You won’t find any deep dark secrets revealed here. This is just about some common sense things that if you practice faithfully will boost the quality of the jewelry you create. I’ve been making jewelry for a long time. I’ve tried a lot of different tools & techniques. Some worked out well. Others… not so much. What I have learned is that regardless of the type of jewelry you are making, there are certain things that, when done consistently, always make your work look better.
1. Your finished product is as good as the time & patience you invest in creating it. If it’s worth making – It’s worth taking the extra time to make it right. It’s an old saying, but it’s very true and it can’t possibly be said enough. I LOVE jewelry & I spend a lot of time cruising the internet looking at jewelry. I see a lot of jewelry that I really love. Sometimes, a piece will catch my eye and I stop for a closer look. I see a beautiful design idea, great use of color, gorgeous stones & then I get to the focal stone & see a wrap like this…
It’s a deal breaker for me because the message that it sends is this: The artist that made me didn’t care enough about their creation to spend the extra 30 seconds it would take to make a neat wrap. Attention to detail matters – it REALLY REALLY does. It takes less than 30 seconds longer to make a neat wrap.
Neat wraps not only give your jewelry a more polished look, they are another way for you to brand your pieces with a signature design element you can use over & over. If you are going to expend the time, money & effort to create a piece of wearable art, you should give it the attention it deserves. Make your wraps neat – it really doesn’t take that much longer.
2. Dip your pliers in rubber tool dip the help minimize tool marks. If you do a lot of wire manipulation or chainmaille work then you know what I mean about tool marks. Tool dip is a liquid rubber that you dip the tips of your tools into. When it sets, it leaves a rubberized coating on the tips which is much kinder to wire, so it minimizes the amount of pinch marks you get. When it gets chewed up, you peel it off and dip them again. Tool dip is pretty widely available, so it’s fairly easy to get your hands on some. Another way to minimize tool marks is to train yourself not to grip the wire too tightly with your pliers. It’s harder to do than it sounds and definitely takes some practice.
3. Mark the tips of your pliers with a Sharpie. This goes hand in hand with making neater wraps. It is a small detail that makes a BIG impression. Marking the tips of your pliers allows you to quickly & easily make your loops a consistent size. Keeping your loop size consistent throughout your piece allows the eye to focus on the overall design, rather than getting tripped up on foundational inconsistencies.
4. Know your gemstones. You owe it to your customers to be honest with them about the materials used in the jewelry they’re buying from you. Those pretty pink Turquoise beads you bought on eBay… they’re not Turquoise. Mother Nature doesn’t make Turquoise in pink or red or orange or purple. It’s dyed Magnesite or Howlite. Just because an unscrupulous seller told you they were Turquoise doesn’t mean you should perpetuate the deception. For example, I once bought a strand of what was being called “Tourmaline” from a seller on Etsy. When the beads arrived, I took one look at them and knew they were dyed crackle quartz. I returned the beads because they were synthetic. The seller was new to selling gemstone beads and had relied on the word of the vendor she purchased them from. She was horrified because he had lied to her about what they were. She spent a lot of money for her inventory for her new shop and she got ripped off big time because she didn’t know her product. There are a lot of unscrupulous dealers out there. The gem market is a veritable mine field, and if you don’t know what you are buying, you stand to lose a lot of money. Even more importantly, you risk fraudulently representing the materials used in your own work and that is a very slippery slope. If you educate yourself about gemstones, you don’t need a bunch of fancy test equipment to be able to know what you’re looking at. All it takes is a bit of time spent learning about gemstones & developing your “eye”. It also helps to exercise a bit of common sense. If someone from China is selling a 40x50mm flawless, vivid deep purple Amethyst for $10, it’s a sure bet it’s synthetic. NO gem dealer would sell a gem of that quality that cheaply. So, learning about the stones you’re using, how to spot synthetics and always being honest with your customers will help build your reputation for integrity and establish a base of trust with your prospective buyers.
5. Some helpful tools and the need for improvisation… For most of us, making jewelry is a hobby or a sideline business, and we’re all on a tight budget. Which means we can’t afford all the big expensive toys. I do a lot of improvisation when it comes to needing a tool that I don’t have. I’m sure most of us do. I originally started out with a couple of tools and if I needed something I didn’t have – I improvised. Just because something is usually done with a specific tool that you don’t have, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Keep your mind open & look around. Chances are you’ll find something in your home that can be adapted to the task.
