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Cabachons and Flying Saucer Beads

By Lynne Wardrop
As with most clay techniques, this idea developed out of things I learned from other artists. In taking a 3-day studio with Gwen Gibson at the 2000 Ravensdale, I started playing with curved dome shapes. Gwen was using a large light bulb as an armature to give a circle of clay a subtle curve like a lentil. I wanted a different kind of curve & kept playing with it until I found a form with a stronger curve.

A 25-watt bathroom fixture light bulb worked perfectly - it's small enough to use for large beads, and spherical enough for a strong curve. Plant the screw end of the bulb in a ball of well conditioned scrap clay, pressing it tightly against the threads and flaring it out at the base to make it stand up well in the oven. This base can be baked on when the first domes are being baked.

Prepare a patterned sheet of clay at the thickest setting on the pasta machine. Using circle cutters, 1.5" to 2" in diameter (or as desired), cut circles from the sheet. Thinner sheets will work, BUT will be more fragile and harder to finish. Thin domes can crack at the top of the dome while sanding and buffing. Also, thicker domes will stand up to later carving or other decorative work.

Before draping the clay circle over the top of the bulb, warm the clay to prevent cracking. Dan Cormier has a great trick for this. Place a piece of paper (waxed, tracing, or typing paper all work well) over the topside of the clay circle. Use your finger to "buff" the paper on the clay. Working in little circles, the clay gets warmed and all fingerprints are removed.

Place the circle on the top of the light bulb. Gently smooth down the piece from opposite sides until it is all stuck down. DO NOT smooth down the cut edges, leave them squared off. Make sure the whole piece is well adhered to the bulb or some of the edges may lift during baking. Bake for 20 minutes at the temperature for the clay used. Pop off the bulbs while still warm.

After the dome is cool, place a piece of 400-grit water sandpaper on a hard flat surface. Sand the bottom of the dome until the squared edge is flat and two domes will fit together with no gap in the edges. Sand dome surface with 800 and 1000 grit before buffing. It is easier to buff before joining the domes for the final bead.

To make the Flying Saucer Bead (left), use cyanoacrylate glue to join the edges together, holding pieces until dry. Drill as needed for finished piece. Do not try to use Liquid Sculpey to join the pieces - this resulted in a high failure rate. Some beads exploded while baking, others had small amounts of slippage that ruined the joint. Using the glue resulted in much better results.

Single domes can be used as Cabochons (see above) and mounted in a clay or metal setting. To make a simple clay setting, cut a circle the next size larger than the dome, center the dome and bend up the edges to form a bezel. Texture or decorate the bezel as desired. On the back, pierce a pinhole where the pinback will go and bake the piece with one edge lifted up on a skewer to allow air to escape during baking and prevent distortion. Adding the pinback will hide the hole.

Other options for these beads:

  1. Before gluing the two domes together, place half a teaspoon of seed beads inside to make a bead that has sound effects. Be sure that any holes drilled are very small so the seed beads don't get stuck.
  2. Try using on Hairsticks. Use a long headpin with coordinating beads above and below the large bead, glue the end of the headpin into the hole drilled in the end of the hairstick. Good hairsticks are available from the Rings &Things catalog. The square hairsticks work well because they don't slip or rotate as much as the round ones.
  3. Try drilling 3 holes to use the Flying Saucer bead as the center point of a Y-shaped necklace.
  4. Cabochons with the solid back make a great centerpiece bead for a bracelet strung on elastic cord or a clasp style.
©2001-Lynne Wardrop

Thank you, Lynne! You can Email Lynne at

Member Tips
From Peggy Sue Way
Tip: "Try making a dome with a 'flat back' to lie nicely around the wrist in a bracelet."

From Louise Stevenson
Tip: "I have found that the bottom of soft drink cans produce a nice dome for cabochons or lentils approximatlely 2cm to 5cm across"

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