Jean Campbell's 10 Must-Have Beading Tools


Jeanward Pliershands

Did you ever see that movie Edward Scissorhands? It's a modern-day-Frankenstein fantasy about a young man who's been built with a cacophony of scissors instead of hands. Edward ends up becoming quite a master at haircutting, dog trimming, hedge clipping, ice sculpting, and topiary making. A quirky, strange, and wonderful movie.

I feel close to Edward in all of his tool-focused existence when it comes to my beading tools. I'm sure we often look like distant cousins as I whirr from one tool to another while beading. My hand tools are like natural—yet more precise and steely—extensions of my hand, and my bead table is covered with them. Let me count here . . 13 assorted pliers, 3 wire cutters, 7 assorted scissors, 1 thread burner, 12 metal files, 2 tweezers, 1 metal pick, 6 bead clips, 1 bead reamer, and dozens and dozens of needles. Heck, if this beading thing doesn't work out I could always set up an orthodontia shop.

Scissors are nice, but if I were Edward, I'd switch out the tools on my hands. Here's how I'd replace them, finger by finger:

Jeanward Pliershands 

1. Chain-nose pliers. Of all the tools on my worktable, I think the chain-nose pliers are my favorite. Not only do I use them for bending wire but also for opening loops and rescuing my needle from too-filled-with-thread beads. Chain-nose pliers have smooth flat jaws that taper to a point. If you're in the market, make sure to buy ergonomically over economically! You'll have these in your hands all the time so make sure they're comfortable.

2. Round-nose pliers. Even though these pliers really only do one thing—bend loops—they are invaluable for getting a professional look. Round-nose pliers have smooth cylindrical jaws that taper to a point. My favorite feature? You can make a variety of loop sizes with this tool by simply moving the place on the jaws where you're bending the wire.

3. Crimping pliers. Before I really knew about stringing beads on wire I thought a person could get by with just squeezing a crimp tube closed. But now I know the fine art of crimping and how much better a piece looks when done the proper way! Crimping pliers have jaws with two notches: one collapses the crimp tube, the other shapes it.

4. Flush cutters. The pointy jaws of this cutter are flat on one side, V-shaped on the other. When you cut wire with this tool, you'll end up with one wire piece that has a flat, or flush cut, and another that's angled. Again, when aiming for a professional look, a flush wire cut is so much nicer to look at (and to wear) than a mangled angled one.

5. Wire cutters. It's good to have a pair of wire cutters used solely for cutting flexible beading wire—the steel is murder on blades. You can buy a cutters strictly designed for cutting steel and other blade-denting metals or do like me and employ one of your trashed flush cutters.

6. Sharp embroidery scissors. A pair of these little pointy, extremely sharp scissors is a key component to any off-loomer's toolbox, not only for cutting thread but also for getting into tight trim spots for bead embroidery.

7. Fiskars kitchen scissors. This might be a weird one, but I find myself using these more and more in my bead studio. I mostly use them for cutting braided beading thread, but I use them for lots of other things, too, like cutting felt and plastic and yarn.

8. Thread burner. This little tool was originally designed for sculpting wax molds, but beaders found a great use for it. The tip has a tiny heat element that works perfect for cleanly trimming thread close to beadwork.

9. Sharp beading needles. Some people like long English beading needles, but since I do a lot of off-loom work I like the maneuverability of the shorter "sharp" or "straw" needles. Plus, their relative stubbiness works well with my relatively stubby digits.

10. Thumb. Okay, so this is not technically a hand tool, it's a hand part. But I'd never give up a thumb–ever! Not only does my opposable thumb make me human, thus able to hold a spoon (something Edward couldn't do), it also is the best tool available for bending, smoothing, and adjusting wire, as well as feeding thread through a needle. Oh, Edward's life would have been so much less tragic if he'd only had a thumb.

What are your top 10 must-have tools? Type out a quick list and post it on the website!

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Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!



