Big wood beads turned from hardwood can be beautiful. The beads that you see in the slideshow below are made from Eastern red cedar, spalted maple and mahogany. The mahogany I have left over from making necks for ukuleles. It’s a light but very strong wood and has a gorgeous grain.
The mahogany was kiln-dried and it’s important to remember whether your wood has dried naturally or been kiln-dried. If it has dried naturally, you might expect once you’ve turned it to bead-size that it could be prone to crack more easily than kiln-dried wood. On the other hand, if you take something like the mahogany down to a very thin wall, you have to be careful how much pressure you apply to it while it’s on the lathe or it will be prone to crack as well.
On mahogany ukulele necks, you would use pore filler before finishing it to prepare the wood to have a glass shiny surface on it. But with beads, you don’t need a glass shiny surface. That would be taking away from the naturalness of the wood.
It takes about 4 minutes to turn a hard wood big bead. That’s giving you time to stop and decide on the shape you want and admire some stages along the way.
- Cut the wood blanks to the length you want the bead.
- Safely drill a hole in the center of the blank.
- Place the bead blank between centers on the lathe.
- Use a spindle gouge to round and then shape the bead.
- Flip the bead around to shape both ends equally.
- Sand the bead if you need to, but typically using a spindle gouge to shape the bead gives you a smooth surface.
- If you polish the beads on the lathe, use Mylands friction polish for a real sheen.
- Shape and smooth the ends of the beads with a stone on a dremel.
- Admire your bead.
With regards to polishing, I often will turn several beads and then finish them with shellac. By dipping the whole bead in shellac, both the inside and outside of the bead are finished to make the bead a little more resistant to absorbing moisture.
The video below shows you how David Reed Smith turns wood beads between two tapered mandrels. Since I don’t turn pens, I don’t use the mandrel approach and am quite happy turning between centers.