Friday, February 12, 2010

Easy, Fun, & Decorative Wood Beads

I know that I'm the teacher but I continue to learn volumes in knowledge from the students in my woodshop class with every passing year. That was just the case about three weeks ago when one of the kids asked me how he could make wood beads for a necklace that he wanted to make. I quickly ran his question through my brain containing more than 15 years of woodshop class repertoire but strangely nothing immediately came up and I had to pause with an answer to his question... however, I told him that I would get "right on it".

Wood and plastic beads are relatively cheap as you can purchase a huge bag of them at the local department store for just a few bucks so I've never got around to making my own. I've always used them to decorate the wrist straps on my walking sticks which adds a great accent to a woodspirit carving.

After some experimentation I knew that it would be next to impossible to carve out perfectly round beads in a time effective manner so I dismissed that idea right away. I then put my focus on making flat-sided beads and found them to be extremely time effective, fun, and they looked just great.

To make them I first cut several yellow pine strips on the table saw about 3/4" X 3/4" then planed them down to approximately 1/2" X 1/2". From there I used the bandsaw to slightly score the wood thus defining the squares onto the wood. (After I mastered just how to make these beads I've since cut a variety of sizes in beads up to an inch square and as small as just a quarter inch.) For beginning I still think that the 1/2" sized squares are the best all-around squares for learning just how to do it.

I could then cut the strips into lengths about 10" long which made them easy to carry around in the cargo pockets of my pants so that I could cut out several of them during any lag time that I could muster into my busy day. With the scored strips I simply used my jack knife to cut off the four corners on the top of each wood square, then I'd simply do the same to the lower four corners. "Presto" in just 8 simple push cuts I then had another wood bead ready for the next steps in finishing.

After a strip of wood squares have been carved I then cut them off in "threes" for drilling the center hole but later found that cutting them in "twos" was a lot easier. A pair of two beads worked great when I put them up to the drill press and held them with pliers. Depending on what you plan to use for stringing the beads will determine the size hole that you should drill. Next the beads can be cut apart and I string them onto a piece of stove pipe wire for safe keeping until the next step.

With the beads on a piece of wire I can then dip them into my favorite stain or paint. I found a gallon of "honey brown" stain at Wal-Mart for under $10 that works just great and the can is big enough for easy dipping. For color stained beads I just water down acrylic paints to a very watery mixture where much more wood shows than does paint. After dipping I just give them a couple of quick shakes to eliminate runs, then hang them up overnight at room temperature. The next morning I'm in business!

I intend to use these beads for weaving into the leather wrist straps of my future walking sticks where I believe that they will add an additional wonderful personal touch to them. Kids can also make fun creative necklaces from them and I suppose that additional accent could be obtained by woodburning various designs and markings into them.

As seen in the picture to the right I've even begun experimenting with carving tiny woodspirit faces into some of the beads which will open up even more possibilities. Wood beads will now always be part of my carving arsenal thanks to a simple question from one of my students a few weeks ago.

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