Tools To Go

11 08 2010

When I first started to teach jewelry making, I was always scrambling to pull together my tools before taking off to class. There is a standard subset of tools that I use for most projects I work on, whether wire work, or beading, or working with metal, so I decided to make up a simple tool kit with the items I use the most, so I can just grab it and pack it with my other supplies.

Ooooohhhh.... tools!

This is my tool kit… not some case with elastic loops (never big enough!), but a baby wipes container! Filled with the tools I use every single day…. And the case has a little extra room, so I can always add an extra tool when needed.

To Bend, To Hold To Shape, To Cut

You can never have enough pliers. Really…. I’m serious! I have about 25 pairs at my workbench – some are very very specific (prong benders), but most are variations of the basics.These pliers above are the ones I reach for most, so they are the ones in the kit:

  1. Nylon Faced Pliers: these are really really grungy, but I use them all the time to straighten wire, and gently form metal
  2. Flush Cutters: a sharp point, and a clean edge are a must! And these cut wire as heavy as 14g with no problem.
  3. Round Nose Pliers: I have 2 pairs, since I use a variety of gauges.
  4. Knotting Pliers: although these are intended for knotting, I use them all the time with wire. They are great for tucking in thin wires.
  5. Bent Nose Pliers: I have discovered that I reach for bent nose pliers so much more than chain nose pliers. I used to keep chain nose in the kit, but I don’t use them much – the bent nose work most times for me.

The Other Stuff I Use

Pliers are the basics, but they’re not enough! I always need files, and I found a small 3 piece set that has a great cut. There are also 2 awls (aka “pointy metal sticks!”) that I use all the time – the yellow handle one is thicker, and great for enlarging small holes in metal, and for breaking beads. The nail, at the bottom of the photo, has been altered… I cut off the point and filed, sanded and polished the end, so I could use it as a burnisher to smooth out metal surfaces. And the extendable antenna is my portable mandrel, used when I need to shape wire and make coils.

The Final Touch

I can’t begin to tell you how often I use sanding blocks… ! These are 1/4 size cut from a standard block, and I use them to soften a metal surface (wire or sheet) after filing. I also use them to add a subtle texture, and to clean off oxidation. The crocous cloth is something I was shown years ago… it is a textures grit “painted” onto a heavy denim cloth, and it is great to polish up metal apply a shine – just be sure to NEVER use them wet, because the grit will run!

For most classes, I also need to grab a few other items – for many projects I need to include steel blocks, stamps, punches, and hammers. But having all these basics in one simple case ensures that I all I need to do is add the project specific tools. And as a little time bonus, I keep this sitting in my living room, so whenever I feel a bit creative, it’s always where I need it!

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Getting Hooked (or, How to Make a Clasp)

26 07 2010

Being able to make your own jewelry findings means that you can always create what you need, in the size you need. I love finishing off a handmade piece with a well made clasp, and one of my favorites is the basic wire hook.

Step 1: flatten one end

I start with a 2.5 inch length of wire, in a pretty heavy weight. I’m using 16g here, but you can change up the gauge and the length to customize your clasp. Sand or file the ends clean, and hammer one end to create a “paddle” shape.

Step 2: create a small loop

Next, you need to create a small loop (as small as possible) at the flattened end, using the very tip of my round nose pliers.  Make sure you don’t use good precision round nose pliers – the heavier gauge wires could twist the tips out of alignment and ruin your pliers!

Step 3: make a large loop

On the other end of the wire, make a larger loop, using the base of your round nose pliers. Make sure that the loops are facing the same direction, as shown below:

The wire is now ready to be shaped

The loops are round, facing the same direction. The wire is nice and straight, and  can now be shaped around a mandrel into a hook (I use a pen in the following steps, but you can use any appropriately shaped rod as a mandrel).

Step 4: holding the wire

Hold the wire across the top of the pen, with both of the loops facing up. Position your thumb a bit closer to the large loop, and hold the wire tight on the mandrel.

Step 5: bending the wire

Start bending the wire over the mandrel on both sides – the end with the small loop will be longer. Bend the wire gently, ensuring it keeps a rounded shape.

Step 6: shaping the hook

Once both sides are pushed down (like an upside down “U”), push the longer end with the small loop under the mandrel, toward the large loop. This gives the clasp a “swoop” shape, which helps with the integrity of the hook.

