an open source architectural beadwork project from Kate McKinnon and a worldwide team of innovators

Special Tools and Stuff You Love

We’re working on our Resources section right now, and one of the advantages of this being an artisan-produced work is that we are free to break all of the Sacred Rules of publishing. We can name names, talk about brands, tell you why we love one thing or loathe another. And we can share information about where we’ve found our favorite things.

Adorable little Japanese erasers for your bead box.  All Book Kits come with one- we have biscuits, tiny cakes, French pastries…!


I have a couple of beady tools and setups I can’t live without (a really sharp flush cutter for cutting thread, a stiff tray with a velvet pad, and a triangle scoop for picking up beads…) and I’ve picked up a few more from my co-authors and collaborators.

Jean got me hooked on a mainstay of the mighty Great Lakes Beadworking Guild- an adorable and very silly little Japanese rubber biscuit eraser and sharp pushpin- this helps gently break out extra beads or beads in the wrong place that went in too far back to unbead. She also carries a bangle sizer wherever she goes. Dustin got me hooked on small stretch beer cozies to keep my cones of Nymo in check.

I’m excitedly watching the mailbox waiting for a new travel tray that I have high hopes for, a nifty-looking (and “feather-light”, they say,  a huge selling point for me) tin from Shibui & Daughters. I’ll be sure to let you know what I think of it.

Do you have favorite things you just can’t relax without? What are they, and why?

Jean Power’s Magic Bangle Sizer

About katemckinnon

Kate McKinnon has devoted herself to the study of how things are done, and how they could be done better. Find her at or on some city street, walking fast, smiling at strangers.

14 comments on “Special Tools and Stuff You Love

  1. EruditeBirdy
    September 26, 2015

    I have been beading for over 50 years, so good equipment is a must.

    *** # 01 All Time Favorite Tool ***

    “Stop Beads” fall off, pull off, and generally get in the way.
    Also, because they are small and light, they dangle loosely, swaying, and can easily get tangled or have a knot form.
    Older people often have a hard time getting the thread through them, but an even harder time removing them, if they tangle.

    I use a 3/4 inch = 1.9 cm, copper or steel, Smooth Jaw, Alligator Clip, instead of an “Stop Bead”.
    Because the alligator clip is 100 percent metal it won’t break easily and it can be washed, if needed.
    For people with arthritis, the fact that the alligator clip is so easy to open and close makes it possible for them to enjoy beading.

    The clip is special in another way.
    Even though the metal clip is small in size it is strong enough to hold well, even on heavy necklaces.
    In addition, the clip does not break or fray the thread since it is placed around the thread and presses evenly on the thread from both sides.
    Unlike a “Stop Bead” there are no spots where the thread rubs against the clip.

    Size matters.
    This alligator clip is 3/4 inch long.
    This is long enough that when you can place the thread, with attached clip, between two fingers on the non-dominate hand (If your right handed you place the thread between the middle and ring fingers on your left hand), the thread can be gently pulled to bring the clip up against the two fingers.
    This keeps the thread tail out of the way and makes it almost impossible for the clip and thread tail to get tangled.
    For me, the knowledge that the alligator clip will not break, nor slip through my two fingers, allows me to use the clip in a way that a “Stop Bead” can NOT be used.

    I use the alligator clip to secure the thread tail out of the way and simultaneously use the clip to hold the working thread taut, in a specific position.
    With this done it becomes possible for me to use my other fingers to position the beads, aligning them in such a way that the thread tension is kept even on both ends, and I can observe what beads are/have been added.
    This allows me to see if the pattern is developing as planned.

    The difference this tiny clip has made to my beading is immense.
    I strongly suggest all beaders give them a try.
    Just be sure not to buy a regular alligator clips.
    They have serrated jaws (sharp pointy teeth) that will damage your thread.

    • katemckinnon
      September 26, 2015

      I never have occasion to use a stop bead; when I start a new thread, I just weave it in well enough so that it doesn’t move. What do you use stop beads for in daily beading that makes the clip your most essential beading tool?

  2. SaturdaySequins
    May 1, 2012

    There are two things I can’t live without: one is a square of felt that I use to hold my needles so I can easily switch them during a project. Another one is my bead funnel. It’s great for getting beads back in the bag/container, and it’s just the top portion of an old bath gel bottle, sawed off.

