I Love Mandrels!

31 03 2011

Part of the “Tools that Delight” posts… As a wire worker, mandrels are some of my all time favorite tools. Since there are always lots of wraps and loops and coiling in my designs, it is important that there is consistency in the techniques used – sloppy wire work stands out, and makes a good design cheap.

Wire Wrap Stepped Mandrels

These are a new favorite tool of mine! I’ve been doing wire work for many years, and I’ve always used round nose pliers – I’m pretty good at it too! But there are some problems that folks have with pliers – most notably, it is difficult to repeat wire wraps with consistency, because the wire is easily moved up and down the pliers, resulting in loops that are not the same size.

Wire Wraps.... Step Style!

Using stepped mandrels ensures that the wraps are always consistent, because the mandrels are cylindrical (rather than cone shaped), and the wire actually rests on a “step” so it can be repeated over and over with no change.

Coils and Jump Rings

Look how nice this coil looks, perfect to make a few jump rings. I confess – I have a complete jump ringer power system to make jump rings in quantity. But often, I just need a few, and it’s easier to wrap up a coil and saw or cut them.

Easy Links - a "Figure 8"

And it’s simple to make links – these mandrels have a range of sizes between 1.5mm and 10mm, so it’s super simple to create whatever size you need for your project. I make a whole bunch of these at one sitting, so that I always have them ready when needed.

Hammered Link

This component (above) was made using a small wrap on one end, and a much larger wrap on the other. Then, the link was hammered flat to harden it so it doesn’t pull open, and also, because it looks cool hammered

I really really love these, and I now keep a set in my portable tool kit and bring them to class for my students to use.

Textured Padded Grip - Set of 2 Steel Stepped Mandrels

I also decided to sell them – if interested, they are available at my Etsy store in the Tools section. I include a tutorial on using the mandrels, as well as some practice wire, so it’s easy to get going… wire work is fun, and the ability to make your own jump rings and links and clasps is a great way to start adding handmade wire to your jewelry.

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Tools That Delight

13 02 2011

I’ve wanted to to post a review feature on tools for a while, so I decided it’s time to do it! This is the first in a series called “Tools that Delight” and they will be tagged for easy searching in the Categories menu to the right…

As a tool junkie, I mentally rate my tools into different categories depending on how much I want them. It is not unusual for tools to change the category they are in, especially when I learn new techniques:

  • Must Have: these are the tools I can’t work without
  • Gotta Get: these are the ones that I really want, that I will use alot
  • Cool Tool: usually very specific for one unique purpose
  • Next Level Tools: usually really expensive versions of tools I have
  • Big Boys: the tools that are really expensive, or take up alot of room!

First up… the nylon faced bracelet former pliers!

Cool Tool ----> Must Have

I considered these pliers a “cool tool” for many years, but over the years, they’ve become part of my “must have” toolset (yes – they are still really cool!). These pliers have nylon jaw pads that are shaped to easily bend thin metal and wire in a light consistent curve.

Smiling Jaws!

One side is convex, the other concave, so that they fit together when closed. Many of these pliers have replaceable nylon pads so that when you ding them up (and you will!) you can easily fix them – note the nylon screws that are holding them to the jaws.

Ready to Shape

These pliers are great for shaping both narrow strips of metal sheet, as well as wire. I can easily shape up to 12g – for reference, the copper strip above is 16g, and the wire is 14g. And using them is so simple – it doesn’t get any easier!

  • STEP 1: lay wire into nylon jaw
  • STEP 2: close pliers
  • STEP 3: repeat as needed

Shaping Wire

Shaping Wire from a Bend

So simple, and the results are so clean and nice and consistent! You can easily shape wire for a bangle, or to create a “frame” which can be hammered and wrapped.

Shaping Flat Stoc

For this piece, I had already finished the copper strip design with some letter stamping, texturing, and hole punching. I am going to use it as a link for a bracelet… look how easily it gets formed!

Curved Metal Strip

Doesn’t this look great?! Nice and even, with no warping or damage, and the nylon ensures that the strip doesn’t get scratched. I am planning on antiquing the copper to bring out the details, and will add some chain, or maybe attach some leather cord, to make up a bracelet.

Hopefully… I’ve shown reason why this pair of pliers has moved into my “Must Have” list – I have a few pairs with slightly different shapes – all of them are well loved!

I’ll be posting more photos of my favorite tools, as well as some info on how they are used – let me know if there’s anything is particular you’re interested in, and I’ll try to oblige!





Gotta Have It… Soldering

8 11 2010

Wanna Solder??

People are always looking to add to their skillset – learning new techniques is how we expand and grow our craft. And the one area that jewelry designers always have concerns with is soldering:

  • “It’s too complicated”
  • “It cost’s too much”
  • “It takes up too much room
  • ‘I’m afraid I’ll burn the house down”

These are the basics that most people come up with. So I’m going to write a few posts explaining soldering in a “real” environment – mine! This first post will look at the tools you need, and later on, I’ll post more about the techniques and how-tos.

Not as Much Space as You Thought!

I have a very, very, very, small workspace – it’s actually in a closet! So I am very careful about what I buy, making sure it is absolutely necessary. And this photo shows the items you absolutely must have to get started: You can see the can of butane (the fuel) and to the right of that is the mini torch (aka: creme brule torch). Behind the torch, you’ll see a small crockpot – this is my “pickle” pot, where I keep the pickle, which is an acid used to clean up metal after soldering. To the right of the torch, on the worktop, is copper tongs (use these when removing a piece from the pickle pot), some tweezers and pics, and tubes of solder paste. I use solder paste because it mixes the solder with the flux (a solution used to help solder flow), and in a small space, I prefer to make it as simple as possible! There is a small tripod, which has a screen laying across the top, and a charcoal block on top of that:

On the Block

The tripod is great for raising your pieces to working level, the screen is both a working surface (useful when you want to torch the piece from underneath), as well as a shelf for the charcoal bloack. I like to solder on compressed charcoal, because it holds the heat from the flame, making it easier to get your piece to come to soldering temperature. As you can see – it can get pretty messy and ashy, but it still works fine. I occasionally rub the surface of the block to even out the surface and make it flat.

This is really it – a torch, the fuel, solder/flux, something to solder on, tweezers to move and pick up the item as it heats up, and pickle to clean off the firescale.

When 2 Hands Aren't Enough

Another item that is handy (but not necessary!) is a 3rd hand, used to hold an item in position. In this photo, the ring is being held firmly on a square of silver so it doesn’t shift when the torch is applied.

Not as complicated as you thought…. and this set-up is perfectly fine to get started. I have been soldering for many years, but my space is limited (a closet – remember!), so I cannot have a more elaborate set-up. And this simple set-up is sufficient for almost all the work I want to do.

In my next Soldering post, I’ll explain more about the tools and materials, and in future posts, I’ll show how to set up your projects for basic soldering techniques.





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!