Tool Envy & the “Tale of the Dremel Accessories”

On July 10, 2013

One of the first questions I’m often asked by those beginning a wire-work journey is “What sort of tools should I buy?” And my response is this:

“Buy? Who said anything about buying?” I  began my own journey with a mortgage to pay, a child on each hip, a single income household with a craft budget of exactly zero, and tools were a luxury I couldn’t afford. Luckily, I married into the life of a man and his toolbox, and he loved me enough to ignore the travesty when he spied me using his Craftsman pliers to wrap river rocks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love tools. I salivate over them. In my crafting fantasies, I wander into a room full of them, curtains billowing in a cool afternoon breeze, a soft candlelight haze settling like a whisper on the sloping curves of plier handles and those sexy Dremel flex-shaft attachments. The disembodied voice of Lionel Richie sings “Hello” to the hypnotizing hum of a tumbler in the shadows. And all is right in the world.

Then I wake up.

But really, it’s not as sad as it seems. I had wire cutters, pliers and a skill for improvising, and my hands did the rest. Even today, several years into my journey, my tools consist of cutters and three pairs of pliers. Throw in a Dremel, butane torch, ring mandrel and tape measure and I have all the tools I need (and some I definitely don’t). I have a single drawer of beads and stones, a drawer of wire, and I’ve proven to myself wearable art can be born from a state of “tool poverty”. Of course, this proclamation is not inclusive of every jewelry artisan, each with a unique creative perspective, and especially not for those whose interests extend into fields far more involved than my own. And I certainly don’t mean to imply you can’t enjoy the opportunity to experiment with new tools and supplies if you have the means to do so.

But I will say this: there is limitless creative possibilities attached to the bare necessities. I have no need for table-top kilns or tumblers. I have no need for files. I only have two hands, and lack ambidexterity, so a collection of pliers made to me little sense. In fact, my Dremel has been so mistreated I should be stripped of my right to own it. Just last week while working with metal blanks (a medium with which I have little experience), I thought “Oh Dremel, I’ve finally found for you a use! I’ll smooth these edges with your adorable bits and we’ll make a beautiful metal love child together”. Ten minutes later, shamed by my complete inability to operate that irritating contraption, I took the bit off and used it to sand the metal by hand! That’s right. By hand. And ironically, the results were cleaner. I’ve been so tool-denied, my hands are, in many instances, the superior tool. Go me!

And though that is an accomplishment in which I should find immense satisfaction, I still… well… want. I have a Dremel I don’t use, a torch I’ve used twice (both instances having involved burnt hair), and I still want more. This is tool envy at its ugliest, folks. And I will… not… cave! I will not buy that tumbler I’ll never use. I will not buy that dapping set or that looping kit or that thing that does that thing that I’ll never do but it looks cute so I must have it! And okay, maybe I’ll buy those files and that hammer and that bench block, but first I will prove to myself I don’t need to buy it.

I don’t need any of it.

What I do need is a bead and some wire, maybe a glass of wine, and definitely Lionel Richie chanting “Hello” from the darkness, and all will be right with the world.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t want. Just create. It simplifies things, I promise.

28 Responses to “Tool Envy & the “Tale of the Dremel Accessories””

  • I have to say, I love my tumbler. And I really want a torch, so I can ball wire ends and do torch-fired metal clay. I think why I want these things, and maybe why others want these things, is that my muse doesn’t have as clear of vision as your muse. So while I’ve done many things that make me happy, I’m also always looking for the next thing to try. Although maybe my muse would have a clearer vision if I had ever forced her to work with little. Maybe the development of artistry requires deprivation.

    • I tell myself it does, Jorie. That’s how I sleep better at night and push the desire to own all these cool things aside. lol. I try to make something new using the same materials and tools I’ve always had, and see what I can come up with. Sometimes it’s a nightmare, but every once in a while I have a moment of clarity and really make something that astonishes me and that’s pretty satisfying. It’s challenging, without a doubt. I still want to experiment with metal clay, though. One of these days maybe…..

  • Thank you for a great story and reminding us that tools are great but imagination and fingers go along way.

    • I knew I had a problem when my RioGrande tool wish list crossed the $1000 barrier. lol.

  • I love the fact that you added WINE!! For me, it helps the creative juices flow and the the stress of the day slips away. It’s actually fun looking at what I do have on hand and figuring out how to make it come to life. Sometimes it’s a Frankenstein … but that makes it so much sweeter when it’s not! :) I have tool envy as well :(

    • Tool envy is horrible, isn’t it? Even when I have money to buy something, though, I never do. I think to myself “Do I need this to achieve my vision?” And usually the answer is no.

      And I’ve had my fair share of Frankensteins too! lol But, I don’t know… that’s half the fun, I think. :D

  • Nicely put Nicole! I has taken me almost 60 years to get the “less is more” lesson! I do so love my hammers though! “When God gives you hands, make hand-made!” LOL

    • lol Exactly! I’ve never even used a hammer before. When I was at Michael’s the other day I thought maybe I should get one and then saw the $35 price tag and thought “For a hammer?” I’ll just go to Lowe’s.

      Maybe being cheap is really my problem. LOL

  • Tool porn is bad, but not nearly as evil as house porn. At least with your tools you might create something fabulous. House porn makes you unhappy with the perfectly more than adequate, how very fortunate I am, lovely home because it does not have a $50,000 kitchen and a $30,000 bath. House porn is actually evil. Tool porn at least has a conceivable use and end product. Thanks Nicole, stay as strong as you need to be !

  • Ha, ha this is so me! I am still using my first set of beginners tools except for the new pair of mirco flush cutters I bought a few months back ( which I still kept the old one’s for wire I’m afraid might hurt the new pair) I have been wanting a dremal but with no funds coming in I am going to try and get a sanding block, which will be more affordable for me. Thank you for posting this, sometimes we tend to think we could do so much better if we had “proper” tools and then we come across this blog and realise that’s not the case, we just have to use what God has given us.

    • I just remember ancient sculptures, and that they were created with a chisel and hammer! Lol. They didn’t have electric sanders. I can’t even imagine doing that kind of work lol

  • Agree with so much of what you say, we can all get carried away by marketing hype and tool envy. I always look at new tools though, things do progress with time and easier ways are found to do things. When hands stop working in the way they use too, then some new tools can give a new lease of life to your creativity.

    I didn’t need the one step looper I can use pliers but it’s a struggle at times but ooh the looper has made life so much easier for me. Same with a die cutter, scissors were becoming a pain to use now I’m happy cutting shapes as I want. New tools that may be a luxury to some can sometimes be a lifeline to be able to continuing crafting to others.

    The difficulty is sometimes deciding what is going to be really useful and what is going to be the thing you just sit on a shelf, unless you get chance to try things out it’s not always easy to tell which will be helpful to you personally.

    • That’s it exactly… That distinction makes all the difference. I think sometimes we crafters buy tools because we can, and not necessarily because they will prove useful. I used to do that with art supplies. My collection of pastels was …impressive…and then I always just used pencil as my medium. Lol.

  • Thank you for the wisdom and reality check! I already have so many tools that I don’t use. I have a dremel that was given to me for Christmas. But, alas, I don’t know how to use it on my jewelry (any wisdom on that would be appreciated, but would probably take another blog entry to get me up to speed!), so my husband uses it for different projects. I’ve made myself add tools to Christmas lists because I want them, but am too cheap to buy them, but then I don’t use them…I always come back to the same tools. Thanks for the new post, they always provides me with some laughter and reflection!

    • You’re quite welcome! I wish I knew how to use a Dremel in a way that would provide for me better results than doing it by hand, but I just don’t have a way with tools. Lol. It’s amazing I didn’t get my hair wrapped up in it at one point or another.

