Jewelry Tools 102: Guide to Jewelry-Making Pliers

I read in Jewelry Making Daily’s Facebook feed recently that Rio Grande’s fans voted chain-nose pliers as their favorite tool. They’re certainly among the most versatile, and I admit to having four pairs of chain-nose pliers on my jewelry-making table, each one just slightly different. (There’s also a pair or two in my household tool box, but we won’t go there!)

On my jewelry workbench, there’s an inexpensive pair of chain-nose pliers that I use for taking the first pass at disassembling found objects (aka, the dirty work) and a small pair of chain-nose pliers that I use occasionally for reaching into really tight spaces. I have a favorite pair with extra-long jaws that are of a bit higher quality, with more comfortable grips and slightly square jaws that have improved texture on them for grasping metal better (they might technically be closer to flat-nose pliers), and then there’s my standard good pair that I use for just about everything else.

And that’s just the chain-nose pliers . . . not to mention all the other kinds of pliers. There are literally dozens of different kinds of pliers, did you know? Here’s a quick rundown of the most common ones, partially excerpted from our free eBook, The Illustrated Guide to Jewelry-Making Tools by Sharon Elaine Thompson.

Chain-nose pliers usually have tapered jaws that are flat inside and half round on the outside. Their jaws may be extra long or curved. They’re ideal for loops and curves with a small radius.
Bent-nose (or bent chain-nose) pliers are wire jewelry expert (and Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry magazine editor) Denise Peck’s favorites. “The best tip I ever learned in jewelry school was to use two bent-nose pliers for opening and closing jump rings. Bent-nose pliers allow you to firmly grasp both sides of the ring without obscuring the opening from view.”
Cutters (or nippers) are pliers with a cutting edge that may be on the side or at the end of their jaws. The cutting edge may sever wire cleanly (as with flush cutters) so that one or both wire ends are flat, for a smooth fit, or they may simply cut wire, leaving a small peak or point where the wire was pinched during cutting.
Flat-nose pliers have jaws that are flat inside and out and have squared ends. They’re best for angular bends and for drawing or pulling.
Round-nose pliers have round jaws that taper from their point to their broader base. They’re ideal for making loops, coils, and curved bends. (Tip: To make consistently sized loops for a project or when making lots of eye pins, mark the jaws with a marker and make all your loops on that line.)
Confirming pliers are mostly for working with (or creating) corrugated metals. Their edges are thin, flat, and wide, making them ideal for pinching or “confirming” edges of metal folds. Tip: I also find them handy to hold a wider strip of metal when I’m texturing or stamping on it, rather than using regular pliers (which can leave marks around where their skinny jaws grip the metal) or my fingers (which can get whacked!).

Those are the basics; there are dozens of other varieties of specialized pliers available, including ring bending, looping, hole punching, tube cutting, rosary, bow opening, forming, and many others.

Jewelry Tool Hinge Types

Jewelry-making tools such as pliers and cutters can have different kinds of hinges, which can improve their ease of use, strength, and longevity.

Box-joint hinges are the most expensive and will not loosen over time.

Parallel-action jaw hinges keep your pliers’ jaws parallel to each other (as opposed to the pincer-like movement of other pliers’ jaws).

Riveted lap joint hinges are less expensive hinges and less durable than box-joint hinges, but they provide greater leverage.

If you have as many of these pliers (and in multiples, I dare say . . . ) as I do, I think we’re what are called “tool junkies.” That just means we have to redeem ourselves by using each and every one of them! For information on all the latest jewelry-making tools to hit the market–plus great jewelry designs and projects to help you put them to use–Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine is the place to go (and you can get them in a convenient digital format on Zinio!). Each issue is packed with jewelry-making information and inspiration for tool junkies and aspiring tool junkies alike!

All this talk about jewelry-making tools makes me think about my beloved (ruined) wire cutters. Sigh. So what’s your favorite jewelry-making tool? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

P.S. Did you see the first article in this series, Jewelry Tools 101: Guide to Jewelry-Making Hammers? Which jewelry tool group would you like to focus on next? Let me know in the comments below!


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