Pliers! Pliers. Pliers?
I started making pliers when I was about 19. I had been making chainmaille sculptures for years by that point. I would use pliers for 8-10 hours per day, 7 days a week. I thought it was weird to have such an intimate relationship with a tool that was so cold, soulless and really poorly suited to chainmaille.
Needlenose pliers were my choice at that time, but there was a lot of waste. There were cutters in the jaws which contributed to excessively long jaws for the job. A lot of leverage was wasted. And, I was only opening and closing small rings, I didn't need all the excess metal and weight in the handle.
I got a few grade 8 bolts and forged them into a pain of pliers. The jaws were short. The handles were thin. But, by god, they worked! I made tons that year. I had so many rejects that I made a sculpture out of my rejects!
I stopped making pliers for a long period of time. I made tongs when needed (they're like big pliers). I made lots of other tools, but not pliers.
I started making a lot of jewelry again. I set out to refine my plier making. I wanted smooth, wide handles so I could use the force in my entire hand. I wanted shorter than traditional jaws so I could have more useable force. I wanted pliers that could handle my hand strength (I easily snap most commercial jewelry pliers in my hands).
They needed to work with the entire range of metal I use, from 1/4” round stock down to 20 gauge. They needed to be able to take abuse cold and to be able to hold up under direct heat. I played around with steel alloys. For those of you who care, I tried 5160, 52100, W1, O1, 4140, 1040, 304L, Bronze, Titanium, L6, 440C. 4140, otherwise known as “cro-moly” steel was the winner.
4140 proved to be tough. It forged nicely, yet held its shape. It would bend rather than snap, but it was extremely resistant to bending in the first place.
So, after all that research and refinement I started selling a few pairs in my shop at Penn Alps and on the Ladiesofiron website. They kept selling! I mean, that was good, but I want to be a metalworking artist, not a tool maker! I'm not built to be a tool maker. I'm into the “concept” of things, the details and precision of tool making just isn't my specialty.
I contacted the three major jewelry supply distributors to talk about sourcing out my design to somewhere/someone not me. I was over this plier making thing. Except, once I finally got to talking with one of their owners, instead of wanting to source these elsewhere, he ordered 3 dozen and wanted me to make them!
So, rather than get out of making tools, I thought maybe it'd be fun to try to streamline making pliers. I created specialty tongs to help with the alignment. A special jig to help drill them. I mastered forging the jaws. And well, that is why you've been seeing pictures of pliers on all my feeds this week. Pictured Right is the evolution of a pair of pliers, from bar stock to roughed out pliers.
This specific order was for the jewelry supply Otto Frei. To purchase a pair (like, the best pair you will ever own), please look at Otto Frei (in a few weeks), or right on this site you can order a pair!
I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog. Thanks for reading!