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Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  You can also follow me on Twitter at: Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

3 thoughts on “Jean Campbell's 10 Must-Have Beading Tools

    My Ten: -one nylon stocking foot (for vacuuming up spilt beads) – size 12 beading needle – Mighty Bright clip on craft light (for on the go beading) – embroidery scissors – hunk o’ beeswax – round nose pliers – chain nose pliers – tweezers – flush cutter

    Comment by: Alex U | April 23, 2008

    Leslie’s top ten tools: 1-Fiskars for FireLine 2-sharp small scissors 3-tons of long #10 needles 4 round nose pliers 5 chain nose pliers 6 nylon jaw pliers 7 tweezers with spoon ends 8 bead scoops, varied sizes 9 metric rule 10 wire snips

    Comment by: | April 23, 2008

    Becky’s Handy tools- Many surgical clamping tools (for holding unfinished items,graduated round tip pliers(for making loops), several sized reamers,small ruler,(2) pieces of felt (1 dark 1 light)to put beads on, memory wire cutters

    Comment by: Becky A | April 23, 2008

    I agree with Leslie’s top 10. Here are a few more. Long handled tweezers with rectangular scoup at the other end. A piece of Martex blanketing so beads don’t roll around on it and unlike a towel, the beading needle doesn’t get caught up in it and spill your beads all over the place. (Been there, done that). 3rd and best for “older eyes”, is my Optivisor. A headpiece with magnifiers, (I think the beads manufacturers are making the holes smaller these days). Some types even have little battery-powered lights on the sides or in front. I can even bead at night with this thing.

    Comment by: mary b | April 23, 2008

    I am a beginner in the world of beading. I have been shown a particular type of pliers I couldn’t live without. That is the hemostat as used in hospitals. The hemostat can hold multiple strings one at each end while working on a project.

    Comment by: Katherine V | April 23, 2008

    My cheap but universally available tool: a pair of fingernail clippers. They work on EVERYTHING from head and eye pins to tiger tail and because they’re not “dangerous” anymore, can be taken on airplanes, etc. and if you lose them, so what, they’re cheap! And they fit rather nicely between beads if I have to clip the end of a piece of tiger tail after crimping.

    Comment by: Mimi M | April 23, 2008

    These are a few of my “can’t live withouts”: Spring loaded tweezers, that open when squeezed, magnifier on a stand-mine has a light on the underside, bamboo skewers which I use to separate groups of beads, count beads into groups – actually, everything, 3 foot retractible tape measure, tiny ruler-mine is about 3″. Lara B

    Comment by: Lara B | April 23, 2008

    Wire Worker’s 10 by Cindy – 1. Round Nose Pliers 2. Chain Nose Pliers 3. Bent Nose Pliers (new to me, learned the beauty of these babies at a class in Philly) 4. Flat Nose Pliers 5. Flush Cutters 6. Heavy Duty Wire Cutters for larger guage wire 7. Coiling tool 8. Wire straightening tool (also learned from Philly) 9. Hammer and anvil (does this count as one? 10. Wig-Jig or Jig type device

    Comment by: Cindy C | April 23, 2008

    My top tools are:

    A pencil – I use Nymo, which comes on those horrendous little round things and as you use it up, it gets more and more wiggly and prone to knotting, so I stretch it over a pencil before use.

    Several ice cream tub lids – for decanting beads into when beading. Those little tubes that the beads come in are not beg enough to get your needle into.

    Collapsing eye needles – I do native american beadwork and consequently I do alot of loomwork and these little beauties have saved my sanity times without number.

    Pliers with flat jaws – for pulling needles through beads that already have loads of threads through them, fingers just cannot grip on smooth needles.

    PVA Glue – remains movable for a while so that tiny adjustments can be made. Will happily stick leather, felt and all sorts, which I can then cover with peyote beadwork, and dries clear and invisible. A tiny drop helps hold knots in place too.

    Tiny embroidery scissors – I only use these for cutting Nymo and nothing else.

    Huge Fiskars scissors – great for cutting felt and thin leather which I use alot of in native american beadwork.

    Comment by: Merita K | April 23, 2008

    1. Reading Glasses 2. A good light 3. Those little triangle trays for scooping and sorting and pooring beads. 4. Velux beading cloth to work on. 5. Chain nose pliers. 6. Lots of needles, I like the stubby ones also. 7. Ruler 8. Scissors I like fiskars too. 9. A good set of wire cutters 10. The remote control. 7.

    Comment by: Sandy K | April 23, 2008

    MY Glasses !! – Some day I will buy a magnifying light.

    You All have covered everything else.

    Comment by: Kerin O | April 23, 2008

    MY Glasses !! – Some day I will buy a magnifying light.

    You All have covered everything else.

    Comment by: Kerin O | April 23, 2008

    I am in the early stages of beading. I apprciate all the information posted on this site. This time I would have appreciated a picture of the tools listed. Thank you.

    Mary Rose MALTA

    Comment by: Mary Rose B | April 23, 2008

    Magnifying lamp; beading mat; thread holders; plastic lids (keep beads in whilst working); soft scoopy bowl for tipping tiny beads back into container; I am sure there are many more, this is just off the top of my head! Have fun – Sally

    Comment by: Sal D | April 23, 2008

    Here are a few more tools from my toolbox: “braid blades” for Fireline and split ring pliers (scarfed from hubby’s tackle box), rosary pliers (round nose pliers with wire cutter attached), jump ring tool, bead/pearl reamer, fold-up ruler (purchased from the school supply at Walmart–I bought one for every project box), and my Daylight lamp (now it comes in a cordless version!). Ronda Rice, Pennsylvania

    Comment by: ronda r | April 23, 2008

    LOVE the picture!!!

    Comment by: Mary F | April 23, 2008

    LOVE the picture!!!

    Comment by: Mary F | April 23, 2008

    I call it my “pokey thing”, but it’s actually a cake tester I bought at a kitchen supply place. Looks like a beading awl, but with the fineness of a needle and very sturdy. It has a hundred different uses, from knotting (and removing knots) to poking holes in earring cards, to counting links of chain, to placing dots of glue very precisely, and endless other uses. I can’t live without it, so much so that I bought a dozen of them and keep them all over the house.–Kelli P.

    Comment by: | April 23, 2008

    My list (lumping some like tools together): 1. Chain nose pliers 2. round nose pliers 3. Crimp pliers – the regular ones and both sizes of Magical crimp forming tools, 4. kiddy scissors to cut fireline 5. wire cutters – flush, flex and misc. Like Jean, I cycle my cutters from one use to another. 6. lamp with magnifier 7. Hypo-cement – it’s got a nice needle point to put the glue exactly where I want it 8. Big Eye needles – I don’t do a lot of beadweaving, but the Big Eye needles are sometimes a big help when stringing 9. beadspinner – I wouldn’t do kumihimo without it and 10. Bead Stoppers (fondly known in our house as “cuss stoppers”) – these are great to use instead of stop beads, tape, alligator clips, or just about anything else.

    Comment by: Deb W | April 23, 2008

    Must haves: needles, scissors wax & thread conditioner crimp plier needle nose flat & round pliers chocolate box to hold it all chocolate

    Comment by: Mary H | April 23, 2008

    My top 10 tools, in no particular order: 1)Velux beading mat–I, too, tried the towel with disastrous results–I had 3 mats and gave one to my sister. 2) #12 beading needles–I started out with sharps, and while they’re okay, they’re not very flexible. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven the first time I tried actual beading 3)A small pair of very sharp scissors, strictly for Nymo. 4) Nymo. 5) Beeswax for Nymo–I’d been using Nymo without the beeswax, and was pleasantly surprised by how much easier it was to bead with it. 6, 7, 8) round nose, chain nose pliers and wire cutters (variety). 9) Beading Lamp, and 10)Triangle bead scoops. That doesn’t cover everything, but those definitely top my list!

    Comment by: Rhonda K | April 23, 2008

    My top ten includes my Ott light, which I’d be lost without; silamide in many colors; tweezers with a bead scoop end; super sharp Fiskars pointy-ended scissors; needles in sizes 10, 11, 12, 13 and 16; size 00 nymo for working with size 18-20 seed beads; a bead board; Lacy’s stiff stuff; cabochons of all kinds; and every bead I take a fancy to!

