Drooling over tools

March 12, 2013 , In: General

I suspect I’m not the only person out there who likes to read the Rio Grande tool and equipment catalogue from cover to cover. Or who leaves every class with at least one new specialty tool demonstrated by the instructor. Or who thinks an unexpected outing to Harbor Freight is romantic. (True story: my husband once surprised me with a stop at Harbor Freight one Sunday after church. I teared up and posted a photo of their sign on Instagram.)

I’m not sure what it is about tools and equipment that create such a sense of anticipation, but since getting involved in jewelry making I have become something of a magpie – I want to try and collect all the things. Just… all of them.

This can be a good and bad thing. I’ve found great tools in unexpected places, and tried to go the “cheap” route by getting less expensive versions of the things I really want. Two of my favorite bench tools are inexpensive Harbor Freight purchases that I reach for over and over again.

This deadblow mallet is great for flattening annealed metal and tightening and loosening my bench vise. I’ve also used it to form items on mandrels because I like the lack of bounce-back, although the head is a little on the large side for mandrel use. (I could solve that problem by purchasing the smaller version Harbor Freight carries but haven’t gotten around to it yet.)

I love this stubby ball pein hammer! It has a nice heavy head, and fits perfectly in my hand. I use it with my disc cutter and with my stamping and chasing tools, because it offers the right combination of weight and control. Best $3 I ever spent in the studio.
Less successful, on the other hand, were these “brass” brushes.
I bought these in two sizes, thinking I’d saved a ton of money over the wooden handled brushes in many studios. Not so much. These rusted and the bristles are so stiff they scratched the heck out of a number of pieces. I finally threw in the towel and bought good studio brushes and I haven’t regretted it. (I bought mine at Wired Designs in San Antonio, where I work, but you can get them online at Contenti. Worth every penny.)
For storage, I love using these inexpensive see-through scrapbook boxes.
Michael’s and Hobby Lobby both carry them, and when they’re on sale or there’s a coupon, it’s possible to get these for $5 each. They are very sturdy, stack easily, and hold tons of stuff. (And they come in clear, which isn’t pictured here.) I use them for metal sheet and scrap, small glass sheets and scrap, and some of my etching and stamping supplies, and stack them out of sight in one of my studio cupboards when they aren’t being used.
I love these Eurotool cutters.
I know people who swear on their Lindstroms or Tronex cutters, but honestly I’ve used the ones that friends own and am happy I chose these instead. You can get them from several places online, and they are almost always less than $30 or so – far less expensive than the big boys, and I think they cut better. I’ve had mine for over a year and the blades are as sharp and straight as when I took them out of the package.
Here are some of the (more expensive) things on my current wish list:
A portable air filter.
I hope everyone is working in a well-ventilated area!! Even so, an air filter of some sort is a good idea, especially if you are doing things like enameling and grinding that generate air-borne particulates. This HEPA air filter works in areas up to 300 square feet and neutralizes chemical vapors in addition to capturing tiny particles as small as .3 microns. It isn’t a substitute for wearing a good respirator, but it’s one more weapon in the arsenal designed to protect our lungs. This is my next studio purchase.
A rolling mill.

I have been drooling over this rolling mill for a couple of years now. I’ve come very close to purchasing other, less expensive models, but this Durston model is the one that stops me every time. I love that it has the extension rollers on the outside for wire, which makes changing out the rollers unnecessary, and I think the width is sufficient for a small studio jeweler like me. Some day…. some day.
Fretz Hammers.

I’m not going to lie: there’s a better than even chance I would have no idea what to do with these if I had them. But oh my goodness… aren’t they beautiful??! I’ve been longing for these about as long as I’ve been making jewelry – something about hammers in general really appeals to me, and these are especially sculptural and artistic looking. (A friend got one of their texture hammers recently as a gift, and was generous enough to let me use it. It felt just as wonderful as I thought it would, and the texture – raw silk – was terrific.) If I were ever to purchase these, I’d need to get the video series Bill Fretz did about how to raise and form metal… and that would mean having to purchase some Fretz stakes too. (And there are some very beautiful Fretz bench anvils too…)
SEE??!! It’s a slippery slope, my friends. A slippery slope.
What about you? Are there tools you swear by? Tools you swear at? Things on your wishlist that you drool over in those quiet moments when you’re alone?
Glad to know I’m not alone!
Until next time –

Francesca Watson

Francesca Watson got bit by the jewelry-making bug in 2008, when she and a few girlfriends took a simple stringing class at a local bead shop. Now, she is co-owner of The Makery, a working and teaching studio and gallery in the Texas Hill Country outside San Antonio where Francesca creates and teaches metals, wire and enameling full time, and indulges an emerging interest in mixed media. She and her husband Nick have been married since 1989 and have one grown daughter.
  1. Reply

    I am so with you on the Fretz hammers!!

