Bead Library: Bone Beads

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Making Bone Beads | Bone Beads

Making Bone Beads

By Beverly Fernandes

Most modern bone beads are made from cow or sheep or camel bones and are a byproduct of the food industry. In fact they have always been a part of the food chain. Today most bone beads come from Indonesia where they are made by made hand in small factories and private homes. Bone is a durable material that is hard enough to wear well, but soft enough to be worked with nearly any hard tool. Modern bead makers have the advantage of steel tools and powered machinery. This makes bone beads both abundant an inexpensive.

Processing raw bone into workable material is a simple process, but it is smelly and dangerous because on the chemicals involved. First the bones are cleaned with soapy water and a stiff brush. All the meat, gristle and ligaments have to be removed. Then the bones are boiled in a dilute acid either hydrochloric or sulfuric, until the bones lose the greasy texture of raw bone. When this is done the bones are rinsed thoroughly and dried. The next step requires soaking the bones in a dilute solution of bleach. This removes the last of the protein gelatin that can decompose and rot. Old bone that is poorly processed can have a very strong unpleasant aroma. The last step is to rinse the bones in clear water and dry them thoroughly for several days. After the bones are processed they are cut in small workable pieces. Then they are carved into the shapes we are most familiar with; small pierced carvings, round and oblong beads, pendants and nearly any other shape. After carving the beads can be stained or dyed.

Bones are an organic substance made of calcium phosphate and gelatinous protein compounds. It lends itself to bead making very well. Bone has long been used as a substitute for ivory and at first glance the two look similar. There are some very basic differences. The most obvious is that bone is heavier than ivory. Another is that upon close examination bone and ivory have very different appearances. Bone shows concentric layers and a dry appearance. Ivory, on the other hand, has a crisscross pattern and can be polished to a deep luster because the natural gelatin has not been removed.

Today bone beads are popular for trendy bead amulets, and some of the favorite shapes include hairpipe for American Indian designs or carved with traditional designs for primitive motifs. Since these beads are still hand carved, each one is unique. While most bone beads are cream colored, brown or black they can be found in every color of the rainbow. Many are stained black or brown to make them look old. Others may be colored with aniline dyes, but natural is the most popular color.

Bibliography

A Handbook on Beads by W. G. N. van der Sleen
Jewelry Concepts and Technology by Oppi Untracht
The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present by Lois Sherr Dubin

About the Author

Beverly Fernandes has been beading since 1969. Since moving to Eugene in 1998 Bev has worked primarily with beads, her first loves have always been her husband John and beadwork. Bev works primarily with Japanese Cylinder Beads known as Delicas. They come in over 600 colors and textures, so Bev can practically paint with beads. Most pieces are worked in peyote or gourd stitch, a form of bead weaving that has been found in Egyptian tombs and has since been practiced by nearly every culture that has worked with beads. Beverly has a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. She studies archaeology and bead history.
All article text and photos Harlequin Beads & Jewelry unless otherwise noted.
Text and photos may not be used without permession from Harlequin Beads & Jewelry.

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In Harlequin's bead library you will find information on the history of beads, how beads are made and how beads have been used throughout the world.

Many articles include a bibliography to provide you with additional resources. Many of the beading books referenced are available at your local library, and we offer a number of books on beads and beading in our inventory.

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Harlequin Beads and Jewelry specializes in Swarovski crystal, pendants and pearls, Czech glass and seed, Japanese seed and gemstone beads, plus a full selection of stringing supplies and jewelry findings.