Here is a simple method of making wooden beads that does not require the use of a lathe. All you need is an electric
drill and a benchtop belt and/or disc sander. Also use at least a dust mask and preferably a dust-collector system,
this method creates a lot of dust which can wreak havoc with allergies, sinuses, and lungs. Some kinds of wood are known
to be carcinogenic, protect your lungs before any dust is made - there will be lots of dust.
To hold a piece of wood on a drill I have used a #8 steel wood screw with the head removed. The length of the
screw needs to be long enough to go into the hole drilled in the bead far enough so the other end of the hole is centered
when spinning, and also extend far enough into the drill chuck so that it is held straight and secure - I used a 1.5 inch
screw for mine. Drill the holes in the beads with a 1/8 inch drill bit. Slip a washer or spacer of some sort over the
screw to keep the screw point from going too far into the bead and to prevent the chuck jaws from marring the bead.
Make sure that the drill turns in the right-hand direction so the bead does not un-screw from the mandrel during shaping.
Use pliers with padded jaws to help remove the bead from the mandrel if needed. Lubricate the screw threads by driving
it into a block of beeswax or soap once in a while to make bead removal much easier.
If you only want to make small
beads you can also make a tapered friction fit mandrel out of a 16-penny nail. Cut the head off of the nail and file
a shallow taper on one of the ends while the nail is spun in a drill press. Have a piece of scrap wood nearby with a
hole drilled the same size as the hole through the beads to check the fit. Cut the nail to length so the mandrel extends
far enough to keep the drill chuck out of the way, but not so far that it will easily get bent. Use a coated nail instead
of one with a shiny finish to help prevent slipping.
A simple mandrel made from a screw.
#8 1.5" length
Use a coarse (40 or 60 grit) belt for shaping. When the blank still has corners or flat sides remaining, hold
the drill firmly above the sander and gently remove the corners running the drill at high speed - don't let the drill
bounce or vibrate or else the bead will be out of round or off center with the hole through it. I prefer to use the
end roller with the belt surface moving away from me pointing the drill along the length of the belt, this makes it easier
to shape the bead without having to tilt the drill as much. Once you have the end of the bead shaped like you want it,
unscrew the bead from the mandrel and attach the mandrel to the other end to shape the rest of the bead.
To remove the deep scratches caused by the shaping, use either a finer grit sanding disc (around 120 grit) on a combination
belt/disc sander, or a sheet of cloth-backed sandpaper to sand the bead smoother. Power sanding lets you skip several
grits to get a good finish, but if you are spinning the bead on a non-moving sheet then you will need to use more steps of
progressively finer grits. Keep the bead moving around on the sandpaper to prevent grooves from forming that result
from spinning the bead in one spot, and clogging the sandpaper. Foam-backed sanding pads work great and shield hands
and fingers from the heat generated by sanding. For the smoothest finish, carefully spin the bead against a small folded pad
of Scotch-brite. Do not use steel wool because it will end up getting wrapped around the bead and mandrel possibly causing
Make the bead blanks with the hole drilled in the same direction as the end-grain. This will make the beads stronger
and easier to shape and smooth.
Various beads made with this method.
Ebony square measures 1 inch.
A sample of some of the beads made in an afternoon. These were all sanded to 600 grit and then a wax finish was
applied. The finish is in bar form and is pressed against the bead while it is spinning at high speed, then it is spun
against a rag and the heat from the friction melts the wax into the wood and then buffed with a clean spot on the rag to produce
the final finish. Here is a link to the manufacturers site where the wax finish can be purchased: