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What are Some Different Kinds of Beads?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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As beaders know, there is an endless variety of beads available for sale today. Craft stores sell every type you can imagine in every size and shape possible. Those made of wood, gemstones, metal and glass are easy to find and transform into beautiful pieces of jewelry.

Wooden beads may be plain, patterned or textured. They can be very light colored or very dark colored wood be glazed with a shiny coating or left uncoated and more rustic looking. Many are round or oval, but square and other shapes are also available. The sizes of wood beads range from tiny spacers to big round or oval ones the size of a plum.

Gemstones of all kinds are made into beads. Amber is a warm brown gemstone with swirls of neutral colors and is popular for pendants and other jewelry. Hemalite is an iron ore mineral that can have a magnetic as well as a nonmagnetic quality depending on the type of hemalite. Hemalite beads are available in many different colors and are often used in making magnetic bracelets.

Carved jade in intricate labyrinth-type patterns are available for pendants for making necklaces. You can also find smaller carved jade beads as well. The natural colors of jade range from light whitish-green to dark brownish-red in color.

Sterling silver is not only used for chains, but also for beads. These may be smooth and shiny or have a corrugated or other texture to them. Tiny spacers, tube or "macaroni" style, and sterling silver beads shaped like moons or stars are all available. Some have cubic zirconia (CZ) inserted into them for extra sparkle.

Glass beads are made in a wide range of colors and styles. Swirled patterned ones can have the appearance of polished stones. Some glass beads have flowers painted on them. They may be in any shape including tube, square and heart-shaped. Animal-shaped beads such as tiny glass cats, birds, dogs and fish can be great accents when used with plainer ones.

Porcelain beads are often round and may be white with dainty Victorian floral designs or they made be in primary colors with more graphic patterns on them. Cloisonne varieties are shiny and elaborately painted with floral patterns in rich, bright jewel toned colors. This type is usually sold in the form of larger circular pendants in order to let the detailed patterns show.

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Discussion Comments

By SkittisH — On Jun 24, 2011

@aishia - Lampwork beads are the best! I make these, too, and my work table sounds like it must look exactly like your mom's.

Has she tried any of the fancier lampwork bead making styles, or just the basics? For the basic beads, you've probably watched her hold the little metal stick out in front of the torch to heat it, then hold a glass stick out to melt the tip and wrap it around the metal stick.

Now, for more advanced designs you can use a combination of opaque glass sticks and translucent glass sticks to make bead designs that have little flowers made with dots of colors inside of the bead beneath the surface, or if you feel like it you can make beads with stripes.

I particularly enjoy giving my lampwork glass beads a zig-zag pattern by pulling the tip of the glass stick up and down as I rotate the metal stick to move the glass onto it and build my bead.

I also make sure to heat the bead enough to evenly melt and smooth out the surface of the bead. It's a good sign of a beginner lampwork bead maker when their beads turn out lumpy or bigger on one side than the other.

By aishia — On Jun 21, 2011

@gimbell - Isn't the world funny? When I think of the word "bead", glass beads are in fact all that I can think of!

My mom makes glass lampwork beads using a glass bead making kit she ordered in the mail. The kit came with a little bead torch that runs on a tiny butane or propane kind of cylinder for fuel. It literally clamps onto the edge of your table and points up into the air in front of you when you sit down there to work.

The bead torch burns with this intimidating hissing sound, and the flame is blue. I've watched mom make beads for hours sitting at her bead torch, but I'm afraid to get too close to it -- it looks like it would be so easy to make one wrong move with your hand in front of it and get seriously burned...

Mom has never hurt herself, of course. Other than the bead torch and fuel, the kit came with an instructional video on how to make glass beads of various types, and lots of little thin sticks made out of glass as the materials for glass lampwork beads. I don't know how they didn't break during shipping -- they're really thin.

If you order a lampwork bead making kit, this is what you can expect to find inside.

By gimbell — On Jun 20, 2011

What a neat article. I'm one of those people who just thinks of plastic pony beads when they think of beads at all, and reading about all of the different types really got me to thinking about trying out some serious beadwork.

See, I haven't actually done any beading since I was a little girl. I used to love to bead designs of animals on bead looms with pony beads. Recently I learned that the grown up version of the pony bead animals is to do Native American style beadwork on a bead loom using seed beads.

Seed beads are extremely tiny glass beads, which as I said I only recently became aware of. Now I can't wait to buy some seed beads and a Native American bead loom to try them out!

Native American bead looms are small, inexpensive wire frames, by the way. Not at all intimidating -- I think I can figure out how to use one quick.

By hanley79 — On Jun 17, 2011

@bagley79 - Oh gosh, I've ordered from Fire Mountain Beads, too! Their beads are really gorgeous, and just fantastic for arts and crafts projects.

My mom first ordered from the company when we got into doing beading designs for necklaces and earrings together. Thanks to mom's encouragement to try out her hobby, I've gone kind of crazy for beads of all kinds.

Glass beads are very pretty, and the kind that most people talk about when they refer to hand made beads, but my favorite bead style is gemstone beads.

The gemstones don't even have to be big expensive ones -- quartz crystal beads are breathtaking, as are hematite and a few others. There's a gemstone for any color you could want, so it's not at all limiting to make bead projects entirely out of natural gemstones.

By Hawthorne — On Jun 16, 2011

One of my favorite kinds of beads is called Cloisonné. It's a style of bead that is made out of a metal base on the bottom, then has very thin layers of inlaid glass in different colors smoothed over the top to make a design.

Cloisonné is just beautiful if done right. To get the most intricate designs, the bead makers first etch and mold the metal base so that there are dips in the metal and then raised lines. Then when the glass is put on top, it shows some of the metal through it.

Cloisonné can be used to make small beads as well as really big and beautiful pendant beads and such. When I was a teen, one of my favorite necklaces was a big two-inch round Cloisonné bead attached to a long chain.

Cloisonné, though the name is derived from a French word, seems to show Asian-style designs a lot. My giant round Cloisonné pendant had an illustration of butterflies on a blue backdrop, and was very much an Asian design.

I've never seen Cloisonné on anything except for beads, but I hear that sometimes it is used to make inlaid boxes and even bowls. Cool, huh?

By sunshined — On Jun 16, 2011

Because I have accumulated a wide assortment of beads through the years, I am never at a loss for a fun project to do with kids or even for a gift to make.

One gift that I have given several friends is a beaded bracelet with charms that are special to them. One of my friends loves animals, so her charm bracelet has charms of cats, dogs and horses (which she has all three of). This makes a unique gift that is always appreciated.

By honeybees — On Jun 16, 2011

I have used everything from the tiny seed beads to faceted beads to cubic zirconia in all kinds of craft projects. I like to look at pieces of jewelry in magazines and try to copy the look for a lot less money. There really is no right or wrong to what you use, my rule is that it must be something that you like and will wear.

Completed pieces can be as simple or complex as you want to be. I have made a pair of earrings in just a few minutes, and other times have spent much longer on a pair that had a lot more detail. The ways to be creative are endless.

By bagley79 — On Jun 16, 2011

Making jewelry from all the different kinds of beads that are available is not only fun, but can also save you some money. I have ordered wholesale beads from a company called Fire Mountain, and they have a huge assortment of beads and gems in just about every color and style you can imagine.

One of my favorites are the cultured freshwater pearls that come in a stick shape with holes drilled in the center for easy beading. They have a smooth, shiny finish to them that makes them look dressy and elegant.

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