Before I get into tools, I need to preface it by making a very important point. If you are a beginner who is interested in making jewelry, there is a one vital question you need to ask yourself. Is this something I intend to devote years of my time and effort to or is it just a passing interest? It is really important that you know yourself and be honest when answering this question. If you are the kind of person who either dabbles in things or jumps into them all gung ho and then quickly loses interest, then it doesn’t make sense for you to invest a lot of money in tools. Low cost basic tools will work just fine. On the other hand, if this is something you are truly passionate about and you really want to devote yourself to it, then you should invest in the best quality tools you can afford. I’m not saying that you can’t make beautiful jewelry with poor quality tools. Masterpieces have been created with the crudest of tools. It just takes a lot more time, patience and skill. ALL tools have flaws which you must learn to compensate for, but the flaws in high quality precision tools are fewer & less severe. Another factor to consider if you’re planning on investing in tools is resale value. Higher quality tools have a much better resale value if you should ever choose to sell them. Making jewelry is both enjoyable & rewarding, but if you’re considering doing it seriously, then it is also expensive and time consuming. I’ve been at it pretty hard core for 24 years now and I’m still constantly working to hone my skills and learn new techniques. Now, on to the tools.
I’ve bought lots of low budget tools and then had to spend time figuring out ways to work around their weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with that. It just takes time. There’s also nothing saying you have to spend huge amounts of money to buy something brand new. If you keep your eyes open you can pick up used or even brand new high quality tools on eBay, pawn shops, yard sales or in the Classifieds. I am by no means an expert on tools. I have however, amassed quite a collection over the years, some expensive and some not. These are a few core tools that really make a difference, at least for me.
Round Nose Pliers would be at the very top of the list. These are the pliers that a large amount of my work is done with and after using poor quality ones, I made the decision to go high-quality. The $5-10 round nose pliers for sale in Walmart & a lot of bead stores really seem to have a lot of issues. The tips are rarely the same size and most of them aren’t even round. They have flat spots that will show up in your loops as – well, flat spots – which makes your loops look uneven. I use a pair of Lindstrom Round Nose pliers with precision ground 1/2 millimeter tips so I can make my loops tiny & precise. They cost me 70 bucks and they are worth every penny.
Next on the list would be a good pair of Super Flush Cutters. Most of the less expensive Flush Cutters out there really don’t cut flush. The result is that you end up with sharp, jagged ends on your wires. I actually use 2 pairs, a pair that were made for doing fine electronics work that I use for small gauge wire and another that I use for larger gauges and I love them both. Erem makes very nice quality Super Flush Cutters and you usually can’t go wrong with Lindstrom or Swanstrom.
A pair of Flat Nose pliers is pretty essential as well, especially if you’re planning on doing work with chainmaille. I have 2 pairs, which have very narrow 1mm wide tips for doing fine chainmaille work. They are made by Beadsmith and pretty inexpensive.
Bent Chain Nose pliers are another tool that I use a lot. I’ve tried a number of different ones, but my favorites are an inexpensive pair made by Eurotool that have an angular bent nose rather than a rounded one. They’re great for bending angles and gripping in tight spots.
A Tumbler. You can score a rotary one for around 40 bucks on eBay. My choice of tumbler was definitely driven by expense. I went with a rotary tumbler from Harbor Freight rather than a vibratory one because it was less expensive and I’ve been very happy with it. When used with a combo of stainless steel shot & plastic beads, it will smooth minor tool marks & scratches and give your jewelry a gorgeous high polish.
A Dremel or Flex Shaft. For years and years I used a Dremel for grinding, polishing & finishing work. My only real beef with it is that the chucks wear out very quickly. 3M Radial Polishing Discs in various grits are about the best bits I’ve ever used. They’re quite expensive, but you can usually find them pretty inexpensively on eBay. Recently, I upgraded to a Foredom Flex Shaft and I’m loving how much easier the handpiece is to manipulate for fine detail work.
Some Nail Files. Not the metal ones, I mean the double sided ones that look like a big popsicle stick with the really fine grit. I guess they’re actually nail buffers for smoothing your nails. You can use these to gently file off tool marks or make a particular spot on your piece flat. They don’t last real long, but since you can pick up new ones for a few bucks at pretty much any grocery store, they’re handy to have.
A Wire Rounder is great for rounding off the ends of your wire so they’re not all pokey. You can usually find one for under $15 on eBay. Most come with 2 different size heads for 20 gauge and 18 gauge wire. They are indispensable if you make your own earwires or ear posts.
A Torch is essential if you plan to do any soldering. An oxy-acetylene torch is the preferred torch for hard core jewelers. But they are expensive. Lately, I’ve been using a Bernzomatic refillable Butane Micro-Torch and I’m pretty much lovin’ it. I tried a pretty large variety of inexpensive pencil and micro-torches before I got this one. None of them really seemed to fit the bill for me. All the flames seemed to be too highly oxygenated and large. This little Bernzomatic one is great. So far I haven’t encountered a soldering job it can’t handle. My boyfriend even used it to repair a burst water pipe. All for about $25.
Like I said – I’ve not revealed any deep dark secrets. But these are important points. I guess when looked at as a whole, they all fall under the heading “attention to detail”. When I was in Art School, my painting teacher once said, “The day you are satisfied with a piece of art you create is the day you cease to progress.” Those words have stayed with me all these years. Being an Artisan is a lifelong creative learning process. The constant striving to improve your work is a large part of what being an Artisan is all about. However, one of the most important lessons you will learn is this: It truly is all about attention to detail, because the detail is what will set your work apart and make it stand out.