What Is a Bead Reamer?

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What Is a Bead Reamer?

A bead reamer is a tool used primarily for enlarging the drilled holes in beads when they are too small to accommodate the chosen stringing materials or when the holes are inconsistent. In its simplest form, it looks similar to an awl with a filing surface along the tip. Using a bead reamer to enlarge holes or make holes consistent allows all of the beads from a strand to be used in a project. Where the edges of holes are rough, a bead reamer may be used to smooth them so there is less risk the bead might cut the stringing material.

Both manual and electric bead reamers are available. Typically, a reamer is purchased with more than one interchangeable bit to allow for use in expanding the holes of more than one size or type of bead. Alternatively, manual reamers may be purchased in sets of several reamers with different bits. Those who already own a grinding tool may purchase a set of bead reamers designed to fit that tool. From these many options, the jewellery artist is sure to find a bead reamer that fits comfortably with his or her own work style. Bead reamers may be purchased from local specialty shops and from such large online marketplaces as eBay.

Available Types of Bead Reamer

Bead reamers began as hand tools similar to awls. These reamers have a rounded wooden handle from which the awl-like reaming spike protrudes. Some bead reamers in the market still have a simple, smooth metal working surface, but these are not generally the most effective in use. Diamond-coated reamers more readily file out and smooth the holes in most beads to the desired diameter. The exception is natural pearls, which are too delicate for diamond-coated reamers.

Hand Reamer

Hand reamers are often provided with traditional wooden handles. Some are offered in sets of multiple plastic-handled reamers with different bits on each reamer. A foam-covered aluminium hand-reamer uses the handle as a storage container for several bits, which are screwed into a chuck for usage.

Battery Operated Electric Reamer

Any electric reamer operates about five times faster than a hand-reamer, allowing the jewellery maker to reduce time spent in preparation and increase time spent at the bead board. Battery operated reamers offer the convenience of being usable at any location.

If the batteries are rechargeable, then having extra batteries permits for one battery or set of batteries to be recharging while the other is in use. One convenience of a battery-operated reamer is that the switch is typically located on the grip, allowing the user to put the bit in place before switching the reamer on. This prevents many skips and nicks.

Corded Electric Bead Reamer

A corded electric bead reamer maintains the speed advantage of any electric reamer and never runs out of battery power. The caveat some would offer about using a cord with beads is that it is too easy to unintentionally swipe the cord across the bead board and send part of the stash or a project flying. Any jewellery maker knows his or her own habits and can make an appropriate decision.

The increased speed of any powered reamer increases the heat produced and adds to the need for lubrication. Many who use electric reamers hold the bead being reamed in a dish of water to keep it cool while reaming.

Grinding Tools Used as Reamers

Many craftspeople use a Dremel rotary tool for various kinds of drilling and grinding tasks. Sets of bits are available for use of the Dremel as a bead reamer. Different Dremel products have different grips and are switched on with differing mechanisms, some of which may be inconvenient for those attempting to drill something as small as a bead.

Some experienced beaders prefer Dremels with foot pedals for the same reason as beaders prefer battery reamers with the switch on the grip. When using a foot pedal, the bit and the bead may be engaged and the grip securely in hand when the power is turned on. Another solution is to use a flex shaft attachment with the Dremel. This puts the control switch on the grip, with a long flexible shaft connecting the grip and the reamer attachment to the power tool, which may be left powered on throughout use.

Bead Reamer Shapes

Bead reamer bits are sold for drilling and grinding tools. In addition, some kinds of hand reamers or electric reamers may include multiple bits to allow for the reaming or smoothing of different kinds or sizes of beads. In the table below, some of the most common sizes and shapes of bead reamer bits are summarised, along with their typical uses.

Bit Type

Bit Size

Bit Shape

Use

Cone

1 mm maximum diameter

A short cone ends the bit; cone height generally shorter than diameter

Smoothing edges of bead holes

Cone Head Cylinder

4.6 mm maximum diameter

A cylindrical head ends the bit; the cylinder tapers as a section of a cone

Smoothing edges of bead holes

Tapered Tips

0.75 - 1.2 mm maximum diameter

Tapers from base to tip

Opening up and enlarging bead holes

Pearl Tips

0.6 - 1 mm diameter

Long, very thin taper, no diamond dust abrasive

Opening up and enlarging holes in pearls

Dremel Bits for bead reaming

10-piece set from 1/16 to ⅞ inch diameter

Tapered bits of various diameters

Opening up and enlarging bead holes

Glastar Grinder Bits

2 and 3 mm bits available

Tapered bits

Opening up and enlarging bead holes

Most well-made reamer bits are coated with diamond grit. The grit provides enough abrasion for the reamer to most effectively do its job. Bits made for serious drilling are steel twist, similar to standard drill bits. These might be used for completing the drilling of half-drilled pearls, as one example, do not have diamond dust coating because the pearl is too delicate to stand up to the abrasion. Reamer bits without any abrasive coating are effective for breaking off, by force, any protrusions into the hole left by a bead mould or by the process of painting or coating a bead.

It is important to maintain a good hold on the bead when using grinding tools. Otherwise, the grinding tool may send the bead whizzing through the air. Some professionals use a bead vice for this purpose, especially when working with pearls; some wear rubber gloves; others have developed their own trade secrets.

When reaming a bead hole, it is recommended to ream first from one direction then the other. This is how bead holes are properly made in the first place so it is advisable to follow the same practise in improving the original hole.

Buying Bead Reamers on eBay

The selection of bead reamers on eBay includes a full range of manual, battery powered, and cord-powered reamers, as well as reamer bits for such popular grinding tools as the Dremel. A jewellery maker may begin by searching for "bead reamer" and then limit the selection using the advanced search function to add or exclude keywords, specify the sort order, and otherwise focus the selections to his or her needs. In the advanced search, a person who prefers a manual reamer might choose to exclude keyword "battery", for example. This would still include other kinds of electric powered reamers but would eliminate most.

Other Items to Consider Purchasing

When buying bead reamers, other items that may be useful to purchase include safety goggles and a bead vice. Those using powered bead reamers may wish to consider purchasing safety goggles for eye protection against flying dust and any beads that might be launched accidentally. A bead vice can be a useful tool for holding beads steady while working the reamer. Bead vices are more often used when actually drilling beads than when simply reaming a drilled bead, but some still find them convenient, especially when reaming pearls.

Conclusion

Bead reamers are useful tools on the jewellery maker's workbench, preventing the waste of beads that are imperfectly or incompletely drilled. A bead reamer may be a traditional manual tool or may be powered by batteries or a power cord. Powered reamers allow the operator to complete the job much more rapidly and are therefore preferred by those who need to ream many beads on a regular basis. Some designers prefer to use a reamer bit in a grinding tool they already use in other craft work, such as a Dremel. The use of a flex shaft attachment often makes these kinds of tools easier to handle when working with beads.

Many bit sizes are available for bead reamers to account for the various sizes of bead hole needed in different types of stringing projects. The finest bits are for natural pearls, while the largest are designed simply for smoothing any rough edges of bead holes to prevent them from snagging or cutting into the stringing materials. A bead vice may help to hold beads securely while using the bead reamer. All of these kinds of reamers may be easily found and purchased on eBay, where an international market in craft tools provides ready access to the equipment a jewellery crafter desires.

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