Jean Campbell's 10 Must-Have Beading Tools
Did you ever see that movie Edward Scissorhands? It's a modern-day-Frankenstein fantasy about a young man who's been built with a cacophony of scissors instead of hands. Edward ends up becoming quite a master at haircutting, dog trimming, hedge clipping, ice sculpting, and topiary making. A quirky, strange, and wonderful movie.
I feel close to Edward in all of his tool-focused existence when it comes to my beading tools. I'm sure we often look like distant cousins as I whirr from one tool to another while beading. My hand tools are like natural—yet more precise and steely—extensions of my hand, and my bead table is covered with them. Let me count here . . 13 assorted pliers, 3 wire cutters, 7 assorted scissors, 1 thread burner, 12 metal files, 2 tweezers, 1 metal pick, 6 bead clips, 1 bead reamer, and dozens and dozens of needles. Heck, if this beading thing doesn't work out I could always set up an orthodontia shop.
Scissors are nice, but if I were Edward, I'd switch out the tools on my hands. Here's how I'd replace them, finger by finger:
1. Chain-nose pliers. Of all the tools on my worktable, I think the chain-nose pliers are my favorite. Not only do I use them for bending wire but also for opening loops and rescuing my needle from too-filled-with-thread beads. Chain-nose pliers have smooth flat jaws that taper to a point. If you're in the market, make sure to buy ergonomically over economically! You'll have these in your hands all the time so make sure they're comfortable.
2. Round-nose pliers. Even though these pliers really only do one thing—bend loops—they are invaluable for getting a professional look. Round-nose pliers have smooth cylindrical jaws that taper to a point. My favorite feature? You can make a variety of loop sizes with this tool by simply moving the place on the jaws where you're bending the wire.
3. Crimping pliers. Before I really knew about stringing beads on wire I thought a person could get by with just squeezing a crimp tube closed. But now I know the fine art of crimping and how much better a piece looks when done the proper way! Crimping pliers have jaws with two notches: one collapses the crimp tube, the other shapes it.
4. Flush cutters. The pointy jaws of this cutter are flat on one side, V-shaped on the other. When you cut wire with this tool, you'll end up with one wire piece that has a flat, or flush cut, and another that's angled. Again, when aiming for a professional look, a flush wire cut is so much nicer to look at (and to wear) than a mangled angled one.
5. Wire cutters. It's good to have a pair of wire cutters used solely for cutting flexible beading wire—the steel is murder on blades. You can buy a cutters strictly designed for cutting steel and other blade-denting metals or do like me and employ one of your trashed flush cutters.
6. Sharp embroidery scissors. A pair of these little pointy, extremely sharp scissors is a key component to any off-loomer's toolbox, not only for cutting thread but also for getting into tight trim spots for bead embroidery.
7. Fiskars kitchen scissors. This might be a weird one, but I find myself using these more and more in my bead studio. I mostly use them for cutting braided beading thread, but I use them for lots of other things, too, like cutting felt and plastic and yarn.
8. Thread burner. This little tool was originally designed for sculpting wax molds, but beaders found a great use for it. The tip has a tiny heat element that works perfect for cleanly trimming thread close to beadwork.
9. Sharp beading needles. Some people like long English beading needles, but since I do a lot of off-loom work I like the maneuverability of the shorter "sharp" or "straw" needles. Plus, their relative stubbiness works well with my relatively stubby digits.
10. Thumb. Okay, so this is not technically a hand tool, it's a hand part. But I'd never give up a thumb–ever! Not only does my opposable thumb make me human, thus able to hold a spoon (something Edward couldn't do), it also is the best tool available for bending, smoothing, and adjusting wire, as well as feeding thread through a needle. Oh, Edward's life would have been so much less tragic if he'd only had a thumb.
What are your top 10 must-have tools? Type out a quick list and post it on the website!
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Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!