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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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!





I’m a Very Dirty Girl…

26 05 2010

But luckily, there’s always ways to get clean! As anyone who makes jewelry knows, working with metal is dirty work! Soldering, etching, fabrication – all of these make my hands look like they’ve been playing around inside a car engine, and most soaps can’t get them clean. And the ones that CAN clean them up always leave me feeling like sandpaper….

Grease Monkey Soap by Soap Scentsations

And then there’s Grease Monkey! I got this soap from a fellow Etsian – Soap Sensations (I always like to support the handmade community!), and the soap works great. Specifically made to clean you up after you’re doing your messiest, Grease Monkey is a cold processed soap made with natural ingredients, which leaves your skin soft, and has a clean minty scent (nothing wussy here!). And i to make my point, I thought I’d embarrass myself by showing you what I look like when working:

Where Have These Hands Been??

Just a little soldering, a little fabrication, a dip in Liver of Sulpher (LOS – for antiquing), and a bit of metal cleaning with some very fine steel wool – and my hands get pretty nasty looking. Wow – look at those nails… they look so much worse in a close-up!!

And After the Grease Monkey!

But a little Grease Monkey, a little scrubbing with a nail brush, and everything is pink and new! So I guess I clean up pretty good… huh?

So what was I working on that got me so messy? One of my favorite projects – an Initial Pendant, for a friend who is moving, and will be missed…

Bye, Bye Susan...





I’m Hooked on Wire…

20 05 2010

…And you can be too! Hooked on Wire (aka: HOW) is an annual wire retreat held in the San Fransisco Bay Area – imagine what you can learn by spending three days (Sept 10-12), with some of the top wirework artists in the country!! This year, Lisa Niven Kelly, Dallas Lovett, and Barb Switzer are the fabulous workshop instructors, and I’m thrilled to be joining HOW this year as one of the evening instructors! My project will be a little bit of a break from all the wire working done during the day – you’ll get a chance to play with some metal and create a fun “FAN-tastic” pendant :

What a "FAN-tastic" Pendant!!!

Hooked on Wire is a wonderful opportunity  to expand your skills, meet great people, and have a whole lotta fun! So check out the website for more info on projects and tickets, and plan a mini vacation – you deserve a few days for yourself! This is the 7th year for HOW, and it just gets better and better…!!





An Oldie but Goodie…

7 05 2010

Ok, So Maybe I'm a Little Defensive....

I have this stamped bracelet that I made many, many years ago when I was first starting to do metal work. The original clasp had a small wrapped lampwork bead, which I replaced with a simple hook when the bead eventually broke. I’ve made a lot of cool bracelets since then – wireworked, hand made chains, some with etched copper panels – all sorts. But THIS is the bangle I’ve been wearing 4-5 times a week lately –  I kinda feel a little naked without it.

As a jewelry designer, like other artists and craftspeople, I am always looking to expand my skills and learn new techniques. But this very simple and easy stamped bracelet is like an amulet to me now – it represents my start in metalworking, and I always feel a little creative when I feel it on my wrist.

I’m sure I’ll eventually swap it out for something else, but for now, I’m a little superstitious, and I think I’ll keep it on