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Build a better hollow bead

Use tools designed for polymer clay to make hollow-form metal clay beads

Metal clay and polymer clay artisans often borrow each other’s tools to try a new technique, adapt an old one, or think about their work from a different perspective. To make these hollow-form beads, you’ll shape and dry cork or wood clay, using a bead roller and drying rack system that was designed to be used with polymer clay. The bead forms serve as a support for you to build openwork beads. You’ll position metal clay shapes over a bead form, leaving some areas of the bead form exposed, and join the shapes with metal clay paste. While firing the metal clay, the bead form will burn away, leaving negative spaces in the metal clay bead where the bead form was exposed. You can use this technique to design beads that are as bold or as intricate as you like.

Below are instructions on constructing the bead forms. For the complete project instructions, click here for the free project PDF.

Materials

  • Metal clay: 50–60g
  • Metal clay paste

Tools & supplies

  • Cork clay or wood clay: 9g
  • Bead roller (Pro Bead Roller: Bicone Bead Set 5)
  • Bead-piercing pins
  • Bead rack
  • Dehydrator (dedicated to non-food use) (optional)
  • Pliers: flatnose
  • Tissue blade
  • 2 paintbrushes: flat tip, fine tip
  • Craft glue (such as Elmer’s)
  • Flexible Teflon sheet
  • Olive oil or natural hand balm
  • Acrylic roller
  • Playing cards
  • Drinking straw: 2mm diameter
  • Needle tool
  • Texture sheet
  • Circle template
  • Permanent marker
  • Clay cutter: 28mm (11⁄16 in.) long, teardrop shape
  • Craft knife (optional)
  • Emery board
  • Needle files
  • Pin vise
  • Drill bit: 2mm (5⁄64 in.)
  • Kiln, kiln shelf; fiber blanket or vermiculite
  • Finishing items:
  • Brass brush
  • Tumbler, steel shot, burnishing compound
  • Liver of sulfur
  • Lemon juice (optional)
Instructions:
Build a better hollow bead 1
Photo 1
Build a better hollow bead 2
Photo 2
Bead forms

Make bicone bead forms. Place about 3g of either fresh cork clay or wood clay in a bead roller. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to form a bicone bead form [1]. Using the bead roller’s built-in guides, push a bead-piercing pin through the center of the bead form until it exits the opposite end [2].

Repeat to make a total of three bicone bead forms, which you’ll use to make two metal clay beads and two end caps. Because dried cork forms can be stored indefinitely, I made additional bead forms in a variety of shapes to use in future projects.

Build a better hollow bead 3
Photo 3
Build a better hollow bead 4
Photo 4

Dry the bead forms. Use the pins to suspend the bead forms on a bead rack to dry for a few days [3]. You can speed up the drying time by placing the forms in a dehydrator for 24 hours. The cork or wood clay must be completely dry before you add the metal clay.

Remove the pins. Use flatnose pliers to remove the pins from the bead forms. If necessary, twist the pins as you pull.

Make bead cap forms. Use a tissue blade to cut a bicone bead form in half at its widest point [4]. You’ll use the halves to make the bead caps.

Reinsert the pins in all the forms and return them to the bead rack.

Coat the bead forms with glue. Use a flat-tip paintbrush to apply a coat of craft glue to the bead forms. Allow the glue to dry completely. The dried glue provides a better surface for the metal clay to adhere to the forms and burns away during firing, along with the cork or wood clay.

For the rest of the step-by-step project instructions, click here for the free project PDF.

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