how to make heishi beads

Heishi beads are small, flat, disc-shaped beads that are often used in Native American jewelry and other jewelry-making projects. Traditionally, heishi beads are made from natural materials like shells, stones, or bone. Here’s how you can make heishi beads from shell material:

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Shell material (such as clamshell, abalone, or other shells)
  • Small saw or cutting tool
  • Sandpaper or a grinding tool (such as a Dremel)
  • String or wire for threading beads
  • Safety goggles and gloves (for protection)


  1. Collect and Clean the Shells:
    • Start by collecting the shells you want to use for making heishi beads. Make sure they are clean and free from debris.
  2. Cut the Shells into Discs:
    • Using a small saw or cutting tool, carefully cut the shells into thin, flat discs. The thickness of each disc should be relatively uniform, and the size will depend on your preference.
  3. Shape and Smooth the Discs:
    • After cutting the shell material into discs, they will likely have rough edges. To create heishi beads, you’ll need to shape and smooth the edges. This can be done using sandpaper or a grinding tool like a Dremel.
    • Wear safety goggles and gloves to protect yourself from shell dust and debris during this process.
    • Hold the shell discs against the sandpaper or grinding tool, and gently rotate them to create a flat, even edge. Continue working on each disc until they are all smooth and uniform in size.
  4. Drill Holes in the Beads:
    • To turn the shell discs into beads that can be threaded onto string or wire, you’ll need to drill a small hole through the center of each disc.
    • Use a small drill bit and a handheld rotary tool or a jewelry drill press to make a hole through the center. The hole should be large enough to accommodate your chosen string or wire.
  5. Clean and Finish:
    • After drilling the holes, clean the heishi beads to remove any dust or debris created during the drilling and shaping process.
  6. String or Use as Desired:
    • Your homemade heishi beads are now ready to be used in your jewelry-making projects. Thread them onto string, wire, or cord to create necklaces, bracelets, or other jewelry items.

Making heishi beads from shell material is a labor-intensive process that requires patience and attention to detail. Keep in mind that traditional heishi beads are often made by skilled artisans with years of experience, and achieving a perfectly uniform size and shape can be challenging. However, creating your own heishi beads can add a unique and personal touch to your jewelry creations.

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