Polymer Clay Bead Holes

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 can't believe I never tried Amaco bead piercing pin wires before now. They're wonderful.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.

Amaco bead piercing pins made the best holes in polymer clay.

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.

I am impressed with how well these bead wires work for polymer clay bead holes.

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.

When I need to make holes in polymer clay beads, Amaco bead baking pins are my choice.
Even soft, sticky clay like Sculpey and Sculpey III doesn’t distort when I use bead pins to make holes.

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.

Knitting Needles

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.

You can use 0000 double pointed knitting needles as bead pins for use in LC Baker polymer clay bead baking rack by Lucy Tools.

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.

The Sculpey bead baking rack features pins that work well to pierce bead holes.

DIY Wires

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.

The LC Baker doesn't come with bead skewers. I made some from steel piano wire.

 

34 thoughts on “Polymer Clay Bead Holes”

    1. That’s what I liked about them. Interesting. What stringing material do you use? I tend to use 20 gauge copper wire when I make jewelry, so it works for me, but if you are using hemp or cord they would definitely be too small. But then you can use a drill to make them bigger, too.

  1. Yup they are the ticket. Love em! Iwould never spend money on the rack though. I have recycled all maner of paper coffee cups cut in half or jewelry top boxes, I just notch outa series on e top edge, not the slightest bit carefully then I have all sorts of option. Or just accordion some copy paper if I’m working on a whole bunch and they are headed straight for the oven

    1. And maybe what’s why I never considered these before. I’m very much a “why buy when you can make it” kind of girl. But I might think about it, though.

  2. I will use the tiny pin to make a first hole and then use my larger needle tool to make the hole again, and then use a larger awl after that if I want the hole even bigger. I don’t like drilling holes after curing because I think the edges end up too sharp… making the hole before curing gives it a nice rounded edge.

    1. It does leave a bit of a sharp edge that way. I usually use my craft knife to clean them up if necessary. But you have quite a rounded and organic style and tend to work larger, too. I guess it depends on the situation.

  3. I have always used these but could never get the hole going straight across until I saw a tip about using the needle tool to first make an indent on each side first and then connect the two indents. Kind of hard to explain without hands on demonstration, but it works for me. So actually I use both pins and needle tool. If I need bigger holes then I have a built in guide for my drill press.

  4. Nice review. I use these and the hole size is perfect for my preferred stringing material: 36mm nylon coated stainless steel beading wire. They go through clay (I use Premo mostly) a little too easily sometimes and I have stabbed myself.

  5. I use these too Ginger and love them for when I need holes for wires. For bigger holes, I use wooden skewers. Love your articles! Thanks!

  6. Thanks, Ginger, I’ll have to try these. Have you tried their tri-bead roller? It’s a clever tool for making perfect little beads in three different shapes.

    1. Not their brand, but I do have the entire set of Poly Tools bead rollers. They’re a brilliant concept but I don’t actually use them very much at all. I prefer irregular beads most of the time.

  7. ladyflowersbysusan

    When I was reading through your wonderful rustic bead tutorial I found myself thinking of these wires. BTW, I am pretty sure you could use mini-loaf disposable aluminum foil pans to make your own bead baking rack for use with these pins. A scissors could make the notches you’d need.

  8. I don’t always drill before baking, but when I do, this is the product I use as well, Ginger 🙂 Much better to have a small hole and drill it out. Distortion has never been much of a problem, as I use mostly Kato. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Oh I still get distortion when I use a larger tool, even when I use Kato. I think I’m too impatient and try to rush it. These little suckers just surprised me. So sleek and simple.

  9. I purchased a beading tool kit by Cousins at Walmart for about $13 and they came with a bead reamer tool which can make holes of different sizes depending on how far you press the reamer in. The closer to the handle the bigger the hole. Here’s a link to the Tool set on Amazon … http://www.amazon.com/Cousin-Craft-Jewelry-Tool-6-Piece/dp/B001GS2YPO/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1392530597&sr=8-7&keywords=jewelry+tool+kit I think it’s the best all around tool set not just for beaders or jewelry makers but ANY crafter. I find all the pliers included so handy and even the tweezer/scoop is great for picking up tiny beads or gems to place on your clay. I recommend it !!

    1. What a neat little set to get started very inexpensively! I find the bead reamer makes quite a large hole, but that’s what you need if you’re using larger stringing materials, too. You’re right, it’s a versatile kit that comes in handy for a variety of crafts. Thanks for sharing the link!

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  11. Newer to your site, I was just going through older posts and found this very helpful. I’m new to PC and loving it! I just ordered the refill pack from Amazon for $5.94 with free shipping with $35 order (never a problem for me…I always have a wish list going). Sounds like they will be very helpful. Thanks for your excellent posts!

    1. Oh I do love Amazon. I use it often. I’ve been using these little bead pins constantly since I got them. They are now indispensable and have revolutionized my beadmaking. You’re going to love them.

    1. I thought about using polymer clay too and just didn’t do it yet. I don’t use the rack all that often, but every time I do, I think about doing this. Thanks for the reminder and the link so others can see what we’re talking about!

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  13. Hey, Gingerpedia. Like Rebecca, I use mine to make my holes, and then drill ’em out when I need bigger holes. They’re $5.64 on Amazon with free Prime shipping, case anyone’s interested. And nothing beats ’em for stabbing deep, excruciating wounds in your heels and balls of your feet when you drop ’em and don’t find one on the floor. Tip: wrap a piece of paper around the cheap plastic tube they come in, slide it off, and then cover the paper in clay so you can make yourself a *useful* tube to save the pins in. I put a “foot” around my tube so I can stand it on my desk and not lose it. It isn’t as tall as the pins; this way, I can just reach over and easily grab a pin when I need one without fiddling to open a tube when I have a soft bead in my other hand.

    1. Sadly, the manufacturer of this great product has stopped producing them. You can find a set of pins that are almost as thin here: https://amzn.to/2EHoawO. As you can tell, that might be a bit overkill in cost. You can use any thin, strong, pointed wire. You could even make your own from full-hard wire such as piano wire from a hobby shop.

  14. I saw someone( can’t remember who) who cut a very tiny wedge out of the side of the lentil bead( unbaked) place painters tape across the bead and then cut another small notch… she used the painters tape as a guide to keep the hole going straight ( not sure if i words this correctly- wish I remembered were I saw it)

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