A Plier Primer

Bent nose pliers

Bent nose pliers

New to beading? Confused by pliers and the fact that each beading book refers to them differently? Here’s a list of the most essential pliers and tools needed, and information on how to use them. See the gallery below for tool pictures.

Essential Pliers

  • Flat nose pliers are flat, with squared ends. You can use them to open jump rings and attach your findings. Since the edges are square, you can also use them to bend wire at right angles.
  • Chain nose pliers have tapered tips, which let you squeeze into tight places, like in between chain links (I’m guessing that’s why they’re called chain nose). Note that chain nose pliers are not the same thing as Needle nose pliers. The latter have longer jaws. Needle nose pliers are used by electricians and other people needing to reach spots that are obstructed by something in front of them. I haven’t seen a jeweler use them, so don’t worry about buying a pair.
  • Round nose pliers, also called Rosary pliers, have cone shaped jaws. These pliers are used to wrap wire in circles, coils or for bending wire in rounded angles (as opposed to a 90 degree angle). You’ll need to do this to make the loops that will attach pins onto a chain, or when you become more advanced and want to connect one piece of wire to another, or when you want to make swirls or clasps. The tips are very small, and can be used to make tiny loops, but generally, you’ll be placing the wire somewhere near the middle. Try to loop your wire in the same place so that your P-loops are of a consistent size.
  • Flex wire cutters – These are side cutters for thin gauge flex wire). If you bought your side cutters as part of a kit, they will be appropriate for thin gauge (flex wire) or medium gauge wire. Flex wire is nylon coated wire, which is about the same thickness as fishing wire. It is most commonly used for making illusion style necklaces. The light lime green pliers with black tips, seen in the gallery, are thin gauge cutters. Do not use these pliers for cutting anything other than flex wire or you will damage them. They are not strong enough for cutting medium gauge wire.
  • Side cutters (also called straight cutters, and sometimes mistakenly called flush cutters, see below for the difference) -This is the other wire cutter that is frequently included in a kit. These cutters are for cutting thicker wire such as 20 gauge wire that is frequently used for wire wrapping. The lilac pliers with the stainless steel tips are for medium gauge wire. If you are cutting wire that is heavier than 20 gauge, the pliers that come in kits are probably not strong enough. I’d suggest going to a hardware store or the gardening section of the department store for heavy gauge cutters. You should have at least two side cutters, one for flex wire and one for wire up to 20 gauge. **Note that neither of these pliers should be used to cut memory wire, which is made from stainless steel. Cutting memory wire with regular pliers will break your pliers, so only use memory wire cutters for cutting it.
  • Crimping pliers are used to squeeze metal crimp beads onto cords or nylon coated wire when making “illusion” style necklaces. If you squeeze crimp beads with chain nose pliers, they won’t maintain their rounded look and might slip out of your grasp or even break. These pliers are a bit costly, but totally worth it.
  • Bent nose pliers generally don’t come with most kits, but they are incredibly useful since they make it easy to see your work because the bent tip means your hand is out of the way. They are also more comfortable for turning your wire (rotating whatever is held between the jaws) during wire wrapping.
  • Flush cutters let you cut wire very closely at a 90 degree angle. This is useful when you want to cut wire close to a loop during wire wrapping.
  • Nylon Jaw Pliers have smooth nylon tips on top of stainless steel jaws. You can use them to make smooth bends in your wire, for claps or other decorative wire wrapping work. You can also use them to straighten wire, but the nylon is not very tough, so don’t pull the wire taught or it will cut grooves in the nylon tips.

Non-Plier Necessities

  • Calipers are needed to measure your beads and often come with plier kits.
  • Tweezers are useful for picking up or placing small beads. Tool kits often come with tweezers that have a bead scoop on the other end.
  • Files are essential for getting rid of the sharp bits of cut wire. They come in many different types. You’ll usually need 2-3 to smooth out the sharp spots.
  • Bead reamers are like a file, but used to sand the inside of beads. This makes the hole in the bead bigger so that thicker cord or wire can go through it. Be careful when using a reamer with glass beads or pearls. It can cause them to break.
  • Tool Box or Bag – You’ve got to keep your tools somewhere right? A small box or bag is great because it provides protection, organization and lets you grab-and-go for those times when you want to take your tools to a class or work with other crafters. I keep a 2nd set of tools in my car so that I can always make adjustments for my clients on the go.

Etc., Etc., Etc.

This list does not contain all of the pliers you’ll ever want or need. There are several others that are very useful (like Split ring pliers), which I haven’t included. I will write a separate article on those as time permits. In the meantime, these will get you started on your beginner beading and wire work.

Happy Crafting!

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