I am very fond of metal beads, but as with all beads, even when
buying items in bulk, good labelling is hard to come by. My
question is: if it looks like brass, can you safely assume it's
Carol, this is a chronic problem. If a metal bead looks like brass,
you cannot assume that it's brass. It is most likely brass-plated
pewter or pot metal, or perhaps it's brass-plated stainless steel. I
always carry a little magnet with me to test "brass" beads -- if
they're magnetic, they are steel underneath the brass plating. More
ambiguous is if they are weakly magnetic, they may be nickel or
nickel-silver underneath the plating.
If I see a nice "brass" bead at someplace like Michaels or ACMoore,
I try to get a small package on sale, take it home and use my Wiss
aviation snips to cut one in half -- the grey interior indicates
that the bead is not solid brass but is plated. But never expect
anyone at these craft stores (or at most other places) to know in
advance whether or not the beads are plated.
If you can buy a single bead, filing or sanding in some area may
also expose the metal underneath, as will tumble-polishing, if it's a
particularly thin layer of plating.
Of course, the beads could be gold-plated. Test that in one of the
ways suggested several days ago in this forum, under the heading,
"Easy telling brass wire from gold wire?"
Sometimes, brass is plated over brass. The outer layer may be
"Hamilton Gold," a type of brass (I think) which is resistant to
tarnishing (which always makes me wonder why more sheet and wire
aren't made entirely of "Hamilton Gold"). The worst case I ran across
was some solid brass beads which had been plated with something grey
and then plated with Hamilton Gold. I had a horrible time getting the
grey layer off (I do not like to use anything plated).
I'm still trying to find solid brass spacer beads (the kind with
tiny little balls around the outer edge). All I've ever found are