Jewelry Pliers and Wire Wrapping Supplies: Basic Tools You Need...And Don't Need
Wire wrapping, a versatile technique used in many jewelry projects, is one of the easiest jewelry making skills you can learn. Since you need not deal with soldering, glues, ovens, fire or toxic epoxies, you'll find you need only a minimum of work space and can make wire wrapped jewelry anywhere - even at home. And because the technique uses an absolute minimum of equipment and tools, buying professional quality jewelry pliers and other wire wrapping supplies won't break your pocketbook. On the contrary, what tends to cost a lot is the beads, stones and precious metals - not the pliers, flush cutters and other essential tools.
Best of all, you needn't pay for expensive formal training: I taught myself how to make wire wrapped jewelry, had my own jewelry selling business for several years, and now have a blog devoted to jewelry making and selling on the Internet. On this page, you'll find the basic tools, equipment, materials and supplies you'll need to get started making copper, gold filled, or sterling silver wire jewelry.
What Is Wire Wrapping?
Jewelry wire made of sterling silver, gold fill or copper is bent,
twisted and worked into scrolls and other decoration and functional
pieces, to make findings, make chains, set cabochons, wrap beads and link them to each other, and much more. The core skill of wire wrapping is the perfect loop.
Some examples of handcrafted wire wrapped jewelry are pictured on this guide.
Basic Wire Wrapping Tools
You will be told by "reputable" sources that you need ten, twenty, even thirty special tools and pieces of equipment to wire wrap jewelry. Not true. I myself started small and built up my collection of tools and supplies as I needed them. Here is my advice for what you should get if you want to give wire wrapping a fair try, but don't want to spend thousands of dollars on fully equipping your shop. Then, after you've wire wrapped jewelry enough to figure out you like it and want to do more advanced jewelry making, you can buy the tools you know you'll need.
Jeweler's pliers are the most important tools you can own if you do wire-wrapping. The prices for the jewelry pliers you'll need to wire wrap range from about $7 to about $80 per tool.
Round-Nose Pliers for Jewelry Making
Round-nose Pliers: Round nose pliers are used for making loops and wrapping wire.
The cheap round nose pliers are worlds different from the quality, more expensive brand. I used a cheap pair of round-nose pliers for about a month before I had to give it up or give up jewelry making. Not only are they the wrong size, mar the wire like nobody's business, and get easily misaligned, but they don't last very long.
This is one tool you should not stint on. Get the best--I'm personally a fan of the Lindstrom
brand for all my jewelry making pliers, but you may find other brands work as well. Lindstrom is the only brand of quality that I've tried.
Flat-nose Pliers for Jewelers
Flat-nose Pliers or Chain-nose Pliers: These pliers are used for bending and manipulating wire, crimping beads, and holding wire in place while making scrolls, hooks or loops. My big secret is that I use only a flat-nose pliers. I've never owned a chain-nose pliers for jewelry making.
When I was shopping for flat-nose pliers, I couldn't find a Lindstrom or quality one, so I bought a cheap $7 one--and I have to admit it did the job perfectly. What I wanted it to do was hold the wire without marring it too much, and smush crimp beads, and its shape was sufficient to do this. I never found it necessary to get an expensive ($50-80) pair, though I have needed to replace it a couple of times.
Artisan Handcrafted Wire Wrapped Necklaces
Bent-nose Jeweler's Pliers
Bent-nose Pliers: A pair of bent nose pliers is invaluable - it can get into places other pliers can't, and it lets you have the same control of a flat-nose pliers.
Get quality pliers. You'll notice a big difference between the way a cheap pair of bent nose pliers mars sterling silver, copper and gold wire and the more delicately surfaced, regular, and easily-controlled nose of a quality set of pliers. Both can scratch wire, but the quality pair (again, I recommend Lindstrom) much less so. And they don't break as fast.
