A Guide to Ceramic Beads

Handmade ceramic beads have the wonderful attribute of being incredibly unique, each one having been nurtured carefully into an art form through a lengthy process that starts with a block of clay. It’s safe to say that the amount of effort that goes into making ceramic beads is pretty awesome, because it can take several days before a ceramic bead artist can see the fruits of their labor. In this article, we explain more about what’s involved in the ceramic bead making process.

The differences between types of clay

You may have seen or heard of porcelain, stoneware, earthenware or just plain ceramic beads in the past and wondered what the difference is between them. Well, porcelain, stoneware and earthenware are all different types of clay and the term “ceramic” can be used for all of them as it relates to all forms of “fired clay”. These clays are fired in a kiln – a special furnace or chamber designed to reach very high temperatures. A kiln effectively bakes clay to make it hard and is commonly used for pottery.

Polymer clay is different to the clays mentioned above and is therefore not usually classed as ceramic. Polymer clay is a man-made material and in fact doesn’t contain any clay – it’s simply called clay because it can be molded and shaped just liked traditional clay. Polymer clay can be baked in an oven instead of being fired in a kiln.

How ceramic beads are made

There are three main stages to making ceramic beads, although the actual process will vary depending on the ceramic artist.

1. Greenware – unfired clay

Greenware is the term used when clay is in its most basic form, before it’s been fired. At this stage, you can roll out and mold the clay into the shapes that you’d like. You can make round beads; flat beads; twisted tubes and add detail and decoration to the clay using your fingers or a dowel. You can allow your imagination to take over in this fun part of the process! At this stage you would “drill” a center hole in the bead using a dowel or skewer.

Wet clay needs to be left to air dry before moving onto the next stage in the process – cleaning and smoothing with a damp sponge. Air drying can take several days depending on external conditions!

2. Bisque – fired clay

This is the term used for when clay beads are fired to the point where they are no longer clay and become ceramic. Firing can be done twice – usually again after a glaze has been used. Not all ceramics require firing twice. Some porcelains for example are only fired once, at a very high temperature to give it a glass-like appearance. A firing cycle may take between 8 – 24 hours depending on the clay used.

3. Glaze – a finishing process

A glaze is a product that can be hand-painted onto a fired clay form (Bisque). It can be matte, metallic, shiny, colorful or clear. You can use an underglaze alone or add an overglaze as well. Once the glaze is dry, you will then need to return your ceramic beads to the kiln for a second round of firing.

Take a look at these examples of ceramic beads from our store with different finishes below.

30mm Spike Mykonos Matte Ceramic Beads 15x7mm Oval Metalized Ceramic Beads

Raku ceramic beads

Raku is an ancient pottery technique that dates back to 16th century Japan. Raku ceramic beads are fairly special – they’re made slightly differently from other ceramics because of the firing process involved. Where regular clay forms are placed into a cold kiln, in Raku, the clay is often preheated and loaded into a hot kiln. Firing then proceeds usually very quickly. You can find out more about the Raku process here.

Below are a couple of examples from our Raku range here at Golden Age Beads.

38x30mm Raku Ceramic “Forest” Focal Bead 18x14mm Raku Tricolor Cornflake Ceramic Beads

We hope you enjoyed this article about the ceramic bead making process! From little and versatile spacer beads, right through to one-of-a-kind pendants, ceramic beads can really add interest and character to all sorts of jewelry-making projects. You can find our extensive range of ceramic beads here!

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