Ode to Jewelry-Making Tools: My Favorite Tools and Why I Love Them
I read somewhere that tools are extensions of our hands, which are our own best built-in tools. I’m pretty fond of my hands, of course, but I have to admit I’m in love with some actual jewelry-making tools, too.
I recently shared a friend’s studio space. She said my work table was full of “dangerous things” and didn’t touch the tools. One day she needed a small, sharp tool, so she “risked” getting one of mine. When she gave it back to me, she said, “I borrowed this one because it was burnt and bent, and I didn’t think I’d hurt it. I knew not to get anything good, like your Wubbers or something.” Ha! I guess my love of Wubbers is no secret.
Here are some of my favorite jewelry-making tools and why I love them so.
My Favorite Jewelry-Making Tools
Joyce Chen Kitchen Shears
So it took me several years to listen to all the praise I’d heard and get my own Joyce Chen kitchen shears for cutting metal. Don’t wait. Get them, you will love them. Their long blades make them cut like a dream and turn corners so easily, so they’re easy on your hands. They’ll cut up to 22-gauge metal but I’ve even managed to cut a bit of 20-gauge in a pinch. But please be careful; in more than 10 years of working with metal, I’ve only cut myself once, and that was a few months ago with these super-sharp suckers. They’re made to cut through anything in the kitchen, including chicken bones, which are similar to our bones . . . just sayin’.
Wubbers ProLine Pliers
When I first got these pliers with the firm, imprinted handles, I didn’t think I’d like them. I wondered why such a smart company would put “uncomfortable” handles on their new pliers. Boy, was I mistaken! They’re not uncomfortable, not even a little bit; in fact they feel really good in my hand–cool and firm but soft, because of the no-slip suede-ish finish. And those finger grooves make way more difference than I thought they would–in a good way. I love all of them for their comfort and precision, but I think the wide flat-nose pliers (on top) are my favorites. More and more often I find that they’re just the right thing for gripping jump rings and metal, and because they’re strong at the tips, I even use them for forming metal and fluting edges. Plus they have a lifetime warranty!
Sharp Pointy Things: T-Pins and Dental Picks (Solder Picks)
I have an old champagne cork on my bench that’s completely full of T-pins that I use to support metal pieces during soldering. I think the most pins I’ve ever rigged up in one soldering action is six, but I have about 20, just in case. (Don’t judge, you never know!)
The “small, sharp tool” I mentioned at the top of this love letter to tools was a dental pick aka a soldering pick. It’s just a thick steel needle tool with a handle to keep our hands from burning during prolonged heating and soldering. But it works like a dream for moving metal parts in the flame or making sure nothing slides out of place during soldering. I pick up a few for a buck apiece in Tucson every year, and I have about 39 of them on my bench at any given time. Or five.
Wubbers Artisan’s Mark Hammers
These hammers feel so right in my hands. I’ve got some strength in my arms, and even so, some of the bigger hammers still feel too big to have masterful control over when I’m texturing metal. These are lightweight but that doesn’t limit their ability at all; in my opinion, it makes it better because I feel like I can control them better. I especially love these four for texturing metal, especially creating delicate textures in small or controlled areas. And let’s face it, we always want more hammers.
Xuron Tweezer Nose Pliers
I’ve written about these before, but I couldn’t leave them out this time–especially since I have two pairs now. Some of you might know how you buy a second pair of shoes or a second piece of clothing because you love the first one so much, you want to be sure you are never left without it. That’s how I feel about these pliers. I have awful luck with my favorite moisturizer/shampoo/lipstick etc. being discontinued, so I had to be sure I always have these pliers. The short story of my love for them is that they grasp every. little. thing. They have strength all the way down to the tips, too, for a strong grip in tiny, tight places.
Xuron High-Durability Scissors
Before I got my Joyce Chen shears, these were my go-to metal scissors. Now I reserve them for slightly heavier gauge metal and finer snips in small areas. They’re precise, they cut clean, and they’re comfortable to use. I’ve cut 20-gauge metal with these easily, and I think they’re rated to cut even heavier gauge metal and wire. I love these American-made scissors because I’ve used them for about five years now, and they work just as well as they did when I first got them. Like their cousin pliers above, the strength in these scissors reaches all the way to the tips, for cutting in small spaces.
Stuller Wire Cutters
You might remember the heartbreaking tale of when I “ruined” my beloved Stuller cutters. In their heyday, these babies could cut anything so closely and so precisely, they were like something from a men’s razor commercial. And then they came up against an unknown opponent (found-object metal) and were marred for life, not once but twice because when it didn’t work the first time, I tried again. Ugh!
It’s still so painful, knowing that I’m fully responsible for what has happened to these beloved cutters. But I’m happy to report that they aren’t completely ruined, and sometimes I still use them. I don’t use them as constantly as I once did, but once in awhile, a need arises on the bench that I know only they can fulfill. And with just a little special consideration for their . . . condition . . . they always come through for me. Bless ’em.
ImpressArt Texture Stamper
This clever invention is relatively new to the market and I reviewed it in more detail recently, but because it is so clever, I couldn’t leave it out of this list of all-star tools. The stamping hammer works opposite of what you might think. Instead of using it to hammer on a stamp, you put the stamp in it, turning the stamp into an interchangeable texture hammer. So you can use any stamp you have like a hammer. Cool, right?
I don’t talk about these much, but that doesn’t meant I love them any less. I think I had them for a couple of years before I ever even used them, before I realized how really important they are. Intended for one purpose really–straightening wire–they do it like a charm. I think what I love about them is that they do something that seems nearly impossible to do. When wire gets kinked or just too wiggly and crooked to serve its purpose, these pliers smooth it right back out with just friction, the small amount of heat that friction creates, and pressure. They’re really kind of magical. And they’ve gotten me out of a bind more times than I can count. (See what I did there?)
Master Your Jewelry Tools
Learn more about the jewelry-making tools that belong on every bench–and some special ones that might not be essential but sure are fine to have–in the eBook, Favorite Jewelry Making Tools from the Editors of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. In it you’ll see Tom & Kay Benham’s top 10 favorite jewelry-making tools and what they’re good for, go on a $1,000 shopping spree with Helen Driggs (oh my!), and learn about pliers and files in great detail with Lexi Erickson. You’ll get great information about setting up your bench, using your bench pin, maximizing your work space, and customizing tools for your best use.
You’ll learn about specialty tools for chasing and repoussé and how to make your own using garage-sale finds, as well as how to do lost wax casting on a shoestring without a lot of specialty tools. As a bonus, you’ll be inspired by the work of several jewelry artists who also share their favorite tools. If you want to learn more about jewelry-making tools, or if you just love tools–download Favorite Jewelry Making Tools and the other jewelry tool eBooks in this series below!
What are your favorite jewelry tools? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below!