    Comment by: Lynne Y | April 23, 2008

    I also have many pairs and types of each tool. I carry a full set in my purse,plus a project that I can fit into a medium size prescription bottle. I use a lighter or a piece of spaghetti,it has a very small flame and is easier to control,for burning the ends of threads. I always have something to bead wherever I go. I am a beadaholic and do not wish to stop.

    Comment by: Wayne P | April 23, 2008

    My top 10 tools in no particular order – Chain Nose Pliers, Round Nose Pliers, Bent Nose Pliers, Flush Cutters, Hardened (Memory) Wire Cutters, Split Ring Pliers, Crimp Pliers, Chasing Hammer, Bench Block and Soldering Iron.

    Comment by: | April 23, 2008

    Other tools: heavy duty wire cutters from hardware store; can’t live without the Magic Crimping Pliers;nylon jaw pliers

    Comment by: | April 23, 2008

    Jean Campbell is such a delight! I’m so glad she joined the Beading Daily team. Her column is so much fun!!

    Comment by: Pamela (Pam) A | April 23, 2008

    Without an Optivisor, I’d be unable to find the seedbeads, needle or thread. That’s got to be #1 on my list. #2 would be my ott-lite for beading in the late night/early morning hours. … JMD, Oregon

    Comment by: Jocille D | April 23, 2008

    There are other must-have tools for some things but these are the ones I use the most: 1. #10 John James beading needles: easy to thread for most beads 2. #12 John James sharps for too short a thread in a tight place 3. Thread Heaven conditioner 4. Embroidery scissors 5. Reading glasses: unfortunately, as a contact lens wearer I now need these! 6. (Lotsa) Ott Lite, especially with magnification 7. Tapestry needle, size 20-24: The point is blunt, which helps to back out wire or threads to fix mistakes, open a wire loop or loosen knots and tangles in Nymo without shredding it 8. Wire cutters: I’d love a fancy pair of flush cutters but they are on my wish list. 9. Tiny needlenose pliers: My pair came from an electronics kit. They work great when more leverage is needed to pull thread or wire through a tight bead, or open tiny wire loops. They crimp pretty well, too. 10. Triangle scoop for efficient tidying-up of that cluttered workspace; and let’s not forget 11. The cloth that keeps the beads from rolling away: I like sweatshirt fabric the best.

    Comment by: Mary Y | April 23, 2008

    I use the same top ten tools as most of you. My #1 new tool is my bead vacume/dust-buster. It works great!!! It runs on batteries and separates the beads from the other rug dirt. My beading awaits, My Itchy Fingers

    Comment by: Linda H | April 23, 2008

    Flush Cut Pliers Chain Nose Pliers Round Nose Pliers Prong Lifter Prong Bender Gem Set Setting Pliers Flat Nose Pliers Nylon Jaw Pliers Crimping pliers Chasing Hammer

    Comment by: Rebecca L | April 23, 2008

    I love your mention of the thumb, though I think it should be first on the list, since I nearly did lose mine, while spending 6 hr. a day making all the jewelry for a wedding party. 2nd PT appointment today, in my custom made brace–she has me on a 15 or 20 min. only beading diet, then rest for at least an equal amount of time.

    Comment by: Pat S | April 23, 2008

    Jean’s list is right on and add that I also need my Ott-Lite and Optivisor – eliminates that big Whoops! when you thought the project was finished, I recycle plastic containers for beads and string and wire and findings – if it has a lid of any kind its fair game in this house – mostly medicine bottles but everything is evaluated before going into the trash, Permanent ink (Sharpie) markers – the metalic type I use on old worn base metal chain from old jewelry being repurposed into new designs and I’m experimenting with enamel paint markers from the art supply store – the price of metal wire and a gallon of gas are killing my coinpurse, I use Micro fiber cloths for cleaning and polishing and as bead mats, wooden dowels, my household tool kit has a wealth of goodies in it when it seems nothing else will get the job done!, and my two felines that I couldn’t bead without even if I wanted to!

    Comment by: J L H | April 24, 2008

    My top tools (seed beader): 1. Beading mats 2. An integrated light/magnifying glasss. 3. A needle threader 4. A tea-tray with collapsible legs so I can bead anywhere! 5. A tolerant family!!

