Daily Wire Tip Oct. 15: Removing Clay from Glass Beads

By on October 14, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
October 15, 2010

Question:

Hello Dale! I recently obtained some glass beads, and they have a line of dust in the beading hole. What can be done to these glass beads to make them look clear?

-Rene in College Station, Texas

Answer:

The dust we find in the holes of some glass beads is residue of whatever release agent the bead maker used on their rod. This material is used to coat the metal rod before the bead is made, and it will be easier to remove the bead when it has cooled. Lamp work artists take great care to remove this clay before selling their art, however, factory bead makers do not.

There are several ways to remove this clay:

  • Under water: Use a piece of twisted scrap wire just a bit smaller than the hole to ream it out and then wash the beads in warm soapy water;
  • In water: Carefully use fine diamond bead reamers so you don’t scratch the inside of the glass hole;
  • Dry: Use pipecleaners, either single or folded in half, depending on the size of the hole, and then wash thoroughly.

With all methods, allow the beads to air dry, or help them along with a cotton swab.
I am sure that some of our readers are glass workers and will add to my suggestions as well by commenting below.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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15 Comments

  1. avatar

    Kaytee

    October 15, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Some imported lampwork will crack if/when the clay inside is soaked and/or removed…. This has happened to me a lot with ‘from India’ lampwork, especially. Of course, then you usually have two half-beads that can be glued to a flat surface/used as a cabochon.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 15, 2010 at 9:30 am

      Great ‘save’ advice – thanks Kaytee!

  2. avatar

    Cindy

    October 15, 2010 at 8:57 am

    As a wire-worker, beader & potter, please be careful not to let the clay bead release sediment settle into your drain pipes… If you wash them in a separate container, you can let the sediment settle, drain off the water and dispose of the sediment.

  3. avatar

    Teresa Cady

    October 15, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I have had great luck removing this using a small dental brush, like the ones that go between teeth. They are usually small enough to get into all but the smallest beads, and the brushes are gentle. They are not very expensive, last a long time, and the ones I get have a cap on them that keeps them from getting bent or trashed in my tool box.

  4. avatar

    Pam

    October 15, 2010 at 11:21 am

    A lampwork teacher I had suggested using denture cleaner. I haven’t had to try it yet (and it may be a problem on those (from India lampworked beads). I’ve also read that a real pipe cleaner (not the craft ones) works well.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks Pam – let us know when you have time to experiment – would you please?

  5. avatar

    V

    October 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Kaytee: I love your posts! Thanks!

    But I have to say, that cracking when you clean them almost sounds like a quality control issue. Or, I suppose, one could be too hard on them. You seem to have a lot of experience working with the materials… I find it hard to believe that you would rough-house your beads.

    That being said, I have had African Christmas beads split… though I will admit I was a bit younger and naive in the ways of materials.

    There was even dirt in the clay, which was why I was removing it!

    Those small, thin red round beads (only slightly rounder than crow beads) with the white hearts can split easily, too. I was trying to make the hole larger in that case. For either of these, I would not use a file of any kind, but the soft dental brush/pick.

    Let them soak for a while (say 4-8 hours) and *then* gently brush out what you can get to. I find that adding soap to the water (like dish soap or something else that cuts grease and has strong cleaning action) works wonders. If you don’t have time for a long soak, sometimes heating the water helps… but don’t get too zealous! When beads crack, it is often because of drastic temperature change.

    As for heat recommendations, think of warming up a Brown Betty (ceramic tea steeper).

    It should be on the hotter end of warm to the touch, you should be able to put your hand in comfortably and hold it for at least two seconds. Go cooler if the beads have been stored in a cooler place, or even if they just feel particularly cold. You quickly get a sense for this sort of thing, and you have some leeway.

    If you are worried, you can soak/rinse them in stages, feeling for the beads to adapt to each tier before you escalate. It can take 10-15 minutes depending on how big the beads are and how many you have… even what kind of vessel you are doing this in! I use white plastic bins so I can see if they bleed. Testing out your true color beads can be instructive sometimes…

    This also works for gemstones with cruft in the bead holes, or other times you rinse them. Though I admit, I often just rise/soak my gemmy beads in cold to lukewarm water, especially my garnets.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm

      Wow V – thanks so much!! We always love hearing from you too : )

  6. avatar

    Laura

    October 15, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I have the same problem and was considering using my tumbler with stainless steel shot and dawn. Would tumbling work?

    Thanks, Laura

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 15, 2010 at 1:46 pm

      Laura – I have no idea – folks can you help with this one please? Has anyone had any experiences that relate?

  7. avatar

    JoAnn

    October 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Im not sure about lampwork or clay beads, but I have soaked some of my glass beads in glass cleaner, like windex, with fantastic results. It works especially well on crystals, not sure about special coatings though, haven’t tried that.

  8. avatar

    Roni8

    October 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Cindy…Just curious….Besides the fact that only water should go down drains, why shouldn’t the sediment? Is it because of heavy metals in it?

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      Roni8, although I cannot speak for Cindy, I can tell you that the clay residue is similar to the slurry that comes from rock tumbling – which sets up like cement in plumbing – Cindy?

  9. avatar

    Shari

    October 15, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    My experience with tumbling beads in my rotary tumbler doesn’t work too well to get the bead release removed because a shot kernal will always get stuck in the hole and stay there until I pry it out. Sifting out and just using the “needles” shot to tumble with doesn’t get them stuck in the hole too often but that doesn’t clean out the bead release either because they are too long to effectively clean the inside of the hole. I just use diamond files to gently ream the beads under water.

    As for the beads cracking in half when the bead release is removed, it means the bead in the making process got too hot or too cold too quickly for the glass tensions to stabilize and the release was the only thing holding the bead together. As a beginning lamp-worker, I have lots of experience making half-bead cabochons. Usually means I took the bead out of the flame to work with it, then re-introduced it into the flame too quickly for the cooled glass to adapt. I hear it pop and know I will have a cracked bead when I take it out of the annealer and clean out the release.

  10. avatar

    variadee

    October 16, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    I have used the denture tablets for several years with great results. Please read Caution below.

    I put one tablet in a medium plastic cup 1/2 full of water. Add glass or some plastic beads or buttons. Let them sit overnight if really dirty. Stir once in awhile. Be sure to rinse thoroughly!!! Just lay them out on a dish towel to dry. If the towel gets too wet, pour onto a dry one. Leave until completely dry and store as usual. Again, please read Caution below.

    CAUTION: If not sure re colorfastness or stability, you might try testing one bead to see what happens. The denture tablet will remove some metallic finishes. I have not tested the new Permanent finish metallics by Miyuki.

    This is what has worked for me. No guarantees, though. LOL

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