In addition to my writing, I’ve been a creator of artisan jewelry for around 16 years. One of the staples that I use in my jewelry are handmade coiled beads. They are accents in earrings, form gently bended arms on bracelets or add a texture element to necklaces. The wire beads are simple to make once you have the proper tools and the technique down, but look complex. The trick is all in the steadiness of the tension you put in the wire as you make them. Ten years ago, I had purchased a device called a Coiling Gizmo. It is the basic tool that most other artisan jewelers use to make the beads. The tool is a U shaped form that you clamp to your bench with holes that will hold two iron rods, each bent on one end to form a handle crank. By turning the rod in the hole, you create the wire beads. One rod is thick and is similar in size to a 14 gauge wire. The other is thinner and conforms to a 18 gauge wire. Both rods created coils that were too large for my intended use. For a time, I stopped using the Coiling Gizmo and only used the coil beads in my larger creations.
I’m not one to admit to admit to defeat in my design ideas and set about creating my own coiling gizmo that would make coils and beads small enough to work in my intended creations. The first replacement needed were the rods. After chatting with other artists, ones that were more advanced than I in the art of coiling, I was told that a 0000 knitting needle was close to a 20 gauge wire and the G string of a guitar was just over the size of a 26 gauge wire. These were the sizes of wire I would rather work with. So I bought the knitting needles and the guitar string and added them to my studio tool box.
Next I needed a way to turn the needles and string so that I could create the coils. My first attempt was with a battery operated power drill. That did not go well. I was not able to control the speed enough to create smooth coils without gaps. I was at a loss as to how to fix this problem until I read of another artist that used a hand cranked manual drill. By using the manual drill, I would be able to go slow enough and to regulate the tension of the wire to create the smooth coils I craved. It was one of those eureka moments and I knew that this would be the solution. But where to find one???
I searched every hardware store in my area and only found power drills. I was told that no one used manual drill anymore because they were old-fashioned and out of date. I searched online, but again had no luck. Only power drills were for sale and the one or two manual drills I did see online were very expensive and had high shipping costs. I was not willing to pay the price.
Months after I had started my fruitless search, I was selling my jewelry at a Harvest Festival located at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum. It is a place full of various models of steam powered machines that ran cotton gins, tractors and other antique farm equipment. During the festival, the children are given rides around the grounds on 100 year old tractors. Demonstrations on how life on the frontier are given for the children’s education and amusement. Handmade crafts and jewelry are one of the attractions of the Harvest Festival and the reason I was there. Two booths down from mine was a husband and wife team that sold antique tools. Their shop stocked old wooden boxes, files, saws and low and behold, antique manual drills! He had two of the little treasures for sale, each for $10. I bought one that had clean moving gears and operated smoothly. It is a POWR-Kraft drill from Montgomery Ward that was made starting in the 1930s through the 1950s. It is a tool that was manufactured in the United States and is solid steel with a wooden handle. It will out live me due to its rugged construction.
After the venue was over, I returned to my studio and was able to have complete control over the coiling of my wire. The egg beater style handle of the drill was easy to use and the collate held my knitting needles securely. After that it was easy. My new bracelets and earrings were a huge hit. Other artists had trouble figuring out how I made my beads so small and I was given much kudos for them. Now I make the beads twice a year and use them regularly in my jewelry.