    Comment by: Sarahleigh S | April 24, 2008

    Jean, Thanks for your comments on tools to have on hand. How about an accompanying picture for each tool — I’m not sure I’d recognize all the ones mentioned. Thankyou, Michal

    Comment by: michal f | April 24, 2008

    Jean, Thanks for your comments on tools to have on hand. How about an accompanying picture for each tool — I’m not sure I’d recognize all the ones mentioned. Thankyou, Michal

    Comment by: michal f | April 24, 2008

    At the top of my top 10 list is my laptop computer (and printer with paper) with my Bead Cellar Pattern Designer program and access to all my favorite beading and bead buying sites. After that I have to include my travel set of Wubbers pliers and wire cutters, a ruler, velux lined large flat cookie tin with lid, divided porcelain bead dish, needles, embroidery scissors,and from the sporting goods store, my large 300 yard spool of Crystal Fireline and a various plastic storage boxes filled with beads and findings. (Items from the sporting goods department usually cost less and have a lot more options.)

    Comment by: Kathleen P | April 24, 2008

    The best tool on my bench is my bottle of Tool Magic. No more marred wire.

    Comment by: Susan S | April 24, 2008

    Thumbs should have been first on the list. I am having problems with my thumbs curving down into my hands, and am told I will eventually need surgery. Have any other beaders had thumb surgery? How is your flexibility afterwards? So far, I am putting off the surgery to keep beading because I am not sure of what I will be able to do afterwards. Input from other beaders would be helpful!

    Comment by: Sharon E | April 24, 2008

    I have 2 favorites. An old flat wooden cigar-box which I’ve lined with velux top and botton. I can just clip the lid shut on my seedbead work and everything stays safe. Instant travel pac and work surface too! And a necklace-bust I made with heavy card, padded with thick foam and covered with grid-marked fabric. This gives me a great surface for pinning my work to, to check drape and design. After years of using the ‘drape-and-cut’ method of garment design, I found I couldn’t cope without my ‘dummy’ when I graduated to beading! lol.

    Comment by: Lynda T | April 24, 2008

    The one thing I cannot bead without is my glasses. And a good light. I also use found objects around the house for shaping wire. Medicine bottles, small tins, whatever I can find to make the work space more efficient. Perhaps my favorite thing is my nice, padded lap desk, it allows me to bead on the bed while I watch TV, upstairs where the critters can’t disturb me, and I can put it up unfinished if I need to do that.

    Comment by: Theresa O | April 24, 2008

    My bead box “must have” tools include jeweler’s tweezers with very fine tips and no ridges for teasing out knots in beading thread, pushing a bead upright at the end of a bead embroidery row, for poking debris out of a hole in a bead, for grasping the tip of my beading needle in tight places, and for tucking a thread end between two pieces of suede or felt that I am edging with beads.

    Comment by: Daria G | April 24, 2008

    For me I always have “on hand” when beading are the following: Good adjustable light source, two chain nose pliers, two different size round nose, very sharp small sisors, a bead reamer that i also use to pick or tuck thread as needed and thread conditioner. Also a padded work surface so i wont have jumping beads!

    Comment by: Sally C | April 25, 2008

    Just a comment on #9 – Sharp Beading Needles. I Start out with sharp beading needles but give them a few swipes with a file in order to prevent pricking myself.

    Comment by: | April 25, 2008

    Gosh, my list is long, so I’ll break it up into a few comments. Please bear with me–I didn’t realize there was a 500 character limit on comments! Here goes: Mine would include many of the above, plus:

