Tools of the Trade - David McCaul

jewellers workshop tools

I've been fascinated with tools from a very young age. I remember finding a rusted hammer head with no handle in a field when I was six and rushing home excitedly to show my Dad. He cleaned it up and put and put a new hickory handle on it and I still have that hammer 29 years later! I started making jewellery 16 years ago and have amassed quite a collection of tool since then. I realised that the tools I use and love most each have a story attached, together they tell a story of my life as a maker.

My Dad joined the Irish Air Corps when he was 17 as an apprentice aircraft mechanic. It was then that he bought his first set of hand tools. He used the hammer and wire snips shown here for almost 40 years before he passed them onto me. They’ve been well used over their life as you can see in the photo. The snips have his name engraved to make sure they weren’t “borrowed” by his fellow apprentices.

Jeweller's side cutters

The hammer is the perfect shape and weight for forging gold so I re-ground and polished the face to remove all the old marks and have been using it now for ten years to make jewellery. Of the 24 hammers I have it’s easily my favourite.

Jeweller's forging hammer

I moved to Stuttgart, Germany to complete my apprenticeship with Gerald Heinrich, a master goldsmith based there. Gerald was a stickler for accuracy (as any self respecting goldsmith should be) and insisted my work had to be accurate to 5 hundredths of a millimetre. When I finished my apprenticeship he gave the vernier calipers to me as a parting gift. I was delighted, as I could never have afforded such a quality set on my tiny apprentice’s wage. If you look closely you can see where he engraved the date and my name on the back so that they wouldn't be "borrowed" in my next workshop. I could barely afford the beautiful old dividers I found in a flea market on a Saturday morning in Stuttgart . Both hold great memories of my time there.

engraved jeweller's vernier caliper

Jeweller's dividers

After leaving Stuttgart I returned to Ireland, spending some time in Dublin teaching jewellery in my old university before my love of making took me back to London to pursue my dream of working as an independent goldsmith. These Swiss watch making tweezers were a find – bought from a Japanese antique dealer selling jewellery and watch making tools in Portobello Road.

Jeweller's soldering tweezers

The old pocket knife was a gift from my mother. My grandfather was a carpenter and carried this knife wherever he went according to my Mum. He mainly used it for sharpening pencils which is what I use it for now.

Bone handled pocket knife

And, as every good story should have a happy ending I’ll end on the solder snips. I had this idea to propose to my girlfriend in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Before we made it to Halong Bay we were strolling through the streets of Hanoi and came across a man making these beautiful shears at the side of the street. I picked up a pair and use them every day for cutting gold solder and they still remind me of that trip.(she said yes).

Hand forged Vietnamese soldering snips