Have you asked yourself, or others, what tools do I really need? There are only a few that most wire artists would consider essential. Let's talk about what those are.
As with any craft or trade, there are a variety of levels of tools in wire work. It is true that the more you pay for your tools, the better they will hold up over time, and the more precise results you will have. However, for those who are just beginning, it is not necessary to spend $60 per set on pliers. Those fine results are more suited to the advanced wire jewelry creator who is putting in many hours. In this article I have chosen the most common tools, which I consider necessary to begin working. There are a huge list of other tools which are specific to one purpose or another, such as parallel action pliers and bail pliers, but you can certainly accomplish a great deal before these become essential to your wire work. Over time, you will find that many household objects will become tools, just experiment and see for yourself. The list below will give you a good start on fundamental tools and what they are used for.
Flush Cutters: The main purpose of flush cutters is to cut jewelry wire to length and leave a flat end behind. Now, even the best flush cutters will not make a totally clean cut, so filing is still required, but flush cutters greatly reduce the amount of filing time. There are different sized pliers for different gauges of wire, and cutting wire that is too hard or too large WILL damage your pliers. Please take note of what gauge your pliers are suitable for and do not exceed it.
Nylon Jaw Pliers: These pliers have a nylon or Delryn cover over the jaws to protect the wire you’re working with from tool marks. They are useful in a number of applications, which will present themselves over time. The primary purpose is for smoothing wire, and for holding it without marking up the wire. Running these pliers down the length of your wire will straighten it and take out most of the lumps and bumps, but be careful because doing so will also work harden it somewhat. Use as little pressure and as few pulls as necessary.
Round Nose Pliers: These pliers have a round cone on either side, which form the jaws. These cones are for the purpose of making loops in your wire. Most round nose pliers (if you look carefully) will have two slightly different sized cones on the jaws. Because of this, it is important that if you need to make matching loops, you mark the spot on the cone where you are forming the loop so that they are the same size. Do not use the opposite side of the jaws thinking that it will be the same size, as more often than not it will be different.
Chain Nose Pliers: With chain nose pliers, the inside of the jaws are flat, and the outside of the jaws are rounded. They are tapered to a fairly small point, some more than others. There are different types of chain nose, some with larger handles and some called “micro” chain nose, which are very tiny. The primary purpose of these is for gripping wire, making fine bends and working in tight places. These are the pliers that I use most in my wire wrapping because they are so versatile.
Bent Nose Pliers: These guys are the brothers to chain nose pliers. They are shaped in a similar way, excepting that they have a bend in the end of the nose. These work well for areas that you can’t get other pliers into, they can sometimes aid in visibility of a tight area, and they are nice for gripping jump rings to open and close them because they give more surface area coverage.
Flat Nose Pliers: Again, these pliers come in a variety of sizes, from micro to very large and heavy. They have more applications for metalsmithing than for wire, but they are my go-to for making sharp, clean bends with nice corners. You may notice, depending upon the set that you have, that the jaws are slightly different sizes on these also. If you are bending around the end of the jaw, it is important to use the same side when making duplicates, so mark them with a sharpie if that is the case. It is very easy to confuse the sides of your pliers once you turn them over or set them down.
Chasing Hammer and Block: While these items are not “essential” I would recommend making the investment if you are able. Hammering your wire will give you a variety of textures to play with, but more than that, it does work harden some of the essential components that you will need to create if you don’t want to use purchased items. A chasing hammer has a rounded face, in order to not make dents in your wire when you hammer it. If you were to use a hardware store hammer with a flat face, you would see that where the edge of the face of the hammer contacts your wire, you will have a definitive line. While this is ok in some instances, more often than not it is very undesirable. A bench block of hardened steel will hold up over time and abuse, and you don’t need a large one for most jewelry work. As with all tools, there are different grades of chasing hammers, but just an inexpensive basic chasing hammer will get you started.
Files: As for jewelry files, I find that my favorite ones are metal nail files and foam nail buffers. There are files and sanding pads specific to jewelry making but they are incredibly expensive and I find that “basic” files work just as well. Amazon is my go-to for files at cheap prices. Look for metal nail files for the initial filing of wire ends and so on, and the nail buffers in assorted grits for buffing out tool marks. With the low cost of these buffers, I don’t mind tossing them after a few projects and grabbing a fresh one.