Forming Metal with Pliers: Meet Lexi's Favorite New Jewelry Tools
How Do I Wub Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
I am the first to admit when I'm wrong about something, and God knows I'm not perfect or always right.
So, about three or four years ago at Bead Fest, while showing a student how to make a bail for a pendant, I said, "Let me borrow your pliers." She handed me her pliers; I took them and, without paying attention to them, started bending the 10-gauge wire for a bail. Well, the pliers just tweaked and wouldn't bend the wire. I looked at them, and cute as they were, I said, "Sorry, you need to get some REAL pliers." (I don't think I was that rude, but if I really did say that, I apologize to that student.) I borrowed her neighbor's pliers and completed the large loop for the bail. I then picked up the offending pliers, saw they were Wubbers, and thought, "Cute name, too bad they don't work." That was it. For several years. End of story. Until . . .
Bead Fest Santa Fe, March 2013–yes, just a few weeks ago–and I was teaching "Bunches of Bails" class. I was honored, and a bit intimidated, to see Patti Bullard's name on my roster, because I knew she is the inventor of Wubbers. And oh wow, she was taking my class. I also knew she had some great bail-making pliers, and I knew many of my beading friends and wire-wrapping friends loved and owned Wubbers, but too bad they didn't come in large sizes.
Oh, how mistaken I was! After class Patti came up to speak with me, and I was charmed by the twinkle in her eyes, her bubbly personality, and the passion with which she spoke of jewelry making. She gave me a brochure on Wubbers, and I thanked her and put it in my bag, planning to read it when I got home. Class was over, students wanted to visit, it was late, my able assistants (my minions) and I were packing up and moving big tanks and torches to another room, plus I was tired. Besides, the really good pizza place across from the hotel was screaming my name.
My adrenalin was still flowing at 2 a.m., so I was looking for something to read. I grabbed the Wubbers brochure. I had written an article on pliers for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist several years ago and noticed that everyone made round-, chain- and flat-nose ones. Some were good, some were bad. Some were so rough around the edges that they scarred your metal. But these looked so well made. I was impressed. I also discovered that I had been using the Baby Wubbers to do an adult Wubbers job, those three years ago. I read that now there were big Wubbers!
I love quality, I mean QUALITY tools, so now, wide awake and really excited to see and touch these pliers, I promised myself to cruise the Bead Fest vendor room first thing next morning, just to check out Wubbers. Does it surprise you to know I am now the extremely proud owner of a number of Wubbers? I couldn't wait to get home and play with them.
Make Artisan Jewelry Bails and Bezels with Pliers
What I absolutely loved first was the quality and craftsmanship of the finishing on the pliers. Second, it was exhilarating to use the bail-making pliers and to be able to make the same consistent sizes of the little "question mark" bail for which I have become known. Also, the round and extra large round pliers have been a huge help in beginning soldering classes where my students need a mandrel to make a ring. The barrels are sturdy enough to hammer on with a rawhide mallet. In addition, I've just used my new Wubbers to make half-inch-wide hoop earrings. Soooo cool!
These earrings are William Morris rug patterns I etched on copper and then formed using round Wubbers.
But wait! There's more! Oh Wow! I just did my first bezel with the square pliers. I got perfect 90-degree angles for my square stones. No more fitting it around the stone and hoping for the right angle. Then I made a square bail, then square earrings, then a square ring . . . OK so that one didn't turn out exactly as I planned, but it wasn't the Wubber's fault. Oh, I haven't even told you about the new oval Wubbers. They are brand new and make a great variation on my "question mark" bail plus many more neat shapes I'm just learning about. I'm literally a kid with a new toy. Now I have to find a new space for my beads, as my bead wall has become my Wubbers Wall. The quality of these pliers is unsurpassed, they are hand finished (and you all KNOW how much I love to do hand-finishing on artisan jewelry–it's my THING!). We can pound on Wubbers with rawhide mallets or nylon-head Fretz hammers (my other THING!). I love the way the longer handles feel, and because of their length, you get more leverage. Let's face it, they just plain ol' feel good in your hands.
So what I'm trying to say is, when you're making handcrafted jewelry, you have to have the right tool for the job. The Baby Wubbers are great for wirework and beading, but don't send a baby to do a big girl's job (or to you men readers, a real man's job). There are different tools for different needs. My huge duckbill pliers do a very messy job on forming 22-gauge French wires, but the Baby Wubbers are great for that. Try the classic flat-nose because they come in both wide and narrow–and you need both for bending sheet metal. Use the large round Wubbers as mandrels, so now you don't have to carry that bulky ring mandrel around to class all the time.
I'd like to thank the genius of Patti Bullard for her insight to know exactly what was, and is, needed out there. You've made jewelry artists' lives so much easier!
Remember: Always use the right tool for the right job; just any tool won't always work. And besides, Wubbers is just fun to say! Wubbers…Wubbers…Wubbers…..
Off to play . . . uh, work . . . yeah, that's it . . . work hard in my studio, with my Wubbers!
P.S. Wubbers are now available in the JMD Shop! Try them; you will fall in love as I have.
Wubbers are a great crossover tool for folks who work with wire but want to start working more with metal. Without a huge investment, you can create small metal jewelry projects using these pliers instead of the heavy-duty mandrels and stakes that more advanced metalsmiths often use and get, as Lexi shows, great results! If you're interested in expanding into introductory metalsmithing, the newest series of Beads Baubles and Jewels is a great way to make that transition. Order this four-disc set (with 13 episodes and over six hours of instruction) to learn to make and mix metal components with wire, stringing, and other jewelry-making techniques like resin or stamping, from some of your favorite jewelry artists! —Tammy