  • Harbor Freight is the greatest place to score some cheap tools! I found a cute little stubby hammer for around $3. I have the worst case of tool envy…I have a long long list of tools that I want. And drawers full of tools I don’t use…

  • Jamie is right; Harbor Freight rules! Dremels are very good for repetitive work like sanding, polishing, grinding away at uneven edges, drilling holes . . . those little bits can get into spaces it is hard to manipulate one’s hands into.

    • I can’t sand with my Dremel to save my life. Lol. One of these days, when arthritis undoubtedly settles on my bones, I plan on taking a class. And a lampwork class. And a metal clay class. Lol. An artists work is never done.

  • I have not tool envy. I have tool obsession. I have tools I do not know how to use, tools that I cannot find, tools that I have given away (tumbler, what on earth was I thinking? I need not a tumbler) I have so many this that and the other ….pliers it’s beyond ridiculous. I had to have all these things. I can say, the dremel is my best friend….however I cannot nor do I want to use a jewelers saw, I cut with a shears. I hate those saws. I do use the torch, to get the campfire blazing. (I make a lampwork bead about every 3 months if that often) I actually have propane, butane and MAP torches, 4 butane. REALLY? I have 5 hammers. I have ‘junk’ I do not need and junk I have never used, don’t even have a clue what some of it is anymore. I just ordered a disk cutter. I’m insane. I’m a tool freak. (got it from my late father I guess) people come to our house, go into ‘the shop’ and ask the man who lives in this house where he got ‘this, that and the other’ thingamobobs. He has NO idea what they even are. (sorta like me in most cases ) They drop jaws when I say..”ah, those are mine”. It’s the same look I get when I drive the truck, The look of ‘you’re so small, HOW do you do that?” Ah, put my foot on the gas, my hand on the steering wheel and then HIT the gas …zoom zoom. REALLY???? Don’t have took envy, not worth the time. But if you need something….call on me….and that comment about Lionel Ritchie…….oh yes be still my heart. AND wine..yes yes yes. Tools……NO NO NO.

  • Wonderful post Nicolle, I don’t have so much extra money right now so really have been trying to do without extra tools. I always thought I needed a tumbler but if you don’t have one with all of your beautiful work I certainly don’t need one. That list goes on and on, thanks for the reality check. More is not always better.

    • More can be fun, without a doubt, but sometimes it only serves to complicate matters. Especially for me, because I’m such a neat freak and likely won’t ever have a dedicated room for my art. Lol

  • I’ve found that too many things of any type results in clutter that distracts from the creative experience….and I still get a little thrill when I tell an admiring friend that that thing I just showed them started out as a rock I picked up, a little bit of old wire my husband graciously stripped the insulation from for me from his stash, and a bead I picked up here or there, or was from a broken piece of jewelry I’ve had for oh, so many years! It’s the creative process that matters, and how you use the tools, including your brain when you hit that ‘design intersection’ that does it for me……then when you see something that is so cool or pretty….and think, I bet I could do that….. And it isn’t the same, but maybe ….do this instead of that, and there goes 5 hours (oh the luxury of being retired!) and it’s all fun!

    • Lol exactly! I love the tools I do use, but REALLY love it when I can make something I love without them.

  • Boy I’m learning from this conversation!

    Love my tools and HF too, and generally think I need special ones for everything, then end up using the same everyday bits for the convenience (yes, I ‘misplace’ things so end up McGuivering (sp) everything) help?.

    So if you don’t mind sharing, here’s my million dollar question, Nicole. (um, evidently I’m going to save about $999,970 on the answer)

    For wire wrapping, besides your hands, what tools do you like to use to manipulate/control the wire and finish your pieces?

    Thanks for all the shares.

    • Lol I have to admit its really fun to buy tools, but I’ve always felt the tool discussion discourages beginners (or those with smaller pockets) from trying to wire wrap. I use (primarily) wire cutters, a single pair of round nose pliers and a single pair of needle nose pliers and that’s pretty much it. But I don’t do metal work, don’t require torches and pickling solutions, or hammers and anvils, so I’m lucky in that I get to keep it simple.

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