  3. Karen 5
    April 30, 2012

    I use the small Bead Buddy also and love it. I like Fireline – I roll some onto sewing machine bobbins that fit in the corner of the Bead Buddy. Fiskars Kid Scissors cut Fireline very well but nothing beats the Thread Sap II for getting those little ends of thread that no scissor can reach.

  4. Ziva
    April 30, 2012

    The stringing section is not attached. It is a heavy type of paper and I do not keep it there. Yes, I use it for bead weaving and it is really wonderful. Its only draw back is the hinges that stick out but you learn to work around them.
    Is it easy to open the tin box so nothing flies out?

    • katemckinnon
      April 30, 2012

      Ah, excellent. Even when I am stringing, I deeply resent plastic stringing trays, I can’t help it. I don’t know how sturdy or easy-open the tin box is- they are sending me one to test drive. I will report!

  5. Ziva
    April 30, 2012

    The tin box looks neat. I use my bead buddy ( It comes in two sizes and I like the smaller size better for travel. It is very sturdy and slips easily in my purse. Love it!

    • katemckinnon
      April 30, 2012

      That stringing section would drive me MAD! Beads would roll into it.

      Do you use it for seed beading with a needle and thread?

  6. Judi L
    April 30, 2012

    Hmmm…I think my favorite thing that I just can’t live without is my Fiskars Scissors and a battery-powered Ott Lite (it clips to anything and lasts quite a while) that’s about as small as a deck of cards.

    • katemckinnon
      April 30, 2012

      I have to have SUPER SHARP scissors, which is why I use a metalsmithing flush cutter. Or tiny hairdresser’s trimming shears, or little black and yellow Cutter Bees. Does Fiskars make anything that is a precision tool?

      I don’t ever use a threadburner, do you?

    • crankybird
      September 26, 2015

      I bought 2 of them with mixed results.

      ( – ) As soon as the first one was out of warranty it began flickering on and off, then it died. The cost of sending it for repair was more than it cost.

      ( – ) The second one opened in my purse even though I had made sure it was snapped shut. The batteries ran down enough to make it unusable.

      ( – ) I can’t find any way to open it to replace the batteries.

      ( + ) They are cheap ($15 when on sale at JoAnn fabrics online).

      ( + ) They are perfect for making sure you buy the correct color of beads at bead shows and shops. I kept buying this ugly grey-purple bead because it looked great under fluorescent light, but terrible under sunlight and incandescent light.. I haven’t bought any ugly beads while my Ott, flip top, handheld lights were working.

      ( + ) I can clip it to my purse strap when at a bead show.

      ( + ) It’s small enough to fit into a tiny purse.

      ( + ) It’s very lightweight, so you don’t get tired carrying it or holding it in your hand to use.

  7. Marilyn A
    April 30, 2012

    What a great idea, Kate and Jean! This is way better than Oprah’s Favorite Things!

  8. Deb
    April 30, 2012

    I have one of those tins you are ordering from Shibui; Got it somewhere at Bead and Button many years ago and love it. Mine is dented; been through a war or two here; but it is great! So great I’m thinking of ordering a new one, seriously. I love it because you can totally keep things in there and it closes; unless you dent it like I did mine. It really is nice to work on wiht a lip so things don’t fly away from you.

  9. teddi
    April 30, 2012

    Here’s my contribution to the “can’t live without” items:
    I took a few metal CD cases (separate lid and bottom), lined the bottoms with a vellux pad (held in place with two-sided tape cut from an 8×11 sheet of it). The cases each hold work in progress AND the beads in use AND the needle and thread. The lid can be placed under the bottom and used as repository for broken beads, bad beads, and odds and ends of thread. I accompany the CD case with one of those clear plastic containers with a lid you get at the grocery. It holds beads for the project, thread, needles, tiny scissors, wax etc. Different size containers for different projects but ALWAYS the CD cases. Simple, easy to pack, and easy to keep multiple projects going at once. I used the kit on a too full flight this past weekend. AND the whole thing was VERY inexpensive and because it recycles the plastic container, it’s very GREEN, too.

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