Flying With Jewelry Making Tools

By on February 17, 2010
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As a wire-jewelry instructor I travel all over the United States, quite often arriving at my destination the evening before a class. These days, for a weekend of workshops I enjoy driving no more than a maximum of 12 hours one-way, so I fly a lot. If I show up and my tools don’t, (because they were in a ‘lost’ piece of luggage), I’m almost devastated! Therefore I carry most of my tools and jewelry-making supplies on the plane with me. (I can always buy an extra outfit of clothing and personals if needed, but without my tools I am handicapped. )

When packing my carry-on, I do have to take its weight limit into consideration, by checking with whichever airline I’m using for a particular trip. Just for this purpose, I have invested in a great bag with hard sides and really good wheels that is within the size requirements for all airlines. Due to the size of some planes, often I have to check my bag plane-side while boarding, but I can also pick it up plane-side when I land, so my most important supplies are never really in a location to be opened without my knowledge!

To be able to pass through airport security easily, the way finished jewelry, tools and supplies are packed is extremely important! I use a foot-long, heavy plastic pencil box with a sturdy snap-lock, (found at most office supply stores), to stack all of my hand tools in, making sure that my cutters have a plastic cap on them, and that they are on top of all of my other tools. Also included in this box are a foot-long ruler, heavy emery board, marker, pin vise and a roll of tape, with a cushion-style mouse pad folded in the top to keep everything in place, (as well as being my favorite work-surface). None of the included hand tools is more than seven inches long, and I do not carry scissors. (Just for possible proof that I know what I am doing, I also print out and carry a copy of the TSA ‘tool rules’ with me.)

When I go through security, I open this pencil box, exposing all of the tools inside, and place it into its own tub to go through the x-ray machine. (Only once did a TSA agent remove one of the longest pliers and measure them, my Swanstrom flat-nose, only 6-1/8 inches!)

Traveling Toolbox

Traveling Toolbox

Because I totally believe that if one is totally prepared nothing will happen, I also carry a large, shark-skin, USPS Priority mailing envelope, self-addressed to my home, with prepaid postage on it, just in case I ever have something ‘not’ get through!

The items that I cannot take on a plane include my stainless steel ring mandrel, any power drills/screwdrivers, any mallet or hammer and my favorite ‘ring-making’ knife. These items I put into a large zip-loc bag, tape my business card inside with them and pack, under my pillow and on top of my clothes, in my checked luggage. (If I am flying to a location for a long-term workshop, I find it easier to ship these items ahead of me.)

Tools in Checked=

Packing my finished jewelry samples takes a bit more time, as I place each item including individual earrings, into its own small zip-loc bag and then put all of the baggies into another snap-loc, heavy plastic box. My optivisors travel nicely wrapped in tissue paper in yet another box, with my digital camera nestled within the optivisors; while all of my sterling, argentium and 14kgf wire coils are in labeled manila envelopes, in one two-gallon zip-loc bag. Loose gemstones, cabs, beads and findings are group-bagged and placed into a small, lock lid plastic container, which goes into a zip-loc bag, (just in-case).

Now for the fun! Playing ‘Tetris’ with all of these boxes and my main carry-on. Actually, packing all of my supplies in individual containers makes this job very easy, (as well as knowing ‘what is where’ when I need to unpack for classes). Obviously the heavier supplies go across the bottom, the optivisor box near the top of the carry-on, and the bag of wire coils goes on top of everything else, just under the zipped cover! In this way, when going through x-ray the coils are easily seen. (I also pack the charger for my laptop in this bag.)

My second carry-on is usually my laptop and its case, which is also where I carry the above mentioned self-addressed, prepaid postage bag with a sheet of bubble wrap inside, my date book, cell phone and wall-charger, gum and wallet. (If you have ever been seriously delayed in an airport, you will want your wall charger with you! Who needs a hair brush?)

I go through security, in this order: I take my laptop out of its case and it goes into a plastic tub,

My boots and ‘quart-sized’ zip-loc go into another, my opened toolbox into another, then the laptop case and finally my main carry-on. When sending my things through in this order, I usually pass through the metal detector as my main bag is going through the x-ray machine, and if the TSA agent has any questions about the contents of my main bag, I am right there to request a Private Screening area, before they begin to open it in public. It is your right to request a private screening!

Once I have successfully passed through security, I put my quart-sized zip-loc and my tool box into my main carry-on and continue schlepping on to the gate.

Yes, I have had to have many, MANY private screenings! Whenever I fly out of Philly, I just plan extra time for one. Out of a group of eight returning from a vacation to Thailand, whom do you think got pulled by US customs and had every single item removed from every single bag?? Yup, it was me.

Because I do spend a lot of time in airports, I often wonder just what some people were thinking as they dressed for their travels, as I have seen some really unusual ‘fashion statements’. My advice is not only to dress comfortably, but also think about getting through security easily and not looking like a ‘mark’ to any unscrupulous individuals.

All of this being said, I recommend that you always check for carry-on weight guidelines with whatever airline you are using, and that you be very familiar with all of the current TSA rules, before you leave for the airport!

Travel safe and ‘Stay Twisted’! Dale/Cougar


  1. avatar

    Andrea Brumley

    October 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I am flying this coming Thursday and was so excited to read your post. I am so happy to know that I will be able to bring my tools on board the plane with me on our long journey! Thanks so much for posting!

    • avatar


      October 10, 2010 at 10:04 am

      Glad I could help Andrea – I fly with my main tools in my carry-on, all over the USA.

  2. avatar


    December 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you so much. I’m air-travelling for the first time since I started creating and have been in a panic at the thought of leaving my tools behind or trusting them to the twilight zone of checked luggage. This info was exactly what I needed. Happy Holidays!

    • avatar


      December 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      You are very welcome Terri. Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

  3. avatar

    Becky C

    March 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    This is very useful. Now, I didn’t quite get it, did you pack your SS wire in your check-in or your carry-on. I want to fly carry on and I might have to bring wire, but I am not quite sure.


    • avatar


      March 16, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      Becky, I carry all of my wire in my carry-on! (along with the majority of my hand tools, beads, cabs, gemstones, etc.)

  4. avatar

    Becky C

    March 17, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Great! Thanks a lot! This is very helpful.

  5. avatar


    March 6, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Thanks so much for this information.

    • avatar


      March 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

      You are so welcome, Denise! I have just returned (flew) from teaching in Dallas, Texas, where one of my students told me she used these tips and flew in from El Paso with no troubles :)