Daily Wire Tip: Ultimate Jewelry Tool Shopping List

By on December 3, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

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

Answer:

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).

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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14 Comments

  1. avatar

    Joan

    December 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Dale, I’ve been looking to upgrade my tools and by ordering one of your sets it will take the guess work out of wondering which ones to get. I’m a professional wire wrapped and beader and having been making jewelry for 10 years. I plan to get the professional set which I should have done years ago. It has everything I need!

    • avatar

      R*Scha'e

      July 17, 2013 at 10:26 am

      my wife has no clue when it comes to tools, got any pictures I can send along with my Christmas/wish list I can give her? to make sure I get the right tools and not something to fix the kitchen sink.

  2. avatar

    Joni Stinson

    December 4, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Thanks for the concise, succinct list. I printed it off to check my current supply of tools against and plan to fill in the gaps in 2011.

  3. avatar

    Terry

    December 4, 2010 at 10:21 am

    WHAT A GR8 list, thanks Dale. This is a list we can all use as we get those many sets of tools. Evelyn should also be told to buy the best tools she (or he) can afford, because it won’t be the last set she will get. They also don’t need to be bought at the same time, space it out a little. The important ones to start in my opinion are for sure the 4 pliers, and a cutter. Some inexpensive stones which can be found right here at wire sculpture. And yes thanks for all you give us!

  4. avatar

    Kay

    December 4, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Be specific with your devoted husband or you will have a lot of “o.k.” tools which you hesitate to replace but just won’t do the job as you grow in aiblity.

    Great tools do a great job — and who wants to settle for less?

  5. avatar

    Sandra

    December 4, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you Dale! What a wonderful response to a question I have had for years! I also am new to this wondrous world of jewelry making. I also like to just do what I am inspired to do with no set category. I am in my 50’s and I feel like a kid in a candy store……I don’t know which way to go first! So much to learn and so little time. Again, thank you so much……I also copied this response for a keeper in my folder on my desktop. Bless you and have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

  6. avatar

    Cindy

    December 4, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Dale made a great point! Watch out when buying flat nose pliers! I bought a lindstrom set, nice tools but couldn’t make sharp angles. Sold them and bought swanstrom. Absolutely love them and what a difference! Nice square angles! Also, beware of your husband! Guard your tools! Mine trys to be sneaky and boy does he get in trouble if he even thinks of touching my tools! I think he has learned his lesson! Nothing but my wire for these! lol

  7. avatar

    Lois

    December 4, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Love the list! Excellent choices. One tool I find integral to my wire work that I don’t see on the list is my nylon jaw pliers. You don’t need to spend a fortune on them but make sure you get ones that you can replace the nylon. I have the flat and the round. There are times when you are working on something delicate that you might mar the wire or stone and I find that the nylon jaw pliers do just the trick. I also use them to straighten lengths of wire or add a consistent bend to a number of wires I want a slight bend in.

    Hope this helps.

    Lois

  8. avatar

    beverly

    December 4, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    One other plier I have found necessary in my work is the bent nose plier. I made the mistake of getting one and now I wish I had gotten two. If you work with jump rings and chain making at all these make it very easy to open and close the ring and add rings as in chain maille. But I also find them very useful in wirewrapping and beading work. Dale you are absolutely right in looking for the best spring hinge on any pliers as I found out the hard way with severe cramping of the hands in opening and closing over time. Don’t buy the starving artist ones if you can help it for that very reason. Thanks Dale for this wonderful list, I will keep it as a reference also.

  9. avatar

    Richard

    December 4, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I suggest a pair of flush cut cutting pliers. They give a cleaner look to my work. Also, as I have gotten older, I have slipped pencil cushions over the handles of some of my older pliers with smaller handles. These cushions can also help pliers with broken or no handle springs be self opening if the cushion is moved up near the hinges. I coat certain pliers’ jaws with Tool Magic which helps hold rings or pieces in certain situations. I have found the best cushions at WalMart. They are rubbery rather than being made of foam.

    I’m really glad I found this site.

    Richard

  10. avatar

    Mint Schlief

    December 6, 2010 at 11:57 am

    GREAT list Cougar!!! Have one addition for you and that is parallel pliers. I have 2 pair with the neoprene (or whatever the material is) jaws. I find them really helpful when that one wire (especially if you are working with a bundle of LONG wires) wants to tip just a little and not lay perfectly flat. I even use them to bend the half round or square wire as I am wrapping these big bundles. That’s when the second pair becomes helpful! Keep up the great work and advice!!

  11. avatar

    Jolinda

    January 3, 2013 at 6:55 am

    Thank you for this list. I am new to jewely making also and I am like Evelyn in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey. I want to make it all. I have had a lot of hobbies through the years but this one is my favorite! There are so many pieces I want to make, I don’t know where to start. As a beginner, I have no idea what tools I need to start.

    Thanks

  12. avatar

    MendoKitty

    February 15, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    LOVED THE LIST! I DID WIRE WRAPPING BACK IN THE EARLY 80’S, THERE ARE SO MANY GREAT TOOLS TO CHOISE FROM NOW. BACK THEN ALL WE HAD WERE REGULAR OLD NEEDDLE NOSE W/ ALL THOSE GROVES. DIDN’T KNOW THERE WOULD BE SSSOOOOOO MANY GREAT TOOLS OUT THERE AND YOUR LIST REALLY HELPED ME GET STARTED AGAIN. THANKS A BUNCH!!!! MendoKitty

  13. avatar

    Amy

    April 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Hi! I really love these newsletters and tips, the whole site is a plethora of jewelry wonderment. Making jewelry is something I have always wanted to do, kids needs, money, life and insecurities always seemed to keep me from moving forward. Recently I lost my husband and find myself a 40 yr old widow, never part of the plan, and I had an epiphany of sorts, typical in these instances I suppose. But I stopped putting things on hold and found that making jewelry is so healing. You seem to go into a creative trance whether its sketching an idea or stringing some beads. I have always been creative, I love painting and making ugly things pretty. There is so much ugly in the world, that making something beautiful again is pretty rewarding. The few things I have made jewelry wise have made a real impact on my soul.

    For now, I have a few tools (my husband was an amazing creative man, luckily his tools are many in the same as jewelry making tools, I mostly utilize old broken pieces as I learn, money is scarce for supplies. But for every little piece I plan to sell, I also plan to reinvest in more supplies, for ever I guess lol. I dunno, but It is helping me heal and gives me some purpose for now.

    I look forward to these emails and all the little tidbits that come along with. Thanks for having such an amazing site and not being afraid to give information rather than sell all of it (as many do). Its hard to find free education these days so I suppose I just wanted to thank you.

    All the Best
    AJ

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