    1. Nylon-jaw pliers – absolutely invaluable for straightening wire in one fast, smooth, perfect gesture. It’s just so effortless and almost always perfect, a great improvement over (my!) fingers and a cloth. 2. Magnifying lenses of some kind – I thought I was getting jump rings closed and knots tight—and many other tiny details correctly managed—only to find, once I donned the Mag-Eyes I bought in a serious splurge one day, that my nice, neat finishing wasn’t so nice or neat, after all. I’m not a big fan of the Mag-Eyes so far: perhaps it’s the design of the pair I have, or perhaps I’m not using it correctly, or maybe they’re all the same and everyone else is just way tougher than I am…but after about one and a half hours of wearing the thing, I develop a mondo headache. I’m not one to get headaches, either. Right now, I’m coveting a flexible-arm magnifying lens that you can clamp to your bench edge, with or without a light component.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    3. Makeshift mandrels – perhaps these are so fundamental and obvious that they didn’t get put onto Jean’s list, but when I visualize my workbench, they leap forward in my vision, as if I were looking through those wonderful Stereovision slide viewers we had as kids. I politely stole a set of strange tools from my partner’s garage workbench, and they’ve been great for wrapping wire around (and other odd jobs) as they’re hard as the dickens and I don’t have to worry about scratching them; they also come in a couple dozen sizes and in a handy block drilled to hold them in order. They are die taps, and are made for metalworkers (my sweetie designs and builds the most beautiful custom restored old cars and fabulous hot rods) and are pretty common tools. They’re also, my beloved says, pretty cheap, so if you can’t steal ‘em, you might just spring for a set of them for yourself! I also lucked out and scooped up about fifty assorted-sizes of knitting needles at a local hospice thrift shop, and these have been infinitely useful as mandrels, tiny rolling pins for polymer clay, hole-pokers, etc. Same idea: long, small cylinders, good for lots of stuff.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    4. Rubber non-slip woven-look shelf liner stuff – I have no idea what it’s called, but it seems to have almost replaced traditional shelf paper and comes in lovely colors these days. I have a large Formica-topped table I use for a workbench (three of them, actually, as I’m what feels like the luckiest artist in the world to finally have a clean, bright studio with plenty of space for assorted work surfaces…but don’t hate me: just two years ago I escaped from a long relationship with an extremely abusive partner who, in addition to the physical violence he perpetrated upon me, viciously and brilliantly manipulated my mind and emotions. He had promised me a room in which to sew and design my jewelry, when I moved in with him, but refused to let me use one. Six long years went by, with me occasionally beading on the coffee table for a couple of hours before packing it all away, again. Even after I finally escaped from him, I spent many more months in shelters, living on the street, living in my car, and bouncing from one couch to another, through a series of crowded roommate arrangements, never feeling safe physically—much less creative and free.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    Anyway, those rolls of shelf liner are wonderful, to me. I like a nice, neutral tan color for most things. When I drop beads, they help keep the bounce to a minimum; nothing rolls—not beads, not tools; they are soft enough to protect almost any delicate bead I’m working with. The little holes in the “weave” might frustrate some people, but the very thing I can imagine them being frustrated with is what I love: beads and findings 4mm and smaller will fall down into the holes. To me, this just makes picking up the leftovers loads easier, when I’m through with a project. Or, if I want to drop four crimp tubes and two wire guardians right by my hand, ready to pick up when I’m at that stage in assembling my piece, they will be where I put them and not get pushed around by flying hands and dragging strands of beads. 5. A long, flat ruler, double-sided taped to the front edge of my workbench. I have little triangles of masking tape stuck right to the ruler, working out from the center line on the whole ruler, indicating standard lengths for bracelets, chokers, and other things I make regularly.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    6. My homemade beading wire dispenser: This has helped me organize—and keep organized—my work space, immensely. I just took a shallow cardboard box, poked some holes in two opposite sides (leaving the top open) and pushed some thin dowels through the holes, and voila! I have a dispenser. I string all those spools of Softflex and Magic Stretch and spools of silk and nylon thread onto a dowel once I’ve pushed it into the box on one side, then I push it on through the other side, and not only do the spools and reels spin freely but they are contained and don’t go rolling off to the one corner of the studio I can’t get to (Murphy’s Law).

