What’s in My Shop?
Below are pictures and descriptions of the tools and equipment I use in my jewelry shop, plus some tips for using them well. I am not endorsing any of these products–I’m showing you what I use in my shop to make artisan chain jewelry.
- Tool Magic
- Felt work pad
- Magnifying lamp
- Magnifying head set
- Pepe Jump Ring Maker
- Jewelry file
- Jewelry tumbler
- Weight scale
- Orion ring welder
- Ring storage cups
Took Magic puts a hard, rubbery coating on the ends of tools. I dip my pliers in it so I don’t scratch my rings and so I can keep a good grip on the rings. I think this is necessary for producing quality chainmaille. If you’re using coated, plated, or anodized wire of any type, this will also keep your pliers from scratching off the outer surface.
Tool Magic does wear down and become frayed after a while (20 – 40 minutes, depending on the piece). When it does, I peel it off and re-dip the pliers. It takes about 2 hours to dry, so I keep 6 pairs of pliers (3 sets). This lets me keep going while one pair is drying.
A jar lasts quite a while because a single coating doesn’t use very much. Just make sure to stir it very well before using. It is available from many sources and shouldn’t cost more than $5 – $8 dollars.
Felt Work Pad
I picked this pad up in the beading section of a local hobby store. Apparently, they’re pretty common for beaders. They work great for chainmaille, too. The rings don’t roll around, and the pad is just “mushy” enough that I can use an open ring to hook underneath closed rings, which makes picking up rings a lot easier. Cost: about a dollar or two.
The light is decent, and the magnifier helps me see whether my rings are closing properly, both vertically and laterally. The magnifier is also good for making sure I’m weaving the rings through the correct openings. Overall, this magnifying lamp has improved my weaving speed and the quality of the finished pieces. The cost was about $30.
The only problem with this particular model is that the cover flap (which is supposed to cover the magnifier when not in use) broke off easily and early. This wasn’t a big deal for me.
UPDATE: I still use this magnifying lamp to spot check the pieces, but I use a magnifying headset now when making jewelry: about $10 in the electrical section of a hardware store.
This, not the magnifying lamp, is what I use when I am weaving chainmaille. I use the lowest setting of magnification in most cases. I don’t look “dorky” when wearing it…I look like a jewelry professional! I like that it flips up when I need to see normally. It also fits over my glasses just fine. If you make a lot of chainmaille, get one of these. The cost was about $10 at a local hardware store.
Pepe Jump Ring Maker
I use the Pepe Jump Ring Maker for making rings. It has a hand crank for coiling wire, mandrels ranging from 2.5 mm to 12 mm, a slotted mount for holding the wire coils while cutting, and a head piece for the flexishaft that keeps the blade aligned with the slot in the mount. My model also came with the Flexishaft. With 20 gauge wire, I can make almost 90 rings per coil. I generally make 500 – 800 rings at a time. My cost for the Pepe and Flexishaft combo: $200 (plus shipping)
The Pepe has a new design now…and I don’t like it as well. It doesn’t come with the mounting board for the crank or a place to put the coil holder. You will need to make your own set up. On the other hand, the head piece is a much better design than previously.
4 Quick tips for using the Pepe:
- Most Important: Don’t tighten the top of the cutting holder too much; just make it barely tight enough to hold the rings down. Otherwise, the outer rings will get pushed down or flattened, and your blade will bind up, even stop completely! (Also, don’t push down on the hand set. Just gently move it forward.)
- Forget the paste or stick-type lubricant. A couple of drops of dish soap smeared over the top of the coil will work just as well. Either way, you’ll have to rinse your rings, so you might as well make it easier.
- Larger mandrels have a little hole in them, which you place near the crank, to hold the wire in place. Ignore it. Just feed a small amount of wire into the gaps where the crank holds the mandrel. You have to do this for smaller mandrels, anyway. It’s much easier to slip the coil off the mandrel this way.
- Keep your blade speed up. If it slows down, stop pushing the blade forward, let it get back to speed, and then continue a bit more slowly. A faster blade speed leaves fewer burrs on the rings.
A file is necessary for removing any burrs from the cuts. This prevents the piece from scratching the skin or from catching on clothing. Also, when the cuts are filed smooth, they close more easily and accurately. Most chainmaille artisans don’t do this because it takes a lot of time, but it really improves the quality of the jewelry.
Cost: I bought mine from a local jewelry store for a couple of bucks.
All my pieces are polished in my 3-pound Lortone Tumbler. I work mainly in sterling silver, and the tumbler gives those pieces a superior professional shine. Note: No tumbling for plated materials, although filled wire is fine.
- 2 pounds of stainless steel mixed shot (stainless steel doesn’t rust and will last pretty much forever);
- burnishing liquid (1 teaspoon per use; a few drops of dish soap will work just as well);
- cheap strainer with very fine mesh (for rinsing the shot after use).
Does it really make silver more shiny than hand polishing? Oh, yes! I was very pleased when I saw how nice the first pieces looked after tumbling. Even tarnished, dirty silver looks great after tumbling. (I recommend removing the tarnish before tumbling to keep the shot and canister clean.) I tumble new pieces for about an hour, and for another 20 minutes just prior to shipping or showing. Cost: I got mine for 68 bucks.
I occasionally get questions about the weight of various pieces, particularly the sterling silver jewelry. I’m also using jewelry weight to determine materials costs and prices. I purchased an MyWeigh iBalance 300 digital scale. It works great. Units: ounces, grams, pennyweight, carets. Accurate to 0.1 grams, which is close enough for me. Cost: $35.
Orion MPulse 30 Spot Welder
The spot welder fuses the cut ends of rings closed. Fusing / welding produces a cleaner and stronger joint than soldering. Unlike soldering, which melts a small amount of metal alloy in between the cut ends of rings, welding melts the actual ring material together into a continuous ring. There is no joint when it’s done.
I weld rings near the clasps of all pieces (where chains get the most stress), and I weld ALL the rings on some of the designs.
The Orion welder is by far the most expensive item in my shop, but welding really takes the jewelry to the highest professional level. Cost: $1,995
I usually have a lot of rings left over from jewelry projects, and I need a place to keep them organized. Also, when working on, or traveling with, projects, I need a place to keep them straight. What I don’t want is a pile of rings spilling all over my work space.
I use a Sharpie to write the ring sizes and gauges on the side.
I have several sets of interlocking storage cases to keep my rings. The smaller cases work fine for most storage, but I also have several larger ones for stones, clasps, and other larger items. They come in sets of 5 or 6 for 3 or 4 bucks in the beading sections of most craft stores.