Jewelry-Making Essentials, Part One: Confessions of a Jewelry-Tool Junkie

21 Jan 2011

Lexi Erickson is a contributing
author to Jewelry Making Daily.
 
Lexi's beloved jewelry-making hammers
 
Okay, I admit it: I love jewelry-making tools. Even if I don't use them all, I love having them in my studio. I'm perfectly happy hanging out with my steel and wooden buddies.

Nothing upsets me more than to be happily working on a project and then realize I don't have the proper tool to finish, so I've taken care of that little problem by purchasing the best-quality tools I can afford and taking good care of them. I clean them after each use and keep them oiled.  

Every studio has its everyday tools—pliers, files, saws, hammers, etc.—but I thought I'd give you a look into my studio and show you my babies.

Basic Jewelry-Making Tools
My basic tools are the ones in my bench I use daily, such as:

  • Pliers: Allcraft German Ergonomic pliers are my favorite; they do the down-and-dirty bending that is needed when using 18-gauge sheet or 6-gauge wire.
  • Saw: My favorite jeweler's saw is the Knew Concepts saw designed by Lee Marshall. It's more expensive, but with this saw I was able to use one saw blade for over a month. No kidding. You will save in saw blades what the saw costs in the first few months.
  • Cutters: My favorite cutters are Xuron; I have a blue-handled pair for solder and orange ones for wire.
  • Files: There is only one file for me—any of the Grobet files are lifetime files. Clean and brush them and they will take care of you. I'm still using my original #2 and #0 6-inch files I bought twenty-five years ago.
  • Hammers: I'm addicted to Fretz hammers for the delightful textures, and for planishing, Allcraft makes the best hammers and stakes.

That takes care of jewelry-making basics, but what do I use for fun? That's the best part!

 
Lexi's custom jeweler's bench
The Jeweler's Bench
Though not always considered a tool, my favorite thing is my jeweler's bench. Mine was specially made for me in South America, with drawers on one side, bookcases on the other side, and just the right height. Because we travel a lot and move around the world, this one breaks down into five sturdy parts. It has a place for everything. It's good to have a jeweler's bench or special table for jewelry where you can reach what you need quickly and where, if you don't finish a project at one sitting, you can leave things, and they'll be there when you get back (unless you have a cat like mine).  

To get a jeweler's bench custom made for you, check with your local high school woodworking class. There might be an advanced student who just needs a project.

 
Lexi's guillotine shear
Specialty Jewelry Tools
Probably the second-most used tool in my studio is my guillotine shear. It cuts perfectly straight lines, doesn't crimp the metal, and is a lifesaver for cutting metal squares and 6-inch strips for cuff bracelets.   

Another tool I couldn't live without is a rolling mill. I have a Pepe 90mm and an old Polish mill that's probably forty years old. I chose to get the flat rollers instead of the wire rollers because wire is cheap, and I usually have a good supply of wire on hand. A rolling mill can reduce the thickness of a 16-gauge piece of metal down to a 24-gauge thickness in just a short time. I keep a supply of thicker silver on hand, usually 18-gauge sheet, and just roll down what I need. It's also the best way to impart texture onto the metal, so I also keep a big Rubbermaid box on hand full of interesting papers, screen, netting, fabric, etc.

 
Lexi's torch and soldering setup
For soldering, my favorite torch is the Smith Silversmith, also known as the HandyHeet acetylene/ambient air. I have a variety of torch heads, from #00 for soldering jump rings to #2 for annealing. For consistency, ease, and safety, I think a Smith torch can't be beat.

 
The Fretz stake set from Santa
I've probably sold a bunch of bezel scissors to our readers after mentioning them in my Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist articles. They cut a perfect bezel each time and have saved me countless hours of filing and fitting. I can't recommend them enough.

I was really good last year and Santa brought me the Fretz mini stakes. Oh happy, happy, joy, joy! They are wonderful for forming small shapes. I haven't worked with them much--I just sit and drool over them right now--but stay tuned.

Best New Jewelry Tool: Tube-Setting Burnishing Tool
The best new tool is a tube-setting burnishing tool. I like the elegant sparkle that a tiny diamond or sapphire adds to a piece. With this tool, you just drop the tiny little faceted stone into the tube, level it, and then run the corresponding size tool over the top of the tube, which will fold and burnish the metal over the stone. Voila! It cuts time and aggravation, and it's available from Allcraft Tools.  

 
The tube-setting burnishing tool makes
quick work of setting small stones.
Regardless of the jewelry-making tools and all the booms, bangs, and whistles you have, the most important tools to bring into your studio are common sense and creativity. It's also important to have a good collection of jewelry-making instruction and inspiration, all of which you can find in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop now in the form of books, magazines, CDs and DVDs to teach you what you want to learn and inspire you to do what you love.

What's your favorite jewelry-making tool? Let us know in the comments below!

