Chapter OneGearing Up
In This Chapter
* Selecting the right tools and equipment
* Creating your collections of beads, stones, and crystals
* Figuring out the necessary findings
Get your gear on! Actually making jewelry is the highlight of the creative process, but we think it's almost as much fun to get ready to make jewelry. Think of it as the crafty equivalent of getting new supplies at the beginning of the school year. If you've flipped through a bead supply catalog or browsed an online bead store, no doubt you've seen hundreds of different tools and supplies, which may overwhelm you. In this chapter, we pare down the seemingly endless catalog of gadgets and gotta-haves and give you the real deal on just what you need to get started.
If you want more details about any of the tools, beads, or findings that we talk about in this chapter, please check out our first beading book, Jewelry Making & Beading For Dummies (Wiley).
Taking a Look at Essential Tools
Tools vary widely in price range. You can get a basic starter kit with three or four different tools for $15, or you can spend $50 (or more) on a single pair of professional-quality pliers. The most expensive tools are absolutely not necessary when you're just starting out. Look for tools with descriptors like economy and value to get started.
Picking out pliers
We use three different types of pliers daily in jewelry making: round-nose pliers, chain-nose pliers, and crimping pliers, shown in Figure 1-1a, b, and c respectively. We consider these to be must-have tools.
Wielding your wire cutters
You need at least one wire cutter, sometimes called cutting pliers, in your toolbox to help you cut wire, head pins, beading wire, or even thread in a pinch. Three different wire cutters can come in very handy:
Diagonal cutters and flush cutters are tough to tell apart at first glance; the difference between them is the angle of the cutting blade.
Never use diagonal or flush cutters to cut memory wire on a regular basis. Memory wire is a rigid steel wire that will quickly dull even the sharpest cutters. If you plan to make memory wire jewelry, invest in some memory wire cutters.
You can find wire cutters that cut either from the side or on the end (these end-cut pliers are sometimes called nippers). We think side wire cutters are best for general use.
Investigating other hand tools
Depending on what techniques you choose to focus on, you may need a few other items to add the nuances that make finished projects something special.
You can make wire-wrapped jewelry with pliers and a wire cutter. But if you want to make consistently sized, uniform pieces over and over again, consider a jig. A wire jig, like the one in Figure 7-2 in Chapter 7, is the only way to go. In its simplest form, a jig is a board (typically made of plastic) with holes, and you insert pegs into those holes. Then you wrap wire around the pegs. You can change the configuration of pegs to create all sorts of wire-wrapped shapes.
Check out Chapter 7 for details on how to make wire jewelry with a wire jig.
A file allows you to remove any rough or pointy edges that happen when you snip and trim wire. You can shape and smooth sharp metal edges, leaving your pieces ouch-free. Files also come in handy if you decide to pursue more advanced metal-working techniques that are beyond the scope of this book (but really fun!), like working with precious metal clay (a malleable clay containing real precious metal that cures to reveal only the precious metal) or metal fabrication techniques.
Some people advocate using a fingernail file in jewelry making. We don't recommend it. They typically aren't hard enough to get the job done. A good set of jewelry files costs around $10 for a set of ten.
A bead reamer is a tool designed to gently increase the size of a bead hole. The rounded tip gradually increases in diameter and is designed to allow you to gently twist the reamer, slowly widening the hole or smoothing out rough edges. Bead reamers seem to work best with natural materials like pearls and gemstones, but they can work on other materials as well. You can get a set for around $5.
If you primarily use crystal, glass, or machined metal beads, you can probably skip this tool. Most of those beads have smooth, consistently sized holes. However, if you move on to cutting your own metal components (like tags, for example), a bead reamer is a great choice to smooth any drill holes you make.
Depending on what kind of jewelry you make, scissors can be essential. Bead weaving in particular requires a sharp pair of scissors. Use them to cut thin stringing materials, like silk bead cord and Nymo thread. We've even used them to cut very thin (32-gauge) wire.
Keep a designated pair of scissors with your jewelry-making equipment so you always have them handy. Check out the needlework section of the craft store to find a small pair that will be just right for you.
A hammer is great tool to use if you work with precious metals. You can create interesting textures by repeatedly striking metal with the two different ends of the hammer. Or you can actually pound a piece of metal around something, like a mandrel (a metal rod) for example, to make rings and cuff bracelets. Look for metal ball-peen hammers with smooth, rounded, or textured heads to make different impressions as you pound.
If, instead, you want to smooth or harden metal pieces without marring them, choose a rawhide hammer, which looks more like a mallet with a wide head. It's made of wood and rawhide and helps you harden and/or flatten metal pieces while keeping them nice and smooth. You can also choose a plastic mallet for this not-so-delicate job.
Anvil and block
If you're pounding on metal with a hammer, you need something to lay the metal on, right? We don't recommend that you just sit down at your dining room table and start banging away. At a minimum, you need a piece of wood to protect your work surface. But when you're ready to take the next step and choose a professional piece of equipment, consider either an anvil or a block.
A block is a thick square block of steel (or rubber or wood) with a flat surface for hammering metal. It's handy for hardening your metal designs to help them keep their shape. Or you can use it as a firm surface to pound out cool and interesting textures.
