Ahh – lovely pliers. If you are one of the jewellery making crowd then you will already have or will have used pliers of some description whilst working. Like most of our tools – we take them for granted, throw them around, drop them, abuse them but most of all – cannot be without them.
In essence they are basically an extension of our hands. There’s a lot of different types available and most of them have been designed do a specific task. Normally a task that our hands cannot quite manage due to their human shape, sensitivity or strength.
As you progress in jewellery making you will come across some techniques that- to be frank, can be a bit of a struggle. You know what I’m talking about – cutting those pesky jump rings, sawing through tube without squashing it….. the list could go on and on. But for most of these little problems we may encounter, you can bet that somebody somewhere has come up with a clever design for a pair of pliers to solve it. Aren’t we lucky!
Well, every jeweller will need the 3 basic plier tools to start off with. These are;
flat nose; these have a wide surface, making them good for holding or bending neat angles on large flat sheet or thick wire. They are great used together with snipe nose pliers for opening and closing jump rings.
Snipe nose; sometimes called chain nose pliers; these have smaller pointed jaws than the flat pliers and will get in to smaller spaces – great for wire wrapping techniques.
Round nosed; these are essential for making loops and smooth curves in wire.
These 3 basic pliers will cover a lot of basic techniques and will be a priceless addition to your tool kit. You will find they are normally used in conjunction with each other. Meaning for instance, snipe and flat pliers will be used together to open and close jump rings. Round and snipe will be used together to make wrapped loops, and so on.
So you’ve got the basics covered. What do all these other pliers do? On the whole a specialized tool will do a specific job and pliers are no exception. Do you need them? Look at it like this; a teaspoon is a spoon. It will; stir your tea, your bowl of soup and your pan full of pasta sauce. But – it will do the first task perfectly, the second task OK (after a fashion) and the third may be a bit of a struggle. So the answer really is, if you are on a budget then the basics may have to do. If you can afford to build up a collection of more specific pliers for specific jobs then do so. Any tool designed for a specific task will do a better, neater job – quicker and more easily.
The old adage ‘it does what it says on the tin’ applies here;
Coil pliers; these make coils AKA jump rings. If you make a lot of jump rings then these are good for you. Coil pliers come in different sizes with anything from 3 to 6 or 7 steps on them. Most of us work in our own scale so one pair of 3 or 6 steps will be sufficient.
Coil cutters; these are for cutting up your coil into jump rings. They can be tricky to get used to at first, and I’ve found the smaller size rings cut better. But the small rings are the more difficult and fiddly to handle so it’s definitely worth persevering with these.
Hole punch pliers; these punch a hole in sheet metal exactly where you need it. So eliminating centre punching and drilling. Sheet up to 0.8mm is about the maximum you can punch without bending the punch head. They are usually available with different size heads so you can have a small, medium or large hole. The pair you buy will just punch one size so you have to decide the best size for your scale of work. If you make a lot of earrings or pendants with a top hole for a jump ring then these will make your day.
Ring pliers; these have a flat jaw and a half round jaw. Essentially they are for creating smooth curves on sheet, wire and D-wire without marring the inner circumference. So if you make a lot of rings or large wire jump rings you will find them very useful. I’ve also used them for fold forming where a bend in sheet material is needed and I don’t want jaw marks. And general wire shaping work.
Clamp pliers; have a parallel jaw that are closed tight with a screw mechanism. They are ideal for holding small items whilst working, especially when your fingers may be vulnerable to sharp tools like drills or dremel heads. If you work on a small scale then these pliers will make your life a lot easier and save your fingers from cuts and abrasions.
Beading pliers; these are flat nosed pliers that have plastic inserts on the jaws. The plastic is designed to stop wire or sheet being marred by the edge of the metal jaws. Obviously good if you do a lot of cold formed wire work. I have also used them whilst fold forming as the ring pliers above.
Folding pliers; for folding sheet. These don’t do much else. But again I have found them great for fold forming – I find they are good for getting the folds where I want them. Also good for making bails and cheaper than a swage block.
Tube cutters; for holding tube whilst sawing. With a bit of practice these will ensure you cut neat, parallel lengths of tube accurately and fairly quickly. Invaluable if you like tube setting faceted stones. Also good for holding thicker wire and bar. But tubing is their forte as it is easily squashed if held in a vice, and jumps around if held free hand.
Doming pliers; sometimes called dimple pliers, these will add an accurate dome shape to annealed sheet metal exactly where you want it. They come in different sizes and usually create small scale dome shapes. These pliers are good if you like adding little domed decorations onto sheet metal. They eliminate the need to cut a disc and solder it in place where you want it.
So now you know what the main types of pliers will do. The next issue is quality and how they are made. Most pliers are made of steel. At the budget end we have pliers made with a cheaper steel alloy. These will be slightly more susceptible to rusting and may have a slightly rougher finish to the metal. It may also not be quite as dense. This means that the metal could be brittle and bend or even break if put under undue pressure or abused. Pliers made with a more refined steel alloy will take a better finish. So the jaws will be cleaner and smoother, without any rough parts. Stainless steel can be given a high sheen. Other points to consider;
Budget pliers tend to have riveted joints, the more expensive end have box jointed jaws – usually polished to a high sheen, flush finish. The handles will have coloured plastic covers. On budget varieties these will be added separately, top end pliers will have dipped plastic coated handles. These are much less likely to come off or wear loose. Some pliers have sprung handles – these are not essential and depend on personal taste really. But most of the budget end that have sprung handles will wear out eventually as the plastic covering comes off them.
What should you buy? This really boils down to your budget. My advice is to buy the best you can afford and to have some cheap versions of the 3 general pliers mentioned at the start. These can be ‘abused’ without costing the earth. Your pliers are one of your best assets when it comes to making wonderful jewellery.
No matter what you choose to buy – budget or top end, if you look after them your pliers can last a lifetime and each pair will be an investment you will only need to make once. Be aware that all steel will rust whether you have spent a lot or a little. So look after your pliers, oil them from time to time. Dry metals well before working them with your pliers. Try not to abuse them – keep them away from your soldering area that can often be wet or get splashes of pickle. Don’t hit them with hammers or mallets – really? Yes I have seen this done! All steel can be worked with jeweller’s files and saw blades so take care not to gauge chunks out of your beloved pliers with these tools.
Whatever you have bought – persevere with them. All tools need practice to use and pliers are no exception. You’ll be making masterpieces before you know it and some of these weird and wonderful pliers will become so important that you’ll wonder how you ever worked without them.
We have a large selection of pliers available to buy at our studio shop. I am happy to demonstrate any tools for you if you visit. See our separate tool shop page for opening times.
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