Sizes of beading tools... do I need them?

Dear All -

In the back of my mind, I’ve needed these; my former boss had them
and they were useful, but I had no knowledge of their details…

How would a 1st time buyer decide what beading tools to buy? I’m
totally ignorant, so all (pro & con, good & bad) is
welcome. The group concensus (or lack thereof) will inform me.

best regards,
Kelley Dragon

How would a 1st time buyer decide what beading tools to buy? 

Kelley, I think almost everybody thinks of beading tools as setting
tools - used to finish up “bead setting”. Really they are tools for
"beading"… …If you are a lousy engraver, like me, you can engrave
"18K" by cutting 5 lines and use a beading tool for the “8”… And
such like… The huge beading tools are pretty much useless for most
setting, but they’re real useful for beading - putting a row down
some edge, perfectly rounding design elements or doing a background
texture - all sorts of things. For most setting you could do most
work with 1/2 dozen of them, I’d think…

By beading tools do you mean tools for stringing beads, crimping the
ends, attaching hooks or clasps, making earrings, etc. The Swiss
tools you mentioned are described as " Used to form beads to hold
diamonds and other stones in mountings". This doesn’t sound like what
I think of as beading.

For the type of beading in my first sentence your primary tools IMHO

Round nose pliers
2 chain nose pliers
Wire cutter
Crimp tool

They can be bought for $10 or less each in bead stores.

If the type of beading you’re thinking about uses bead crochet, bead
weaving or primarily seed beads then you’ll need instead (or in

Beading needles (sizes 10 and 12 are very common) VERY sharp scissors
(for cutting fireline try Joyce Chen kitchen scissors or little
Fiskars, sold in craft stores)

Taking classes will give you a chance to try new tools before buying
and decide which you’d like to purchase. Some classes will give you a
list of tools you are required to bring with you.

Is this the type of beading you meant?

Mary Partlan
White Branch Designs

By beading tools do you mean tools for stringing beads, crimping
the ends, attaching hooks or clasps, making earrings, etc. The
Swiss tools you mentioned are described as " Used to form beads to
hold diamonds and other stones in mountings". This doesn't sound
like what I think of as beading. 

Mary, beading tools, as most often used by goldsmiths, refers to
those tools the Arbe catalog showed as “swiss beading tools”. They’re
a steel shaft tapered at the end to a hardened hemispherical
depression. In diamond and stone setting, one way to set stones in
place is, after sinking the stone down into a surface via a cut seat
the stone rests in, using an engraving tool to raise (push) little
bits of metal up and slightly over the stone, leaving the groove of
the cut it came from just behind it. Engraving tools are then used to
further clean up the metal attractively around the stone and around
those raised bit, and the beading tools are used to burnish and shape
those otherwise somewhat rough and uneven bits into nice little
grains, or beads, that function to hold the stones in.

If jewelry making to you consists of stringing or weaving or
otherwise manipulating beads, then of course a beading tool would
mean tools used for working with your beads. But for stone setters
or most jewelers and goldsmiths, the automatic meaning is in
reference to the above described stone setting tools. For us, who do
rather less work with beads than we might do with other gems, then
for us, we might not have a seperate catagory of tools for working
with beads, but rather, whatever suitable various tweezers or cutters
or pliers we might already have at the bench, and most of these tools
have other goldsmithing uses as well, so we’d not be calling them
beading tools, but rather whatever type of actual tool (tweezer,
cutter, plier, etc) they are…

Peter Rowe

Thanks Mary, but no, not that kind of beading. The tools are for
finishhing the setting of gems.

And John, thanks for the tip - I do have a hard time making that ‘8’.

best regards,
Kelley Dragon

The key to beading tools is in their description. They are to/ form
/beads for holding in stones. The beads are raised by using a graver.
I use a round graver ranging from a #50 up depending on the size of
bead needed. After raising the bead (which holds the stone in place)
the beading tool is then used to form or shape the bead in a nice
round shape. They can also be used to form a decorative bead or line
of beads and to finish out millgrain lines where the standard
millgrain tool will not work. Up against prongs and other edges
where the wheel of the tool just will not go. I never use a beading
tool to set or tighten stones that is what the graver is for. The
beading tool is for shaping and forming. Just starting out I would go
ahead and buy a set of beading tools and then replace the ones I use
the most as needed.


Hi Mary,

The Swiss tools you mentioned are described as " Used to form beads
to hold diamonds and other stones in mountings". This doesn't sound
like what I think of as beading. 

The tools Kelly was asking about, are indeed used for setting
stones, among other things, as John D mentioned. They have nothing to
do with stringing beads.

When bead-setting stones, small “beads” of the precious metal are
raised and pushed just over the edge of the stone’s girdle, using a
graver called a “bead raiser”. The beading tools are then used to
form the bead into a uniform, round shape.


Mary you gave me a huge smile today. Your take on beading tools is
most informative as well as broadening my understanding of the
english language!

