Fantastic Plastic: See the Value in Nylon Metalsmithing and Jewelry-Making Tools

I never realized how valuable plastic or nylon tools are until I used nylon-jaw wire straightening pliers. Through some combination of pressure, friction, and what must be alchemy, my crumpled wire was straightened and polished after just a few passes through the nylon pliers. I was converted.

From there, I moved on to appreciate the value of forming metal with practically no fear of marring the metal or making a mis-strike, particularly for sterling silver and soft fine silver. But there’s more to recommend plastic/nylon jewelry tools than just lack of marking our metal.

The way those nylon pliers straightened my wire was not happenstance. When we form metal (wire included), we do one of two things to it: stretch or move. In an article in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, Helen Driggs wrote about these two basic ways to move metal: “You can stretch or compress it by deformation, or you can move it without deforming it. Anvils and blocks are usually wood, plastic, or steel–and you can use steel, wood, hide, or plastic striking tools (hammers, punches, or blocks) with them.”


Those tools and what they’re made of determine whether we stretch or move (deformation or no deformation) our metal. Helen shared two handy formulas for knowing which tools to use in what combinations in order to get the effects we want in our metal.

steel + steel = stretch

steel + wood, plastic, or hide = move

“The metal will generally take the shape of whatever the harder surface is. Not always, but most of the time. Put annealed metal on a flat wood [or plastic] block and strike it with a steel hammer, and that metal will typically curl up away from the wood [or plastic] toward the hammer,” Helen writes.

“If you do the opposite and put a curled piece of annealed metal on a flat steel block and strike it with a hide, wood, or plastic mallet, the curled metal will flatten down to the steel.

“If you strike a flat piece of annealed metal with a steel hammer on a flat steel block, the metal will move somewhat predictably away from the hammer without curling up, depending on the shape of its face. The force of the strike and the shape of the hammer face determine how far and deep the metal moves.

“You can gently refine a curve or cupped form in metal without stretching it by using a flat wood block and a curved wood or plastic hammer on the inside of the curve or cup,” Helen says.

Remember the handy formulas above and you’ll never mar your metal when you want to move it!

Learn more about metal forming, using plastic or nylon jewelry-making tools, and much more when you grab our Plastic Fantastic collection! It includes a popular silversmithing book, Helen’s metal fabrication DVD, two eBooks featuring 10 expert articles and 10 metalsmithing tutorials–along with essential plastic/nylon metal forming tools including a nylon hammer, nylon-jaw pliers, and a combination steel and nylon bench block. The Plastic Fantastic collection is a great way for beginners or intermediate silversmiths and other metal jewelry makers to experience the benefits of plastic tools along with top-notch instructional resources in a special value kit!


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