As suppliers of Beading Tools for some years now, one of the most common questions we are asked is 'what type of pliers should I buy?' This guide is complied by Graham Halls of CJ Beaders, specialists in the supply of Beadalon Products.
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What Pliers do I need?
If you are just going to be making Necklaces, threaded on Wire (Beadalon or Tigertail), then as a bare minimum you could get away with flat bladed pliers (or smooth faced chain nosed pliers) for squashing crimps and a pair of cutters or sharp scissors for cutting the wire.
If you start making Earrings or are bending 20 gauge wire, then you will need Round Nosed pliers as well. Flat bladed pliers are OK for straightening wire - but if you are using precious metal or want to ensure you do not mark the surface, use nylon jawed pliers.
Ideally - and particularly if you use a lot of crimps - it is well worth investing in a pair of Crimp pliers which will make a tremendous difference to the look of the crimp. More on this later!
My ideal Plier set? Ranked in order of usefulness - and of course, my personal view based on my experience;
- Smooth Jaw, chain nosed pliers
- Round nosed pliers
- Crimp Tool
- Flat bladed, smooth faced pliers
- Nylon Jawed pliers
- Looping Pliers
Quality of Pliers
You get what you pay for! Always buy the best you can afford and ask questions of you supplier. We recommend 2 makes, based on our experience over the past 25 years of using pliers. Lindstrom is top of the list. I have a pair of Lindstrom cutters that are at least 23 years old and in daily use! The second make we would recommend is 'Beadalon', which we also import - and the main reason being the high quality~excellent value that the Tools provide.
Most pliers are constructed in one of two ways; Overlap (or Lap joint) construction and Box construction.
The cheapest are so-called ‘lap joint’. The two pieces are simply ‘over lapped’ and held in place by a riveted joint through the centre of the overlap. Over time, the lap joint will wear and the faces or edges will move about slightly, With some very cheap tools, this can happen very quickly – sometimes after just a few operations. This is most noticeable with Round Nosed pliers when you are trying to bend wire at the extreme of the tips - you may find the tips bend sideways! There are a couple of exceptions to the 'Overlap' construction rule. Most Lindstrom Pliers are Overlap - but they are made with a highly specified screw joint (not rivet) of an extra-hard metal. 'Beadstrom' - made by Beadalon (note the play on the name!) are also Overlap construction with an allen key joint which can be tightened when the Tool wears - this is a great way to get precision at a good price.
These tools are machined so that one side of the tool passes through (as opposed to under or over) the other, therefore there are 4 faces in contact with each other rather than the 2 in lap jointed construction. As a result, the two sides cannot move about as much and wear affecting movement of the two pieces is reduced. Basically this means they are more accurate in use for a longer period of time!
Size of Handles
There is a growing amount of small hadled pliers on the market - beware of the picture you see - you need to ensure they are long enough to fit your hand! We sell a range with Handles as small as 3.5" long - which are good for Children or those with small hands. BUT - an important thing to remember - the longer the handle the greater the leverage. So, you need less effort to grip things with longer handled tools which makes them more comfortable in use. Our Beadstrom Tools do have longer handles and have soft foam handles.The Lindstrom 'RX' range also have nice long handles.
The important thing is, if you can, get to try the Pliers in a shop (or at one of the many Beadfairs we attend)
Chain Nosed Pliers
No idea why they are called Chain Nose - but you may also hear them referred to as 'Snipe Nose' which tend to be a little smaller in size. Make sure you purchase a pair that have smooth faces. Those available from most hardware shops have serrated faces which will mark your Jewellery! With their slightly pointed ends, these pliers are great for grabbing small items and for handling findings such as Jump Rings. Chain nosed Pliers are ideal for flattening crimps and getting into tight corners to close crimps or bend wire.
As a secondary piece of information - and a very useful tip - buy a proper Bead Mat. Not only do they stop your beads from rolling around, when you are cutting wire, make sure the end to be cut is facing into - or touching - the Bead mat. This helps catch the cut wire without it flying over the room. (Having used one for the first time at our Bead Workshops, virtually everyone buys a Bead Mat before they leave!)
Cutter are perhaps the most demanding of tools to make well - and you will likely find yourself buying a range of different cutters for different tasks.
