Pliers: Jewelry-Making Tools That Hold, Cut and Form Metal
Jewelry-making tools. Teborg round and chain nose pliers (top left and right); Platypus pliers from Grainger (lower right); photo Jim Lawson
Love Conquers All — But Leave Her Pliers Drawer Alone!
“Why in the world do you have so many pliers?”
This question was posed to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Contributing Editor and jewelry maker Lexi Erickson several years ago by her beloved spouse, as she calls him. Aw, sweet! And patient, under the circumstances.
But as he continued to peer into her packed pliers drawer, he actually said, and I quote: “You only need two sets.”
Silly man, she thought, continuing to show astonishing forbearance in my opinion. Just as well he had no idea that elsewhere in her studio Lexi had another 25 pairs of “I may need these some day specialty pliers” squirreled away!
Jewelry-Making Tools That Hold and More
Pliers are one of the main go-to tools for holding objects it’s difficult to hold directly with your hands. Their basic construction, however, also makes them ideal for adaptation and use in ways well beyond getting a better grip.
With convenient handles that give you extra leverage and ends that give you extra dexterity, jewelry-making pliers are a natural for further development. Put a tapered cylinder at the working end and you have a mini mandrel. Put a sharp little blade at the working end and you have wire cutters. Keep refining the shape and size and adding notches and stake-like bands and you have an endless assortment of specialized holding, cutting, and forming jewelry-making tools that make certain tasks easier and faster with more dependable results.
Why wouldn’t a jeweler have so many pliers!
Treat Your Metal and Your Hands Well
Perfectly justified with her hoard though she felt, the pliers incident got Lexi thinking, and eventually led her to write the feature “Pass the Pliers, Please” in the November, 2009, issue of LJJA. From that overview of pliers on the market at the time, here are Lexi’s two overarching considerations for selecting any pair of pliers, whatever jewelry-making task you want to accomplish with them. They are as relevant today as they were the day she wrote them.
- Smooth jaws: “Pliers should have smooth jaws, with no teeth to scar your metal. Filing the teeth off regular hardware store pliers,” she adds, ”is not a good option, for it will compromise the gripping ability of the pliers.”
- Secure, comfortable handles: “Some teachers think there should be no rubber handles on the pliers because this gives you a better grip. Others like the handles to cushion the palms of the hands. I’ll leave that option to you.” For Lexi, the right handles are a balance between “too much squishiness” in the cushioning and not enough padding for comfort, resulting in a firm, sustainable grip. “Like any tool,” she advises, “you’ll need to experiment and find what works for you.“
3 Basic Operations
Here are just a few of the things Lexi does with pliers and the kinds of pliers she prefers for these tasks:
- Working with jump rings: “I have found that to have the most control over jump rings, it usually requires two pairs of chain nose pliers.”
- Straight bends: “Bending straight lines in metal requires flat nose pliers. The same pliers are indispensable for bending nice bezel edges around a square or sharp-edged stone.”
- Soldering: And if you’ve ever read anything by Lexi, taken a class with her, watched one of her videos, or even had a casual drink with her, you already know she believes that “Everyone needs a nice pair of tight gripping, $5.99 Harbor Freight, extra long chain nose pliers to use as ‘burn ‘em up’ pliers when soldering.”
Good News, Better News
The good news is Harbor Freight still sells extra long nose pliers at affordable prices. Even better, jewelry tool manufacturers have been very busy creating an ever greater selection of pliers designed to help you accomplish tasks with more precision and ease.
Denise Peck, fan of jewelry-making tools, jewelry maker, author of jewelry-making books including Wire Style: 50 Unique Jewelry Designs and Wire Style 2: 45 New Jewelry Designs, and former editor of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, recently sent in a couple of pliers-related tips. They’re for her “Embellished Stirrup Earrings” project that will appear in the November, 2017, issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, but I’d like to share them with you here because they add to two of the same basic operations Lexi described years ago.
One tip is about working with jump rings, the other about making straight bends. What’s new is that Denise uses a model of pliers that has only recently come onto the market.
Working with Tiny Jump Rings
“Tiny jump rings, as all jump rings, need to be opened and closed side to side with two pliers,” Denise reminds us. The problem is that “most plier jaws obscure such tiny jump rings. Xuron’s chisel nose pliers are small, yet they have a good area of jaw with which to grasp the smallest of rings.”
How to Make Sharp Bends in a Small Area
“Sometimes I want to change up the look of ear wires, and square ones really catch the eye,” Denise says. “The new Xuron chisel nose pliers have a good sharp edge for bending wire in small areas. I use the face of the chisel edge like a mandrel, and push the wire right against it for a clean sharp bend.”
As Lexi says, “A girl can never have too many” pairs of pliers. Neither can a guy.
Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and editorial director for the Interweave Jewelry Group.
Try Out the New Chisel Nose
Now you can give these new specialty pliers a test run, and try them out on projects from Denise’s Wire Style books and more, all in the Get a Grip on Wire Chisel Nose Pliers Collection.
Pass the Pliers
Find Lexi’s full review of pliers from the November 2009 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist at www.interweave.com/store/jewelry-artist-2009-digital-edition.
Share Your Pliers Tips
Are pliers one of your favorite jewelry-making tools? Which ones do you like best and why? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Find these resources, overflowing with ideas on how to use pliers, in our shop.