P.S. Check out our free eBook about jewelry-making tools! And don't miss Jewelry Making Essentials, Part Two: 23 Everyday Items for Your Jewelry Workshop.


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Comments

kkrucoff wrote
on 21 Jan 2011 11:51 AM

I share your love of tools.  Your studio looks fantastic and I still drool over those beautiful hammers every time I get to work in that space with you.  It's perfect for getting those creative juices flowing!

Bev@105 wrote
on 21 Jan 2011 2:16 PM

I've tried several web searches to locate what you happily refer to as the "Best New Jewelry Tool: Tube-Setting Burnishing Tool".   Is this tool known by a specific name? Would you please post a specific address for online availability?   or add a LINK?  Many Thanks!

666bug wrote
on 21 Jan 2011 2:46 PM

Okay I give up.  I cannot find a tool on the web called the Tube-setting burnishing tool.  Could you provide a part number or trade name, or an alternative seller so the rest of us can join you in your praises.   I have tried all kind of variations for Allcraft Tools on the web.  Do they not have a page?  Thanks for any info you can provide.  The tool sounds great especially for those of us who are setting challenged.  Bea

on 21 Jan 2011 3:08 PM

Thank you for sharing your experience.   I would love to get a pair of those "bezel scissors" you mention.   Could you please provide a model # and where to purchase them.   My understanding is they are a dentist scissors of sorts, but there several different types and I haven't a clue as to which one is your preferred  choice.  PS I am located on the west coast.

dcandey wrote
on 21 Jan 2011 5:41 PM

Lexi,

Thanks for the GREAT article... loved the tool tips and other ideas, especially about contacting a high school woodshop class to get a custom desk made.

For inspiration, I would love to see a bigger photo of your custom desk

TammyJones wrote
on 21 Jan 2011 7:26 PM

Hi everyone! You can order the bezel scissors directly from Lexi (email her at Lexi@LexiEricksonDesigns.com). She says they are $10 and that includes shipping, awesome! For the tube-set burnishers, Lexi says to call Tevel at Allcraft Tools (they aren't on their website, apparently), 212-279-7077 or 800-645-7124. Thanks for your comments!

on 21 Jan 2011 10:41 PM

Hi Everyone--Sometimes I'm sent  tool to try out, and it's new on the market and I do some testing on it.  Its sent to me before its in catalogues, such as the tube-setting burnisher. I don't know what its called, so I just called it that.  I spoke with Tevel at Allcraft tools, so just call him and tell him what you want.  He will know what you are talking about. In fact, he has everything I wrote about. He will give you a very good price on all tools.  And yes, you can get the scissors from me.  Thanks Tammy for filling in for me while I was teaching and not online. Any of our readers may contact me directly.  Thanks everyone--Lexi

mdittrich wrote
on 24 Jan 2011 9:18 AM

I would like to find out where to get the bezel scissors.

Thanks!

M

Livewire wrote
on 24 Jan 2011 1:32 PM

Lexi,

What features do you consider essential/important in a custom workbench?  Are the drawers divided for organization, and if so, how?  How do you determine the ideal height of a work bench?

Details, please!

Thanks,

Joyce

Islandgilr wrote
on 29 Jan 2011 5:30 AM

I'm jealous!  Can I come play in your studio, you have way more toys than me!  

Re favorite tool...Toss up between my roller mill my torch and my disc cutters... but then I'm always using hammers... sorry I need everything!

on 31 Jan 2011 4:43 PM

Mdditrich--please send me your email address and I will send you my mailing address where you can send a check.  That's such a deal for these sissors.  They are great!

Joyce-- the height of a jewelers bench runs between 35-37 inches usually, so we can rest our arms on the top of the table and push on bezels, and be close to our sawing, and its just generally comfortable.  I also have a chair with a variable height also.  If I was designing this bench today, I would add more drawers on the right side by makig them narrower.  They don't need to be deep.  The drawers are not divided, but I got some dividers at Office Max that are movable to where ever I want things.  I have had things in the same positions for years, so I can reach with my eyes closed to the tools I need.  Email me an we will talk more.

Islandgilr--come on over.  I have lots of room.  And my torch is undoubtably my favorite tool, but everyone knows that already.  A day without soldering is a day without sunshine!

bling_bling wrote
on 21 Feb 2011 1:15 AM

Where do I get the tube setting burnishing tool?

on 9 Jan 2012 6:39 PM

Hi Lexi,

I am very interested in the tube setting burnishing tool,but am unable to find Allcraft Tools address,is it possible for you to post their contact details on the site please?

on 14 Sep 2012 9:10 AM

I'm looking for those bezel sissors (dental sissors) you keep writing about.  Can you give me a vendor/URL where I can find the right ones.  When I did my research I found 12 different kinds.  I'd like to buy the right ones.