Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Essential Jewelry Making Tools For Beginners

Basic jewelry making tools can be broken down into two basic categories: the essentials and the non-essentials. Those that are essential to the craft are the fundamental tools that would be used by a hobbyist, student or beginner. These are the basic tools that are necessary for jewelry making and beading. I call these the "Need to haves."

The Essential "Need to haves"

Adequate Lighting
Ask any artist what their most valuable tools are and no doubt great lighting will top their list. A well-lit work-space is crucial to jewelry making, as it is to any craft or art.

A Proper Work Surface
For beaders this can be as simple as a towel spread out over your table, or an old pillowcase. Forgo covering your work surface and you will soon find yourself spending a lot of time chasing after rolling beads! 

Safety Glasses
Although you do not need them for simple bead stringing, you will definitely need them when working with any jewelry adhesives or chemicals. Safety glasses should also be worn when cutting wire, pouring resin, and working with tools.

Magnified Reading Glasses
These are one my most essential tools! I wear non-prescription reading glasses for reading and well, for seeing a few feet in front of my face, but I always have an inexpensive extra pair in a higher magnification on my workbench. When you reach age 40 you will understand! Get them at the dollar store.

Storage & Organization
Once you get started buying beads and jewelry findings you will be surprised at how quickly all those little pieces will accumulate! They will catch up with you eventually, so it's best to start out with some type of organization and storage from the start. Two essentials for storage and organization are:
* Multi-compartment organization boxes: These snap-lid plastic boxes are inexpensive and available at most craft retailers. They contain many small compartments and are perfect for organizing and storing beads. 
* Zipper seal baggies: I find the 2" and 3" sizes to be quite useful, plus they are small enough to fit into the compartments of most organization boxes.

There are three basic types of pliers used for jewelry making:

* Round nose pliers: Also known as rosary pliers, round nose pliers have rounded jaws that taper to a point at the tips. They are used for bending wire and for making loops, wrapped loops, eye pins, S-shaped curves, coils and spirals in wire.

* Chain nose pliers: These pliers are semi-round. The inside of the jaws (where they meet) are flat. The jaws taper to a point at the tips. They are used for bending and wrapping wire, making loops and to open and close jump rings. Get a pair with small, pointy tips. The small tips are essential for getting into tight spaces.

* Crimping pliers: These pliers have specially notched jaws that are used to fold and crimp metal crimp beads. Crimp beads are essential for securing the ends of strung bead projects, such as necklaces and bracelets.

Wire Cutters

Also known as flush cutters, wire cutters are essential for making clean, precise cuts on wire, beading wire, eyepins and headpins. Note: never use general purpose wire cutters to cut memory wire, as this will damage their blades. To cut memory wire, use memory wire cutters which are specially made to cut stainless steel wire.

Ruler or Measuring Tape

A basic household ruler or measuring tape is an invaluable tool for measuring the length of your beading projects. I keep a mm ruler close at hand as well.

100mm Pocket Slide Gauge
This small tool comes in handy for measuring beads and jewelry components.

Create a Visual Size Guide for Beads

I created my own visual guide to bead sizes years ago when I started out working with beads. All I did was glue a few extra beads onto an index card for easy reference when I wasn't sure if I needed a 4mm or 6mm bead for a project (for example.)  After years of jewelry making, I can size a bead just by looking at it, so I no longer use this, but it came in handy plenty of times, especially when I was reordering beads from a supplier.

Quality Adhesive
A superior gel or liquid adhesive is essential for a quality finished project.

There are many other jewelry making tools that are not immediately necessary, but are still useful. I call these tools the "Nice to haves." Some folks may consider these tools little luxuries that make doing some jobs easier. Some are used for more advanced techniques, or may be geared toward a particular type of jewelry making, such as pearl stringing. These are the tools used by advanced students and professionals.

Nice to Have (but not immediately necessary)

Magnifying Work Light
A magnifying work light sits on or attaches to your worktable and allows you an enlarged view of your project. These lights are very useful when working with small components.

Bead Boards
These are lightweight flocked boards that have compartments for holding beads and slots to place beads in while you are building a design. They will also sometimes have measurements on them to help you determine the length of a bracelet or necklace while you are working on the design. Bead boards are usually gray or another soft color. This helps prevent eyestrain that can occur when working for longer periods of time. 

Teacups and little dishes

I have bead boards but I really don't use them often because I don't do much bead stringing. I DO use lots of little vintage dishes to hold my beads & components while I am working. 

Fancy pliers 
There are all types of fancy pliers that do different jobs. For example, flat nose pliers have flat jaws that taper at the tips, but they are not as pointy as chain nose or round nose pliers. They are used for holding components, making bends in wire and metal, and flattening and straightening metal. They are not an essential tool for a beginner but if you may want to eventually pick a pair up down the road once your hobby turns into an obsession.

Wire Straightening Pliers
This tool's jaws are made from or covered with nylon which protects the wire you are working with from nicks and marring. They are used for wire wrapping and for straightening wire. If you get into wire wrapping then you will certainly need a pair of these, but for basic jewelry making you do not immediately need a pair.

String Knotting Tool
This tool is used for tying consistent, precise knots quickly. It is most often used for stringing pearls and tying bead strands.

Diamond tipped bead reamer / pearl reamer
Reamers are useful for enlarging holes in beads and pearls and also for de-burring and smoothing rough edges around the holes of beads. 

Liver Of Sulfur
Liver of sulfur is a chemical antiquing agent that is used to give shiny silver an antiqued, vintage look. 

How To Books & Magazines
Instructional books and magazines are great for keeping on top of trends and for learning new jewelry techniques. They are also a great way to find jewelry supply retailers and wholesalers.

As you can see, there are many different types of jewelry making tools and each has its own special use. My advice for the beginner is to buy only what you immediately need, but buy the best quality you can afford. In time, as you master basic skills and learn more advanced techniques, you will find out from your own experience which tools are essential to your craft.

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What are your most essential jewelry making tools?

I hope you have a great week 
Love, Laura

My broken china jewelry is always available for purchase at https://www.etsy.com/shop/dishfunctionldesigns


  1. Very comprehensive jewelry making guide! I found you via the Etsy Blogging team. It's nice to see your work!

  2. Fabulous post! I've bookmarked it for future reference :)
    And congrats on publishing your book! It looks great!!

  3. I've been making beaded jewelry for over 10 years and I've got to say your guide to essential jewelry making tools is worth gold! I'm going to share it on Pinterest and with a few of my friends. Thank you for the time and effort that went into this list.

    1. Thanks so much! Glad you found the information to be of value. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great info filled post! Thank you!

  5. Definitely bookmarking this for reference later! Great post, thanks for sharing!