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.
Note: The Amaco Bead Pins are currently out of production. I know there is some talk of finding a new manufacturer, so we are very hopeful. For the time being, there are other options. Scroll down to the section on bead pin alternatives for some ideas of other products that work in a similar way.
How to Make Holes in Polymer Clay Beads
- Skewers, needle tools, or toothpicks cause distortion when pushed through unbaked polymer clay beads
- Bead pins are thin, stiff, pointed wires which easily pierce raw polymer clay beads.
- Bake the beads on the pins, removing the pins after baking.
- If you need a larger hole, just enlarge the hole with a drill after baking.
- The small hole created by the bead pins makes it easy to drill straight.
- If you varnish or paint your beads, the bead pin serves as an excellent handle for the bead.
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.
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.
Alternatives to Bead Pins
If you can’t find these tiny little bead pins, there are other options when you want to pierce your beads with small holes. Here are some ideas.
Fimo Bead Pins
Staedtler, the maker of FIMO, also has some nice bead pins that are very, very similar to the Amaco bead pins. They’re made from stainless steel and they 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 or at Cookson Gold.
Size 0000 double-pointed knitting needles, normally used for knitting fine gauge socks, also work well as bead pins. They’re a bit larger than the Amaco bead pins, but not as large as skewers or coat hangers. These can usually be found in craft stores or found online.
Sculpey Bead Baking Rack
This little rack from Sculpey features these neat little pins with a triangular end. They’re designed to prop on the rack (that is also included in the package) for baking in the oven. They’re about the same diameter as the 0000 knitting needles.
Any fully stocked hobby shop or hardware store will carry stiff wire known as piano wire or music wire. Here’s an online source. It comes in various diameters and I found that the 0.039″ size was a good compromise between being thin and also strong. These wires are usually purchased in lengths of 36″ or about a meter and you’ll have to cut them to the right length. Don’t use your good wire cutters for this because this wire is very hard. You can then sharpen the ends a bit on a grinder or even by rubbing them on some concrete (yes the sidewalk outside your house works great). Once you make a set, you will always have them as you will use them over and over again.