Tricked Out Pliers: Customize Your Tools For Your Unique Metalsmithing Tasks

Tricked Out Pliers

From “Cool Tools & Hip Tips” in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
By Helen I. Driggs

As with all tools, pliers are an extension of the hand. Depending on the task, the criteria I use for choosing tools may differ. When purchasing pliers, I first consider the amount of use I will give them. If it’s an essential, I wait to buy the best I can afford after evaluating several brands. If it’s a junker, import is fine. And sometimes, an off-the-rack tool just won’t work for the task at hand. Jewelers and metalsmiths will tinker with things because it’s in their nature. So, keeping that in mind, I called on my studio of experts and asked them to let us in on their secret tips or tricks for pliers.

customized pliers Tom Herman

“I first took old pliers and forged or ground the jaws into shape. Then, I used a brazing rod to weld the copper in the jaws. I’ve tried lead solder, but it cracks out after a couple of weeks of use. I first learned that ‘any tool is just a blank until you fine tune it for the job you are doing’ while working at Van Craeynest in San Francisco. Another saying there was, ‘The more accurately you can hold something, the more accurately you can file (or saw or drill) it.’ The first step is to admit, I’m a toolaholic. And those two sayings keep me one.”

modified pliers Alan Revere

Alan’s favorite cool pliers trick was this: “Check tip 63 in my book, 101 Bench Tips for Jewelers.” And, he modestly noted, “Not everyone agrees with me.”

1. Choose them well
2. Strip off rubber handles
3. Strip off any springs
4. Sand jaws
5. Round sharp corners

Alan says, “Many pliers come from suppliers with cutesy handles and springs that diminish their function. Rubber or plastic handles make it cheaper for manufacturers because they do not need to clean up the handles . . . just cover them in plastic for the hobby market. Aside from the garish and distracting colors they usually choose, the feel of rubber or plastic is downright slimy, just not as nice as metal. You lose the sense of what is going on by having the cushion. So take a blade and strip off the handles. The metal below may be a little rough, but it can be filed down. As long as it is comfortable, that’s fine; it does not need to look pretty. Ultimately you have greater control by holding metal handles.”

“The other extra that manufacturers often add to pliers is a pair of springs. These are even worse than the handles, because they reduce your ability to get tactile feedback. You must squeeze to overcome the spring and then gauge how much to squeeze further to hold the item. The only advantage of these springs is that they open the pliers. But anyone can figure that out by slipping a little finger inside the handles to open them up. So take a blade and pop these off, too. If there is an objectionable weld mark, use a grinding wheel (wear goggles!) to remove it.”

“Traditional high-quality European tools do not include these two add-ons for good reason. Both diminish the quality and function of a pair of pliers.”

custom pliers Robert Beauford

Robert is a regular contributor to Lapidary Journal. He wrote “12 Favorite Tools” (July 2005) and offered one of my favorite pliers tips. He keeps three or four pair of cheap, cut-able, mild steel pliers for the purpose of custom alteration to a specific task. He says, “Cheap ones are best for this purpose, since they don’t resist cutting, bending, or polishing. I’ve cold-forged the faces of the pliers on an anvil to make a curved pair for holding something I’ve long since forgotten, and grooved them a dozen ways with a file to avoid marring delicate pieces. For holding post earrings, I’ve angled or curved one face or another to hold objects in place for metal forming.” His altered pliers get used again and again. “When you need a specialized pair of pliers, just imagine what it would look like, then make it. To spark your thoughts, I’ll suggest that you can file them narrower, shorter, curved, grooved, or differently on each face.”

And Another Thing

As I gathered together the information for this feature, I received some brand new Ultra Ergo pliers by EuroTool. I was eager to give them a try because I have a damaged right elbow tendon connection caused by my death grip on the computer mouse. Because of this, extensive looping can be rough for me sometimes. I used the pliers for several evenings of wire-wrapping and really like the way the spring-back feature of the grips kept hand and elbow fatigue at bay. I’ve got big hands, and the grips on these pliers are long and padded enough not to hurt. The tips are small, short, and strong, and I was able to move 10-gauge wire easily. They are a good fit for me, and you might like to give them a try if you have RSI (repetitive stress injury) issues.


This article was originally published as one of Helen’s “Cool Tools & Hip Tips” articles in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist as well as in the Jewelry Making Tools, Tips and More: Cool Tools 2006-2008 eBook. Now you can learn more about your tools and how to make them work better for you when you download the second “Cool Tools” compilation eBook, Jewelry Making Tools, Tips and More, Volume 2, Cool Tools 2009-2010 eBook. Master your tools’ original uses and learn to customize them to suit your unique jewelry-making and metalsmithing needs–all while you’re also learning more about essential metalsmithing techniques and picking up loads of expert tips in one handy eBook.

About the contributors:

Tom Herman lives and works in Rhinebeck, New York. He uses carving, chasing, engraving and saw piercing to produce works rich in intricate, ornate detail. Tom has been working in gold and platinum for over a decade. For more information, visit

Alan Revere is active in the world of jewelry as a lecturer and instructor on a variety of subjects. His video series, Revere on Goldsmithing, set a new standard in professional jewelry instruction. He is the director of the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, Inc., in San Francisco, California. For more information, visit

Robert Beauford began his professional career as a jeweler in 1993 when he moved to northern New Mexico. His work is strongly influenced by an educational and professional background in archaeology and paleontology. For more information, visit



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