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Daily Wire Tip: Ultimate Jewelry Tool Shopping List
Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
Dale, I am sending my husband out the door with my Christmas list (yes, a Christmas list)! I want my jewelry making tools. I am learning how to wire wrap. I have already learned the basic for stringing, but what would you suggest for my first set of tools for making different kinds of jewelry? I’m not just a stringer or a wrapper, I’m just a “I want to make whatever inspires me at the moment” kind of gal. Thanks for all you and your people do for the rest of us.
-Evelyn in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey
You are welcome Evelyn, and Merry Christmas to you! There are many different jewelry-making styles and although each requires several tools that are similar, many techniques need specific tools. I am going to talk about just a few of your options.
A pair of crimping pliers, most often used by beaders, can also be used by wire wrappers to tuck the end wire in on a wrapped loop. Chain maille artists often use two pairs of wider tip chain nose pliers. One pair is sufficient for a wire wrapper, who also likes to have a pair of needle nose chain nose pliers to make tiny loops at the very ends of wire.
Folks who do a lot of round wire designs use almost any pair of flat nose pliers, but wire wrappers who work mainly in square wire need a pair that have perfect angles (with no dips or bulges on their sides). Some people like pliers that have extra cushion on their handles; others (like me) think the extra bulk is difficult to hold for long periods of time. Then there is the choice of longer handles (in my opinion longer handles take stress off the hand and wrist). I am a firm believer that all pliers need to have a good spring hinge of some sort, so you don’t have to constantly open pliers while using them.
About everyone can use a nice set of fine diamond files and/or an Arkenstone to remove sharp ends and burrs (then again an emery board works well too, even on metal clays), and we all need a good pair of wire cutters as well as a pair of small nippers for tight spots.
Then there are mandrels. Almost all jewelry makers need a neck mandrel, a worthwhile investment! As for ring mandrels, we had a good discussion on these a few weeks ago: Ring Mandrels 101, and a ring sizer that matches the mandrel! Depending on what style of bracelet you want to make, some folks like to use a steel bracelet mandrel. Most wire wrappers don’t use one, as we often incorporate beads and stones into the design (that don’t do well while forging on a steel mandrel). Most of us use plastic bottles and shape by hand.
Mandrels usually require that an item be beaten on it or forged, so a mallet is necessary. I like a medium had rawhide mallet, but lots of folks like using a nylon one.
Forging is used in lots of jewelry making styles, so a basic chasing hammer and bench block should be on your list too. And if you want to get into more metal smithing, a dapping block will be useful along with a jeweler’s saw and diamond blades.
A set of carat scales is indispensable if you are working with gemstones, and a ruler is a must for all of us! I prefer a plastic, transparent ruler so I can also use it for quick measurements on stones. Again, if you want to work with gemstones, a caliper is very handy. (I can’t live without my digital one!) And I can’t forget – a good pair of Optivisors not only helps you to see tiny details, but is also protection for your eyes.
Wire-Sculpture has several tool sets available. As you are looking for universal but ‘good’ tools, on a scale of 1 to 4, 1 being best, here is my opinion on our tool sets:
- 4 – Starving Artist: Mostly for beaders, has essential tools, but will not hold up to most wire projects;
- 3 – Wire Sculpting: Very good for wirework beginners as well as for almost all jewelry making arenas;
- 2 – Masters: Better, tools have longer handles and good cutters, but the flat nose pliers are not square on all sides;
- 1 – Professional Wire Artist: Best for working wire in all gauges, shapes and tempers. Tools have longer handles and will last for years! (I know because I put this set together and have been using these brands for more than 17 years, only replacing my cutters now and then. This kit also contains my favorite, quick-&-easy-to-use pin vise.)
I hope your husband has his credit card with him when he goes shopping! With the following list, you will have plenty of tools to make almost anything (and if you are like most of us, you will still be buying tools).
- Jeweler’s pliers:
- Chain nose pliers
- Needle chain nose pliers
- Flat nose pliers
- Round nose pliers
- Pin vise
- 3-step round flat pliers
- 3-step square pliers
- Wire cutters and nippers
- Carat scale
- Ring mandrel and matching sizer
- Bracelet mandrel
- Neck mandrel
- Mallet (rawhide or nylon)
- Chasing hammer and bench block
- Diamond files and/or Arkenstone
- Dapping Block
- Jeweler’s saw and diamond blades
Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong
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