Wood Gears

Here is a simple method of making wooden beads that does not require the use of a lathe.  All you need is an electric drill and a benchtop belt and/or disc sander.  Also use at least a dust mask and preferably a dust-collector system, this method creates a lot of dust which can wreak havoc with allergies, sinuses, and lungs.  Some kinds of wood are known to be carcinogenic, protect your lungs before any dust is made - there will be lots of dust.


To hold a piece of wood on a drill I have used a #8 steel wood screw with the head removed.  The length of the screw needs to be long enough to go into the hole drilled in the bead far enough so the other end of the hole is centered when spinning, and also extend far enough into the drill chuck so that it is held straight and secure - I used a 1.5 inch screw for mine.  Drill the holes in the beads with a 1/8 inch drill bit. Slip a washer or spacer of some sort over the screw to keep the screw point from going too far into the bead and to prevent the chuck jaws from marring the bead.  Make sure that the drill turns in the right-hand direction so the bead does not un-screw from the mandrel during shaping.  Use pliers with padded jaws to help remove the bead from the mandrel if needed.  Lubricate the screw threads by driving it into a block of beeswax or soap once in a while to make bead removal much easier.

If you only want to make small beads you can also make a tapered friction fit mandrel out of a 16-penny nail.  Cut the head off of the nail and file a shallow taper on one of the ends while the nail is spun in a drill press.  Have a piece of scrap wood nearby with a hole drilled the same size as the hole through the beads to check the fit.  Cut the nail to length so the mandrel extends far enough to keep the drill chuck out of the way, but not so far that it will easily get bent.


Use a coarse (40 or 60 grit) belt for shaping.  When the blank still has corners or flat sides remaining, hold the drill firmly above the sander and gently remove the corners running the drill at high speed - don't let the drill bounce or vibrate or else the bead will be out of round or off center with the hole through it.  I prefer to use the end roller with the belt surface moving away from me pointing the drill along the length of the belt, this makes it easier to shape the bead without having to tilt the drill as much.  Once you have the end of the bead shaped like you want it, unscrew the bead from the mandrel and attach the mandrel to the other end to shape the rest of the bead.

To remove the deep scratches caused by the shaping, use either a finer grit sanding disc (around 120 grit) on a combination belt/disc sander, or a sheet of cloth-backed sandpaper to sand the bead smoother.  Power sanding lets you skip several grits to get a good finish, but if you are spinning the bead on a non-moving sheet then you will need to use more steps of progressively finer grits.  Keep the bead moving around on the sandpaper to prevent grooves from forming that result from spinning the bead in one spot, and clogging the sandpaper.  Foam-backed sanding pads work great and shield hands and fingers from the heat generated by sanding. For the smoothest finish, carefully spin the bead against a small folded pad of Scotch-brite.  Do not use steel wool because it will end up getting wrapped around the bead and mandrel possibly causing injury.  Make the bead blanks with the hole drilled in the same direction as the end-grain.  This will make the beads stronger and easier to shape and smooth.

A sample of some of the beads made in an afternoon.  These were all sanded to 600 grit and then a wax finish was applied.  The finish is in bar form and is pressed against the bead while it is spinning at high speed, then it is spun against a rag and the heat from the friction melts the wax into the wood and then buffed with a clean spot on the rag to produce the final finish.