Wonderful wire! What would we do without it? Using wire in jewellery making is essential, it is impossible to avoid it. Wire is one of the most important materials we have at our fingertips. So I just had to share a few of my experiences of using this wonderful material.
Firstly I think I need to mention that wire is measured in different ways. I have to admit that I get in a tangle if I try to use ‘gauge’ as the measurement for wire due to the fact that there is an American and a British variety. So I always use millimetres as a measure both when buying and in my work. If I come across a publication that uses ‘gauges’ I suffer an internal groan because I know that basically I’m going to have to work out the dimensions myself. So just be aware of the differences and use the system that suits you best.
Now let’s look at the variety of wire available. Wire comes in many different forms and all the different shapes and sizes have a use when using wire in jewellery making. However, my musings would go on and on for days if I covered them all here. So I have narrowed it down to the ones I have used the most. There are 3 that I have found to be essential;
No surprises – this is wire that is round. It can make wonderful fluid forms, jump rings, wrapped wire designs and more. It is available in many sizes. From very fine upwards. For wire wrapped jewellery making you will most likely need something fine. This will be the smaller end of the scale 0.4 – 0.5mm diameter. Jewellery findings like jump rings are going to start from 0.6 and go infinitely up, depending on your preferred scale of working. Ear wires are best made from 0.8mm round wire. This is strong enough yet fine enough to be comfortable. Often wire that is above 4mm diameter is called bar.
Bear in mind when buying wire that the upwards scaling is not as straight forward as it first seems. Don’t expect a piece of 2mm wire the same length as a piece of 4mm wire to be half the price. As you can see in the diagram here the bigger circle has roughly double the diameter of the smaller, two circles will fit in to the larger side by side. But the total area of the larger circle is much more than double the area of the smaller.
This type of wire is very useful. It is literally ‘D’ shaped so it is round wire that looks like it’s been cut in half. It is great for rings and bangles. The flat profile is usually turned inwards – with the curve out. So this makes comfortable rings but with a rounded look. Basically it has the ability to give a pleasing rounded form without the extra bulk of totally round wire. Again it is available in small up to fairly large sizes. It is measured in two dimensions. So there is both a width and height measurement to take in to account when buying.
Often dismissed – square wire is great when using wire in jewellery making. It does need a bit more skill as it will twist when coiled or bent. So skill is needed and constant re-shaping whilst forming to maintain the true square form of the wire. But it gives a totally different look and feel to jewellery. You can often create a more contemporary look to your design just by changing from round to square wire. It makes great bangles and is available in quite large dimensions – again as you go larger it may be called bar. One of the best novelty uses is for twisting. If you twist a single strand of round wire – it will just stay round. If you twist a single strand of square wire it will give a fantastic ‘barley’ twist effect. Just make sure you anneal it evenly.
Your basic jeweller’s kit will serve you well for working with wire. Just remember to use wire cutters, side cutters, or a saw to cut wire. Don’t use your snips or shears; cutting wire sprains the jaws over time and will stop them from meeting. The jaws may still be sharp but won’t cut if they don’t meet. In addition you may find a couple of extra specialised pairs of pliers useful;
Nylon pliers; these are often used for – and sometimes called; beading pliers. But they are actually for the wire elements in beaded jewellery, not the beads. They are literally pliers with the addition of nylon wraps on the jaws to stop the wire being marked.
Half round or ring pliers; these pliers have a flat jaw and a curved jaw. Basically used for making rings, use the curved jaw on the inner curve of a ring strip to avoid marking the metal with a sharp edge of the pliers jaws. They are really handy for forming wire elements and components.
See the pliers blog for more info on pliers.
Got a bit of mangled wire? Don’t scrap it – straighten it. This is quite easy – you just need to know a quick trick. Anneal the wire. Put one end securely in a vice without vice jaws. Then grasp the other end with a pair of heavy weight electrical pliers with hefty teeth. Now give the wire a sharp tug with the pliers. The wire should straighten out – anneal and repeat if necessary. A longer length will straighten more, as will thinner wire. The two ends of the wire will be sacrificed but most of it will be usable.
If this doesn’t work or the wire is very short try this; you will need a flat steel bed – the top of a large anvil will do if you don’t have a steel bed. Now straighten the wire as much as possible with your fingers. Next use a bench block to roll the wire back and forth – almost like rolling pastry. (You can guess here that I am better at making jewellery than pies!) Your wire may still be a bit lumpy but these lumps should be disguised when the wire is made in to jumps or other findings.
To really get the most out of wire play with it! Just get a bundle, anneal it and off you go, have some fun. Try rolling it with a rolling mill or flattening it with a hammer. This will give flat strips for rings or twisting. Try to twist it using a vice and a drill. Anneal lengths and try weaving or plaiting them together. Combine silver, copper and brass together for a multi-colour effect. Make a bunch of jump rings and have a go at chain maille weaves. The possibilities are endless.
Look at our downloads section for lots of projects working with wire. Including twisted wire projects, square and ‘D’ wire ideas. There are also a couple of one day workshops available at Silverpetal. These focus specifically on using wire in jewellery making; Wire Twisting and Weaving and Chain Maille.
Working with wire is very rewarding. It can make delicate and intricate jewellery that is lightweight and easy to wear. Whatever you decide to try – keep an open mind and have fun!
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