    • Reply

      Oh my gosh, Susan – aren't they gorgeous??! I'd just hang them on my wall and look at them – or fondle them a lot. LOL!

  2. Reply

    I know exactly what you mean, Francesca.
    I literally drooled over the Rio Grande catalogue when it came! I too would LOVE a Fretz hammer but as you said it's a slippery slope. I was given a pair of Lindstrom pliers and I have to say they've made all the difference in the world to my wirework. Now I just have to sell some more jewelery so I can buy some more!

    • Reply

      I'm so glad you like your Lindstrom pliers, Nan – I have heard good things about them but never tried them. Didn't love their cutter as much as I love the Eurotool version, though! (And amen to selling more jewelry so we can buy more tools – that's how it's supposed to be!!)

  3. Reply

    Not only did I drool over the Rio catalogue, I splurged and purchasew their Swanson disc cutter kit. I was ill for several weeks and just now opened the box, but don't have the time to play with it.

    Thanks for the eye candy (who would have ever though tools to be eye candy?)

    • Reply

      Wow, Alice! Those Swanstrom disc cutters are pretty dreamy. I am sorely tempted but can't justify the purchase until my good old Pepe's go to that great studio in the sky – they still work great.

  4. Reply

    I read the Rio catalog like a magazine. And I dare say the only thing preventing me from getting my first Fretz hammer – is how to choose one?!

    Harbor Freight is the best. I was there after Xmas to get the workbench they often carry. A dear sweet Grandpa stopped me and offered me a coupon – since I was clearly committed to the table. Saved me $20!

    • Reply

      LOL! Someone told me today that their Rio catalogue is a coffee table book in their house! And yes: I could afford a single Fretz hammer (probably) but where to start?!

      I have been tempted by that workbench several times – maybe when we move and I set up a new studio. How are you liking it?

  5. Reply

    Harbor Freight has some great wins and some not so great stuff, but luckily there are folks like you doing reviews to help weed out the good ones. =) And on top of that, at least if it does not work out you have not dropped a lot of money on it. I have a rolling mill and I am slowly collecting texture plates that I like for it, so good texture plates are on my wish list. And time to get more experience with all the tools I have, that is high on the wish list as well!

    • Reply

      There are never enough hours in the day, right? So jealous about your rolling mill – which model did you wind up getting? And have you tried etching your own texture plates? I'm dying to try that!!

  6. Reply

    I wan that rolling mil and a guillotine cutter!

    • Reply

      Leslie! I forgot all about the guillotine cutter on my wishlist, ding dang it!! Thanks for reminding me…. I think….

  7. Reply

    You had me at 'Hello!' – to use a cliche 🙂 I thought I am the lone crazy who drools over hammers, so glad to hear that's not the truth (doesn't make me less crazy, just not a lunatic anymore). Yes, I completely and 100% understand every feeling from your post.
    P.S. You have such a darling hubby!

    • Reply

      Hahah, Alicia – that's funny. Nope, you're no alone in drooling over hammers. I have a real "thing" for them.

      And yes, I have a darling hubby. I got one of the good ones and try to spend a portion of every day just being grateful for him. 🙂

    • Shel
    • March 14, 2013

    Dinner and Harbor Freight vs. Dinner and a Movie w/the hubs,…HF wins out most every time!! LOL!! Working in the Air Quality Industry (day job!) I'm so excited to see a HEPA filter in your wish list – smart woman! And the Fretz Hammers,….drool!

    • Reply

      Thanks, Shel – I have allergy-induced asthma (never had a problem with allergies until we moved to Texas!) and have had pneumonia in the past, so protecting my lungs is a big, big deal for me. I wear a respirator mask when I enamel, but I haven't been consistently good about masking when I solder – those heavy metals in the fumes are so bad for us! So after we sell the house and find something smaller, the new studio will have an exhaust fan system in addition to the air filter. I'd be happy for any suggestions about which exhaust systems you think are good, if you have any!!

Leave a Comment