Supplies, Tools & Storage Techniques
About Beads & Findings - coming soon!
Common bead types, shapes & sizes
Seed bead colors & finishes
Faux versus real
What are findings
Where to buy beads & beading supplies
Setting up your workspace
Lots of light (preferably "natural daylight")
A good work surface
Bead Mats, Trays & Design Boards
Bead mats - a MUST have!
Bead trays - our FAVORITE solution
A similiar (new) solution from BeadSmith
BeadSmith must have been reading our minds because they recently came out with a similiar style stackable bead tray that they call the Bead Mat Tray (we found it on Amazon). They made their Bead Mat Tray a larger 11"x14" to accomodate their standard size bead mat (so there's no need to cut it down to size). Other than that, it is a similiarly lightweight, sturdy, stackable, molded plastic tray. The only other difference is that they made theirs 1/2" deep where as the jewelry display trays are 1" deep. If you're working predominately with smaller size beads, or you don't plan on stacking trays with large projects still in them, that shouldn't be an issue.
Between the two . . .
The Bead Mat Tray is great for table work and more involved projects that require ample space. But, for smaller projects, working in front of the TV in my narrow chair, or when we use large beads that we may want to still be able to stack, we still prefer the jewelry trays with the cut down bead mats.
In additiona to a bead mat, most bead stringers like to work with some form or style of bead board or design board. Bead design boards come in various shpaes ind sizes ranging from travel size to extra long sizes (for longer necklaces). They are typically made of lightweight molded plastic that have shallow necklace-shaped grooves with units of measure along the sides. You lay your beads in the grooves (which hold them in place) while you work out the desired order or pattern (and length). Then, when it looks the way you want, you can start putting it all together. The size bead board you use will depend on the size project you ultimately want to make. If you are going to be making bracelets and shorter necklaces - a standard bead board will do. For long necklace, you will want an extra long bead board.
Sorting & Storing Beads - oh my!
There's no shortage of bead storage solutions. Sorting and organizing beads is a necessary evil, and for some (including Cara) a favorite pastime! Here's what we've learned and what we've settled on.
Common bead storage solutions
Organizer Trays are the first thing most folks try out. The thing we don't like about organizer trays is that beads have a tendancy to jump out of their compartments and get all mixed up with neighboring beads. It's also a hassle to get all of the beads out of the tiny compartments - big fingers, little beads, tight corners. And don't even get me started on the nightmare of trying to reorganize a large bead stash - forget about it! And, while hard plastic jars keep beads separate and are easier to handle, they're bulky and expensive.
Our favorite bead storage solution
Several years ago, Cara figured out a solution that has been an absolute life saver for us - and it's all we use now. We put all of our beads and findings in small, individual ziptop bags. These bags are available in numerous convenient sizes - our favorites are 2"x2", 2"x3", and 2"x4" (we use larger sizes to keep awkward items such as cut lengths of cording and beading wire tidy and protected).
Zip 'em up!
Plastic ziptop bags are cheap, keep beads separete, can be tossed on a bead tray or in a bin for worry free transport, are easier to sort and a breeze to store! You can find these bags from various sources such as ShipwreckBeads.com and Amazon.
How to label bags of beads
Label each bag before you pour the beads in it. We write the bead (or findings) info on a small white sticker. Then, we use clear masking tape to tape the sticker on the inside of the bag - with the info facing out. That way the sticker never falls off and you always know what's in the bag.
Sorting & storing your bagged beads
If you choose to bag your beads, storing them becomes as easy as tossing them in an open drawer, clear shoe boxes or, if space is limited, larger gallon size bags. We've purchased numerous 10 drawer rolling organizers that we use to sort our bags of beads by type, size and color.
Basic Beading Tools
Regardless of the type of bead work you'll be doing, there are at least a couple of tools that you'll probably need. You may be able to find one or two in your house's toolbox, but it's more likely that you'll need to pick up smaller, more delicate jewelry making versions, which will give you better results. Like most tools, prices vary considerably from one manufacturer to another. We suggest that, if you're just starting out, get yourself some of the following basic tools that fit both your hands and your budget. Then, as your skills progress, you can always upgrade to higher quality tools. We like to put our "dream tools" (usually Lindstrom) on our birthday & holiday wish lists.
There are two main types of needles used for beading - stitching needles and stringing needles. Below, we'll share which ones we use for each and why.
We use John James English beading needles for our bead stitching projects. These needles range in size from 10 (which is the thickest) to size 15 (which is the thinnest and most delicate). English beading needles also come in different lengths - short and long. The needles we most often use (that work well with the majority of our stitching projects) are the size 12 longs. We prefer these because they are easier for us to hold (due to their longer length) and are able to easily pass through the small holes in tiny 15/0 seed beads. You may want to experiment with different types of needles to find what works best for you.
