Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Best Bargains for Tools (That I've Found)

When I really started my beading journey - when I decided that I wanted to try making my own earrings, and do more than macrame - I didn't want to spend a lot on tools because I was just starting out and what if I didn't like the new techniques? I felt like that money would have been wasted. So, I decided to ignore the advice I had read online (that being to buy the best tools you can afford) and bought some tools that were very inexpensive but that get the job done. Even nowadays, when I've been stringing and wire-working for years, I still tend to stick to things that work, rather than things that are the best. On that note, here are the best buys and finds (in no particular order) that I've encountered, for beading tools and storage.

1. Starter Kits

I have always learned best with instructions in front of me. As a result, when I want to learn a new technique, I pick up a kit. They usually have extra beads that I can keep for bead soup or design alterations, and they're often less expensive than taking a class (unless the class is free). Anyway, I was looking at some of the craft kits in Wal-Mart one day, and an earring kit called my name. It required roundnose pliers and wire cutters, though, and I didn't have either of those. I went looking at the tools, and as luck would have it, they sold various tools individually, as well as a starter kit that had roundnose, bentnose, and chainnose pliers, along with the wire cutters, a bead reamer, and a bead-tweezer/scoop, all in a carrying case. It was on sale, and it went for about what it would have cost to individually buy the two tools I was looking for in the first place. They do the same job as expensive, ergonomic versions of the same tools, the kit had everything I needed to get started, and since the price was so low, I wasn't very worried about using the wire cutters to see if they could cut stainless steel floral pins. (Spoiler alert: they cut the pins, but the pins put dings in the cutting blades.) To this date, the wire cutters are the only tool out of that kit that I've had to replace, and I've used those tools for years. The cutters would still be fine if I had heeded the Internet, which said to use special cutters made specifically for stainless steel.

2. Nail File = Metal Sanding Device

As a toddler wrangler, the local Dollar Tree is my store of choice for fun little things for my kiddo to play with. I sometimes find other things, like this awesome nail file/buffer. I immediately picked up two, one for me and one for smoothing the cut ends of wires. You see, I found this tutorial one day on how to make your own sanding sticks for smoothing metal, and I had been on the lookout for something similar unless or until I made my own sanding sticks. Emery boards, which is what I had been using, can get expensive, and the ones I used only had two grits. This one, on the other hand, has seven, and gets wire ends down to a smooth finish. I used it to make the ends of the clasps on the Lydia Collection necklaces smooth. As I do more things with metal, I will probably upgrade to actual wire burs and metal files and what-not, but in the meantime, this nail buffer works incredibly well. I do recommend using some basic safety gear, though - breathing mask, eyewear, and rubber gloves. I would recommend the same if you use the sanding sticks. The filing process leaves "metal dust", and it's better to be safe than sorry.

3. Storage For a Buck, Can't Beat That!

Also at the Dollar Tree, I found little see-through, plastic tubs. They're perfect for holding wire, cording, and other large-ish materials. One dollar each, not too bad.

4. ...Or Can You? Storage for 50 Cents

There are several types of findings that I use on a regular basis and I need to have them out where I can reach them. I was out yard-sale-ing with my husband this summer, and found this awesome craft cabinet. It's small enough (about 8"x11", and 5" deep) to fit on top of a table while leaving me room to work, and it holds all my earwires, spacer beads, jump rings, and the like.

5. Storage for Free!

At my old job, the staff room was a place where we could bring in things to give away that people might be able to use. One lady brought in a box of small plastic boxes that she had gotten from a friend of hers - the boxes are completely see-through, have removable lids that snap shut, and they're about 2"x4"x1". In other words, they are perfect for beads. After I took about half of the box, she dropped a bombshell on me - she had a whole other box full of these little boxes and I could have them all! So now, I have almost all of my beads in these little boxes. Once I get an honest-to-goodness craft cabinet (or craft shelves, or something other than a large, green, not-see-through storage tub), I'll be able to see all my beads at a glance. As it is now, they're stored inside the aforementioned large, green tub, but I can pull out what I need, and the boxes work kind of like the compartments of a bead tray. They don't take up a lot of room on my work surface, either.

Now, I realize that a lot of these (namely the last two) were as a result of luck and/or being in the right place at the right time, but hopefully there's enough general information inside - look for clearance sales! hit up yard sales! ask around your workplace or other socializing area! - to help you all on whatever journey you're on. :)

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