This is how to make wooden beads, which are a great gifts, and can even be used to make a little money with your woodworking. Wooden beads for charm bracelets are very popular, and they come with a pretty high price. Thankfully, they are easy to make.
I bought my wife one of those name brand charm bracelets a while ago as a gift, and soon discovered that the beads and charms are very expensive when you buy them one at a time.
A single bead can range from $40-$90, and while beautiful, they are definitely on the expensive side.
Some companies are making a line of beads from wood, and even these are not much less expensive than the other beads and charms. Being a woodworker, it only took me a short time to come up with a way of making them myself. For only a few cents each. Using the instructions in this tutorial, you can make wooden beads easily in your shop.
Choosing A Wood Species For Your Wooden Beads
Just about any species of wood will work for this tutorial, however the staining process in the end works the best on light colored figured or burl wood. The construction process will be the same either way, so don’t let the wood stop you.
I am using Briar for this tutorial on how to make wooden beads. Briar is a wood that is primarily used for tobacco pipes. It is a dense burl, and takes a finish beautifully.
Other types of wood that are great candidates for wooden beads are Mahogany, Cocobolo, Rosewood, Figured Maple, and Bocote. As long as you like the look and color of the species, then feel free to use it to make a wooden bead for a charm bracelet.
Some woods are gorgeous just like they are, and can save you time in the finishing process because they will not need to be stained. The Rosewoods are a great example. If you like natural woods, just take a trip to the store and you will surely find something amazing.
Prepping and Drilling the Wooden Bead Blank
Once you choose a species, you need to purchase ferrules to cover the ends. These can be found in craft stores, online, and in sewing stores. Look for ferrules that measure 1/4 inch on the smaller portion that will fit inside the bead.
Two ferrules are needed for each bead, one on each end. The center portions will nearly touch each other, so measure the distance between your two ferrules when the small ends are touching. This is the minimum thickness that you need to make your bead. If you go thinner than this, you will have to sand down the ends of the ferrules. This is more of a pain than it’s worth, so just size your blank accordingly.
For my blank and ferrules, I sliced off a slab that was almost 1/2 inch thick. Then, I sanded the faces very smooth until the blank measured 3/8 inch. This was perfect for my ferrules.
Cut out a blank that is about 1-1/2 inch square, and thick enough so that your ferrules can both be pressed in flush.
Then, drill a hole through the center for a pen making mandrel. In most cases, these mandrels are made with a 1/4 inch shaft. Choose a drill that matches the mandrel, and then drill a hole. Make sure to have a scrap on the bottom of the piece to prevent the hole from blowing out on the bottom.
The shaping process will take place on the lathe, and a little prep work needs to be done. In order to make turning easier, the blank needs to be roughed out.
First, draw a circle around the drill hole that is a little larger than 1 inch in diameter. Then, saw the excess wood off with a hand saw or band saw. This is unnecessary wood, and will make your lathe tools last longer.
After that, use a sander to refine the edge and knock down any sharp or pointy areas from sawing. Then, sand the faces flat to 400 grit, and make sure that all the scratches are removed. The faces will not be touched much on the lathe, so remove the scratches now.
Once the piece is on the lathe, the faces will be difficult to get to. Lay out a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface and just work the faces back and forth. Once you get down to 400 grit with zero scratches, you are ready to turn it.
Turning a Wooden Bead on the Lathe
Mount the wooden bead blank on the pen mandrel. Use a 7mm bushing on both faces, and keep it as close to the headstock as possible.
For the rest of the shaft, load it with anything you have to in order to get to where you can tighten down the knurled nut at the end, and secure the wooden bead blank.
It’s important to keep your turnings as close to the headstock as possible. This is a more stable area, and there will be less chatter while turning. Use the tailstock to stabilize the other end of the pen mandrel, and lock everything in place just as if you were turning a wooden pen.
First, use a roughing tool to turn the wooden bead blank round. This can be a roughing gouge, skew, or a carbide lathe tool.
I made a whole set of carbide lathe tools that I describe in another article. These saved me a ton of money, and I don’t have to buy any sharpening equipment now.
Turn the wooden bead concentric to the mandrel shaft, and then size it down. This is a personal taste thing, as wooden beads can be made in any diameter you like. For most beads, something from 3/4 inch to 1 inch is perfect. I made this bead a little on the big side, so I turned it down to 1 inch with my homemade carbide lathe tool.
In general, sometimes going big can have a positive effect. Something bigger than normal stands out. This means it will be noticed more, and spoken about more. Going a little bigger than normal is typically OK, just don’t go too large. Subtlety still wins.
Next, decide on a shape. Most beads are just rounded, but some are more pointed in the middle. Some are even made with beveled sides, and have a more geometric look.
Use a fingernail gouge or a detail carbide tool to create the shape you like. If you are interested in a traditional look, simply round the corners.
It is important that whatever shape you decide upon, that you make it symmetrical. Take some time and really check your work while it’s on the lathe. This is the easiest time to ensure that your wooden beads are good looking. The lathe allows you to remove material quickly, so take advantage of that and make your shape the best you can before moving on.
Sanding the Bead to Shape and Smoothing
Once you have your initial shape created on the wooden bead blank, you can now begin to sand the surface smooth.
Briar sands like a dream, and comes up to a polish rather quickly. First, take a look at your sanding marks and decide on what grit to start with. In most cases, starting with 150 is typically a good choice.
The 150 grit sandpaper is rough enough to remove material quickly, but not so rough that it leaves super deep scratches. After that, switch to 220, then 400, then 600, and then 0000 steel wool. Make sure to fully remove all scratches from the previous grit before moving on to the next finer grit.
Here is a close up look at the wooden bead on the lathe. This is after sanding down to 0000 steel wool.
The Briar has an incredibly smooth look, which is normal for this type of wood. The species that you choose may or may not be as smooth, depending on if the grain is open or not.
The important thing to do at this step is to ensure that the surface is completely scratch free before moving on to staining. The staining and finishing process will not remove any scratches. In fact, it will only amplify them. The lathe does the overwhelming majority of the work. Spend the time necessary to get the surface completely smooth.
Finishing the Wooden Bead with Dye Stains
Dye stains are awesome. There is really no other way to put it that makes sense. If you are not working with dyes yet, then make this your excuse to buy a few bottles.
The Fiebings leather dyes are less than $10 each, and last a very long time. Invest in a few colors, and you will be impressed.
For the finish, I am going to explain how to use black, saddle tan, and yellow dye to create a contrast finish. You can use any colors that you like, there is just one loose rule. You need to have a very dark stain, and a might stain. Your dark can be a brown to a black, and your light can be just about anything else lighter in color.
These dyes can be found in leather working stores, online of course, and in some woodworking stores. The black is an alcohol leather dye, and the other two colors are the pro dye, which has some oil in it too. If you are interested in different colors, they have tons to choose from. The Fiebings brand is excellent to work with.
The first step to a great looking contrast stain is to apply a dark under color. After sanding, the Briar is pretty basic looking. It’s nice, but nothing super special. The contrast staining process will bring out the detail.
While the lathe is rotating, carefully dab a paper towel with black dye against the wooden bead, allowing it to grab color.
It will only take a few seconds while the lathe spins for the dye to dry on the surface. At this point, apply another layer. Keep repeating this until the bead is dyed very dark. You need to be sure that the sides get some color too, but remember that the ferrules are going to cover the areas right near the center holes.
Sanding Down the Under Stain Color
Allow the dye to dry completely. Using a heat gun for a few seconds on a low heat setting can help set the stain. Now, you begin the process of revealing the grain.
The contrast staining process works by dying the grain lines in the Briar darker than the remaining wood. This is accomplished by dying the entire piece black, and then sanding.
Turn on the lathe and sand with either 800 grit paper carefully, or 0000 steel wool. The steel wool will be a little more forgiving, but it will take a little longer to remove color. The goal is to remove all the color from the flake, but leave color in the grain.
Stop the lathe frequently as the color becomes lighter and lighter. Keep going until you see a contrast that you like.
For this project, I want to showcase more of the top color than the under color. For this reason, I sanded the surface to reduce the black to barely anything. This will look great once a top color of stain is applied.
Make sure that you get around to the sides of the wooden bead as well. This can be a little tough, but if you fold the sandpaper you can hit the sides. Leave the sides a little darker than the rest of the bead, and you will have a nice transition from dark to light.
Adding the Top Color to the Wooden Bead
Inspect your sanding after the black stain, and once you are satisfied, move on to the top color.
This can be anything you choose, and for this tutorial, saddle tan and yellow are used to create the top color.
First, apply a layer of saddle tan. Turn on the lathe, and use a paper towel to dab on the color as the wooden bead spins. This is different than applying the black. The goal here is to apply one good even layer of color to the bead. If you want the color to be more pronounced, apply a second layer. However, one good layer while the lathe spins should be enough in most cases to add the top color layer.
Allow the top color to dry fully, which can again be sped up with a little heat and air.
In order to apply the yellow, some of the saddle tan has to be removed. Since yellow is lighter than saddle tan, simply applying it over the top will not show the color.
Using 0000 steel wool carefully sand the middle of the bead while the lathe spins. This will remove just a small amount of the saddle tan stain from the wooden bead. If you want more of a transition, then remove more of the saddle tan. However, you do not want to remove it all. For this bead, I barely lightened the center of the wood. This is just enough to see a slight variation in the color of the final product.
Here is a picture of the bead spinning on the lathe. This makes it much easier to see the center portion.
Use 0000 steel wool until the center portion of the bead looks lighter than the rest of the bead, which will allow the yellow to come through very slightly.
As you can see, the middle area of the spinning bead is definitely a little lighter than the sides and shoulders of the bead. Again, if you want more yellow to show, then sand more. What you don’t want is to remove all of the color. If you do, there will be a yellow stripe down the middle instead of a nice transition.
Applying the Second Top Color to the Bead
Turn on the lathe, and apply the yellow dye to the entire bead. The areas where the saddle tan is at full strength will not show very much of a change.