Two types of Cutter are available; Flush cutting and triangular or 'V' shaped edges. Flush cutters really ought to be very high precision devices, but range in price from a few pounds (good for cutting thin cord and non-wire items) up to £40+ (for a good pair of Lindstrom). They give - as the name suggests - a 'Flush' cut with a square end to whatever you cut. However, Flush Cutting puts a lot of strain on the blade and cheaper cutters will wear extremely quickly. And - if you try to cut something hard - the tips may even shatter or end up chipped. Only use Flush Cutters when you really need too. We mainly use them for cutting Beading Wire when they are ideal for cutting right up close to a finding. We do not recommend using them for findings apart from one-off task.
'V' shaped and 'semi-flush' cutters are better for cutting thicker wire and as the name suggests, they cut the wire leaving a V shape (or arrow!) They can be purchased in different sized blades, with the Lindstrom 'semi-flush' going down to very small sizes. This type of cutter is more general purpose and are great for cutting findings. Remember - the longer the handles, the less purchase is required when cutting. The more pressure you excert on the blades though, the shorter the cutting life. The 'Beadstrom' cutters illustrated have a unique feature to reduce wear and maintain a longer life. They have a screw on the side of the cutter - you wind this in such that when the blades are just touching, the screw touches the opposite side of the handle. This then prevent over-pressurising the blades if you squeeze to hard - a great idea.
A note on Memory Wire Shears.
We often hear tales of woe when Beaders have used their favourite cutters to cut Memory Wire - please learn from their mistakes - if you need to cut Memory wire, use special Memory Wire Cutters or Shears! These are designed not to cut wire, but to Shear or Snap the wire. Yes, I know they are another £10 or so - but cheaper than having to buy yet another pair of cutters.
Round Nosed Pliers
We have seen some appalling Round Nosed pliers! Beware those that seem incredibly cheap....Round Nosed pliers come in different sized cones. The closer to the fulcrum point, the larger the diameter. Pliers made by Beading Manufacturers (i.e. Beadsmith, Beadalon) tend to be designed for Jewellery making and are recommended. Note that some pliers touch all of the way along the cones - these are best for very thin wire. Others have a slight gap that gets larger towards the fulcrum point. I would recommend the latter - so long as when you close the jaws, you can still firmly grip your wire all the way along the cones. I have seen many cheap pairs that are only any use at the tips - a waste of money. Once again, the Beadstrom make have the additional lead screw to prevent over-tightening the jaws.
A special word on two different types of Round Nosed Pliers. Beadalon make pliers that on one jaw have 3 different diameters, whilst the scond Jaw is concave. These pliers are great for making consistent sized wire loops. A 'Flat-Round' Pair of pliers is also available - cone shaped jaw one side and a flat jaw the other. Both of these pliers are useful if you do a lot of wireworking.
Once you have used a (decent) pair of Crimp pliers, you will wonder how you ever did without them! Buy from a reputable manufacturer, who will match the size of the pliers to a specific size of Crimp. Beware of those crimp tools that have a sharp point in the aperture. This quickly wears (after it has stuck to the crimp!) Some cheaper varieties (which I admit, I did sell until I knew better, and now sell because people do not believe you get what you pay for) have too large an aperture and will not crimp your crimp beads unless they are very large.
Here is a very useful tip when buying crimp pliers. The orginal design for crimping pliers was registered with a patent. If you buy a reputable pair of crimp pliers, check and see that the patent number is stamped upon one of the inner jaws! If it is not there....
Beadalon produce good guidance in their on-line catalogue on crimp beads, tubes and crimp tools. If you really like quality, go for crimp tubes and the correct sized plier. (they come in 3 different sizes)
****Please see our guide to Crimps & Crimping for more on Crimp Tools and Crimping****
Flat Bladed, Smooth faced pliers
Smooth faced is the operative word here! Use these pliers for holding flat surfaces whilst working the wire - good for use with Jump rings and for flattening out finding wires. Make sure your pliers are not too large - but strong enough to be able to bend and flatten wire without bending the pliers (as will happen with cheap tools)
Nylon & Plastic Jawed Pliers
If you are using a lot of soft metal (i.e. Gold!) or easily makred wire and want to hold it firm, then these are likely to be worth the investment. Good ones (such as those made by Beadalon) have replacement jaws available. Cheaper plastic jawed pliers may be worthwhile trying, but are not as good.
We hope you have found this guide useful...
Please let us know if we have missed something or you would like to see advice on a particular subject. And dont forget, we stock an excellent range of Pliers, Crimp Tools and Crimps in our shop, CJ Beaders