Monday, May 2, 2011

Dressing Your Metalsmithing and Lampworking Tools

These are my favorite tools to make ruffles in beads.

Some times the jaws of pliers will press the glass too thin. So thin it will crack. First you widen the concave surface with a grinding tool.

When you have a larger space created for the glass it can flow and ruffle rather than being squished to the cracking point. You should polish the groove. I have a small polishing bullet in my foredom and it fits right into the groove.Here you can see the nicely polished and widened tip. No more broken glass!

Tools are very important when you make jewelry. If you haven’t studied with an experienced teacher you miss the tips that they have to offer about the proper use of tools or how to make them better. Even the best of pliers come with a nicely tooled edge. By nicely tooled I mean they are steel, they’ve been milled on a machine, and generally they are as sharp as hell. They also might not be the right size. This is pretty cool – until you go to bend something (or squeeze something) and not only do you get a corner but you often get “tool marks”. You know – those awful little nicks in your work that you have to file and polish out. Not cool.

A couple of years ago I was privileged enough to be included in a group at Bead and Button that got to talk to the editors from Art Jewelry. We were asked what we’d like to see in the magazine. One of my suggestions was a section on tool use and tips geared toward more intermediate artists. There are always lots of articles on how to do this or that – but – more often than not, there is always a tool alteration or some little “thang” that goes unmentioned. One of my suggestions was explain to jewelers that to get the most out of those great expensive chain nose, flat, or speciality pliers most experienced metal workers “dress” their tools.

Ever hear of that? I bet I had fifteen years of so called experience before some totally slick jeweler taught me that. Every tool you have needs maintenance and attention. Your chain nose pliers, to be efficient and without much marring of your metal, need to have the edges broken. It’s not that you are turning them into round nose pliers. You are carefully taking the sharpness of that edge off and re-polishing the face. Since I’ve done this I don’t have as many pliers gouges to refinish. And, I use the same system to alter my lampworking tools too!

The pictures above and captions explain the process done to a pair of pliers I use for making ruffles in hot glass. The process is the same for a pair of flat nose pliers you use for metalsmithing. I have barely sanded the edge of my chain nose pliers using wet/dry 600 grit sandpaper attached to a sanding stick. I used this stick to carefully file the sharp edges. Then I polished the edges with jewelry polish (white diamond to be exact). You have to be careful when you do this so try it out on a cheap pair first. You still want to be able to bend a good 90 degree angle if you want one but you will be surprised how well this technique works for altering pliers for both lampworking and metal work.


Lori Bergmann said...

Great tips, Sharon! Thank you so much for sharing and the great pics too. I'll definitely be trying this myself soon! *Ü*

rosebud101 said...

You really know your stuff, Sharon! I wish you were going to the B and B. I'd pay you teach me!

Sharon Driscoll said...

Thanks Lori and Mallory - I so wish I were going too!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I've been jacking up my tools for ages!!! I grew up in construction and all my uncles tweaked their tools!