Friday, February 27, 2015

Jewellery Maker's Basic Tool Kit

If you're new to jewellery making, it's easy to feel intimidated by the array of tools available. It can be a daunting feeling trying to work out which tools you need and what are they all used for. After all, you've never made jewellery before! But there's no need to buy every tool available - you only need to make a small investment to get started and then you can add to it as you go along. Here's my selection of basic tools you'll need as you start out on your jewellery making journey.

Chain nose pliers

This is my number one "must have" pair of pliers in your tool kit. They have a flat surface on the inner side of each jaw giving you good purchase when you grip things with them. Look for pliers that have a fine tapered point so that you can get into tight spots easily. They should also have a spring mechanism to minimise the amount of effort you need to exert when you use them and they should fit your hand size - i.e. not too large and not too small.

Round nose pliers

Round nose pliers are my go-to tool for making loops - these are indespensable when working with eye pins and head pins. They have two round jaws which taper from the base to the tip. Once again, you want to look for comfort in the grip and a spring mechanism to minimise fatigue when you use them for extended periods of time. I also like my pliers to have only a small gap between the base of the two jaws. If the gap is too large, you will find it difficult to grip the wire.

Flat Nose Pliers
Not everyone agrees that flat nose pliers need to be included in the basic jewelry making tool kit but I find them essential for making a sharp bend prior to forming loops. Flat nose pliers have two broad, flat jaws designed for gripping larger surfaces. Look for pliers with a well defined edge on the jaws.

Flush Cutters, Wire Cutters, Side Cutters and Nippers
You'll use cutters all the time to trim away excess wire and to cut stringing materials to length and there is an array of different types of cutters to choose from. But I prefer flush cutters because they cut the wire with one flush side (desirable) and one pointed side, whereas regular cutters leave a  bevel (point) on both sides. Look for flush cutters with a tapered point so you can nip in difficult to reach places. A spring mechanism is essental to give you more control and to minimise hand strain. A point to note about cutters is that they are NOT designed to be used with memory wire. Cutting memory wire with your wire cutters will permanently damage the cutting edge of the blades. Use memory wire shears if you intend to work with memory wire.

Beading Mat
This useful mat provides a cushioned surface to work on and prevents beads from rolling around your work space or onto the floor. Select one in a light shade for general use and one in a dark shade for working with light coloured beads - it's much easier on the eyes!

As you grow in skill and want to move on to different jewellery making techniques, like most of us, you will probably expand your collection to include more specialised tools but this basic set will still be your most-used tools.

Just remember, that your work will only ever be as good as the tools you use. Invest wisely in the basic tools and they will last you for years, but there is no need to spend a small fortune - there are many well-priced tools on the market that will do a perfectly good job.

Happy jewellery-making!

'Til next time.........

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tool Review - Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper Tool

I've been teaching jewellery-making techniques for many years now and one of the things students find most difficult to accomplish is well-formed, secure crimps. The crimping technique takes practice to perfect but once you've got the knack, your jewellery will be strong and will be able to withstand the tug test.

Whilst at CHA in January, I came across Xuron who manufacturer jewellery-making tools and they were were kind enough to give me a pair of their crimping pliers to test out.

Now this is not just an ordinary crimping tool: Xuron's 4 in 1 Crimper Tool crimps 1mm, 2mm and 3mm crimp tubes and in addition, it is also has a chain nose tip to get into very tight spaces.

So let's test it out and see how well it performs.

The first thing you'll notice is that the crimping station (the notch closest to the handle) is shaped like a "V". This "V" is the feature that sets the 4 in 1 Crimper Tool apart from standard crimping pliers.

To use the tool, string a crimp tube onto a length of beading wire and then thread the end back through the tube, forming a loop. You can see in the photo below that the beading wire wants to cross over itself inside the tube. This is a definite "No-No"!

 Separate those wires out so that they sit flat alongside each other.

Now that the wires are flat, place the crimp tube in the crimping station.....

and squeeze the handles firmly to press the notch into the centre of the tube. Make sure that one wire sits on either side of the channel as you form it.

