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Making Clay Beads

Okay I used to sell beads, but I also do pottery as a hobby.  So I’m always looking for a way to combine both of these. It would allow me to write off much of my hobby, plus I would be creating unique beads. I belong to one group on the Internet called Beads of,
they have lots of good advice for someone trying to create a beads from clay, I’m looking for ways to more or less mass produce clay beads.

I am testing and trying different techniques in an effort to give back to the beading / ceramics community some of what I have gotten. I am offering up my experiments for the world to see.

Often when people think of clay beads they think of Polymer Clay or PMC. This is NOT what I’m doing. I am working with clays that are fired at temperatures that can only be achieved in a kiln

Tumbled Heart Pendants

Okay this is my first experiment into the world of tumbled clay. As I write this I keep hearing the old Culture Club’s song “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” =)

Paper Clay Hearts - Before and After
Paper Clay Hearts – Before and After The Tumbled hearts are much nicer and smooth to the touch.
  • A common Paper Clay called “Max’s White Raku / Sculpture” was used to make these hearts. I picked up a box of this at Axner Pottery Supply. This P’Cly has a wide fire range of cone 02-10 with 16% Shrinkage at Cone 10.
  • I rolled out a 1/2inch slab, and used an old piece of fabric to impress a design on the clay.
  • The Hearts were cut from the clay using the Amaco Heart Cutters (these are like small cookie cutters), I picked mine up at Micheals in the Polymer Clay section for $1.49.
  • Small loops of High Temperature wire was used to create the bails or hooks at the top of each piece.
  • The hearts were bisque fired at the Orlando Pottery Studio.
  • Using Red, Black, Blue – Cobalt and Iron Oxides I stained then fired the Hearts to Cone 6.

The next step was to get a Rock Tumbler
In our Sunday paper there is often a coupon good for 50% on any non-sales item at Michaels. I clipped that coupon and picked up one of these Toy rock tumblers for $16.00 (US).

There is a good website about Tumbling Polymer Clay Beads. Desiree’s Polymer Clay Project (How I tumble sand and T-buff) but little information on Tumbling Clay Beads.

I took three large hearts and three small hearts and loaded them into the tumbler. I kept out one set of hearts to be my control set. These Tumblers come with three sets of grit/polish, Course, Medium and Polish. I have no idea of the true grit of these packages. A couple of sites suggested a grit of 200 then 100 and a final polish.

I poured half the course grit into the barrel, covered the beads with water and plugged it in. It was LOUD, since my game plan was to run the Tumbler for two days using each of the three grits (six days total) I knew that I couldn’t leave it in the house. So I moved the tumbler out into garage, it was still too loud. I moved it the far end of the garage. Placed it on a towel and covered it with a bucket.

The noise seems to come from the Tumbler motor, not the stuff in the barrel. I can’t imagine why it is so loud, it just is.
The whole time I was running the Tumbler it leaked water, the instructions said that this was normal.

I peeked at the beads after the first day and they seemed fine. At the end of the second day I took the hearts out and washed them off in the yard with a hose. Everything that I had read said not to was them in the sink. The grit would clog the drain.

I added half the second package to the Tumbler plugged it back in and left it for two days, without peeking this time. When I took the hearts out this time they looked pretty smooth, as a matter of fact they looked about like they did after the final polish.

Two days later I added the polish to the barrel and let it run more. When I removed them this time they looked the same as when I put them in. I have read on a couple of sites that the final polish can make the beads look like they are glazed. It is probably due to my lack of experience, but it could be the open grain of the clay that caused NOT this to happen. I’ll find out more with time.


Notes & Observations

  • This was fun. I liked the results and will try more lately.
  • I’ll probably buy a better Tumbler; you can get a descent one for around $60.00. I need to practice more to get the affects that I am looking for. I need to get a book on Tumbling.
  • All of the stains that I used were Tumbled off of the pendants, I need to check to see if the same thing happens to glazes.
  • The metal hook that I created is now loose, but not loose enough to fall out on all of the pendants.
  • I will re-stain these and have them fired one more time to see if the Tumbling affected them.