Step 7: the finishing touches

Now the hook is done. The final step is to harden the wire, so that the clasp will not bend out when used. You can either whack it with a mallet, which will keep the wire round (as shown on the left), or you can lightly hammer the wire on the curves, which will result in a clasp as shown on the right. If the curves open up a little, just reshape them closed. And don’t forget to antique your clasp to match your chain and metal components if needed.

Practice a few in copper before working with silver, and adjust the wire gauge and length to create variations that suit your designs and style. You  will never be “held hostage” to store bought components again!





I’ve Been Booked!

18 07 2010

I have a great library of jewelry making books – wirework, metalwork, resin, beading… even polymer clay! I get inspired looking thru them, and I love learning and applying new techniques, and developing my skills.

So I’m thrilled that some of my pieces will be in the gallery section of a new book from Lisa Niven Kelly, the creator of the online Beaducation workshops and website. Lisa is a great designer, and a great teacher, and much of her work involves stamping and cold connections – just my kinda thing!.

Stamped Metal Jewelry by Lisa Niven Kelly

Her new book has some great projects – if you have any interest in metal work, you will love this book! And check out her Beaducation website for videos, tools, metal blanks, design and letter sets – everything you need for stamping projects!

Stamped and Riveted Bangles (StudioDax)

The “LAUGH” bangle above, and a few other similar ones I made, are in the gallery section… I love, love, love, using mixed metals, and rivets are just such a cool design element, in addition to being functional.

"Seek Love" ID Style Bracelet (StudioDax)

The “SEEK LOVE” bracelet is also in the book, at least I think so…. this was a “maybe” so I’ll find out when I get my copy. It’s a favorite of mine, with heavy link chain, Thai Hill silver heart charm, and copper rivet accents… what’s not love?

If you ever get a chance to take one of Lisa’s classes at a bead show, make sure to sign up, you’ll be thrilled with both the skills you pick up, and the project you create!





Adventures in Tumbling

7 07 2010

I’ve been asked by some of my metal work students if  buying a tumbler is a good investment. A tumbler does not polish – if you have scratches, or damage to the surface, it will not remove them. But it will clean and shine up your jewelry so that it looks great, and my tumbler is a tool I would hate to give up. I will do a more in-depth how-to post later on, but this is a quick “before and after” to show what a tumbler can do.

Looking a Little Dull...

So here’s a few of my silver and copper favorites – a couple of  bracelets, some earrings, and a few pendants – stamped, hammered, etched and antiqued. I don’t use any kind of lacquer on my jewelry – I think that silver and copper get a warmer look when worn on the skin.  It’s obvious these pieces are well loved!

The Tumbler Cup

The tumbler uses a rubber cup…. this muffles the noise a little, and buffers the items when turning. I have about a pound and a half of mixed stainless steel shot in the cup along with the jewelry to be cleaned (ALWAYS uses stainless – regular steel will rust easily!).

In the Cup We Have...

Can you see the different shapes of shot in the cup? There are round BBs, saucers, pins, and ovals – the different shapes get into all the nooks in the jewelry once we get started. At this point, I fill the cup with water to about an inch above the level of jewelry, and I give a squirt of Dawn dishwashing detergent. Use the original (not concentrated) blue Dawn – this has been used by designers for years to clean their jewelry!

Ready to Rumble... er, Tumble!

Close up the cap tightly, put it on the tumbler, and plug it in! I love, love, love, love, love, my Lortone tumbler! I can’t imagine trying to go with a cheaper tumbler – this is a workhorse, and will run effortlessly for years.  I leave it going for about an hour, which is all I need to do for a basic cleaning.

Pretty, Shiny Things!

Pour everything out into a plastic colander and rinse. Be very careful when doing this so you don’t drop the shot all over! Dry off your pieces…. and they’re just like new – clean and shiny, and ready to wear again!





Getting Hammered

24 06 2010

Hammers vs. mallets – which one to use?? Well, the answer is obvious… use them both! So the better question then, is which one to choose, and why. They are shaped similar to each other, and both of them are used in a similar fashion, but they produce very different results.

Rawhide Mallet on the top, Chasing Hammer on the bottom

Mallets come in a variety of materials – plastic, nylon, rubber, wood, and my favorite… rawhide.  They all have one major characteristic in common – they are made of a softer material than whatever they are striking. Hammers though, are made of steel, or some other material  that is harder than what they are striking.