Place a small, folded hand towel under your block to muffle the hammering noise and keep the block from damaging your work surface as you bang away. If your block is fairly lightweight, dampen the hand towel before you place it under the block to keep it from sliding around.
In addition to being one of Wile E. Coyote's favorite weapons, an anvil is a metal-working tool made from solid steel designed to provide a firm surface for you to hammer away on to shape and mold softer metals. In addition to the flat, block-like top, anvils have horns (metal pieces that stick out from the main body of the anvil) with various shapes. Most have a rounded horn to allow you to shape a cuff, for example. Some also have horns with corners of some sort so you can create more-angular designs.
REMEMBER You don't need a big blacksmith-sized anvil. You can find jewelry-sized anvils at many online jewelry stores for less than $30. Depending on the material you choose, a block costs between $10 and $20.
Sorting Out Equipment
In addition to tools, other pieces of equipment are helpful in pursuing your newfound passion for jewelry making. In the following sections, we give you more details about those items, as well as the reasons why we recommend using them.
Keeping things straight with a bead board organizer
An essential design tool, a bead board organizer (typically just called a bead board), shown in Figure 1-3, gives you built-in space to lay your bead strands out as you create your design. Typically, it has little compartments to hold and separate several types of beads, plus measurements along the strand compartments to help you keep track of how long your creation is. Some boards have the capacity to lay out as many as five necklace strands and five bracelet strands at the same time - superhelpful if you're designing coordinating accessories.
Consider investing in one of these inexpensive ($5 or less) tools, even if you plan only to follow the designs in this book instead of coming up with your own original creations. You can read the instructions and lay out the beads in the specified pattern, and then you can string them up more quickly and accurately.
Laying down a bead mat
A bead mat is a piece of fabric that serves as place to set your beads. The fabric helps keep the beads from rolling around on the table, and if you drop a bead on your work surface, it's less likely to bounce away from you if you have a mat to cushion it. It's a helpful piece of equipment, especially if you're stringing beads randomly.
You can buy a bead mat from a bead store or make your own from a piece of felt, an old blanket, or even a dish towel. You just need something with a little cushioning power. Cut it or fold it to roughly 9 x 12 inches and bead away.
Using a polishing cloth and some elbow grease
If you work with precious metal, you need a polishing cloth. A polishing cloth is a piece of fabric (usually a special weave of cotton) treated with a polishing compound of some sort. Coauthor Heather keeps one on her work table and always gives her wire a quick rub down with one of these before using it in a design. The cloth is way more convenient than using a messy paste or liquid, and unless the metal is severely tarnished, a polishing cloth is usually all you need.
Don't wash your polishing cloth, or you'll remove all the cleaning properties. Just use it until it's covered in black grody tarnish, and then toss it and get a new one.
Very fine steel wood (0000 grade) is great for polishing fine sterling wire as well. It's amazing how it brings out the material's natural shine.
Storing your treasures in a bead box with compartments
You can find many different styles of this quintessential beader's best friend, shown in Figure 1-4, in any craft store. Bead boxes with compartments are great for holding lots of different beads in a small space without mixing them together. You can find simple plastic boxes with 20 compartments, rolling totes that hold multiple bead boxes, or cabinets that hold hundreds of tiny drawers.
Getting everything exact with a ruler or tape measure
Even if you choose to buy a bead board marked with accurate measurements, it's handy to keep a ruler or tape measure nearby. Check out the notions section of a fabric or craft store to find a small flexible tape measure that you can keep with your tools. You can find them for around $2.
Getting Your Beads and Stones Together
Ah, beads! These little beauties are probably the reason you're interested in jewelry making to begin with. It's why coauthor Heather got started. She was enamored by the variety of shapes, sizes, colors, finishes, and textures available. Almost every time we pick up a catalog or stroll through a bead store, we see something new, something that inspires us to make a new jewelry piece. In this section, we give you the basics of getting your beads together to get started.
We could talk forever about beads, but we have limited space. Ultimately there's no substitute for reading bead catalogs and visiting your local bead store to continue to develop your knowledge about what's available in the world of beads and figure out what you like.
Selecting bead sizes and shapes
Designing jewelry is definitely an art, rather than a science. Choosing what beads go together in different pieces is really a matter of trial and error, and you'll improve as you get more experience. Certain characteristics (like size, shape, and material) typically come into play when you choose beads for a project.
Why size matters
Because beads are relatively small, individual beads are typically sized in millimeters, designated by the abbreviation mm. (Some vendors give the English equivalent in inches for larger pieces.) But strands of beads are typically sold in inches. For example, you may choose to buy a 16-inch strand of 6mm beads, which is roughly 68 beads. Confused yet? To help you out, we include this handy chart, Table 1-1, that lists the bead size, strand lengths, and the approximate number of beads on the strand.
You can also use Table 1-1 to figure out how many beads you need to buy to create a necklace or bracelet of a certain length.
Because we want you to be successful in re-creating the designs in this book, we include specific information about the size of each and every bead in each and every project. Just take a look at the materials list at the beginning of each project for the specifics.
Shaping up your options
Beads come in all kinds of shapes. Traditional shapes, like round, bicone, teardrop, and oval, come in all sizes and materials. But other shapes (including hearts, stars, various animals, and leaves) are increasingly popular.
Here's a quick rundown on the shapes we commonly use for the designs in this book: