August 16, 2016 Michelle Sawbridge

Tools of the Trade.

The basics

Repousse Hammer, Shears, ½ Round File, Parallel Pliers and a Piercing Saw frame.

You can travel to Africa to see Lions and Rhinos to complete the ‘Big 5’ but come to my workshop and these are my version of the big 5. 5 basic tools to start with and to me are essentials. There is rarely a piece of jewellery I create that won’t use all of these tools to create it.

First of these beauties is the Piercing Saw Frame, Something I don’t know how I would live without. The blades come in 6 different grades or thicknesses which start at a miniscule 0.18mm. It is a temperamental tool and that I find has taught me many lessons. The saw does not like to be rushed, tipped, twisted or forced. The blade will break immediately and i would have to re load the frame.

This means that I cannot sit in a foul mood and manically tey to complete a piece. I snap a blade and I am reminded to take a breath, slow down, relax and it will go a whole lot smoother. I get transported to a bubble of calm, forgetting whatever it was I was stressed about.

Lesson learnt from the saw frame; Rush me and I will make life hard for you, Use me properly and we will be a great team.

Half Round File.

To me no tool is as rewarding, watching shapes come to life in the metal. The file is aptly named, one edge being flat and the other having a semi-circle profile. Stage two after sawing is to ensure all lines and shapes are smooth and exact. If I have cut a circle shape for instance, it will have to be a perfect circle. I will not be able to put the piece down until I am satisfied. I believe in ‘If I am going to do it, im going to do it right.’ The idea of leaving something unfinished and not th=o the finish I am happy with it will niggle my mind until it is just right.

Repousse Hammer.

A beautiful name for a beautiful hammer. The word Repousse comes from the French ‘To push back’ It is a technique used for forming shapes from sheet metal. I have to admit that I may have a slight obsession with hammers and one day I wish to have an entire matching set hanging on my workshop wall- but that dream is for another day! This beast is my go to tool for; flattening, thinning, bending and generally whacking. This tool is always within arm’s reach. I love how one small tap to an almost finished piece or section of wire can finish it and make it perfect. Very satisfying indeed. I can look at piece I am working on and think that it is looking good, but i know that what it is missing is a sharp tap with the hammer against the anvil to make an edge crisper or an area perfectly flat.

Parallel Pliers.

For when your hands just won’t do. Having been practicing jewellery for a number of years, I pride myself on having a frighteningly strong grip. Years of working on the bench have given me a vice like hands. However, there does come a time when these pliers are just better at a job then I ever could be. Unlike most pliers, the opening and closing of the jaws, as the name would suggest, open parallel to each other rather than the 45 degree most of the others in the tool box. This makes them ideal grabbers. When holding onto the smallest piece of metal whilst piercing out an intricate shape or precise filling, the parallels unrelinquishing grip is what you need.

I curse the day they arrived in the post as I stupidly didn’t order the spring action version, but now after much use they are just right.

Last but not least are the Shears.

Although they look ungainly and vicious they do the most delicate of jobs, although I limit my use of them to keep their sharpness intact and they perform their task perfectly. When welding pieces of jewellery work they are used to trim minute pieces of the solder panel ready for the perfect soldering moment. However, they are never to be found at the time of a mass panic when that tiny bit of solder goes awry.

One of the greatest lessons I have learnt while training was of their over use. I was being taught how to make delicate rings of wire to make a handmade chain. I was instructed to wrap wire around a cylinder and then using the saw frame, cut along the rings to create individual wire rings.  In my inventive state of mind I saw this as a ridiculous and time wasting method, instead I grabbed the shears and cut directly through them, and seconds later I was done. Pleased that I had just revolutionised an aged old technique, my teacher shook her head and said “Now try to solder them into perfect closed circles with no visible join.” I was stumped, I had completely destroyed the ends of the wire by crushing then when closing the jaws of the shears, there was no way I could recover the wire now.

This was one of my biggest lessons and something I always have to remind myself; there are absolutely, positively no shortcuts in jewellery making. If you rush or skip a step, you might as well start from the beginning because the end result will never be as perfect as it could have been. If you put down good foundations and complete each step with exacting care, you know that the final result will be exactly as it should be.

Well that is the tools of trade round up for you now. I hope you have enjoyed reading about them and have either learnt something or gained a snapshot into my workshop. I thoroughly enjoy talking about tools and it is defiantly a guilty pleasure of mine.

Thank you for reading, there will defiantly be more on tools in the future, watch this space.

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