you a discount on the top of the line, or they pocket the difference.

Austrian crystal is considered the top of the line. Austrian crystal is made by a company called Swarovski. Swarovski was the first company to make these, they have the best equipment, and again, viewed as top of the line. These are the most expensive.

Another major source of crystal beads is The Czech Republic. The Czech crystal runs around 10-15% less in cost than the Austrian. Some similarities and differences.

Both the Czechs and the Austrians use the highest amount of lead allowed at any one time. This makes their beads equally as bright.

The Austrians have a cultural preference for very sharp facets. The facets on these beads are so sharp that jewelry made with them can scratch the skin. The Czechs have a cultural preference for smoother facets. To the Czechs, smoother facets make them look more like real diamonds. To the Austrians, sharper facets make them look more like real diamonds. Americans see to prefer the sharper facets; they prefer the Austrians. In fact, in response to the American market, the Czech crystal has been evolving towards sharper facets.

Remember, it’s the lead that makes the beads so bright, not the faceting.

Swarovski begins with a more intense color palette, and they enhance this color intensity by re-shaping their beads a little bit. This is most obvious in the bicone shape. What the re-shaping does, it changes the way the light refracts through the glass, and this contributes to this color-intensifying effect as well.

So, you can look at a 4mm ruby AB bicone from Austrian and the same size and color bicone from The Czech Republic, and really have two very different beads. The beads would be equally as bright. The Czech beads would be slightly larger and more symmetrical than the Austrian. The Czech red would be less intense than the Austrian red.

You are not going to carry around with you a chart that shows you color intensity by country of manufacture. But the Austrian crystal will always be a little different size than advertised.

Say, you were coming into a store, like Be Dazzled Beads in Nashville, and you wanted to buy 4mm Austrian crystal bicones. However, you weren’t sure what you were buying. All you would have to do is pull off a strand of 4mm round druks off the wall, or ask to see some 4mm round sterling silver beads. If the 4mm crystal beads you were looking at were the same size as anything else that was 4mm, then they would not be Austrian. The Austrian will always be a little smaller.

Another way this plays out, I had a student take this Orientation class. She said she once went into a bead store she hadn’t been in before, to buy 5mm Austrian crystal bicones. The beads were smaller than 5mm, so she thought she was getting ripped off. She said she threw a temper tantrum, cursing out the store owner, and storming out the door. You see, it was the people she had been regularly buying these from that were ripping her off — their 5mm bicones were 5mm in size.

You’ll find stores and businesses selling Czech crystal but labeling it as Austrian. With Czech crystal, you are getting an equivalent product. The major issue for you is when two sources label their product “Austrian”, but one sends you Austrian and the other sends you Czech. You’ll find these don’t easily mix within the same piece.

One particularly nice thing about the Czech line, is that they have what I call “crayon” or “normal” colors. Even though Swarovski has hundreds of colors, it is still difficult to find normal red or normal green or normal blue. These are easy to find within the Czech line.

Another major source of crystal beads is China. In China, they use less lead. With less lead, it means the crystal beads will look cloudier. If I hold the Chinese crystal up next to Austrian crystal, this cloudiness is obvious. But if I don’t, it’s not. And when people sell you Chinese crystal, that’s their business, so it is displayed and merchandised in very attractive ways. And it’s very inexpensive. Chinese crystal runs about 1/3 the price of Austrian crystal.

Usually if I’m around, say at a bead show, and someone asks if they should buy Chinese crystal, I try to discourage them. It’s pretty (and very inexpensive) at point of sale, but when you take it home, you often have nothing to mix it with. You probably have Austrian crystal at home, and it’s too dull for that. And it’s too bright for glass.

You’ll find bead stores and online businesses that sell Chinese crystal and have it labeled as Austrian. Here you are purchasing an inferior product.

Let’s say that you understand the world. Let’s say that you are in the business of selling eye glass leashes. You have been using some Austrian crystals in your leashes, and selling them for $20.00. You have a brainstorm,…. If you substitute Chinese crystals for Austrian, you can sell your eyeglass leashes for $10.00, and you’ll become a millionaire.

Well, with this particular type of bead, people value the brightness so much, that this relationship based on cost doesn’t play out.

Say I had an eyeglass leash with Chinese crystals at $10.00 side-by-side with one with Austrian crystals at $20.00. I’ll actually sell more at $20.00. If I have my Chinese one alone, I won’t sell that many more based on a cost projection, because people come to the buying situation with an expectation about brightness. People shop around. They look at tennis bracelets at Macy’s and tennis bracelets at Wal-Mart and they know there’s a difference. They bring this understanding with them to the situation.

    SCAM #3: Selling You Grade “B” as Grade “A”

Some crystal comes “perfect” from the factory. Other crystal does not. There are different sources of crystal that you might call irregular or grade B. Someone might be cannibalizing old jewelry. You might have a store that has them in a tray where they’ve gotten bumped up over the years, and is selling out. Manufacturers and distributors may have had something go wrong, and automatically selling off this stock.

These beads are so bright, that it hurts the eyes to examine them for a long time for scratches and chips.

Usually when I see lower quality crystal sold as higher quality, the seller has put these beads on a strand. When crystal beads come to a store, they come loose in an envelop. If they are on a strand, I automatically ask why — this is a yellow flag.

A good reason to put them on a strand, is that they sell better on a strand. However, the price would usually reflect that extra effort.

If you are looking at crystal beads on a strand, and the price seems very inexpensive, I’d examine them more closely.

The reason that there are so many scams on this particular bead, is that it is easy to get away with. It’s easy to get away with because the market for these beads is a little screwy.

Over the years, there are been widespread shortages of certain colors. I remember times when Reds went unproduced for over 24 months, black was taken out of production for 8 months, and aqua shortages reined supreme. The pricing of these beads from Swarovski and other distributors does not necessarily relate to how many units were bought at one time. Not every color nor every style of bead is available everywhere. You might find something at a store on your vacation, that you cannot find when you get back home, either at a local store or an online seller. In the early 2000’s, Swarovski began a marketing strategy where it wanted to de-emphasize the Swarovski name. They began calling their beads “Crystallized Elements”. But so did their competitors from China, The Czech Republic and elsewhere. Now what is happening is that everyone is calling their line “Crystallized (something)”. More confusion.

You can go online to a website that makes you very uncomfortable. They might have a deal on crystal beads that’s too good to be true. It might be a good deal. But there are no good environmental or situational clues to help you with your purchase.

Seed Beads and Delicas

Very tiny beads are referred to as “Seed Beads”. Seed beads are typically woven together using needle and thread.

The basic shape of seed bead is what we call “roundish” or “squared round”. They are round in the middle and squared on the ends.

There are many other shapes in this family of seed beads, and these include:

Cuts or Hex Cuts (seed beads that are cut from a six-sided hexagonal tube, rather than from a smooth cylinder)
Charlottes and True Cuts (one-facet roundish seed beads)
Tri-Cuts (3 and more facets on roundish seed beads)
Bugles (tube shape)
Twist Bugles and Twists (very short tubes with a twist in them)
Nibblettes (flat rectangles)
Cubes or Squares
Mini Fringe Drops or Raindrops (teardrops that are roundish, with a centered hole through the top)
Magatamas (teadrops that are more squarish, with an off-centered hole through the top)
Cylinder Beads (there are many brands of cylinder beads; sometimes these are referred to as Delicas, which was one of the first brands, and remains the most used brand)

…among others…

Most seed bead projects take 40-60 hours to complete. We tell people to buy all their beads up front, even a little bit more. The colors of these beads will vary from batch to batch. You don’t want to come back to the store two weeks later, and find that the color you are using is now no where/no way the same color as what you then find on the shelf.

The color of the seed beads is affected by the barometric pressure outside the factory when they are made. This is a factor that the manufacturer cannot control.

Just like the druk and fire polish beads, and the crystal beads, seed beads are made in many different countries. Knowing what country they come from tells you a lot about their quality and usefulness.


The Czech seed bead is your minimal quality seed bead for jewelry making purposes. All jewelry moves when worn, and this movement subjects each component to tremendous forces. Lower quality seed beads can not hold up in the face of these forces.

I’m going to give the Czech seed beads a grade of a “C”. This is the lowest price you would pay for seed beads, when using them for jewelry.

Most Czech seed beads come on hanks, and you usually buy these by the hank.

Czech Seed Bead Quality Factors:
Most beads on hank are same size, but a sizeable number are not. If you are doing a pattern or a picture, you will either have to keep adding or subtracting beads, as you go through the pattern, to compensate for size differences. Or, you need to cull all your beads up front so that you are starting with the same size.

Hole sizes vary widely in size. They are too small to see ahead of time. Many seed bead projects require that you take your needle and thread through the same bead 5, 6, 7 or 8 or more times. If you are in the middle of your project, and can no longer get your needle through, sometimes you can compensate. Othertimes, you need to start all over again.

Holes are called “generally smooth,” which means they look like a broken Coke bottle. But this is stretching the definition a lot – these holes are rough.

You can have a high degree of trust on the finishes of these beads, but there are a sizeable number of colors that fade, bleed out or rub off.

NOTE: If working with unstable colors, spray finished project with clear varnish/fixative called Krylon.

Seed bead systems are like paint by number systems. There are many, many colors. Some colors of beads are made through the manipulation and coloration of glass alone, But you can’t make every color in these paint-by-number type systems using glass alone. Some processes for creating a color, such as galvanized or dyed, are not always stable. When working with seed beads, you end up learning what these unstable colors are.


Japanese seed beads arrive at the store in bags, and we tube these up in the store. So you buy these loose, usually in tubes.

I am going to give the Japanese seed beads a grade of “A”.

The Japanese seed beads run about 1/3 more in price than the Czech ones.

Japanese Seed Bead Quality Factors

Most of the beads in the tube are the same size.

They have a good size hole. The hole from bead to bead is the same size.

These holes are called “generally smooth”, meaning they look like a broken Coke bottle, but no where’s near as rough as the Czech ones.

You can have the same trust on the finishes of the Japanese as you do with the Czech. It’s pretty much those same colors that fade, bleed out or rub off

When just starting with seed beads, we suggest trying both the Czech and the Japanese beads. The Japanese beads are definitely easier to use. One problem with the Japanese beads is that they are too perfect. Sometimes when your seed beads are too perfect, your outcome looks like a paint-by-number Elvis on velvet. The irregularities in the Czech beads make your outcome look more organic, more artistic.

    Other Notes About Seed Beads

1. Seed Beads Sizes – An Unusual Numbering System

Most of the seed bead styles use an unusual labeling system to denote sizes. For example, you have 18/0’s and 16/0’s and 15/0’s and 14/0’s and 13/0’s and 12/0’s and 11/0’s and 10/0’s and 8/0’s and 6/0’ and 5/0’s, and you get the picture. What these numbers mean – and had more meaning hundreds of years ago – is how many beads per inch. They don’t really work out as beads per inch, but they come close enough. But if you had to visualize whether an 8/0 is bigger or smaller than a 6/0, visualize beads per inch.

2. E-Beads

In many pattern books, they tell you to use what’s called an E-Bead. Here they are referring to either a size 5/0 or size 6/0 seed bead.

Today, between local stores and the internet, the instructions could tell you exactly what you need, and you can find it. 5/0 and 6/0 beads are different in size, and the vague naming label “E-Bead” still leaves you with some choices. Today, to maintain this label, sometimes seems haughty — I know what this means, and you don’t.

However, they started using this naming convention many hundreds of years ago, but in a slightly different way. Hundreds of years ago, they were telling people they could substitute a 5/0 or 6/0 “E-bead” for a 4mm round druk. It’s very difficult to make a perfectly round bead, so they were very pricey. They were telling people they could substitute a cheaper E-bead which was around 4mm in size.

Actually all seed beads are E-beads. The name refers to how all these used to be made. All these used to start as a very long cylinder of glass. The glass was gradually pushed through a machine that looked like a bread slicer, and the shape of the slicer was like the letter “E”.

3. Cuts, Hex-Cuts and Charlottes

Hex-cuts, or sometimes referred to as “cuts”, start as a 6-sided cylinder of glass, instead of a smooth cylinder, and then the beads are sliced off of this.

Charlottes have a facet on one-side. Some one-sided seed beads are called “True Cuts”. Charlottes are used more and more in jewelry, but have a more traditional use in costuming.

Picture the country music star on stage. On her blouse, there is a broad area of bead embroidery. With charlottes, as the lights shine on the artist and hit the beads, they are reflected back into the audience randomly, because the faceted sides of the beads face upward in a random manner. If the bead embroidered area had been created with hex-cuts, the light would reflect back into the audience in a very predictable way, because all the facets would be facing upward. The randomness, with the charlottes, adds to the excitement of the performance.

Cylinder Beads or Delicas

The cylinder beads or delicas are the only bead in the store that we weigh, before we put them into tubes. So these are like cocaine. The same color in a delica might be 3-10 times the price of that color in the squared roundish seed bead lines.

There is a bad naming convention around these cylinder beads. Some places label their cylinder or delicas size as 11/0; others as 12/0. They are called 12/0 because they are the same size as a 12/0 seed bead. They are called 11/0 because they are used interchangeably with the slightly larger 11/0 seed bead. They are used interchangeably with the larger bead because of the shape difference. A seed bead is basically a ball, and a cylinder bead is a brick. That shape difference makes them more interchangeable with the slightly larger bead.

I want to give you a sense of what it means to interchange 11/0 seed beads and 11/0 delicas.

Let’s go back to the example of the eye glass leash. If I used all seed beads in my leash, and stood against the light, I’d see the ridges on the sides of the beads as they go up and down along the length of the leash. If I used all delicas, they line up perfectly. I would see a straight line of color. When people see a straight line of color, they view the piece as higher end.

Say I sold my leashes in a high end $60.00 market and a low end $20.00 market. If I used seed beads in my $60.00 market, my pieces would not sell because they looked cheap. If I used delicas in my $20.00 market, my pieces would not sell either. They are so out of place and unexpected, that people avoid them. They don’t know why they are there.

You use so few beads in a project like an eye glass leash, that your cost differences are just fractions of a penny. However, there is this huge perceptual difference. As an artist, if I wanted to sell in two different markets, I don’t necessarily have to come up with different designs for both markets. I could interchange seed beads and delicas and play with people’s perceptions.

Now, let’s say you wanted to make an amulet purse, or some other kind of bead weaving that approximates a piece of cloth. If you used seed beads, there would be little gaps of light between each bead. If your project was a solid color, it would look less intense. If it was a pattern or picture, it would look less sharp.

If you used delicas, these beads line up perfectly like a brick wall. If your project was a solid color, it would look more intense. If it were a pattern or picture, it would like sharper.

With seed beads, they have little ridges on them, and when you try to move the piece, these catch on each other, and the piece feels stiff. With delicas, your piece moves much more like a piece of cloth.

So, with these kinds of bead weavings, more often you get a better outcome with the delicas, than with the squared roundish seed beads.

Now, say you wanted to create an amulet purse, and you went to the cash register with seed beads. The project might ring up as $15.00. If you had gone to the register with delicas, the project might have rung up as $150.00. So, with delicas, there’s a lot of sticker shock at the register. However, these are the kinds of projects that take 40-60 hours to do. In this context, your biggest investment is your labor, and the cost of the delicas doesn’t seem quite as horrific.

What Size Are They, and a Few Other Statistics?

Seed beads sizes are listed as “11/0” or “6/0” and the like. These very loosely refer to how many beads per inch it would take, if you lined a particular size up against a ruler. Thus, “11/0” means that there are 11 beads per inch. “6/0” means that there are six per the inch. Thus, the smaller the size-number, the larger the size of the bead.

6/0 seedbeads are apprx. 4mm
8/0 delicas are approximately 3.3mm
8/0 seedbeads are apprx. 3mm
11/0 seedbeads are apprx. 2.2mm
11/0 (same as 12/0) delicas are apprx. 1.8mm
15/0 seedbeads are apprx 1.5mm

Carol Wilcox Wells, in her book THE ART AND ELEGANCE OF BEADWEAVING, gives a well-researched answer to the question How Many Seed Beads? Using black opaque seed beads from one particular manufacturer, she came up with these numbers (again, there will be variation based on the finish of the bead, the country of origin of the bead, and the manufacturing company making the bead):

15/0 seed beads 290 beads/gram
11/0 (same as 12/0) delicas 190 beads/gram
11/0 seed beads 110 beads/gram
8/0 seed beads 38 beads/gram
6/0 seed beads 15 beads/gram

15/0 seed beads 24 beads/inch 9 beads/centimeter
11/0 (same as 12/0) delicas 20 beads/inch 7 beads/centimeter
11/0 seed beads 18 beads/inch 7 beads/centimeter
8/0 seed beads 13 beads/inch 5 beads/centimeter
6/0 seed beads 10 beads/inch 4 beads/centimeter

15/0 seed beads 330 beads/sq. inch 54 beads/sq. centimeter
11/0 (same as 12/0) delicas 285 beads/sq. inch 42 beads/sq. centimeter
11/0 seed beads 216 beads/sq. inch 35 beads/sq. centimeter
8/0 seed beads 108 beads/sq. inch 20 beads/sq. centimeter
6/0 seed beads 70 beads/sq. inch 12 beads/sq. centimeter

An amulet purse that is 2″ x 2 1/2″ in size, would be 2*2 1/2*2 in area, or 10 square inches. (2 sides of 2×2.5 inches). 10 square inches would use, for example, 2850 delica beads (15 grams).

NOTE: The sizes and weights for seed beads with different finishes and/or from different countries and/or from different manufacturers will vary considerably, so you should take these numbers as a guide, not an absolute.


    Metal beads. I’m going to begin this discussion with the most expensive, high value metals, and work my way down, step-by-step, to the least expensive, low value metals. I’ll start with 14 karat gold.


    From a functional standpoint, 14KT Gold is a bad design choice. Gold is a soft metal. The beads tend to dent. And you always have to worry about the integrity of the clasp.What worrying about the integrity of the clasp means, is that when you make something, or buy something, with a 14KT gold clasp, the clasp feels fine. What you need to do is watch what happens, when someone wears the piece. Frequently enough to be a major concern, 14KT gold clasps fail.14KT gold beads in a bracelet are a total disaster. But even in a necklace, with only simple movement, 14KT gold beads dent very easily. If working with 14KT Gold beads, what you want to use are called “heavy-walled” 14KT Gold or “extra heavy-walled” 14KT Gold. The walls are thicker, there’s more gold, they are more expensive, but less likely to dent. Obviously, there’s a problem with heavy-walled, or they would not make extra heavy walled.Over the years, many people have asked us to do custom 14KT gold pieces for them. We usually try to talk them out of this, and they say no, they want 14KT. So we feel obligated to explain the issues.First, we try to talk them out of the clasp. We suggest either a 10KT gold clasp, or a gold-filled clasp, where you don’t have to worry about the integrity. They always say no, they want 14KT.With the beads, we recommend using heavy walled or extra heavy walled 14KT gold beads.14KT gold jewelry looks great on a mannequin. It has great investment value. It just doesn’t wear well.But, I have to admit that I use 14KT clasps in many of my designer pieces. Every “understanding” is situational. For some of my pieces that sell for $2,000, $3,000 and up through $12,000, my customer base would not pay these prices unless the clasp were 14KT gold. To stay in business, you have to give the market what it wants. And truthfully, when I make these pieces, I often have to manipulate the clasps alot, so I’m always anxious about the durability of these clasps — will they break while I’m making the piece? will they break when the customer wears the piece for the first or second time?  I tell myself that jewelry pieces like these will probably only be worn a couple of times, and left on display.If I were making the pieces for myself, I most likely would use a gold-filled clasp. In a predominantly 14KT gold piece, if there are any places that I feel must deal with an unusual amount of force, when worn, I may use 14KT


    beads or rings or connectors or chain at those points in the otherwise 14KT gold piece.


    Quality Gold-Filled is an excellent design choice. It’s real gold. It will keep its color. It will keep its shine. It will keep its shape.

“Gold-Filled” means a Measurable Layer of Real Gold Fused to Brass, sometimes Copper.

The gold is fused to the metal underneath. That means it becomes one with that metal. It will require a lot of wear and tear to come off. The gold is not “plated”. Plating is a covering. Anything plated will wear off on its own.

The main drawback to gold-filled is that it is pricey. This means that, as an artist, you have a very small palette to play with. Very few designs of beads, clasps, and other jewelry findings.

Sometimes when you buy Gold-Filled, there are some numbers before the words gold-filled. Either it might say “14/20 gold-filled” or “12/20 gold-filled. If you go into a bead store to buy gold-filled, ask the seller what those numbers mean.

If he or she says that 14/20 is more valuable than 12/20, if that’s all that they say, go for the door. Yes, 14 is more valuable than 12. It’s 14 parts of gold vs. 12. But we work with such small pieces, that you are talking about fractions of a penny.

The numbers are there to tell you what COLOR the gold-filled is.

14/20 – duller, more golden, sometimes referred to as “red”
12/20 – lighter, brighter, sometimes referred to as “yellow”

Another reason you go for the door is that there are no standards for how thick the gold has to be over the brass to be called “gold-filled”. The definition is “measurable”.

If you go to a flea market, you’ll see people selling gold overlay jewelry. This is gold-filled. It’s a minute amount of gold fused to brass. It wears off relatively fast. The brass looks like gold, and people still think they have gold jewelry.

The same thing happens in beads and jewelry findings. If your seller doesn’t know what those numbers mean, he or she might be buying the cheapest gold-filled they can find, and just selling you this gold-overlay stuff, which, frankly, is crap.

Now, say you have two sellers that you trust, and the price of the gold filled at one is half the price of the other. With gold-filled, you get what you pay for. The gold filled of the less expensive supplier might last 10-15 years; the gold filled at the more expensive supplier might last 30-50 years.

STERLING SILVER: Sterling Silver is a precious metal, but it is very affordable. If you make jewelry, it’s a very easy metal to work with. On finished pieces, or on the packaging of various jewelry parts, which are sterling silver, you will usually see a stamp or mark for “.925”, which means sterling silver. Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver, and the rest is something else, usually copper, some nickel, and miscellaneous.

When you buy sterling silver findings, the pieces are so small, that most do not have a .925 stamped on them.

There are a few things to know about Sterling Silver.

First, sterling silver tarnishes and turns black. And you can buff it up with a soft cloth.  There’s a sizable proportion of the popluation that thinks when sterling turns black, it’s dead, and they throw their jewelry out. So it’s always important to educate people about cleaning sterling silver.

The best cloth to use to clean sterling silver is a piece of denim. Rub it on your pants.

A lot of jewelry stores sell or give away what’s called a Rouge Cloth. This is a little bit gimmicky, in that what’s taking the tarnish off is the rubbing, not the rouge, and a piece of denim is actually a better cloth to use. Denim has ridges in it, so it gets down into the grooves in jewelry, or inside the links in chains. The rouge cloth only shines up the top most surfaces.

There’s something called a Sunshine Cloth. We use this a lot. Some beads stores sell it; a lot of jewelry stores sell this. The Sunshine Cloth has a chemical in it that eats tarnish but does not harm gemstones. That last part of the sentence is key: does not harm gemstones.

You would either never use a dip, or only use a dip in an emergency. Dips ruin silver. Dips take silver out of your jewelry to create a silver salt. This salt is usually white; sometimes black. It’s very difficult to pick out this salt which gets stuck in the grooves, or stuck in the tops of the links and rings. If you do have to use a dip, the way you use it, is that you take your jewelry, and go in-and-out, and then rinse. If not clean enough, go in-and-out again. You never want to leave your jewelry in the dip, because it is ruining it.

If you have some heavy duty tarnishing to deal with, then I suggest making a past of baking soda and warm water, use a soft bristle toothbrush, and scrub and rinse. Even dry baking soda will remove the tarnish. You can use baking powder, or baking soda toothpaste. If you have a large piece, like a sterling silver tea pot, you can make a dip, instead of a paste.

Another thing about sterling, is that Sterling Silver softens at body temperature.

If you have a sterling silver clasp that is resting on the wrist or the neck, then you have to worry about the integrity of the clasp. Most sterling silver clasps hold up fine, but enough lose their integrity, that you have to pre-test the clasps you are using in your jewelry.

The worst clasps, in this regard, are box clasps. Box clasps have a decorative “box” and a “tongue” that slips into the box. There is a mechanism inside the box that holds the tongue in place. When this mechanism softens, it can inadvertently release the tongue. A lot of clasps that come out of Mexico are notorious for this happening.

Let’s say that you have a problematic sterling silver clasp. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to throw that clasp away. You can always use large beads on either side of the clasp, to keep it raised above the skin.

Traditionally, Sterling Silver beads have been heavy-walled enough, that you did not have to worry about denting. However, in the early 2000’s, the price of sterling silver sky-rocketed, and you will have to start thinking of sterling beads, like you do 14KT gold beads.

Before 2005, if you found 4mm round sterling silver beads at one place for $0.22 and at another place for $0.30, the $0.22 would be a good deal. You were probably buying the same bead. Today, however, this is probably not the case. Differences in price are more likely to reflect wall thickness.

The whole situation here is new, so there is virtually no documentation or labeling. But manufacturers are beginning to sell “normal weight” and “light weight” sterling silver. A few years ago, I wanted to add a bead to our line called a “Quad” bead. It’s a spacer bead widely used in Mother’s Name Bracelets. I had a choice between buying a less expensive one manufactured in China, and a more expensive one manufactured in the United States. I went with the more expensive one. The letter cubes in these bracelets are very heavy, and I was worried that the Chinese ones might crush too easily, when used in these bracelets. You’re going to have to think this same way. You need to watch, whether the sterling silver beads you are buying, are denting too easily.

A new form of Sterling Silver came on the market in the early 2000’s which is called Argentium Silver. Both have 92.5% silver content. It’s the alloy part that’s different. Argentium Silver is tarnish resistant.

VERMEIL: “vur-mil”, or “ver-mey” or “ver-meyl”, depending on where you live, is real gold electroplated to sterling silver. The gold is real, though the karat content (thus, the resulting color) may vary. You will see Vermeil from dull gold (14 Karat) to bright bright yellow (18 to 22 Karat). The gold is electroplated, not fused. Anything plated wears off. The gold on the Vermeil will fade away on its own in about 2 years.

Where the gold has not bonded to the sterling underneath it, the sterling will continue to tarnish underneath this gold, and the gold above it will start to darken.

If I have a plain button, with a big smooth area,  and it is vermeil, over time, and this can be as quickly as 3-6 months, the button will start to look blotchy.

If I take a very, overly decorative bead, say one with a lot of wire on it or alot of granules — a lot of stuff — and it’s vermeil, over time, the darkening will begin to make this bead seem antique’y. This is very characteristic of bali beads (after Bali, Indonesia where the style originated), most which are overly decorated.

One mistake people make is that when they buy vermeil, they buy vermeil and gold filled at the same time. When they buy it, it’s all shiny, and they mix it in the same piece. Now the gold-filled will stay shiny, but the vermeil will darken.

NICKEL: Nickel is very similar to Sterling Silver. It looks like silver. It tarnishes and buffs up like silver. If you make jewelry, it works a lot like silver. Nickel is everywhere so it has no precious metal value.

What’s important about Nickel beads is how they are made. Nickel beads are stamped out of a sheet of nickel.


Stamping is an important concept in jewelry design. Anything STAMPED out over time will bend or dent, but not break. All jewelry moves. To us, it doesn’t feel like there’s much movement, but to each component in your jewelry, it’s like getting whipped – over and over and over again. At the point a stamped piece can no longer absorb this excess force, it bends or dents. And usually you can un-bend or un-dent it.

One drawback to stamped pieces, is that you have to finish off each piece individually. Thus, stamped pieces tend to be expensive, and you have a very small palette to play with.

The opposite of STAMPING is


All pewter is cast. Anything “cast” over time, can not absorb any excess force that comes from movement. When a cast piece is confronted with excess force, it crumbles and breaks.

Whenever I buy pewter, I try to stick my thumbnail into it. If it won’t go in, then this is hard pewter. Hard pewter usually lasts about 5 years before it breaks. A lot of people don’t wear their jewelry for 5 years.

Sometimes, when I stick my thumbnail into the pewter, it crumbles and breaks in my hand. So, I always know where the door is…..

If your thumbnail is going into the pewter easily, this is only going to last about 3 months before it crumbles and breaks.


When we get to Nickel and Pewter, and continue down to Brass, and Aluminum, Steel, Base Metal, and Metalized Plastic, …. This level I call the Costume or Throw-Away Level. When talking about gold-plate or silver-plate at the Costume level, in most cases, we are not talking about real gold or real silver. We are only talking about a color.

To overly simply things, the plating at this level is made up of two chemicals. You have a chemical that gives the plating its color. Then you have a finishing chemical which brightens up that color. The manufacturer may use real gold to make the color chemical. However, we don’t consider the plating to be real gold. We use real gold to make the color RED, but we don’t consider RED beads to be real gold beads.

The color “gold” and the color “silver” are rather dull. We need the finishing/brightness chemical to make the colors look like real precious metals.

The finishing/brightness chemical fades away more quickly than the color chemical. In an average environment with an average person wearing the piece, the finishing/brightness chemical fades away in 3-6 months. The color chemical fades in 6 months to a year. If the environment is very humid or very polluted, this can happen much more quickly. In Miami in the summer time, this can happen in hours. For some people, their sweat has a lot of ammonia or sulfides in it, and these dissolve one or both of these chemicals.

Now, continuing down the line with our metal by metal discussion, next comes Brass.

BRASS: From a functional standpoint, if you have to work with plated metals, Brass is your best design choice. The plating bonds the best to brass, so it takes the longest time to fade away. All Brass is stamped out, so it has a high degree of integrity as a jewelry making metal. But because Brass is stamped out, and you have to finish off each piece individually, Brass tends to be pricey, and, as a jewelry artist, you have a very limited palette to work with.

ALUMINUM, STEEL or POT METAL (also called BASE METAL): Aluminum and Steel are stamped out. Pot Metal is cast. The color of Pot Metal is black. The plating doesn’t bond at all to Aluminum, Steel or Pot Metal. So what happens over time: First the brightness goes away, then the color fades. Long before the color fades, the plating just chips off.

If we had a gold-plated aluminum bead, then over time, the plating would first wear off, and then start to chip off. The bead, in this case, will change color. It will start to look silvery, because the aluminum looks silvery.

METALIZED PLASTIC: The least expensive bead in the metal family is Metalized Plastic. Metalized plastic is a metal shell around a milky white plastic bead. When we work with metalized plastic, we talk about how quickly the plating will chip off. On regular metalized plastic, the chip test is hitting the edge of a table once or twice.

On a lot of metalized plastic, you’ll see black on it. This black is called an “antiquing” or “varnish” finish. What this antiquing or varnish finish does is strengthen the metal shell. It makes the chip test 3-5 times hitting the edge of a table, instead of once or twice. But it dissolves the finishing/brightness chemical over the plating. It just leaves the color chemical, which is duller.

If you need your earrings to last 2 weekends, instead of 1, and you can live with a slightly duller bead, then you would want to purchase the ones that are labeled “antiqued”, “varnished”, “oxidized”, and the like.

We have a lot of customers go to home shows to make Heirloom bracelets. At these homeshows, there are tables and tables of beads, from 14KT gold down to metalized plastic. People pick the beads they want, and the people running the shows make them up into finished bracelets. And our customers spend $100, $200, and even $300.00 for their bracelets. They come and show us what they’ve made. In almost all cases, their bracelets are full of metalized plastic beads.

It’s very understandable. Everyone wants their bracelets to be unique, fun, different. Metalized plastic, as the cheapest metal bead, has the biggest palette from which to pick. You have your widest selection of shapes, sizes, textures, looks. The beads that are most appropriate for an heirloom bracelet might only have two choices — plain and corrugated.

For the people running these shows, they make the most money from metalized plastic. It’s a somewhat stacked game, and the psychology of the customer works to the advantage of the house.

Metalized Plastic beads, however, are totally inappropriate for anything you would call “Heirloom”.


I want to go over something similar with clasps. Some brief notes about clasps.

    Spring Ring:

This clasp is the cheapest and least durable. You see spring rings on a lot of finished jewelry, because clasps overall are expensive, and they don’t want to pass along that cost in the finished piece. Very often, you need to replace these.

Say we had a gold-plated over brass spring ring. What happens over time, is that the brightness goes away, then the color slowly fades. Long before the color fades, usually the spring mechanism breaks. Should the color fade away, then the clasp will still look golden because it’s brass underneath.

    Hook & Eye Clasp

Say we had a silver plated over brass hook and eye clasp. First the brightness would fade away, then the color slowly fade. Then this clasp will start to change colors and turn golden, because it’s brass underneath.

    Barrel Clasp

The barrel clasp is not the best clasp in the world, but it is very popular, particularly among college age, early 20’s. This is the kind of clasp that passes the “guy” test. Guys can figure out how to open and close it.

Barrel clasps are the kind of clasps that you would not want to buy in sterling silver. When these clasps rest on the wrist or neck, the threads soften and strip.

Let’s say you were making an all sterling silver necklace for someone, and they wanted a barrel clasp. I’d recommend dropping down to the costume level. Most costume level barrel clasps are plated over steel. They just get a little darker over time.

    Magnetic Clasps

People overall hate clasps, so they really like these magnetic clasps. Magnetic clasps come in all the different metals, and in all kinds of shapes and designs. There is a lot of variation in how strong the magnets are. Magnet clasps are not the best clasps, but again, they are what the market wants. If you were in business, you would be hard-pressed not to use these.

Magnet clasps are very problematic in bracelets. It’s easy to knock them off. It’s easy to leave them on the car door or refrigerator door. We suggest adding a safety chain to bracelets. Magnet clasps are not so problematic in necklaces.

What’s important to know about magnetic clasps is how to open and close them. You never pull them open. When you pull them open, you weaken the settings that the magnets are in.

The way you open and close magnetic clasps is either (a) crack them open like a nut (as if there was a hinge on one side), or (b) slide them back and forth. Never pull.

Now you know people are going to pull on them. When making a piece, you will want to do some extra reinforcement on the ends, because you know people are going to pull on the ends of the bead work as well as the magnets, to get these open and off their wrists or necks. If you get a chance to educate people about the proper way to open these clasps, great.

    Lobster Claws

Lobster claws are good middle-of-the-road clasps. Let’s say that you went to the trays to purchase a lobster claw clasp, and you saw a medium size, sturdy-looking one for $1.25, and a smaller, thinner one for $1.95. You might go with the first one, because it looks more substantial and costs less. But if you knew what they were made of, you might go with the more expensive one.

Lobster claws have a few design flaws as clasps. One flaw is that the top curved part of the clasp — called the Lip — is not designed to handle any excess for that comes with pulling or tugging or getting caught on anything.

The $1.95 smaller lobster claw happens to be made of brass. Say it is gold-plated. What happens over time, first the brightness goes away, then the color starts to fade. When the lip is confronted with excess force, the lip bends out, and you can bend it back into place. It bends because all brass is stamped out. Eventually, the color will fade away, and the clasp will still look golden, because it’s brass underneath.

The $1.25 larger lobster claw happens to be made of pot metal. Say it, too, is gold-plated. What happens over time, first the brightness goes away, then the color starts to fade. When this lip is confronted with excess force, all pot metal is cast, so the lip breaks off. Then you have to restring the piece.

The extra $0.70 for the brass lobster claw seems worth it.

    Toggle Clasps

A toggle clasp is basically a ring and a bar. If the toggle clasp visually works with your design, it’s considered the best clasp. It’s considered the easiest to get on and off, and the most secure.

Virtually every toggle that you buy has been cast. When they cast these, they very tightly engineer the ring to work with the bar. So you never mix and match. If you go into a store that sells the rings and bars mix-and-match, you don’t want to buy there. If you go into a store, like ours – Be Dazzled Beads in Nashville, Tennessee — where there are hundreds of toggles to choose from, then you want to be very clear about which goes with what. When you go to the register, you need to watch very closely how they get bagged up, so there is no confusion what goes with what. And when you take them home, you want to store them so there is no confusion what goes with what.

I tell this to everyone, and they still come by, with all their bracelets falling off. Your eye cannot tell the difference. The bar could be off a millimeter on the end, or a millimeter somewhere along it’s length, and no longer work.

Now let’s say you see the same basic design at different prices. What the price tells you is how good the casting was. This means how long it will take before the clasp breaks — usually the ring breaks in half. Let’s say you see a plain toggle clasp set at $3.00, $7.00 and at $11.00. The $3.00 one will probably last 2-3 years, before it breaks. The $7.00 will last 5 years. The $11.00 will last about 7 years before it breaks.


There are all kinds of stringing materials, and they are always coming out with new ones each year.   So our discussion below hits some of the more basic and generic choices.    For everything we discuss, there are premium versions, there are economy versions, there are versions for specialized situations and uses.   To pick an appropriate stringing material, you need to ask a lot of questions of the people who sell them to you, as well as of the people who use them.    You’ll get a lot of conflicting advice, but you need to get as much information as you can get.
Threads, Needles, and More Threads

Nymo thread is the predominant beading thread.   Beading threads are nylon shaped like thin ribbons.   (Sewing threads are round). Nymo comes in all different colors and sizes.

Whenever you use Nymo, (or any other thread), you always wax your thread.  The way that you wax your thread, is that you cut the thread into a bar of bees wax, and pull it all the way through.   You do this twice.   (You can do this as many times as you like, twice is good.) Then you take your thumb and forefinger, pinch the top of the thread, and pull the thread through them.   Your body temperature melts the wax into the thread.

You wax for many reasons.    This makes the thread less likely to fray.   It stretches the thread a little before you use it.  It makes the thread glide through your beads better.   The major reason, however, that we feel for waxing your thread is that it puts a little waxy buildup on the thread, which helps fill in some of the jaggedness of the hole of the bead, and thus makes your bead-hole less likely to cut through your stringing material.

If you use the needle/thread approach a lot, you will probably want to purchase a synthetic bees wax, which is a little more expensive, but does a better job than the bees wax.   There is a product called Thread Heaven.  We sell this in our shop, but don’t recommend it.  It does everything the bees wax does, except there is no waxy build-up.   We feel that the waxy build-up is the main advantage to waxing.

C-Lon is a relatively new beading thread.   It comes in a lot of colors but just a couple of sizes.  Overall, we like it better than the Nymo.   If you came here to buy a Nymo product, and there was an equivalent C-lon product, we would suggest switching to the C-lon.    You wax the C-lon, like you do the Nymo.     The C-lon frays at the ends a little more than the Nymo, making it a little harder to get on the beading needle.

Silamide is a prewaxed thread.   If you came to our shop, we would still tell you to wax it, because there is no waxy build-up on the thread, and we feel this is the major reason for waxing.   You can go on-line and find many websites full of testimonials to this thread.   I’m not a big fan of this thread.   It is brittle and breaks easily.   I’m not big on breakage.   Some people will tell you to double this thread, but it’s awkward working with a doubled thread — especially since there are so many good alternatives.

Beading needles have a rectangular shaped hole.   (Sewing needles have a round hole).   The rectangular hole is actually shaped like a funnel, with one side having a larger slit than the other.

English Beading Needles are your basic beading needle.   These come in different sizes.   Size #10 is the largest, and proportionately has the largest hole size.   This size is the easiest to use.    Size #12 is thinner and next in size.   You might use this occasionally.    There are even thinner needles, if you need them.

Sharps Needles are short.     They are named after Mr Sharp, not because they are sharp.  You use sharp needles in bead embroidery, where you need a short, stiff needle to push through fabrics and other materials.

Loom Needles are long.  You want to get as many beads on the needle as you can, when shuttling back and forth, so you don’t snag any of the warp threads.

Twist Wire Needles, sometimes called Collapsible Eye Needles, are used when your stiffer needles can’t go through that bead-hole one more time, but you have to accomplish these feat.  You take the stiff needle off the thread, and string the thread through the twist wire needles.  You can usually get these through about 3 more times, before the wires of the needle unravel.

Big Eye Needles.   These needles come in a couple of sizes.   They are basically a large eye.   These are used to get beads on string, yarn, ribbon, or fabric.   You wedge the stringing material into one end of the needle, and this becomes the trailing end, as you string beads.

Making a bracelet with needle and thread: When you make a bead stringing project with needle and thread, you typically go through your piece 3 times.

You start by tying a double knot to the clasp.   You take the needle and thread through all your beads, and then tie a double knot to your ring.    Now, take your needle and thread back through all your beads towards the clasp, and tie a double knot again at the clasp.   Now, one more time.   Take your needle and thread all the way back through your beads, and tie a double knot to the ring.    This gives you your strongest stringing.   Your piece will move the best, feel the best and drape the best.  And in case one  of the bead-holes cuts one of the threads, you have two backups.

Bead Cords

For some types of jewelry projects, you don’t want to cover and hide all the stringing material with beads. You might be putting knots between beads, or you might be doing macramé, braiding or kumihimo with beads, or you might be doing something like a Tin Cup necklace, where you have a cluster of beads, then some cord showing, then another cluster of beads, then more cord showing, and you get the idea.

In this case, if we used threads, the raw threads would be kind of ugly. So instead, we use what is called Bead Cord. Bead Cord are threads that have been braided together to make the stringing material look pretty. However, we can’t wax the bead cord to deal with issues like fraying or stretching. This would ugly it up.    So, with bead cords, we are trading-off durability for visual appearance.

Silk vs. Nylon Bead Cord

There are many brands of bead cord.   Bead cord comes in many colors and many thicknesses.    One of the major brands used is Griffin which comes on cards with a needle attached at one end of the cord.    In this line, their red package is silk and their blue package is nylon.

We recommend that if your project is all pearls or mostly pearls, that you use the silk   If your project is very few pearls or no pearls, that you use the nylon.  Unfortunately, everything will ruin the pearls, except the silk.  So you have to use silk with pearls.  Silk naturally deteriorates in 3-5 years, so anything you do on the silk will have to be redone every 3-5 years.

That’s why we recommend the nylon for everything else.   Now some people tell me it was always done on silk.  I tell them nylon wasn’t always.

But I can reverse hats.    If you’re selling your stuff, there’s more marketing cache if you say it was strung on silk, than if you said it was strung on nylon.   You can make it your customers problem to re-do in 3-5 years.

At the same quality level, the pros and cons for Silk and Nylon are the same.  They fray the same, stretch the same, get dirty the same.   The silk will deteriorate, and the nylon will not.

Flexible Cable Wires

Cable wires are wires braided together and encased in nylon.  They are very flexible, and used for bead stringing.

Tiger Tail was the original cable wire.  Now it’s the low-end product.    Tiger tail is very cheap, (in most places, under $5.99).    The wire breaks easily in and of itself.   The wire kinks very easily.    The way you attach Tiger Tail to a clasp is that you tie it off the clasp using a single or double knot.   Take the wire through the ring of the clasp, and tie it to itself, by going under and over and pull.   You can do this twice.   This gives you a very secure connection to the clasp, which is a positive.   We recommend Tiger Tail for kids, or for practice.

If someone wants to use a cable wire, we like to start people with the mid-range product, generically referred to as “flex wire”.   The brand I personally prefer, in most cases, is Soft Flex.   Flex Wire does NOT break easily in and of itself.   It does not kink.   However, it is very difficult to tie into a knot.   So, to secure the wire to the clasp, you would use a crimp bead.

To use a crimp bead, you pull the wire through the crimp, through the ring on the clasp, and then back through the crimp, to form a loop.   You take a pliers and crush the crimp onto the wire, holding it in place.    The major reason to use a crimp bead is to make your piece look more finished, than tying a knot.   It does make it a little less secure.

When you crush the crimp onto the wire, this flat “pancake” is like a little razor blade.  All jewelry moves.   Crimp beads saw right through the tiger tail, so that’s why we tell you to tie a knot.   If you don’t like the look of the knot, then either use beads with larger holes on either end, so that they swallow the knots, or slide a crimp cover over the knot, so it looks like you have a bead there.

Flex Wire is so strong, that we feel very comfortable suggesting that you use a crimp bead on either end.   What we DON’T recommend, however, is to use more than one crimp on either end.   Sometimes your mind, or a friend, tells you to use 2 or 3 crimps on either end.   If one is good, 2 or 3 might be better.   Wrong!    All you are doing is adding razor blades.   If you have crimped correctly, one crimp on either end, even when your beads a heavy, is sufficient.

Crimp beads are used to secure flexible cable wires.    You do NOT use crimp beads with thread.   You do NOT use crimp beads with bead cord.  You do NOT use crimp beads with elastic string.   You do NOT use crimp beads with cable threads like FireLine.

These cable wires can be grouped into three levels of quality:
– Craft  (Tiger Tail)
– Designer (Flex Wire)
– Professional or Artist

There are many brands of cable wire.   Each brand organizes its line from low end to high end differently, so it is very difficult to compare across brands.

There is a lot of information on the labels of these products, but much of it is not useful for making choices or comparisons.

Most of the Tiger Tail products do not have the words “Tiger Tail” on the package.  You know it’s Tiger Tail because it is very cheap (usually under $5.99).   The Flex Wire or Designer level cable wires begin at $10-14.00.

All the labels used to indicate “Pound Strength”.    From batch to batch, the “number” which indicated pound strength would always change – radically.   One batch would list 20 pound strength; the next, 10 pound; the next 8 pound; then perhaps 20 pound again.   So most of the cable wire companies took the pound strength information off the label.    There are no strict standards about “pound strength”, so when you see that number on a product, take it with a grain of salt.   DO NOT LOCK INTO THAT NUMBER: it will lead you down the wrong road.

Another piece of information on the label is the number of strands that are braided together within the cable.   It might list 21-strands, or 49-strands, or 7-strands, and the like.   This is another piece of information not to lock onto.   The label does not indicate exactly what the wires are made of, or the tensile strength of each wire within the cable.    So a 7-strand product can actually be stronger than a 21-strand product, because of the qualities of the wires used.

The labels also indicate the thickness of the cable.   This information relates to the holes sizes of beads.

Cable Wires vs. Threads

From a design perspective, you always get your best outcomes with needle and thread.    You get your strongest stringing.    You get the best movement, drapery and flow.   It feels the best when worn.
If I created a bracelet using needle and thread, a needle-and-thread piece will always take the shape of my body.   If I move my wrist to the left, my bracelet will move with me to the left.

If I created the same bracelet using a flexible cable wire, the shape of the bracelet will be a circle.   The shape of my wrist is an oval.  If I wear my bracelet and move my wrist to the left, my bracelet will actually turn in the opposite direction to the right.   When you see people with their necklaces turned around, these are usually done on cable wire.

The needle-and-thread approach, however, is more labor intensive and more involved since you have to use a needle, and do some waxing of the thread, and typically go through you pieces 3 times.   If you are selling your stuff, it’s almost impossible to get your labor costs out of needle-and-thread projects.

The cable wire approach goes very fast, and is very easy to do.  You don’t need a needle because it is stiff enough to be its own needle.   There’s no waxing.   Sometimes it’s the only method, if you are selling your stuff, to get your labor costs back.

The Hybrid “Cable Thread”

Some new stringing products on the market present a “middle way” between the traditional needle-and-thread approach using threads like Nymo or C-Lon, and the cable wires.     I call these products “Cable Threads”.   These are threads that are braided together and encased in nylon.

There are many brands, such as PowerPro and FireLine.    I particularly like the FireLine, and use it in most of my bead stringing and bead weaving projects.

With the cable threads, you don’t necessarily have to go through your pieces 3 times.   You don’t necessarily have to wax the cable threads.    You might want to go through your piece multiple times to fill in the holes more, so there’s less wobble.    You might want to wax it if you want to make your piece stiffer, when finished.    You do need to use a needle with cable threads.

Hard Wire

People use hard wire to make things like ear wires and clasps, earring dangles, chains, rosaries, coils and components, and fancy wire-wrapped settings for stones.

Craft Wire. Craft Wire is the low-end hard wire product.    Craft wire is plated wire over steel or a brass alloy of steel.  I recommend craft wire for practice, or for creating a stationary object, like a beaded ornament.   Craft Wire is bad for finished jewelry projects.    All jewelry moves.   The plating on the wire does not bond to steel.    As the jewelry is worn, the plating chips off.     Also when you bend steel back and forth, it doesn’t take long before it breaks.

Plated Copper Wire. If you need to work with a plated wire, then Plated Copper Wire is a great product.   There are many brands.  It comes in many colors and metallics and sizes.    The plating bonds perfectly to copper, so it takes a long time to wear off.   Also, when you bend copper back and forth, it takes a long time before it breaks.

Raw Wire:   Above plated wire is called “raw” wire.   At Land of Odds and Be Dazzled Beads, we carry raw brass, copper, nickel, sterling silver, fine silver, gold-filled, and a new wire called argentium silver.   Argentium silver is tarnish resistance sterling silver.

The sizes of wire are measured by “gauge”. What Gauge means is that somewhere on earth there is a standard sized pipe. Gauge refers to how many wires will fit into the pipe. So, if you can fit 20 wires into the pipe, the wire is 20 gauge. If you can only fit 6 wires into the pipe, that wire is 6 gauge.

Hard wire comes as “hard”, “half hard” or “dead soft”.

Hard wire is stiff, and can’t be manipulated

Half hard wire is pliable. As you bend it, or hammer it, or twist it, it becomes harder, until it holds a “hard” shape

Dead soft is extremely pliable. As you bend it, or hammer it, or twist it, it becomes harder and harder, until it holds a “hard” shape

In most cases, I prefer the “half-hard” for wire working.   Many wire artists will begin with “dead soft”, but these artists are used to manipulating the wire a lot before it ends up in its final form.   It is through this process of manipulating — pulling, bending, shaping, hammering — the wire that the wire becomes harder and harder, until it keeps its final shape.    Most people when they do wire work, do not manipulate the pieces like these artists do.   They often fail to move the dead soft wire to its “hard” state — it takes too much manipulation.   That’s why I like to start with the half -hard.

When using thicker wires, like 14-gauge and thicker, the “dead-soft” is more like the “half hard” of the thinner wires, in terms of manipulability.

Some Other Popular Stringing Products

Elastic String: People hate clasps. So they love this material. You put the beads on, tie a square knot, put a drop of glue on the knot, cut the tails, and that’s it.    Elastic string comes in all different sizes, all different colors, and different textures.   All elastric string eventually loses its memory and deteriorates.   I recommend this for kids.   I recommend this for something like selling a color bracelet at a high school football game.   And that’s about it.

However, for years now, I’ve gotten many, many wholesale jewelry catalogs with sterling silver, gold-filled and 14KT gold beads strung on elastic string.  It’s what the public wants.   If you were in business, you would be hard pressed not to have this stringing material in your line.   I’m personally uncomfortable putting $100 of beads on this string, but again it’s what the public wants.

With elastic string, you put your beads on, and tie off with a square knot or surgeons knot.   Before you pull the knot tight, put a drop of glue on the inside of the knot, and then another drop of glue on the outside of the knot.   Use any glue except superglue.

To make the end of the elastric string into a self-needle, put some superblue on it, and then use a single edge razor blade to cut the end at an angle so you get a point.

Illusion Cord (monofilament): Basically a thin fishing line. Used to make illusion necklaces. Small crimp beads are used to hold clusters of beads in place. Any monofilament will dry out and crack from exposure to ultraviolet light and heat.

Hemp: Used with various macramé, knotting and braiding techniques.

Irish Waxed Linen: Similar to hemp, but a higher quality. Used for more fashion-oriented jewelry that incorporates macramé, knotting and braiding techniques.

Leather: Always popular. Greek leather is the highest quality. Don’t shower in this. It makes the leather dry out and crack.

Waxed Cotton: A more durable leather substitute. It doesn’t have that great earthy smell of leather, however. Simply a waxed or glazed cotton wrapped around a nylon monofilament. You can shower in this.

Pearl Cotton #8: Used in making bead-knitted bags. 11/0 seed beads will slip over the Pearl Cotton #8.

Rubber Thong: Another leather substitute and more durable. Very soft to the skin.

Satin Cord (Rat Tail): A shiny, colorful cord that’s used to hang pendants from. Pretty. Frays relatively quickly. Not durable at all.

Organza Ribbon: The type of ribbon that you would string beads on. Use a Big-Eye needle to get your beads onto the ribbon.

Memory Wire: A stainless steel coil, like a slinky. Cut off some rings, put beads on, then, bend the ends. Caution: Memory wire will ruin all your jewelry tools. If you are using Memory Wire, then use industrial strength tools – things you would find in a wood-working shop.


We suggest starting with 4 tools, and one optional tool.

We suggest buying tools at the “economy” level, and staying at the level until you’ve used them awhile.    All tools can cause body aches and pains — bad ergonomic effects.   If your tools are inexpensive, this is generally OK, but if you’ve invested a lot of money in tools, and this happens, it’s not OK.

Tools have handles.  Handles come in different curvatures, different lengths, different padding.   Then there is a spring.  There are different kinds of springs.  It affects the opening back and forth action.    Then comes the joint.   There are different kinds of joints.  This also affects the opening back and forth action.   And finally there is the jaws.   The major ergonomic issue with the jaws is their weight.   You should be able to very comfortably balance the pliers straight up and down in your hand.   If the jaws are too heavy, they will keep pushing your hand back.  This pain shoots all the way up your arm and into your neck.

The “economy” level for tools in a store is $8-10.00 per tool.   You can get a lot of these at your local flea market for $3-5.00 per tool.   There is a “super-economy” level — about $1.50 – 2.00/tool.   You’ll find these at Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart and the like.   These are too cheap.   The main problem with these is that the two sides of the jaws don’t meet correctly, so your hand is always under- and over-compensating for this flaw.

All “economy” tools are cast, so the handles break and the jaws break.  Just keep replacing them with the economy level, until you are ready to invest.

Above the Economy level is a $20-35.00 tool.   These tools are forged, meaning they are a solid piece of metal.  Above that is a $45-60.00 tool.  These are forged, but use a stronger metal.    And above that is a $100.00+ tool.

As you go up in price with tools, they all get better except your cutters.   As you go up in price, the cutters get more specialized in terms of the shapes of the cuts that they make, and the types of metals they are designed for.   While more expensive cutters can be re-sharpened, they are never really the same.

The one optional tool is called a Bead Reamer.

BEAD REAMER: Bead reamers have different drill bits, and are used to smooth out the holes in beads (bead holes look like broken Coke bottles), makes the holes larger (Pearls have especially small holes), or straighten the channel of the holes (gemstones are drilled from either side to meet in the middle, and don’t often meet perfectly).   This is optional because I rarely use one.  I tend to be lazy, and switch out my stringing material that best fits the situation.   However, it does make sense to ream out all your beads.   If you are using Austrian crystal beads, these have the sharpest holes.

When buying a bead reamer, it is important that the surface of the bits be diamond coated.   The surface of the bit has to be harder than the surfaces you are working on.    They make these that are not diamond coated, and they are useless.   All the bits have been cast, meaning they break.  You can find replacements at your hardware store where they sell the dremel equipment.   Just be sure the bits are diamond coated.

CHAIN NOSE PLIERS: This is your most important tool. It is an extension of your hand. You can push and pull with these. When buying a chain nose pliers, be sure that the insides of the jaws are smooth.   Most chain nose pliers at the hardware store have ridges so they catch a screw.   We want the insides to be smooth, so that they don’t scratch the surfaces we’re working on.

ROUND NOSE PLIERS: We use round nose pliers to make shapes, particularly loops. It’s important that at least one side of the jaws be perfectly round.  These come long, they come short.   They come with one side flat and one side round.   There’s one design where the insides of both round parts is flat.   This is no good.  We need at least one side perfectly round.

SIDE CUTTERS: This is used to cut things. There’s nothing special here.  You can get these anywhere.  For most beading and jewelry making, a side-cutters is sufficient.  If you get into wire-work jewelry, you will probably want to get several more specialized cutters, including a Flush Cutter, which leaves a straight edge on your wire, when cut.

CRIMPING PLIERS: This is a specialized type of finishing pliers. It has two pairs of notches in the jaws. The bottom pair of notches is used to crush your crimp onto your cable wire to hold it in place. You then end up with something that looks like a flat pancake. The top pair of notches is used to re-shape that flat pancake so that it looks like a bead again.

There are many variations on the crimp plier on the market, and every few years, another is introduced.   The original, basic crimp pliers works the best in all situations.   Don’t buy the others.    Don’t buy the micro crimper.   Don’t buy the macro crimper.  Don’t buy the Magical Crimp Pliers.    These don’t work as well as the original.

NOTE:  Most often, when people have difficulty with their crimping, the problem is usually that they bought cheap crimp beads.   It’s not the pliers.   It’s not necessarily their crimping prowess.   It’s usually that they bought cheap crimps, like at their local craft super store.    These cheap crimps split easily when crushed.

Bead Stoppers, Hemostats
Scissors (I really like Chinese Scissors for beadwork)
Bead Boards
Bracelet and Necklace Sizing Cones
Ott lights
Work surface pads
Sketchbooks, notepads, pens/pencils


(1) Always experiment with your adhesives first, before you use an adhesive on your final project. No one glue works with every material or project.

(2) Glues vary widely in terms of which materials they stick to, how well they form a bond between two smooth surfaces, and how the glue bond ages, both in terms of durability and color.

(3) Clean the excess glue off your piece before you display or sell it.

(4) You will probably have to rely on more than one type of glue to accommodate all your types of projects.

E6000 and Beacon 527
These glues dry like rubber.   All jewelry moves, and these glues act like shock absorbers.    These glues are best for most applications in jewelry design.   Remember that these glues take 24 hours to dry hard, so you can’t wear your pieces for 24 hours.
Super Glue and G-S Hypo-Cement (Watch crystal cement)
These glues dry like glass, so their bonds shatter like glass, when the jewelry moves.  Moreover, the broken bond looks like a broken piece of glass.   These glues have more limited uses in jewelry design.    These are used most often on knots, where you want the knot to be stiff so it cannot slip through a hole or opening.    With the rubberized glues, like E6000, the knots can contort and work their way through openings.      Don’t use super glue on the knots in elastic string.
Hot Glue
Remember that hot glue will soften at body temperature.   It won’t work on a lot of jewelry.

You Are Ready To Begin Your Path
As A Jewelry Maker and Beader

Well, we’ve covered a lot of material in this Orientation.   I hope it was useful for you.

It’s important to understand the quality of the pieces you use, and what happens to them over time.

It’s important to ask a lot of questions when you buy your parts.

It’s important to learn skills and techniques developmentally.   That is, in a structured, orderly, integrative way.

If interested in Bead Stringing, I suggest you learn the following in this order:
Basics of Bead Stringing and Attaching Clasps
Pearl Knotting
An introduction to Wire Working or Wire Wrapping
Color and Beads
Jewelry Design principles and theories

If interested in Bead Weaving, I suggest you learn the following in this
Introductory classes in these stitches:

Square Stitch
Peyote – Flat
Peyote -Tubular
Brick Stitch
Right Angle Weave
Spiral Ropes
Petersburg Chain
Ndebele Stitch
Beaded Beads
Bead Embroidery

Along the way, pick up these skills:
Basics of bead weaving and attaching clasps
Pearl Knotting
Making wire loops and coiled loops

For any one stitch, after the Stitch of the Month, or other Intro
Class, and where you have a more in-depth interest in, then:
A. Class that covers tubular and/or circular forms
B. Class that covers increasing and decreasing
C. Class that covers embellishment, edges, fringes and straps
D. Class that covers splitting and/or creating negative spaces
E. Class that covers creating oversized pieces and multiple piece
F. Class that covers free form techniques and creating your own
G. Class that covers dimensionality and sculptural projects

If interested in Wire Working, I suggest you learn the following in this
Introduction to wire, tools, and making shapes with wire, like jewelry findings
Using wire as a structural element
Incorporating beads with wire in your composition
Making settings for stones
Making chains
Making elaborate earrings

To see images of the beads, jewelry findings and other materials discussed in this article, and get some more detailed information about these products, you might visit Land of Odds online.



Teaching Jewelry Making – 3 Approaches


Learn To Bead Blog…At Land of Odds

32 Responses to “ORIENTATION TO BEADS”

  1. Lisa Metzler said

    WOW!! This is a very comprehensive and helpful article–I’m glad I surfed into your site (from Bead-Space.com) and found it. Thanks for posting it. I learned quite a bit here.

    Lisa Metzler

  2. Anne-Marie Wilson said

    I have been stumbling around for months trying to make sense of so much confusing information about beading. Time is short, and money is tight….Where, oh where, do I start???

    Thank you so very, very much for your most excellent website! Thank you for taking the time, and for cultivating the rare talent of being able to impart information in such a clear and understandable manner. You have no idea how much this is appreciated.

    Toronto, Canada

  3. Gwyn said

    Your obvious expertise is absolutely amazing!!!! Thank you for this in-depth yet easy to understand article about such a deceptively complicated but fun hobby/business…You are now my hero!

  4. DEG said

    it’s amazing to realize how much you don’t know what you think you know. 🙂


  5. Linda Horton Dodson said

    Thank you for taking the time to research and put all that information up. I have bern weaving on a loom for about 5 years now (see video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64ZBG13_wf8) and still found information new to me in your discussion. You have saved people a lot of time looking around the internet and learning by trial and error.

  6. Gail said

    Thank you! I have been trying to make some of the free projects for beginners using seed beads and there is so much information that isn’t provided about products or at websites when you try to purchase seed beads that was covered here. What a great article of basic information. I could have purchased a lot of how to books, spent a lot of money and still not have been given just basic information on the different sizes, finishes and types of beads that so many magazines and how to books assume you know that was covered in this article.

  7. Carol Bruce Collett said

    Great article. I learned a lot.

  8. Wonderful primer. Information not found in any one place all together.

    Thank you so much.

  9. Mary K. McGraw said

    What an amazing wealth of information. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Toni said

    Wow! Thank you so much for an amazing amount of information. I’ll be telling my beading friends about you!

  11. Shelly U. said

    Thanks so much for this priceless information. I am on my way to becoming a better beader thanks to your page. Thanks for saving me all of the hard knocks of learning this information the hard way. I found your page by accident while doing a search for smaller sized seed beads. I am going to tell every beader I talk to about your page so they too can become a better beader. Thanks again!!

  12. Susan Kirk said

    Your article brought such relief to me. I have been interested in beading for some time and have gone to the extent of buying some supplies but have never really started a project for fear of “goofing up”. I wanted to know more about which bead, threads, hardware, etc. would be right for what I wanted to accomplish. This primer on beading is just what I needed to answer my questions and free me to get started. Thank you so much!

  13. Melody O'Beau said

    Thanks you so much for this wonderful tute. I have been beading for a long time, but am just self taught from reading books, so there are LOTS of gaps in my beading education. I learned a number of very helpful bits of info here.


  14. Monica Smith said

    Some real gems here.
    Wish I lived closer to take your classes. The stores round here teach stringing(ugh) or the bracelet they made the night before from a magazine.

  15. […] Leave a Comment tweetcount_url='http://www.blisstree.com/jewelryandbeading/land-of-odds-offering-beginners-course/'; tweetcount_title='Land of Odds offering beginner's course';tweetcount_cnt=0;tweetcount_src='RT @blisstree:';tweetcount_via=false;tweetcount_background='';tweetcount_border='';tweetcount_text='';tweetcount_api_key='dcd0cbf084952aa806a7103c2609645942026abc5194e9819c425abe9a39da8d';The Orientation to Beads and Jewelry Findings is being offered online at the Land of Odds.  This course was developed by instructor Warren Feld because he noticed that beginner beaders didn’t always make the best choices when it came to quality.  Personally, I learned the hard way a long time ago that if I was going to put 40 hours or more into a bead embroidered necklace, I wasn’t going to skimp on the cabochons, beads, and metal findings! […]

  16. Cindi McBroom said

    I have been beading for about 14 years and I learned so much from reading this Bead Orientation lesson. Thank you so much for providing so much useful information. I really enjoyed reading this and am going on to class II.

  17. I’ve been beading for over 40 years and this is the best little explanation of bead terms I have ever seen. Great job! I had to learn these things by trial and error.

  18. Super said

    I really appreciate your blog post, I always check this once in a while if there is a new one.. thank you very much..

  19. Good job, keep up the posting.

  20. Yad Ram said

    I have get so much important information at a place. Thank you very much. Thanks again.

    Yad ram

  21. Tracy Wood said

    I have been beading off and on for about 10 years and you gave the best opening to a non-beader I believe I have ever read. It was very clear, concise, and covered everything without being boring and seeming to go on forever. I don’t do much with seed beads anymore, but would love to learn from you. I know the Peyote stitch and can brick stitch in a pinch, but I mostly design and make jewelry for family, friends, and sale. I tried getting on your subscribe list, but to no avail. As I live in PA, it would be very difficult for me to see you; so, would u please try (in your spare time…lol), to let me know when I would be able to find out about your classes.
    Thanks so much for such a good experience reading your opening.
    Best Wishes –
    Tracy Wood

  22. I learned a tremdous amount of information to help me proceed with a tapastry i’m making thanks

  23. Kristie said

    Dear Warren:

    Thank you so very much for sharing your expertise with all of us!! It must have taken an incredible amount of time to put this all together, and I so appreciate your generosity!


  24. Thanks for posting! Happy Beading! 😀

  25. Susie said

    What a well written and informative piece this is.
    Thank you for sharing it.

  26. CalNDN said

    I stopped reading this article after finding that the author rated my beloved Czech seed beads a “C”. I very strongly disagree with that grade. Czech beads have more “personality” and as a Native American Czech beads are all that I use. I believe that Czech beads are all that most Native Americans use. I do not like the look of beadwork done with delicas. To me the item made with delicas looks to “stiff” and not as lively and fun.

  27. Debbie said

    Thank you again for the info. I wish I lived closer to your shop.

  28. Excellent and comprehensive information. Thank you for all the time, research and effort that goes into this publication.
    Warmest Regards,
    Eva Maria

  29. Thank you webmaster for such a meaningful blog post. I am impressed with your view on ORIENTATION TO BEADS « Learn To Bead.

  30. After I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added-
    checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from
    that service? Cheers!

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