Hit with a mallet (top), vs. hit with a hammer (bottom)

Whether you use a mallet, or use a hammer, both of these  will work harden your  item. Because it is softer than the material being hit, the mallet will absorb the force, and won’t affect the surface or altering the material. Since a hammer is harder than the material you are working with, it will cause the material to expand and flatten, as long as you are on a steel block or anvil.

An unworked ring, hit with a mallet, and hammered

I cut a few rings to show the results of hitting with a mallet, vs. hitting with a hammer – you can see how the mallet moved the metal just a little (see how the ring opened just a tiny bit), but the wire is still round, whereas the hammered ring has flattened out and expanded.

And the rings... all closed up

I love the look of hammered wire, but there are times when my design looks better without the flattening or texture, so it’s useful to know how to use each tool.





Do it Again, and Again, and Again – Perfect Spirals!!

15 06 2010

When I first started making jewelry, I wondered if I would ever be able to make clean and consistent  spirals – it seemed that whenever I finally got one  to look good, I could never duplicate it! So I started making up wire templates, complete with gauge of wire and length, so that once I learned to make spirals, I could recreate them over and over…

A small starting loop makes a tight spiral

First, I cut a piece of wire 3 inches (this is 18g wire, for reference), and make a very small loop at one end using round nose pliers.

Holding the loop at the base of the pliars

Next, I hold the loop in flat nose pliers (I am using bent-nose pliers, but you can use any flat pliers). I am holding the wire straight out, near to the base of the pliers, not at the tip, so that I can get a good grip on the loop.

Push the wire up, and press it close to loop...

Holding the loop tight in the pliers (note how you can see part of the loop sticking out), now I bend the wire straight up, wrapping it along side the loop.

The spiral starts to take shape as you continue wrapping

I reposition the loop in the pliers, and repeat, until the spiral is the size I want. I measure the wire left over from the spiral, and subtract it from the 3 inches I started with, to get the length of wire I used for the spiral.

All wound up - spiral complete!

I do this with different gauges of wire, and then mark the sample items with the both the measure and the gauge. This way I can just pull out a spiral, and duplicate it by using the same wires.

Selection of wire spiral templates

Making templates is easy, and saves me alot of time, effort and wasted wire.  I make up examples in copper wire for links, clasps, earwires, and loops too, and store them in little ziplock bags. If you make wire jewelry, consider making up some sample wire templates –  you’ll always have real examples of all different kinds of wire components easily available.





How the Bead Breaks

6 06 2010

I have always admired the folks who work with seed beads making beautiful intricate patterns – they make the beads come to life. But my brain and fingers just don’t work that way… the beads get the best of me! But after taking a class in Bead Crochet Ropes a few years ago, I have found a way to satisfy my occasional seed bead craving!!

One of my favorites bangles - I love the colors

There are re are many options and variations in the bangles – I can create spiral patterns by changing up the bead colors, textured spirals by varying the bead size, and mosaic looking patterns by randomizing the beads. But no matter how I string on the pattern, invariably there will always be a bead or two that is not right, and needs to be broken off the thread.

A Rope in Progress

You can do this the wrong way – by whacking the bead with a hammer, or squeezing it in pliers (you might cut the thread), or you can do it the right way, by breaking the bead from the inside.

A Beady Boo-Boo...

In this example, I am showing that the pattern is incorrectly strung with 2 black beads together. I need to break the bead to keep the 5 color spiral pattern, and I want to do it without cutting the thread.

Step 1: there's an awl in my bead...

The first thing you need to do is put the tip if an awl into the bead you want to break. Make sure that the awl does not slide all the way into the bead – most beading awls are very fine, and may be too thin to break the bead.

Step 2: put the bead on the block

The next thing you need to do is put the bead on a block of wood , with the awl positioned in the hole (make sure the point of the awl does not split the thread). You can use a stack of cardboard instead of wood – you just need a surface that is firm, but will give under the point of the awl.

Step 3: push, push... and crack!

Now just push the awl firmly thru the bead. The pressure of pushing on the awl will crack the bead, leaving the thread intact. Keep your hand around the bead as you crack it, so that the glass doesn’t shoot out. In this example, I show breaking one bead, but if you’re stringing a 5 color pattern, and you leave out a bead, you’ll need to break several beads until the pattern is correct

I love creating these bangles, and have created a tool for making it easy to get started. If you’ve ever wanted to make them, or have tried, and found it frustrating, please check out the tool/tutorial I have in my Etsy shop.