The middle of the bead will be slightly more yellow looking than the sides, and there will be more color depth to the finished piece.
This coat is the same as the coat of saddle tan, because both are top stains. The goal is to simply get an even layer of color applied across the wooden bead, and then allow the stain to dry completely before moving on to the next step. Let the lathe spin for a minute or so, and the spinning will help the dye stain to dry.
Here is a look at the wooden bead on the lathe, after the top colors have dried. There is a very subtle change in color from the sides to the top, and the color has depth and life.
If you have arrived at this point, then you can finish the wooden bead right on the lathe if you like. You can use any finish that you are comfortable with, though some friction finishes may remove too much color.
For hand applied finishes, use something like Tru-Oil, Arm-R-Seal, or Danish Oil. All of these simply go on with a cloth, and then allow them to dry. Thin coats win the finishing game, so be sure to apply very thin coats, allowing them to dry completely in between.
Hand applied finishes do not get the credit they deserve. Sprayed finishes are very popular, and sometimes are seen as being superior to hand finishes. While spray finishes are good, hand finishes are among the most beautiful in all of woodworking.
If you have not done so already, spend a little time working on your hand finishing skills. If you really learn just a couple pet finishes, you are good for almost anything. Learn how to use Tru-Oil and Arm-R-Seal, and you can finish just about anything big or small.
Buffing the Wooden Bead to a High Sheen
For finishing small wooden pieces, and getting a very high sheen, there is nothing better than buffing.
I wrote a whole article on buffing with the Beall Wood Buff System, which is what I use in my shop. If you are kicking around the idea of buying a buffing setup, it’s well worth it.
First, remove the bead from your mandrel, and thread it over a 1/4 inch dowel rod. The rod allows you to hold the bead, and there is much less risk of it flying away. Buff the wooden bead with Tripoli first, and then switch to white diamond. Finally, a buffing of Carnauba wax seals everything and adds gloss.
Here is a look at the bead after buffing. The color and the surface take on an incredibly smooth and shiny appearance.
Once you buff wood, you will never want to finish any other way for small projects. This wooden bead went from the lathe to finished in only a few minutes. Plus, you can handle the piece immediately afterwards.
The grain on this piece of Briar really pops now thanks to the contrast staining process and the buffing. A good finish will do the same thing, though depending on your sanding it may not be quite as smooth.
The benefit of buffing is that you are really just sanding the wood with fine abrasives.
Buffing compounds are really nothing more than sanding grit in a cake form. The buffing wheel picks up the grit from the compound, and then the cloth rubs the compound against the wood.
The effect of the buffing process is that you have sanded the surface with very fine grits, which make it very smooth. You can do the same thing by hand with micro mesh papers, you will just have to leave the wooden bead on the lathe. Micro mesh is a great alternative for those without a buffing setup, and can create a very smooth surface as well.
Installing the Ferrules on the Bead Faces
Finally, the ferrules are applied. The easiest way to secure the ferrules is with CA glue, though sometimes it can come loose if the bead takes a good hit.
It does take longer, but I really like to use two part epoxy for attaching the ferrules. It takes longer to dry, but the bond is incredible.
Mix up a little 5 minute epoxy, and use a stick to dab some on the faces of the wooden bead. Make sure to confine the epoxy to the areas under the ferrule. Also, wipe a little inside the center hole, but not too much. Sometimes, pressing in the ferrule can gum up the epoxy if you put too much in the middle.
Press the ferrules in place after applying the epoxy to both faces. Look inside the center hole to make sure that the epoxy has not pooled outside the ferrules.
Also, check the faces and make sure that the epoxy did not spread onto the wooden bead.
If you have epoxy where you do not want it, simply wipe it off with a rag before it has a chance to cure. If you skip this step, taking it off later will be miserable. Inspect the bead well, and then set it aside to cure. Most epoxies take a few hours to reach light handling strength, and 24 hours for a full cure. Before you give this wooden bead away, make sure to give it 24 hours.
Here is a look at the finished bead. It is a little larger than some of the store bought beads, but it will stand out on a charm bracelet.
These beads are very light, since they are made from wood. The extra size will not be noticed in the weight of the piece.
These thread onto most of the store bought charm bracelets, and look great next to any of the other charms. Wood comes in every color just about, so you can use a species or a stain color that goes well with the existing charms and beads on the bracelet. Beads like this retail for sometimes $40-$90, and you just made one for only a few pennies.
This is one of those projects where the time commitment and the cost are very low when compared to the retail price. Yes, you may not be able to sell them for the same price as the big guys, but even at half price you can still do very well.
I spent about an hour making this bead for the tutorial. Assuming a cost of $1, and a sell price of $25 each, you could make about $24 an hour making beads. If you end up making several of these and selling them, your time commitment may come down to half that once you are tooled up and have a good manufacturing process in place.
If you have no plans on selling these, they make excellent gifts. Something like this will be a treasure for the recipient. They will have it with them any time they wear their charm bracelet, and people will ask where they bought it.
For any questions about How to Make Wooden Beads, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends online. It gives me a chance to share my love of woodworking with even more people. Happy building.
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