Making Jewelry from Found Objects: Lessons Learned and Tool-Saving Tips for Next Time


Since I first shared the pitiful little tale of how I ruined my then-favorite wire cutters trying to snip off parts of some found objects, I've gotten so many nice "me too" empathy messages from others who have done something similar. I've also seen some great tips and suggestions for saving my poor snaggle-toothed cutters and for making lemonade out of those lemons. Seems like most companies will repair or replace products like that–good to know! But also good to know are two great tips shared by Jewelry Making Daily readers for how to make the best of the situation.

JMD member bhludlow shared their story for turning my found-object jewelry-making tragedy into a great new customized tool after they ruined Swanstrom pliers by trying to cut wire that was too heavy a gauge for them. Repair costs were prohibitive, "so instead, I repurposed them. I found that the dents in the pliers' tips allowed me to cut a groove into a 20-gauge wire without cutting through. This made a perfect 'stop' on ear-wire posts." Isn't that brilliant? What a fine finishing touch it is to have those ear-wire stops on handmade earrings.

Another JMD member, Eldon, comforted me with a good idea as well: "All is not lost. Diamond files will fix anything OR change anything to suit a different purpose, such as using them for making unique edges on sheet metal parts, clay or leather. . . Just think how dashes would look on the copper bail of the orange pendant on the Remixed Media cover." Another great idea–I can imprint my own little dash-dot-dot-dot-dash pattern on metal by "crimping" it with my "ruined" pliers. So cool!

That definitely helps take some of the sting out of my loss. I still go out of my way to remember to never repeat that mistake when I'm making jewelry from found objects, though, and hope that sharing my research about hardness of materials and various metals in found objects will also help others from repeating my mistake. Here's that post again from the JMD archives.

Ode to My Ruined Wire Cutters: Found-Object Metals Tips for Jewelry-Making Tools  

Forgive me if I get a little emotional, but the pain is still just a little too intense. I recently ruined my favorite jewelry-making tool ever–a tool so great that it made me aware of the difference between really good jewelry-making tools and average ones–and I'm sharing my tale of woe to help ensure none of you ever suffers a loss like mine. Sigh.

Okay, I'm being a little dramatic, but just a little. Every time I sit down at my jewelry bench to make a piece of jewelry, I inevitably reach for my ruined wire cutters and feel the sting of loss all over again. It was all so innocent–I was just dismantling a piece of vintage jewelry, a beaded earring, and I reached for my beloved wire cutters to snip the wires the beads were strung on, like I'd done so many times. Being the super snippers that they were, it was usually a quick snap. But this time, when I pressed the handles of the wire cutters on the wires, I didn't hear that distinctive "snap!" that I normally hear when cutters snip through wire.  

Now when the blades are closed, the perfectly round holes glare at me like the ugly, snaggly teeth of a bad jack-o'-lantern.

I didn't realize what was (wasn't) happening, because I adjusted the tool slightly and did it again.

When I realized it still wasn't cutting, I looked at the sharp little blades on my cutters and gasped.

There were four–not one or two, but FOUR–jagged marks bent into the blades of my cutters. When I closed the blades together, the perfectly round holes glared back at me like the ugly, snaggly teeth of a hacked-on jack-o'-lantern. I was stunned.

It simply hadn't occurred to me that my super-duper wire cutters couldn't cut whatever I tried to cut. I know vintage costume jewelry can be made of just about anything, but whatever that wire was that I was trying to cut was apparently harder than the steel of my cutters.

Harder than steel? How can that be?

Read on for the rest of my lament, info about found objects and the metals they can be made of, including my version of a Mohs hardness scale that will help you get an idea of how the common minerals on the Mohs scale compare to metals and other found objects you might use in jewelry making (such as shells, glass, and old skeleton keys) and other common materials–as well as the metals that your jewelry-making tools are made of and how they all compare.

If you're a fan of making jewelry from found objects, check out Candie Cooper's fun DVD, Remixed Media: Transforming Metal Found Objects for Your Jewelry. It's half price now in our Season of Savings event, now through December 18, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. CT. Candie shares lots of tips and techniques for creating truly one-of-a-kind metal jewelry using your own found objects, like silverware, keys, and other metal bits and pieces. In her lessons, you'll learn basics about fabricating metal, texturing and finishing metals, etching and applying patinas–and then learn to put it all together in found-object jewelry using cold-connection techniques like rivets and wire.

And if you have similar stories or suggestions for ways to save or use ruined tools, commiserate with me and share your comments below. I'd love to hear!

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