Lindstrom Bent-Nose Pliers
Protect Your Wire
If you're using cheaper pliers, to prevent the pliers marring the wire, Mark Lareau, author of All Wired Up, recommends Tool Magic Rubber Coating applied to the ends of the pliers to help protect your jewelry wire, a trick I've yet to try.
Tool Magic Rubber Coating: Optional
Jeweler's Flush Cutters
Flush Cutters: When you cut sterling silver wire or other jewelry wire with a flush cutters, one end gets a burr, while the other is completely flat.
Again, absolutely don't stint on these. You need quality flush cutters to cut the wire straight on the ends. The cheaper flush cutters will make a ragged, uneven cut on the "flat" side that won't look or feel good--nor, more importantly, will it properly close loops. They will frustrate you no end and make you feel doing your own handcrafted jewelry projects is a waste of time.
Note: With a good pair of flush cutters, you can produce professional-quality cuts that look good even without finishing with a hand file or fine-grit sandpaper.
Lindstrom Flush Cutters
More Artisan Wire-Wrapped Jewelry
Jeweler's Hammering Tools
Bench Block: If you
intend to hammer wire at all, then you need a bench block or jeweler's
anvil to provide a smooth, hard surface on which to safely tap the wire. I use a bench block. These are not very expensive--they only
need to be a couple of inches wide.
Ball-Peen Hammer: An 8-ounce ball-peen hammer will work, or possibly something smaller. You may already have something that will work in your house. If I were you, I wouldn't bother with specially coated hammers to prevent marring the wire. Hammering always mars the jewelry wire--in fact, that's why you use it--so the only real advantage to finer hammers that I've been able to figure out is that the heads come off of the handles less.
Strip of Rawhide or Leather: Unless you own a real work table in a shop, you may find yourself using your bench block on surfaces that may get damaged. A quick fix is to put the bench block on a strip of rawhide, which will absorb some of the blow and protect the surface underneath.
Steel Blocks and Anvils for Jewelers: Optional
What You Do Not Need / What You Can Wait On
Crimping tool: As far as I have been able to determine, these things are all but useless. They're supposed to be able to crimp a crimp bead so it has a round profile, which makes it more attractive than a flattened crimp bead. Maybe I'm incompetent, but I've never been able to use the crimping tool so that it successfully makes a tight and secure crimp. Don't bother. Use a flat-nose pliers to smush the crimp bead. For very delicate pieces, buy the smallest crimp beads you can find that still go on the wire, and buy rounds rather than tubes--they won't be bulky even when flattened and will still look elegant.
Wire-straightening pliers: Although I started out using this, I found it was simpler to straighten the wire using my fingers. If, however, you're arthritic, have sensitive skin or otherwise can't work wire with your fingers, then you may want to get a pair of wire-straightening pliers.
Wire Jig: Wire jigs are blocks of wood, metal or plastic that have pegs in them for wrapping wire around. They are handy for making even loops in complex designs, but they take a certain amount of dexterity to use and the beginning wire-wrapper might find trying to learn one frustrating. They tend to cost a fair amount when they're premade--you can make one yourself, if you have the right tools.
Soldering Equipment: Wire wrapping uses no soldering--at least, it needn't. If you want to learn to make your own jump rings and other findings, you may want to branch into soldering, but it's not necessary.
Hand File: Hand files are great for filing off rough edges when you cut wire. However, they're not vital...if money is tight, wait before you get a set of jeweler's needle files.
Mandrel: A mandrel is a usually round shape for coiling wire. While advanced jeweler's and anyone who makes rings from wire probably can't do without a mandrel, beginners should wait. In a pinch, for small links use knitting needles, nails or wooden dowels (ideas courtesy of Glen Waszek, author of Making Silver Chains). For larger shapes, use anything round of the appropriate size. Fingers, by the way, are neither hard enough nor regular enough.
Vise: A vise stabilizes a wire form when you use tools such as mandrels. It's unlikely beginners will need one.
Jeweler's Tweezers: Though convenient for acting as a third hand, tweezers are not vital.
I found this book intensely useful when self-teaching. Great illustrations, clear instructions.