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Modern Bead Making In India

Modern Bead Making In India

In 2001 I asked Rosh Hashem a third generation gem dealer that lives in Mumbai India, if it was possible to send some pictures of bead making and production? In addition, could he tell me about the workers, their history family, etc? Pictures of buildings, equipment, and any type of bead related pictures that he could think of. Of course, I offered to pay for any film costs, involved

To my delight Rosh wrote back and said, “I’m planning on a tour of ‘factories’ where they do beads in agate stones. I am planning on a visit on 8th-9th September, I’ll take photographs on my digital camera, and forward you by email with requested details of workers and history.”

Jerry:  Rosh these pictures are Brilliant! These are exactly what I wanted.
Rosh:  Glad you think I can be a good photographer. My wife says I’m very bad at picture taking.

Jerry: Where does the rough come from?

Rosh: Rough material comes from places around Jalna and Aurangabad in Maharashtra state, where the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves are located, from Jagadia in Gujrat state, from Hyderabad region (where Golconda mines and Fort is located and Kohinoor was mined here) and also Kangyam and Karur region in Tamil Nadu state.

Mine run rough stone heaps
Mine run rough stone heaps
Mine run rough stone heaps
Mine run rough stone heaps

Jerry: Where is this factory located?

Rosh: These pictures were taken at a factory 550 kms or 300 miles from Bombay, very near Bhuj where the devastating earthquake was felt on 26th Jan. Name of the place is Khambhat (pronounced Cambay) . A sleepy little ‘cow town’, Agate cutting and polishing is the cottage industry here and the main source of livelihood. Incidentally, I was born here and still have ancestral properties.

Entrance to one of the factory units.
Entrance to one of the bead making factory units.

Jerry: There is always concern that beads are be produced using child labor or sweatshop conditions

Rosh: Most people work in their homes. Many of the cutters and stringing are farmers that work the beads as a family.

Preforming by hand
Bead makers preforming by hand
Preforming by hand.
Preforming by hand.

Cooking chalcedony in earthen pots to get red carnelian

Preparing chalcedony for cooking in earthen pots (61K) Preparing chalcedony for cooking in earthen pots
Preparing chalcedony for cooking in earthen pots
Cooking chalcedony in earthen pots to get red carnelian
Cooking chalcedony in earthen pots to get red carnelian

Home Made Bead Tumblers

Bead Tumbler (Running)
Bead Tumbler (Running)
Bead Tumbler
Bead Tumbler

Rosh: In 1977, I was approached by one of the biggest industrial houses in India. They wanted to get into all aspects of gemstones. They planned to put up the most modern factories, importing latest equipment and even taking care of health hazards faced by cutters at present. Shockingly, almost 90% of the cutters declined to work in an organized, modern factory and give up their almost primitive ways of working!

Tumbled 'preforms'
Tumbled ‘preforms’
Grinding process
Grinding process

Jerry: How long does it take to make beads from start to finish? Example: How long to Perform, Tumble, Grind and Drill?

Rosh: This is a tricky question. If we had an answer, we would be the largest and best manufacturer of beads in the world!

Different processes are done by different factories. There are no lead times and delivery schedules here. The cutters work according to their mood. Sometimes they may work continuously for 2-3 days and then take off for a week or so. Most cutters take advanced payment and we are at their mercy. On an average, it may take a month to get 5000 strands.

Drilling holes
Drilling holes
'Stringing beads'
‘Stringing beads’


Rosh Hashem has been serving International trade since 1996 with production and supplies of fashion accessories like beaded jewelry and printed stoles as also handicraft products like agate stones tumbled, pyramids, massagers, healing wands, pendulums, etc. as also soapstone items – undercut animal figures, boxes, oil diffusers, etc.