Cheers, alastair

Peter and all

The is another name for this beader. It is called a
"bead-burnisher". The correct use of this tool is that it burnishes
each of the raised drawn beads that are over each diamond. The end
result is that each bead is nicely shaped into a shiny little ball
and with no rough edges to cut the skin…


Hi Kelley,

The numbers associated with beading tools go from 0 to 20, I have no
idea whether these number were arbitrarily assigned or if they have a
specific value. I like to have at least three or four of every size
from 0 to 20. 8 to 12 are the sizes I use the most, and I try to keep
at least a half dozen or so of each. I order them by the dozen as
they wear out quickly and are really only at their best when new or
almost new. I will go through five or six or more beading tools in a
single pave’ job. As Frank says, they aren’t really for setting as
much as they are used to form the raised beads into nice, uniform,
polished round beads after the setting work is completed.

Bead setting, bright cutting and pave’ when done well should require
no polishing after completion. In fact, like engraving, really good
bead and bright work is diminished by polishing as it rounds the
crisp edges and flattens the beads making it kind of muddy looking.
This requires that your gravers and beading tools be extremely sharp
and highly polished with no nicks or grooves. If the tool touches a
diamond, especially the smaller tools, they are junk. It’s possible
to reshape them and reburnish them, but it takes longer to do than
the darn things are worth, they only cost a dollar or two.

I like the Swiss beading tools, and buy them from Frei and Borel or
Gesswein. If you intend to do any work requiring a shiny bead, I
would recommend getting a beading block as well. There are two basic
types, one has various sizes of ball bearings pressed into a steel
block so that about a third of the ball is exposed, the other type
has small balls corresponding to tool sizes raised on tiny pedestals,
for lack of a better description. Both work, but I prefer the one
with the raised balls, and use the ball that’s the same size,
followed by one size smaller than the tool I’m burnishing. You just
lube the tool with wintergreen oil or similar, put the tool on the
ball, and roll it around and twist it for a few seconds to burnish
the inside of the cavity. I finish with a quick polish of the outside
of the cutting edge on a ruby stone held almost parallel to the
taper. Makes for a nice, smooth, well defined and highly polished

I use the larger tools to make large milgraine and engraving
embellishments more than for bead setting and pave’. A triple row of
beads using a #8, #10 or #12 milgraine tool on the two outside rows
with #14 beads in the center makes a really nice antique style finish
on things like undergalleries. By varying sizes of both the milgraine
tool and the beading tool you can come up with all kinds of cool
combinations that will fit many widths and lengths of strip. You have
to do a bit of bright cutting and separation of beads before and
after beading for a really nice and clean effect though. Large
beading tools also create great berries and flower centers when
engraving floral patterns (cut the raised outside flange off with a
square or flat graver and be careful you don’t nick your berries!),
the smallest ones (0 -3) make excellent stippling tools, and work
best with a very light touch of your smallest chasing hammer.

In your situation, I would probably order a minimum of 3 or 4 each
of #7 to #14 tools, order a decent handle (I use one intended for
milgraine tools), with a changeable collet preferably and get a
decent beading block, as opposed to ordering a set of tools. The sets
come with one or two tools each, and you’ll burn through a couple of
tools before you even figure out what you’re doing with them. The
handles that come with the sets are also usually cheap and a little
oddly shaped, I like a larger round ball shaped handle. Much easier
on the palm of the hand. I also like the split collet style handles
that hold the tool securely as opposed to the slip-fit brass bushing
style collet that are in the cheap handles.

Beading tools are like saw blades or drill bits in that they have
very short lives. Having one or two just isn’t going to be enough if
you have a real setting job to do or if you need to make more than a
dozen or so beads. I order all of those tools by the dozen at the
very minimum and make sure I have a bunch around before starting a
big setting job.

Enjoy the blisters and calluses raising beads will raise in the palm
of your hand too. That sore, blistered, aching hand is the mark of a
pro stone setter. Wear it like the badge of honor it is, and show it
proudly! And try not to flinch when your customer shakes your hand in
thanks for doing such a fine setting job.

Happy Veteran’s Day Kelley, and Thanks for your service!

Dave Phelps

If you intend to do any work requiring a shiny bead, I would
recommend getting a beading >block as well. 

As usual Dave is right on the money. He does such beautiful bead
work, I think we should all listen to him. I would add that we have
used a tip that was recently posted by Orchid’s Mother ship. Tom
Weishaar suggested you buy a set of carbide ball burs to recut your
worn beading tools. You need to do it under magnification and
carefully, but you can recut the cup of the beading tool beautifully
(you can get 3-4 recuts out of a bur before it begins to chip), then
polish the edge on your oil stone and away you go. If you add Dave’s
tip to polish to beading tool using your beading block and a little
wintergreen oil, your tool will be good as new and it’ll smell good
to boot!