It should look like this, with one wire in each channel.

Remove the crimp tube from the crimping station, hold the crimp tube and give each of the wires a tug to make sure your crimp is secure. If not, check that you're using the right size crimp tube for the diameter of the beading wire you've chosen.

Place the tube into the folding station corresponding to the size of your crimp tube - I used a 2mm crimp tube so I'm using the second notch from the top. Position it so that the bottom of the "V" is closest to the handles and squeeze to fold the wings of the crimp in.

And this is what it should look like.

If you wish, you can flatten the crimp further for extra security by placing it into the chain nose tip of the crimper and squeeze a little more, but this step is optional!

So, what's the verdict?

I really like this tool! It will make crimping a lot easier for beginners and more experienced jewellery-makers alike. Because the notching station produces a pronounced "V", the crimp tube doesn't roll around when placed in the folding station as is prone to happen in standard crimping tools, so it is easy to create a perfectly formed, even crimp.   

I mentioned that this tool also has a chain nose plier tip. Being such a fine tip, it's ideal for getting into tight spaces, adding to the tool's versatility. The bonus is that it also reduces the number of tools you need to have on hand to complete a project.

I give the Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper tool the thumbs up!

Xuron tools are made in the US and the good news for Aussie jewellery-makers is that this tool is available in Australia from Jewellers Supplies.

'Til next time......

Monday, February 2, 2015

Resin and Bezels with Uneven Backs

If you've ever poured resin in bezels before, you're sure to have come across bezels that don't sit flat. Perhaps they have a pendant bail that protrudes past the bezel, or perhaps it has a snap on the back like the popular "Klik" bezels. Or maybe it's even slightly warped. No matter what the issue, you need to find a way of keeping the bezel level whilst you're working on it and also whilst it's curing.

Here's a couple of my favourite tricks to make things just a little bit easier.

Place the bezel on a bed of rice or sand so that it sits level. The bezel will easily press into the grains surrounding it for support.

Place the bezel over a cavity. Here I'm using a plastic mould tray with deep cavities. Make sure the bezel is supported on the flat surface. This one will slide around a little bit but it's still a good solution if you have nothing else around.

But I've kept the best until last - my favourite tip for working with the Klik bezels is.....
compressed foam!

I'm using an offcut from an interlocking foam mat which is thick enough to accommodate the snap base.

Here's how to turn it into a really stable support for your resin bezel.

Press the snap into the foam so that it leaves an impression.

Press the points of scissors into the foam (to the depth of the snap) at the edge of the impression and cut 2 slits diagonally across the impression.

It should look like this.

Trim away the area between the corners holding the blades at about a 45° angle.

It will be a little bit messy but that's OK.

Insert the snap into the hole......

......and test it for fit.  I like it to be snug enough that you can hold it upside down without the Klik snap falling out.

And now you have a really stable platform for holding that bezel in place whilst you work on it.

You can use polystyrene foam or florists foam in place of the compressed foam and you may not even have to do any trimming. But for me, the re-useability of the compressed foam wins hands down.

I hope that you find this tip useful!

'Til next time.....


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Day 12 - Twelve Days of Christmas - Have Heart, Have Faith

As Decembers races along and we all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, try to take a few moments to remember the reason for the season: the birth of Jesus Christ.

With that in mind, I have chosen a heart motif made of two angel wings, "stitched" together with love, along with a word spacer to convey the message Have Heart, Have Faith and spread goodwill amongst all people.

Here's what you'll need to make these earrings:

  • 4  x 9x24mm silver angel wing charms (there are many etsy vendors who sell these)
  • 2 x 6mm Siam Swarovski bicones
  • 2 x 6x26mm silver Faith spacers (
  • 2 25x12mm silver end connectors (
  • 16 x 4mm silver jump rings
  • 4 x 6mm silver jump rings
  • 4 x 6x7mm silver oval jump rings
  • 4 x 4x6mm silver oval jump rings
  • 2 silver earring wires
Tools: chain nose pliers; flat nose pliers; round nose pliers; flush cutters.

