How to Fix Beads with Too-Small Holes: Bead Reamer, Pearl Reamer & More

Whether you’re a stitcher or a stringer, chances are you run across beads with too-small holes. You have choices:

  1. Jam your needle or wire through the bead, often resulting in frustration and a broken bead.
  2. Throw the bead over your shoulder (like with salt, it’s considered good luck).
  3. Use a tool, such as a bead reamer, to enlarge the hole. If you want to go with Option 3, but aren’t sure how it’s done, read on.

For all these beading techniques, be sure to wear safety glasses.

Bead Reamer

Bead reamer set as pictured from the book, Findings and Finishings by Sharon Baterman.This hand tool comes with a selection of tapered, diamond-coated tips to accommodate different-size bead holes. They work well for enlarging and smoothing the holes in gemstone, shell, pearl, and glass beads. To use one, hold your bead in one hand and the reamer in the other hand. Working under water (a pan full of water or under the tap works), use the pointed tip to sand through the bead hole, first from one side of the bead, then from the other to keep the hole even. Bead reamers also come in electric versions, which go quite a bit faster. The increased friction will heat up your bead, so hold it under water (the bead, not the electric reamer, for heaven’s sakes!) with a cushioned tweezers to avoid burning your fingers. Note: Water is very important to the success of bead reaming: It not only makes the process go faster, it helps keep your tool sharp.

Want to see the technique in action? Katie Hacker does a nice job in the Beads, Baubles, and Jewels Series 800 DVD. She shows exactly how to use a battery-operated bead reamer to drill a pearl under water. Buy Beads, Baubles, and Jewels Series 800.

Pearl Reamer

This hand tool is similar to a bead reamer, but it’s built just for pearls. It has a straight handle and a very fine corkscrew-like tip. You hold the pearl in one hand and place the tip into the pearl hole with the other hand. Working “dry” (not underwater, like with the bead reamer), use the tool to slowly and carefully sand the pearl’s hole from one side, then from the other. The action will produce a fine pearl dust.

Needle File

For polymer clay, acrylic, and wood beads, a needle file can do the trick to enlarge and smooth holes. Use it the same way as you would the pearl reamer.

Dremel or Foredom Drill

These electric drills have tiny bits that are perfect not only for making new bead holes, but enlarging them. Use the same technique as with the bead reamer, keeping the bead (not the drill, of course!) under water.

Do you have more tips for enlarging bead holes? Share them in the comments!

Jean Campbell, contributing editor to Interweave's beading section.Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!

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