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    7. Lights, camera, action! Seriously, lights and my camera are also indispensable studio/beading tools, for me. Light is another one of those so-imporrtant-and-obvious-we-neglect-to-consider-its-importance kinds of “tools”, I guess. I’m lucky enough to have a huge, south-facing window that lights my studio very nicely, during the day, yet I still found I needed task lighting focused on my main workstations. Desk lamps are nice, and lots of people use them, with natural daylight bulbs, but—plentiful as my work surface areas may be—I’m forever jealous of every inch of work surface and loathe to give up any of it to a base or clamp, if I can keep it free of those.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    . Track lighting is my recent addition to my space, and it’s so wonderful! It’s reasonably inexpensive, considering that it’s also a home improvement, and it’s delightfully flexible: I use flood bulbs in little step canisters, but you could also use drop fixtures or spots (or a combination of all of the above. You can even add an electrical outlet to the track, so that if you use a tool like a heat gun or something, all your cord is out of the way, running straight up to the ceiling. Back to “lights, camera…”, do consider keeping a camera close by your workspace, and using it liberally, if it’s digital (in which case the “film” is basically free—shoot as many photos as you like, without worrying how they’re coming out!). Photos of how you use a tool or put together a design are awfully nice things to tuck into a blog or jewelry group post, and just might visually explain something someone else hadn’t quite grasped in the past. You can also document your work as you go; sometimes it’s very handy to have a photo storyline if you want to exactly reproduce what you’ve done. A photo really can be worth a thousand words, sometimes. You might even use photos to help with inventory control: take pics of some supply you’re running out of. I have been keeping a list on a dry marker board, but describing the bead and trying to remember its catalog number and write it down can be awkward and slow; a snapshot showing the last bead or two beside the label with the catalog order number on it is super-fast, difficult to get confused about, easy to download to the computer where you re-order supplies, and painless to throw away when you’re done with it. And most cheap digital cameras work wonderfully at arm’s length. You don’t really need a digital SLR with a macro lens to do this kind of record-keeping; even some cell phones have cameras that’ll serve just fine.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    8. Wire cutters, for precious metal wire, with a “keeper”. I stumbled across this tool somewhere, not knowing what it was, and ordered it anyway, and it has been fantastic. A little gentle spring “keeps” the cut-off bits of wire that would normally go flying all around the room—and it really works, even on extremely tiny bits. I save all my sterling scrap. There are lots of things you can do with it, and sterling just gets pricier all the time. Even if you don’t wind up using it, you can likely sell it to a gold and silver dealer, and get something for it. Gosh, you can sell it to me! Just be very meticulous about only keeping sterling wire, making sure you never put plated or tinned wire, or any base metals, in your scrap bin. I don’t know much about fine silver or Argentium, but I’d think you’d want separate scrap containers for these, too.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    9. Paper plates and sour-cream, yogurt, Cool-Whip container lids. I’m forever scrounging tools that cost little or nothing, and I use tons of all of these. The paper plates are temporary project containers, and I’ll throw all of the beads I plan to use for a specific project onto one while I’m in the middle of a creative brainstorm (which usually happens in the middle of some other process, and for which I don’t have time, right that moment, to stop) and then set it toward the back of my workbench. Most of the time (unless you’re working with really large beads or beads in odd, bulky containers, you will be able to stack the paper plate project trays, too, to help keep them from overtaking your work surface. The smaller lids from disposable plastic containers such as yogurt, sour cream, margarine, frozen whipped topping, etc., make great temporary catch-alls (even within the paper plate, if you like) for super-tiny things like crimp or seed beads, head pins, jump rings, French wires, and more. You can have two or three of these, if necessary, per paper plate, and most of them are soft enough plastic that you can even roll them, slightly, when you’re finished and ready to put leftover pieces back into their home containers. Ditto with the paper plates, especially if you use the cheap or moderately-priced kind. Oh, and stick with white (or clear, if that works for you) with as little printing as possible…avoiding the visual clutter of designs and words may not seem like much, but for me, shaving even microseconds off my brain’s confused flailing is a gift I won’t look in the mouth. With paper plates, you can stack them back up when you’re finished, and reuse them indefinitely. And when Friday night rolls around and you spring for delivered pizza, remember you’ve got paper plates in your studio or workroom!

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    10. My next-to-last “tool” is another supply, really: baby wipes. I started keeping these in my studio when I started working with polymer clay, but they come in pretty darn handy lots of non-polymer times. Paper towels, too; I’ve put up a paper-towel dispenser right there in my room. Baby wipes can be bought at flea markets, for you fellow scroungers and scrapers: last weekend, I bought brand-name refill packs for $1 each. Make sure they are heavy enough, though. Overly lightweight packs may have had their fluids evaporate due to age or heat exposure. (And of course keep handy a few basic cleaning fluids, or their equivalent: Windex, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer. I’ve got a great recipe for homemade window cleaner that’s cheap and environmentally safe (I used it when I kept pet reptiles, who are very sensitive to chemicals) and I’d be happy to pass it along—visit my website at and convo me for it.

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    11. Last, but not least: a small vacuum cleaner of some kind, sized according to the space you’ve got and the type of debris you tend to generate. A Dustbuster (the only name I know for a tiny, bagless, handheld vac) can be nice for surfaces that accumulate shavings, sawdust, and other lightweight debris, but be careful, as those types of waste can, on a typical work surface, be mixed with valuable beads, wire scraps, etc. My personal favorite vacuum is a small, lightweight shop vacuum, preferably one small and light enough to hold in one hand while the other wields the business end of the hose, with a critical modification: use a rubber band or wide tape (like duct tape or wide masking tape) to hold the foot cut out of a ruined pair of pantyhose—or some other sheer knit fabric, avoiding any with open holes, like fishnets—tightly covering the open end of the hose. (Keep a few extra pieces of stocking on hand, for when they tear or get sucked on into the machine.) This is invaluable for collecting beads that have tried to escape, and for those hiding in corners, crevices, and the pile of that burnt-orange shag carpeting you’re working above. It’s great, too, for cleaning up your work surface. Just pat it around until

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    you’ve sucked up all your mess or until it stops sucking, then hold it over a clean, shallow, empty container (a white paper plate works!) carefully, while you switch off the machine. All the beads and crimp tubes and jump rings will fall back off the stocking foot and can be added to that bowl of beads you’re going to sort someday. At my house, what falls off the stocking foot is a thick layer of mixed dog and cat hair, with a few beads cradled gently among the compacted fur like so many bird’s eggs in a next. One of these days, I’m gonna figure out how to make something to-die-for out of these clumps of fur—heck, what’s felt (popular now in jewelry as well as crafts) but wads of animal fur that’s been steamed or washed to make it stick together?

    Hope these ideas are useful to someone. And, hey, if you get rich on the felted pet fur idea, can I get a couple of bucks’ royalty?

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    PS – thanks to everyone who is posting their ideas (looks like I’ve duplicated a few, but that’s useful info too–knowing the same tool is important to many people reinforces its potential usefulness to the reader) as I love this topic and it’s great to see so much participation! Peace to all of you, and big hugs!

    Comment by: Terri K | April 25, 2008

    I use mostly seed and delica beads for peyote projects and I found a wonderful tool to help me out.

    1. I bought small silver plated rectangular trays (which were meant to be wedding favors)to use for bead trays. They are the perfect size and the needle slides over the surface very nicely when picking up beads. And they stack (with or without beads) perfectly.

    2. sewing scissors 3. pliers 4. fishing line 5. natural Beeswax lip balm (makes lips feel good and tames thread when trying to thread a needle) 6. laptop – I have beading software on it and some graph paper in pdf form. Instead of crossing out lines on paper, I remove rows that I’ve already worked with the software or “spray paint” the worked rows when using the paint appication. 7. Rolling cart to keep laptop, scanner, and beading supplies on. Can be rolled into a closet when company comes. Very handy when working with limited space. 8. Last but not least… cat treats for those moments when the thread that I’m pulling through the beadwork is too much for kitties to ignore (talk about tangled thread!!).

    Comment by: Suzy A | April 25, 2008

    Instead of using 2 pairs of pliers to open and close jump-rings, screw a slot-head screw into the top of a clothespin. Support the ring in the slot while using the pliers to turn the ring.

    Comment by: Cookie M | April 27, 2008

    I agree about the thumbs! I cut a tendon on my left thumb (I’m right-handed), and you cannot imagine how much you use the thumb on your non-dominant hand and how hard it is to do some things without it. If you don’t believe me, try tying your shoe with only one thumb. Thanks for a great article. PS I love the picture too!

    Comment by: Yvette F | April 29, 2008

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