Using Wire in Creating Handmade Jewellery
A simple roll of wire can be used to create beautiful and creative jewellery without the need for expensive tools or complicated techniques. With wire and a pair of round nosed pliers you can create completed jewellery pieces by bending, coiling, wrapping and shaping the wire. Likewise you can make smaller components and your own findings that can be joined together or used alongside other materials in your jewellery designs. Wire can also be used to create your own chains as well as to create jump rings for use in chain maille designs.
One of the great advantages of creating you own components and findings is that they can be customised to suit your own needs and wishes. This could be due to allergies or a lack of suitable items existing to be bought. You can also use beads, colours and a style that perfectly complements the style of the finished piece of jewellery. For example: if you are making your own ear wires or S clasps you can add beads that match those that are being used in the design. Most findings are often only made in gold, silver or plated versions of these so making your own also means that you can use colour coated wires for a unique touch.
Wire is available in many thicknesses, types and colours. It is generally sold on spools or in coils but can be bought by length in some cases. The type of wire that you use may be dependent on what techniques you wish use, for example: coloured coated wires are not the best choice for projects that require hammering or a lot of manipulation as the coating can be damaged by the tools.
Types of Wire
Many types of wire can be bought that are suitable for jewellery making. Some of these are more desirable for certain applications but in most cases you can use whichever you prefer.
Copper wire – Copper wire is inexpensive, soft, pliable and generally readily available. It is a good choice for practicing unfamiliar techniques before using more expensive wires.
Silver plated wire – This wire is commonly available in a range of diameters. It is normally made from copper wire plated with silver.
Sterling silver - Sterling Silver wire, is 92.5% pure silver. It is also sometimes called 925 silver. The remaining 7.5% is normally made up of copper as this helps to make the wire harder and so more practical to use.
Gold plated wire – Like silver plated wire, this is normally copper wire coated with gold plating.
Gold filled wire – Gold filled wire has a copper base that is then coated with gold. Gold filled wire has a thicker coating of gold than gold plated wire so may take longer for the coating to wear away. However it is also more expensive.
Aluminum wire – This is a very soft wire than can be bent using just your hands. Anodised aluminum wire is harder and is often made into jump rings for using in chain maille. These can be bought in a range of sizes and colours though care should be taken when using the colour rings so that the coating is not damaged.
Memory wire – This is a very strong wire that holds its shape. It is sold in ring, bracelet and necklace sizes. It can be useful for creating jewellery to fit a range of sizes. Beads can simply be threaded on to the solid wire. Memory wire is very hard and should only be cut using memory wire cutters as it can damage normal ones.
When talking about wire, the term hardness refers to how malleable and easy to shape or bend that the wire is. Not all wires will be labelled with their hardness and this term is generally only seen when buying gold or silver wire. These are sold in two groups known as half-hard and dead-soft.
As the name suggests dead-soft wire is softer and easier to work with than half-hard wire. It will be easier to shape and you may be able to bend it just using your fingers. However dead-soft wire will not hold its shape as well as half-hard wire so is not as good a choice for making items that need to hold a firm shape such as ear wires and clasps. These are best made using half-hard wire. Dead-soft wire is useful when using very thick wires as it makes them much easier to work with. It can also be used when a piece requires a lot of manipulation as it will harden somewhat as it is worked. Care should be taken not to over work half-hard wire as otherwise it may become brittle and even snap. Another technique that can be used to harden wire is to hammer it flat using a steel block and small hammer. Care should be taken to ensure that the hammer and block are free of any marks or particles as these can leave marks in the jewellery. Flattening areas of a wire piece can give an attractive effect or additional design element but is best used with pure metal wires rather than those that have been plated. This is because the hammering process can damage the plating or cause it to come off.
The most common wire that shops stock for jewellery making is known as round wire. It is very versatile and can be use used in almost any application you can think of. As well as round wire some types are available in other shapes such as triangle, half-round and square. These also have many uses within jewellery making and can add a unique and interesting dimension to your designs. These wires can still be twisted, coiled and manipulated in the same ways as round wire so can be used to create bails, ear wires, jump rings and other components with a difference.
Half round wire can be particularly useful for wire wrapping. This wire has one flat surface so that when it is places round a bead, stone or other object it will lay flat against it. This can give a better fit and tighter wrap to the finished piece.
The diameter of a wire is referred to in different ways depending on where in the world you live or are buying from. In the United Kingdom wire diameter is stated using millimetres (mm) and the smaller the number of mm, the thinner the wire. In America the term gauge is used to label the diameter of wires and the lower the gauge, the thicker the wire will be. Sometimes wires are labelled with both diameter in millimetres and the gauge in order to make knowing which to use easier. Conversion charts are also widely available online and in jewellery making or wire work books.
Some thicknesses of wire are more suitable than other depending on what you wish to make. Thicker wires are generally harder to work with as they will be stiffer but are stronger and more able to hold their shape.
0.3mm wire – This fine wire is a good chose for beading as it is thin enough to pass through beads easily or multiple times but it still strong.
0.4mm wire – A flexible wire that can hold its shape well. Several strands can be twisted together to create a twisted wire effect.
0.5mm wire – This is a useful wire for using with beads that have very small holes. It can also be used to make eye pins and connectors using these beads.
0.8mm and 0.6mm wire – These sizes are both good to have and use as general purpose wires. They are reasonably stiff but still have a diameter that will fit most beads. They can be used to make coils, loops, head pins, eye pins, jump rings and decorative shapes.
1.25mm and 1mm wires – Very strong sturdy wires that are good for making medium duty clasps. They can also be used to make chunky jump rings and shapes although the wire is harder to manipulate due to the larger diameter.
2mm and 1.5mm wire - These are very thick and rigid wires that are best used in designs that need to be solid or hold weight such as bangles and clasps.
Wire Diameter Chart
© 2015 Claire