Metalsmithing: Tool Makers, Legends, and Insight on Pliers and Hammering, Part 1
Having grown up with a tool and die maker (my Dad), I hold tool artisans close to my heart. I also have a love for tools, but what jewelry maker doesn’t? There’s just something about a well-crafted tool you can apply to metal (or other material) and have it yield to your touch and perform metalsmithing tasks for you you couldn’t otherwise perform without them.
Miland Suess was the first jewelry toolmaker and legend I met. I remember the day so well: It was a bright, crisp day in Tucson. I was walking the shows with Merle, we were out in a tent, and all there was to see and learn overwhelmed me. We strolled up to Mr. Suess’s booth and, well, let’s just say, that’s where my day improved beyond my wildest dreams. There were tools upon tools upon tools on his table. And each was wildly different and beyond what was “standard.” There was a potential for hours of conversation but we kept it to a reasonable amount of time given there were other people for Mr. Suess to be helping!
I came away from his booth with too much for my brain to retain, a really cool metalsmithing tool I was sure I would be able to justify purchasing by making tons of curved bangles, a bag of “free” brass stampings he was sharing with each sale, and a lead for a few articles.
Nina Graci wrote an article on this legendary metalsmithing toolmaker for the July 2002 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. To follow are excerpts from the article.
“Tools are an extension of a jeweler’s hands. They are the essential components necessary to give shape and dimension to a linear form and transform concept and design into wearable metal art. Jewelry, the glittering offspring of this unique synergy, owes its very existence to tools.
“Jewelers may never stop to consider the person who invented their favorite pliers, imagining instead an anonymous assembly line in a Third World country. Although this is sometimes the case, there is one toolmaker who pursues what must surely be a dying art in our machine-driven age, that of inventing and making handmade tools.
“Meet Miland Suess , inventor and toolmaker, known to his customers as ‘The Answer Man.’
“I just know that jewelers need to bend and cut metal and I enjoy thinking of ways to make the process faster and easier,” says Suess. “People have always asked me to help them solve jewelry-making problems.
“For many jewelers the annual pilgrimage to the Tucson gem and mineral shows begins with a stop at Suess’s booth. Long-time customers feel comfortable bringing their current jewelry-making problems to Suess, who often solves them by modifying tools on the spot. As the saying goes, for every jewelry-making problem, Suess has the solution. Or, if he doesn’t, wait two hours.
“Many of Suess’s tools were invented as the result of hearing professionals say, ‘If I had a tool that could _____, then I would save a lot of time.’ This was the case with the no fuss Double Cylinder Bracelet Maker and the Channel Bracelet Maker, which formed bracelets in minutes instead of hours by putting large radius curves into flat metal stock and wire. The plus here was the process did not disturb any stone settings.
“Decorating metal is as immediate as squeezing your hand around the Dimpler, which punctuates metal with precise, circular domes in seven sizes. Punch a hole through an exotic coin with the Hole Punch for an instant gratification necklace.”
“Rings, earrings, and children’s bracelets are easy to form with the Double Cylinder Ring Maker and Channel Ring Maker.
“Hobbyists and wirewrappers too can add to their workbenches. The Double-Flush Cutter is a miracle of efficiency that flush-cuts up to eight-gauge wire leaving both ends flush, thus eliminating waste and the need for filing. The adjustable gauge allows the cutting of multiple pieces of the same length. The Double Cylinder Metal Wrap and Channel Metal Wrap quickly curve wire into earring hooks and bales while the Prong Setter bends prongs and tightens stones. The Tapered Extra Long Nose Pliers has countless applications for wire bending.”
This reminded me — I have a pair of these pliers, too! I think it was an early prototype.
Be one of the lucky ones to get Miland pliers in our Anticlastic Bracelet Forming Collection! You’ll be able to make bracelets quickly and easily–plus have loads of project tutorials to get you started–with this unique metalsmithing collection.