Making Beads

It has become an informal routine for us that on Saturdays, we have something out of the ordinary for breakfast, then we go out and explore and/or run errands. This past Saturday, the main goal for the day was to go grocery shopping, but with a few stops along the way. The first stop of the day was at the T.K. Bead Factory, about 2km from our house, along the main road into Accra. We stopped in, and were just in time to piggyback with a group that had already arranged to take a tour. So here’s a taste of what we saw.

Grinding recycled glass

Grinding recycled glass

The first stage of the tour was seeing how they use recycled glass to make beads which will be painted. This begins by taking glass chips and grinding them down into a powder, about the consistency of baking powder. Then they add dye to the powder to get the desired base color.

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molds for painted beads

Next, the powder goes into clay molds, pictured above. A dried cassava twig is stuck into each hole, to keep the hole open as the powder melts and the glass forms. By the time the firing process is done, the twig has burned away, leaving the formed hole.

Firing oven

Firing oven

These beads are fired for about one hour, then cooled and washed with soap and water.

Beads drying

Beads drying

Once the beads are dried, they are painted in the desired designs.

This can take quite a long time, because each color of paint in a design must be applied in a separate step. The paints are water-based, so they can be washed off at this point. However, once the design is finished, they are fired again, which makes the design permanent.

Chipping clear glass

Chipping clear glass

Next, we went to see how they make translucent beads. This process starts with chipping clear glass into small bits. This glass is not dyed, so the color of the original glass is the color of the final product.

The chipped glass is then loaded into molds, and the molds are put into the ovens to be fired. No twigs go into these molds, because they come out while the glass is still soft. Then, a metal tool is stuck into the blob of molten glass, and the artisan twirls it around to form the final shape. This is also when color can be applied to the outside.

Finally, once the beads are cooled and hardened, they are washed with a slurry of sand and water to polish the outsides. Once they are dried, the beads are ready to go!

After the tour, we had fun walking through their showroom and looking at all the neat designs and colors. The prices are very good, and their selection is always changing, so we will be going back. One of our fellow missionaries says that she has to stay away, because it’s so tempting to buy all the cool stuff. This will definitely be a place to look for gifts and souvenirs to bring back to the USA with us in the future. Or you could come and visit, and we will take you there.

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