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Wood beads – Beauty From The Nature, Back In Fashion

Where trees grow there are wood beads. I believe that they are the most common, easy to come by and versatile bead types of all, and the best thing: They are fairly low in price.

Most wood types can be used for beads, and trying to figure out the different types of wood beads you can get online, was close to impossible.

There are SO many types of wood used with all kinds of exotic or common names, from all over the world. There are white wood types, light brown, yellow, dark brown, black, red, gray and even some with both dark and light wood. There is hardwood and soft wood, and even some wood that isn't really wood, like bamboo, which is a grass type.

So whatever preference you may have, there is a wood bead for you out there.

Wood have been used for jewelry and beads since the dawn of time, along with other organic materials like coral, pearls, gemstones, shells and seeds. Up to the 20th century wooden jewelry was seen as something ethnic and a bit primitive in the western world. But then Coco Chanel introduced wooden jewelry on the catwalk and created a revolution and retribution for wood used for jewelry.

What is so great about wood?
Today wood is a very popular element in the jewelry industry, but what is it that makes wood so spectacular?
Well, apart from the diversity in color, density and patterns due to all the different wood types, wood is easy to shape and to carve. You can paint it, polish it, lacquer it, oil it and burn it, to create stunning small artistic beads.

It is light weight, so you can go for big and bold without worrying about the weight of the finished jewelry. You can even create sweet smelling jewelry, since some wood types, like Jujube- and Sandal wood, are aromatic.

Wood can be used for beads and bracelets, but also as inlays in jewelry of gold, silver and any other jewelry making material, making absolutely stunning and beautiful pendants, bracelets, cufflinks, rings and you name it. It can also be dyed in all possible colors, enhancing and strengthen the wooden patterns or cover them, depending on what you prefer.

Wood beads can be covered with other materials and used as a bead core. Many types of beaded beads are made around a wood bead. If you need gold or silver beads but cannot afford them, you can cover wood beads with metal leaf.

You can cover it with fabric, glue stuff on it and even draw on it if you like. And if your surface treatment doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to, you can ditch it without going broke.

Some properties of wood:
Wood is a very versatile and popular material, and there are certain properties that decides how popular one type is over another to use for jewelry and beads.

You can get natural wood beads in white, light beige, beige, light brown, golden brown, yellow, medium brown, dark brown, brown black, black and different shades of red brown and gray. This gives you a wide range of wood beads to choose from to make it fit your jewelry design.

Gatunki drewna - Brockhaus 1937

Besides the color, the beauty and complexity of the grain is what fascinates us so when it comes to wood. Grain is the orientation of the cell fibers in the wood, and are alternation regions of lighter and darker wood. How they look depends on the different growth parameters occurring from season to season, and of course the type of tree.

There are three main groups of grain patterns:

  • Straight grain: Runs in a single direction parallel to the axis of the tree.
  • Spiral grain: Runs in a spiral around the axis of the tree.
  • Interlocked grain: Spirals around the axis, but reverses its direction regularly, alternating and interlocking.

There are some rarer grain alignments, that often increases the value of the wood, like:

  • Bird's eye
  • Quilted
  • Fiddle-back
  • Curly

Various grain orientations gives distinct patterns, called the figure of the wood. The wood cells size and amount also adds to the beauty and are called the texture of the wood.

The cells and how they are arranged in bands is called Rays. The Rays and the texture make the different between fine textured and coarse textured wood. Since beads are relatively small, fine textured wood naturally makes the best bead making material.

When it comes to carving beautiful wood beads, the density of the wood have something to say. The higher the density, the harder the bead is to carve. To measure the density of an object can be tricky, although there of course is a formula for it like: density = mass:volume. Easily told, if you take two wood beads that have the exact same size and shape, the denser one will feel heavier. Most wood float in water, but Ebony, that have a density over 1000, will sink if put in water. Denser beads will also feel heavier than less dense ones.

Now, density does not really have to much to say when it comes to wood and jewelry, since all the wooden elements are fairly small. But, it explains why some wood beads are heavier than others.

Hardwood and softwood:
You probably have heard that some types of wood are called hardwood and others soft wood, but what does this actually mean?
Well, the hard- and soft- is a bit misleading. Some hardwood is actually softer than the softest softwood. But there are some distinct differences.


  • Produces seeds with a cover around it, like nuts, apples and coconuts.
  • They have wide leafs that will fall off in colder weather, like birch, walnut and cherry trees.
  • Can be found all over the world.
  • Have rays and pores for water transport, which is a dominant feature that soft wood lacks.
  • Have generally a high density.
  • Is generally more expensive than softwood

Pinus strobus needles


  • Produces seeds without a cover or shield.
  • Is generally evergreen
  • Grows only on the northern hemisphere.

Because of their beauty and properties, many hardwood trees are endangered because of over exploration. Many of them like, Burma Teak, Mahogany and African Ebony, are protected by law. So, if you are buying Ebony sold by street traders in Africa, you most likely are buying some lighter wood that is dyed black.

The over exploration is thankfully not done solemnly for the jewelry business, like with coral. Wood is used for all kinds of things, from constructions, to food and paper. Some are more valued and sought after though because of their beauty and complexity in color and grain.

The good thing about wood in jewelry making, is that you do not need to buy or search for the endangered species. There are SO many other types of wood to choose from, that are not endangered, and look almost the same when given some sort of treatment or even in their natural appearance.

Coconut wood is now being introduced as a relatively new type of hardwood, and as a worthy substitute to endangered rainforest timber. Coconut is mainly cultivated for their nuts, but when the palms no longer can produce nuts, they are chopped down to make room for new ones. This wood is now used for several purposes, and not burned or disposed off like earlier.

Coconut wood ranges from low density which is in golden tones, medium density which is the brown tones and high density, which is the dark brown tones. So they give us all that we want in beads, beautiful rich colors and amazing grain and textures. Beads from Coconut wood are absolutely beautiful.

Enhancements of wood beads:
You can get beads that have no enhancements other than some sanding, but many have additional enhancements for protection or altering their appearance. The enhancement codes are the same as for gemstones, but only a hand full are used for wood:

  • (ASBL)Assembled – meaning that many layers or combinations of wood are joined together, and shaped into a bead.
  • (B) Bleaching – chemical agents are used to lighten or remove an unwanted color.
  • (C)Coating – Surface enhancement to improve appearance, provide color or other special effects.
  • (D) Dyeing – The bead is colored to give the bead a new color, intensify the present color or to improve color uniformity.
  • (N)Natural – Nothing is done to enhance the bead or wood
  • (W) Waxing/oiling – The impregnation of a colorless wax, paraffin and/or oil to protect and improve the appearance of the wood.

Caring for your wooden jewelry:
Wood is easy to care for, but is in general not a long lasting material, so you should think of a few things when it comes to your wooden jewelry.

  • Do not soak it in water. This will cause the wood to expand.
  • Wood will change color if exposed to strong sunlight over time, so store it somewhere dark.
  • If wood dries out it may crack, so do not keep it near heat sources. If the air in your house is very dry, put a small bowl of water next to where you store the beads.
  • Do not use strong soaps or other chemicals to clean the wood. This may remove the surface treatment if it has one, and can damage the structure on the surface of the wood.
  • Wood is soft material, so it is prone to scratching. Try to protect it from this both when you wear it and when you store it.

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Wooden Mala beads 
I have wooden mala beads that I have worn since 1974. Can you suggest what oil to use to polish them? Someone suggested pure coconut oil. Does that …

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