Stringing needles (collaspable needles)
Sometimes, it's helpful to use a special type of needle when threading beads onto certain beading materials. While beads easily slip right onto beading wire, leather cording, or thread, it can be very challenging to try to string beads onto materials such as ribbon, elastic stretch cord, etc. That's when collapsable beading needles come in handy. These needles allow you to thread your challenging cord through a collapsible loop and then easily fish the needle (with cording in tow), through the bead. The most common types of collapsible needles are "twisted needles" and "big eye needles".
Please note: Twisted needles are easy to use, but don't hold their shape well over time. And, big eye needles hold their shape fairly well but are extremely sharp on each end and can easily provide a painful poke.
Glue is a good tool to have around. While we don't like to rely upon it solely for a connection, we do find that a touch of glue will provide extra protection and security to certain connections or closures. There are increasing options when it comes to appropriate glues for jewelry making - but, with that said, you don't want to apply (and relay on) just any old glue laying around the house. Jewelry glues are specially made to adhere to common beading materials (such as glass, stone, leather, metal, etc.), dry clear (which is VERY important), and hold extremely well (if allowed to cure). We personally use G-S Hypo-Cement, SuperGlue, and even clear nail polish (in a pinch) for certain applications (such as sealing an open jump ring or touching up the end of a knot to prevent it from fraying and/or sliding open).
Flush cutters are the tools we use most often, and we always have a pair nearby. By the way, a "pair" of flush cutters (or "pair" of pliers), refers to just one tool - not two, as the word "pair" would seem to imply (like a pair of scissors or pair of pants).
Flush cutters differ from standard wire cutters, or side cutters, because the blades are straight (or flush to each other), allowing you to cut your material off extremely close, so there is very little thread or wire poking out. When using flush cutters, you'll need to hold them so that the flat (or flush), side of the blades are facing the side you are trimming, in order to get the closest cut.
The types of pliers you'll need to have on hand will depend on the type of beading you'll be doing. If you're going to stick to bead stitching (or off-loom bead weaving) projects, then you'll probably be able to get by with just a pair of chain nose or flat nose pliers (described below). We have found that it's very helpful to have two pairs lying around for when we need to open and close jump rings and ear wires. That way, you don't need to try to hold the project tight with one hand while using the pliers with your other. Instead of buying two chain or flat nose pliers, you can use a round nose plier as your second pair to open and close jump rings (and such). That way, you'd also have a pair of round nose pliers on hand if/when you need it for wire work!
Chain Nose Pliers
Chain nose pliers are similar to flat nose pliers in that they are flat and smooth on the inside (with no teeth that can leave any undesirable indentations, or toothy marks, on your wire). Unlike flat nose pliers, chain nose pliers have a slight curve along the outside edges and form a pointed, narrow tip at the end, so they are easier to get into tight places. Chain nose pliers are handy for lots of tasks, including opening and closing jump rings and ear wires. They are also commonly used when wire-wrapping and manipulating wire into desired shapes.
Flat Nose Pliers
Flat nose pliers are very similar to chain nose pliers (in that they also are smooth on the inside face), and you may be able to get by with either one or the other if you're just bead stitching. However, if you're planning on doing a lot of wire work, flat nose pliers are a nice tool to have. Unlike chain nose or round nose pliers, flat nose pliers, with their 90 degree angled edges, allow you to get a nice sharp, 90-degree bend in your wire when needed. If you're mostly just using your pliers to open jump rings and ear wires (and not manipulating wire into shapes), flat nose and chain nose pliers both work fine and are interchangeable. We personally prefer to work with chain nose pliers because of their pointed tips, which allow us to more easily hold smaller objects - like small jump rings.
Round Nose Pliers
Round nose pliers are invaluable when you're doing any type of wire wrapping, such as making wire-wrapped earrings. The round, tapered ends of the tool (which are wider towards the back and narrower at the tips), are perfect for forming different sizes of wire loops. Grabbing the wire towards the back of the tool will allow you to form large loops, and holding the wire closer to the tips will form nice, tight and small wire loops.
Crimper pliers are mainly used to tightly fasten and secure crimp tubes and crimp beads in bead stringing projects. The inside face of the pliers have two distinct notches (one towards the back and one in the front). These are used to dent and then fold over or close/crush crimp beads or tubes to tightly secure flexible beading wire(s) together (such as when you attach an end clasp). There are several different types of crimping tools available to beaders. We use the standard blue handled crimping tools that come in three different sizes - standard, micro and mighty. The "mico" is used for the smallest crimp tubes (1x1mm), the standard is used with 2x2mm crimp tubes and beads, and the "mighty" is designed for 3x3mm and larger crimps.