Friday, August 5, 2011

Tools - "Making do" while you build your jewelry tool collection

There are some tools you absolutely need to make beaded and wire jewelry (one or more pairs of pliers to hold and bend wire; something to cut wire with; an item you can wrap wire around to make consistent size loops, and a place to store tools, wire, and beading). However, you don't need to go out and buy a complete set of tools on your first day of jewelry-making. Quite the opposite. Many house-hold items can be used to substitute for certain tools until the day you find you need the professional tool on a regular basis and can take time to research the price and quality options of tools being sold.

I started with one pair of pliers, a special gift from one who knew how much they would mean to me. Everything else has built from there. Which brings me to where I am today...

Jewelry-making tools I now can't imagine being without...
...even though I began with only the pair of pliers in the upper-left corner!

Left:  Pliers I use to hold and wrap wire.                                  

Right:  Pliers helpful for wrapping wire in circular shapes.

Left: Used for crimp beads.
                                         Right: Used to straighten wire.

Left: Wire cutters.
                                             Right:  Small anvil for hammer-hardening wire.   

If you are going to use the anvil, you also need a hammer.  There are many special types, specifically for jewelry-making, but I like to tap gently with a small hammer given to me years ago by my late mother.                    
The tools above are ones I use nearly every time I make jewelry.  In addition, I have some more specialized tools that I use only on occasion.
Additional "tools" I have frequently used....
You may not expect some of these items would be used in making jewelry, but they make good substitutes for more expensive tools as you build your collection.  Below are some tools I use or have used in the past:
  • Pencils, pens, & magic markers -- These are perfect for wrapping wire and making different size loops.  I actually keep them with my other tools so they are always handy.  I look forward to getting multi-size wire looping pliers, but have to admit that these substitutes are inexpensive and easy-to-handle!

Using magic marker & writing pen to make necklace hoops.

Example of finished product.
  • Scissors -- I used scissors for years before finally obtaining a nice set of wire cutters.  I still use them for cutting the nylon coated flex wire I often use for making bracelets.  On flex wire, scissors seem to make a smoother snip with less fraying than wire cutters.
  • Chap stick containers, eye drop sample bottles, nail polish lidsetc.  (Look around your kitchen and other rooms for objects the right size) -- Any of these items can be used for wrapping wire rings.  If necessary, these will substitute for a ring mandrel. The advantage of the solid steel mandrel is that it can be hammered to harden the wire more firmly into place and to make specific ring sizes.   But in its absence, any round object the same size as your finger will work for basic wire wrapping to assure you keep the layers of wire round and consistent.                         
  • Lids to plastic storage containers-- These make great temporary work surfaces so beads don't roll off onto the floor while you plan the design and prepare to put the piece(s) together. There are nice trays you can purchase for this purpose too, but until you are ready, the lid is an easy improvement over working without one. 
  • Utensil container-- Wire or plastic containers designed for forks, knives, spoons, and napkins for picnics or parties are generally inexpensive in the summer season. This type of container works great for storing pliers, wire, and other basic hand tools, and typically costs less than the tool holders I found in craft/hobby stores.   I used to store my tools in containers with lids but was constantly rummaging for the one I wanted.  With them on display on the rack, they are easy to find and grab.   (I keep the more pointed tools toward the middle of the row to prevent hitting a sharp object when I pick up my container to move it.)    
  • Metal fingernail file-- In place of a jewelry file, this works well for smoothing rough wire edges.  In fact, I find this file works better, easier and faster, and at a fraction of the cost, than the special cup bur tool I purchased for this purpose.  
Wish Lists:
As long as we are engaged in what we are doing, I suspect we'll find "one more tool" we'll want to try out!   While I have upgraded some of the tools on the "make do" list, and hope to upgrade others, there are some I'm perfectly content to use as I've described.  Either way, it's nice to have some options so you can build your tool collection over time.   Tools are an investment so it's helpful if you can purchase one or two at a time as funds allow and you see how your interest in jewelry-making grows.
For a look at what you can do with some of the tools described above, visit Sharyl's Jewelry.


Unknown said...

Good stuff! I have to get a utensil holder, that will work soo much better than what I am currently using (small bucket)as they have more compartments. Mine get all piled together and get caught under the pail rim. It looks like yours might even be mountable. Mine will be!

And the ring mandrel outta a chapstick - smart!

Thanks for the ideas...stealing!!

wvnursey said...

A beer or soda bottle 6 pack holder also works well for an organizer!