How do you make holes in polymer clay beads? If you would have asked me that two weeks ago, I would have told you that I either use needle tool to poke a hole in raw polymer clay or that I use a micro drill in a pin vise to drill a hole in a baked polymer clay bead. But all that has changed now. I found a whole new way to make polymer clay bead holes. I bought some Amaco Bead Piercing Pins, and they’re a total game changer.
I have worked with polymer clay for a long time and I knew that these pins existed. They come as part of Amaco’s Professional Bead Baking Rack system. Amaco is also known as American Art Clay Company and they are a major supplier for earthenware pottery, glazes, and tools. When Amaco began marketing to the polymer clay community years ago, they tended to repackage their pottery tools and pass them off as suitable for use with polymer clay. Which quite often they are not. So I was a bit snobbish about it, really, and just never gave Amaco tools any more thought after that. I never looked at the bead baking rack very seriously. But I was wrong. Very wrong.
I learn a lot of things on Facebook groups, and this story has its roots in a conversation on Tonja Lenderman‘s Just Polymer Clay Tutorials group. Group member Hennie Jackson asked what, besides skewers, she could use to make holes in polymer clay beads. The answers ranged all over the place. Many suggested skewers, needle tools, wires, and even my set of DIY needle tools. But Barbara Poland-Waters, Cindy Leitz, and Jan Montarsi all recommended these Amaco bead wires to make polymer clay bead holes. Not one to ignore such experienced clayers when they recommend something with such high praise, I ordered a set right away. It turns out that you don’t need to buy the whole baking rack system, you can buy the pins themselves as a “refill”. I got mine from a seller on ebay. They seem to cost $8-12 from most sellers. NOTE: Poly Clay Play has them for $6.25. And I just found out that PolyTools is the company supplying these to Amaco, and you can buy them directly here. (If you’re outside the US, there is an alternative, see below.)
When the package arrived I was surprised at how small the pins are. They come in a small vial to keep them contained. Each wire is 3 1/2″ (9cm) long and is just under the thickness of 20 gauge wire. They are copper-colored and have a sharpened, tapered silver tip on one end. They are not soft wire therefore and not easy to bend.
I’ve poked a lot of holes in polymer clay beads with needle tools and I’ve never been able to do it without distorting the clay to a certain extent. Even if you turn the tool as you push it into the clay, it does cause some distortion. I often only go part-way through so that when I come from the other side I can sort of “reverse” the distortion in the other direction. But almost always I need to reshape the bead afterward. So imagine my surprise when I was able to push these bead pin wires into the soft clay with no distortion at all! I had to twist as I pushed, yes. And once the wire was through, I just pulled back on the pin a bit to pull back the bit of clay that gets pushed out around the wire. But whoa. No more wonky polymer clay bead holes. Like I said, a game changer.
Because a package contains 50 pins, there were plenty and I was able to bake my beads right on the pins. After baking, I found that the beads fit nicely onto 20 gauge wire with only a tiny bit of snugness. You could easily enlarge the hole with a micro drill to whatever size you need. In fact, even when I know I will be using my micro drill after baking to make larger holes, I think I’ll use these bead pins in raw clay first to make sure that the hole is straight and doesn’t veer off to the side.
So…mea culpa. I was wrong. And I could have saved myself so much grief over the years if I’d bothered to check these out. Oh well. Now I know, and you know too! I’ll be amending my tutorials to include this information. I also might have to look into the rest of the Amaco line of polymer clay tools, too. I wonder what else I’m missing out on.
UPDATE: I’ve since bought the Bead Baking Rack and it’s…well…not a worth the money. It is a fine way of baking beads, but it doesn’t hold very many on the rack. And the pins fall off the rack with the slightest movement of the rack. Save your money and get a small tinfoil loaf pan instead. Cut notches in the sides for the bead pins. Cheap and effective. But definitely buy those bead pins!!
UPDATE #2: If you’re in the UK or EU, there is another product that is very, very similar to the Amaco bead pins. Staedtler, the makers of FIMO have a set of bead pins, made from stainless steel, that come with two sizes of pins in the package. I used them to make beads and they work just as well as the Amaco pins. You can get them here at Clayaround.
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