Lentil Swirled Beads via the plated bicone bead method

This technique is a great example of a delayed reaction for me. Many years ago someone in my guild demonstrated how to make a standard bicone bead shape using a flat plate. It didn't exactly click with me then as something I was interested in, but I stored the technique in the back of my brain for future reference. Last year, I tried a make a few bicones this way, but I noticed there was this pesky tendency for any pattern to start swirling. Not realizing the potential, I tried to undo the swirl!

Then one day, I decided to let things go, just to see what would happen. Whoa! What a way cool effect! Since then, I was introduced to Laura Timmins' amazing artwork with this technique.

I've had so much fun with this technique, I knew it was something I wanted to share with everyone. Aside from the tons of fun you can have making these beads, it's a great way to swallow up lingering scrap beads and those old canes.

This bead has three stages. Start with a nice round ball. Easy enough. But then the most important stage is making a bicone bead shape using a flat smooth clear plate of some sort. The third and final stage is to actually round off the bicone points. This step will result in creating a lentil shaped bead.



  • 6” x 7” piece of clear lucite/acrylic plate, approximately ¼ thick (that size is my preference, yours may vary ;-) the key is that the plate be rigid and transparent
    • if no lucite/acyrlic piece is readily available, try a glass pane or a stiff audio CD jewel box;
  • Smooth, clean stationary work surface
  • polymer clay balls
  • canes
  • scrap clay


1. Whether you start with a solid color or something covered with lots of decorative colors or cane slices, roll the clay until you have a nice round ball; place the ball on the work surface.

What size ball? Something about the size of a tiny plum, an extremely large globe grape or a nice crabapple. Ok, ok. a ball approximately 3/4" (2cm) in diameter. ;-)


2. Grasp the clear plate in both hands as shown in the photos. Lightly rest the sides of your hands on the work surface. Extend your first fingers to hold the sides of the plate. These hand positions should help keep the plate level while you rotate it.

While holding the plate, rotate it in a circular motion... kinda like the motion when you hold a sponge to apply wax to a car. Rotate either clockwise or counterwise - your preference. This action will magically and gradually create the bicone shape for you!

Click here to see a little video

Large circles will create a tall bicone. Small, tight circles will create a short flatter bicone.

  3. When the desired amount of spiral is achieved, round off the bicone points. To do that, while continuing to rotate, gradually tighten the rotations you’re doing while maneuvering the bead so the area where the pointy ends are located directly on the top and bottom; slow down the rotation speed and keep tightening the rotations until the bead shape is where you want it.

There are some tips that might help you:

  • To achieve a spiral, you’ll need to rotate the bicone anywhere from 10-120 times. Position your body, shoulders, arms, head so you can look directly down to the top of the bead (whether you're standing or sitting). once positioned, find as comfortable a grip as possible.
    • I do what I call "Century Twirls" because I do over 100 rotations per bead to create color gradations, so I *have* to have a comfort grip on the top plate when I start)
  • Start with squeaky clean surfaces; the work surface and the plate. Too much polymer clay residue on those surfaces hinders the swirl's formation.
  • Pick a rotation preference (clockwise or counter clockwise) and stick to that, until you can identify the behavior of what each direction will do.
    • If you decide to flip the bead over, you'll need to rotate in the opposite direction to continue the swirl in the same direction.
  • When rotating, patience, relaxation, focus and steadiness are very important.
  • Keep the top plate as level as possible while circulating it.
  • Move in as perfect a circle as possible, oval rotation creates an oval bead. If your base surface is clear acrylic, place a printout of a large circle underneath it to help guide you.
  • Make sure the clay(s) you use in the bead are consistent in firmness. If parts of the round bead vary in firmness, it will be extremely hard to keep those rotations even and to form a nice even bicone or lentil shape.
  • Apply the right amount of pressure - this one's tricky since too little and not much happens, too much pressure and the bead gets squashed.

The two tips that may take the most practice - perfect circular motion and the right amount of pressure. If possible, have someone watch you so they can tell you if your top plate is level.





This lentil started with a scrap clay ball (pale green ball) and two thick slices from a cane.

I completely covered the scrap ball with the slices, and hand rolled until the slices melded together (lower far left)

The next shape is the bicone shaped object (lower middle).

The final (lower far right) is the lentil, made after slightly flattening the bicone points when rotating.


4. Reaming a hole into your bead: there are no rules about whether you do this before or after baking. While it is generally easier to hole prior to baking, it’s also easier to distort the nice round edges of the lentil shape. Try both to see which method you prefer.

Common hole options:

  • Edge to edge - centered: usually if you want to the hole to be vertical so you can wear the bead like a pendant or have a set of small lentils for a bracelet. I prefer to hole after baking so the edge isn't distorted by the needle tool.
  • Edge to edge - off-center: useful if you want to wear a set of lentils as a necklace. Off center holes means the beads will be bottom heavy and not rotate while being worn. I prefer to hole after baking so the edge isn't distorted by the needle tool.
  • Front to back: useful if you're going to suspend the lentil with a nice upside down U bail.

Click here to see a drilling setup for always precise edge-to-edge drilling of lentil shaped beads.

There are countless variations of patterns you can get with this technique. With a little creativity, you can keep busy giving yourself lots of pattern surprises. Here are a few methods you can try. I bet you can think up a few more. :D


Half & half
  • make one dark color ball, one light color ball of the same size
  • cut each ball exactly in half
  • join one light hemisphere to one dark to make 1 ball
  • position the half dark/half light ball so the color split is perpendicular to your work surface (straight up and down)
  • place the clear plate on top and bicone rotate until desired swirl appears
  • round off points to achieve lentil shape



A variation on the half & half:

Sandwich 1-3 layers of other colors between the two halves! (no pics yet, but trust me, it makes for another cool effect).


Simple pattern (e.g. bullseye lace cane)
  • roll some scrap into a ball
  • cover with multiple thick slices from a lace cane
  • roll the bead in your hands until the slices meld together
  • bicone rotate until colors just start to blend (if you rotate until the colors start to blend, you might want to make sure the colors used in the cane won’t blend into a mud color). try a cane made from something like blue, green and yellow.
  • round off points to achieve lentil shape

One important note regarding beads made from covering a scrap bead with slices. The bicone rotation will draw clay from the outer areas toward the center.

This means eventually the edges will thin. That's why I recommend you apply thick slices.

2 slice: interlocked skinner blend
  • cover a scrap bead with two thick slices from a squared skinner blend cane
  • roll the bead in your hands until the two slices meld together
  • bicone rotate until desired swirl appears
  • round off points to achieve lentil shape

2 slice: intricate pattern
  • cover a scrap bead with two thick slices from an intricate patterned cane
  • roll the bead in your hands until the two slices meld together
  • bicone rotate until desired swirl appears
  • round off points to achieve lentil shape

the bicone 2-step
  • roll a plain bicone
  • place triangular cane slices on both side of the bicone, near the outer edges
  • place little dots in between the slices (for fun!)
  • bicone rotate until slices are embedded and swirl appears
  • round off points to achieve lentil shape

Multiple patterns cubed
  • form a cube with some scrap clay
  • cover two opposing sides with thick lace cane slices
  • cover two other opposing sides with thick skinner blend slices
  • cover the final two opposing sides with thick slices from an interesting patterned cane - roll cube into a ball
  • bicone rotate until desired swirl appears
  • round off points to achieve lentil shape

These are very addicting. Consider yourself warned.. ;-)


Last update to this page: 4 Jun 09. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.