String the crystal on a head pin and bend it at a 90° angle just above the bead with flat nose pliers. Take care not to chip the crystal.

Trim the end to 1cm (3/8") and turn a simple loop.

Place the two angel wings together, count down three holes and connect these two together with a 4mm jump ring.

Connect the two fourth holes together with a 4mm jump ring. You may need to open the wings to do this.

Connect the fifth holes together in the same way.

Attach a 4mm jump ring to each of the two wing tips.

Hook the crystal onto a 4mm jump ring and then hook it through the two wing tip jump rings.

Attach a 6mm jump ring to each of the top two holes of the wings.

Attach a 4x6mm oval jump ring to each of the two holes in the faith spacer.

Open the 6mm jump rings on the top of the wings and hook on the oval jump rings.

Hook another oval jump ring through each of the holes of the spacer so that they sit above the spacer.

 Attach the connector to the spacer with a 6mm jump ring on either side.

Open the loop of the earring wire and hook it through the top loop of the connector. Make a second earring to match.

Well, this is the final pair of earrings for the 2014 Twelve Days of Christmas Earrings Extravaganza - I hope you've enjoyed the designs I've come up with and found just the right pair of earrings to make for yourself or someone special.

This will be my last post before Christmas so I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy, safe and holy Christmas. And I hope that Santa leaves a special treat for you under your tree - perhaps some craft supplies to play with or a good craft/jewellery-making book to inspire you.

See you again soon!

'Til then......

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 11 - Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 - Putting on the Glitz!

Are you rushed for time and still needing a great pair of earrings for the festive season?

Well, for Day 11 of the Twelve Days of Christmas I have a pair that are glam enough for your Christmas celebrations yet they are sleek and modern, making them perfect for ringing in the New Year. And the best thing? They are quick and easy to make!

Here's what you'll need to make your Putting on the Glitz! earrings:
  • 14 4mm Preciosa Aurum bicones
  • 20 4mm Preciosa AB Crystal bicones
  • 2 gold filigree 4-petal bead caps
  • white nylon tube mesh (search "nylon mesh tubing" on Google - I found this link on Artfire which is similar)
  • 2 gold foldover cord ends
  • 2 gold head pins
  • 2 gold earring wires
Tools: chain nose pliers, round nose pliers, flush cutters, scissors.

Tip: Nylon Mesh Tubing will fray and unravel a bit as you work with it so always allow a little more than you need for your project.
Cut an 11cm (4 ⅜") length of tube mesh and insert three Aurum bicones into the opening.

Hold the tube half way along with one hand and the bead end with the other. Push your hands together to compress the mesh and the beads will move down the tube.

Centre them in the mesh.

Insert two AB Crystal bicones and one Aurum bicone into the tube and move them along to the centre beads.

Repeat at the other end.

Add two more AB crystals and one more Aurum crystal to each end. Insert one AB crystal on each end.

Line up the two end crystals in the tube and trim the mesh to 10mm (⅜").

Lay the two ends into the cord end, side by side.

Fold the flap down and hold it in position with the chain nose pliers. Fold the two side flaps towards the centre.

Flatten the flaps with the chain nose pliers to make sure the mesh is secure.

Open the loop of the eye pin and hook on the cord end.

String on the bead cap. Grip the eye pin above the bead cap and bend it sideways above the pliers to create a neck.

Use the round nose pliers to create a loop and then wrap the tail around the neck two or three times. Trim the excess close to the neck.

Attach the loop to the earring wire and then make a second earring to match.

It's always great to have versatile jewellery in your collection and this pair is just that - not only will they make great Christmas and New Year earrings but they are dressy enough for a night out on the town or for a special occasion. Why not switch up the colours and create your own look!

There is just one more pair of earrings to go in this year's Twelve Days of Christmas Earrings Extravaganza. Make sure you check back on Christmas Eve to see what they are.

'Til then......


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