How to Make Jewelry Head Pins and Ear Wires
Make Your Own Jewelry Headpins and Ear Wires
Some of the first jewelry findings I learned to make myself was balled headpins and ear wires. It is a very easy process and I will explain everything you need to know here to get you started in making your own.
With a few basic tools, you too will be making your own jewelry findings as well, and saving time and money by not having to purchase them from stores or on-line. Making your own findings gives your designs a unique look of craftmanship.
All photos by Gayle Dowell
Metal Type, Wire Gauge and Length
I prefer to make ear wires out of sterling silver, although I have started also making them from copper wire. Whether using copper or sterling, the following process will be the same.
First of all, use 20 gauge wire. I find that it gives the best strength, retains its shape, and is still thin enough to accommodate all ears.
Cut this wire to six inch lengths. I do several at a time. One six inch length will give me one pair of earrings.
Flux Both Ends of Wire
I use Battern's self-pickling flux for hard soldering. I dip both ends of all my cut wire into the flux. Flux keeps the base metal in the wire from oxidizing. Oxidation inhibits the metal from flowing and adhering to itself, or in the case of making balled ear wires, inhibits the wire from balling.
There are several great torches on the market at a relatively low price. For convenience, I suggest purchasing one that comes with an ignition.
This Benzomatic is the torch that I use. It is great for small soldering jobs like wire and small jewelry items. It is easy to use, low in price, yet powerful enough for most small soldering jobs. I've had mine for several years and use it all the time.
Melt the Ends of Wire With a Torch
I then use a butane kitchen torch to melt BOTH ends of all the wire lengths to create melted balls of metal. Be sure to use soldering tweezers to hold the wire. Metal conducts heat and fingers on hot metal hurts!
For best results, be sure the tweezers are gripping the middle of each six inch wire. The tweezers will act as a heat sink, pulling the heat away from your wire tip if it is too close to the flame and will keep your wire from balling.
Using Argentium sterling silver wire makes nice round ball ends without dimples. Just be sure not to quench wire in water while it is still red hot as it may cause the metal to crack or warp.
Be sure to hold the wire ends at the tip of the inner blue flame coming from the torch. That area will be the hottest part of the flame. See photo at right.
Copper wire will take longer to ball. If you find that your wire will not ball, hold the wire more horizontally in the flame until it starts to ball up, then continue heating as you bring the wire back vertical.
All About Torch Safety
Watch the following video to learn all about using a micro torch safely!
Shaping Balled Wire into Earrings
If making head pins, cut these six inch pieces in two. This will give two three inch head pins that will be long enough for most any jewelry project.
If making earrings, fold the wire in two, being careful that you keep the balled ends together and at the same length as you fold the wire.
Then shape the folded wire around looping jewelry pliers as shown here. I usually bend the wire slightly off center and closer to the balled ends as I like to leave the ear wires long in the back.
Looping Jewelry Pliers
These are by far the most used of my pliers. I like that they have six steps in sizes. A must have tool if making a lot of loops of varying sizse such as ear wires.
Using a small step on my looping pliers, I form smaller loops near the balled ends to create a hook for wire wrapped beads or metal clay earrings. I make sure that I shape the balled ends together to ensure uniformity in my ear wire shapes.
After the ear wires are shaped, I cut the folded end of the wire using cutting nipper pliers. This now gives me two uniformly shaped ear wires.
End Cutting Nipper Pliers
Having a durable set of wire cutters is essential in jewelry making. I have several different wire cutting devices that I use for different types of wire. For most applications, I grab a pair of end cutting nipper pliers. This type of cutter gives me a nice straight cut and I can easily cut close to my designs.
Finishing the Ear Wires
Using a cup bur, I then round off the cut end to take off any sharp edges.
Cup Bur or Wire Rounder
I use a cup bur or wire rounder on all of my wire ends no matter if they are ear wires or not. I like knowing that the wire ends will not poke or scratch the wearer as they wear my jewelry. Be sure and use either bee's wax or a lubricant for cutting tools. Lubricating will help keep the cup bur from excessive wear.
I hammer the rounded parts of the ear wires with a plastic hammer to strengthen the wires so that they keep their shape.
Polishing the Ear Wires
The final step is cleaning and polishing. I take some fine 1000 grit sandpaper to take off any fire scale. I then use a tumbler with mixed steel shot and liquid burnishing compound to polish the ear wires.
I leave them in the tumbler for a few hours. I tend to make my ear wires in batches of 10 pair or more to save on polishing compound.
Lortone 3A Tumbler
I use my Lortone tumbler at least three times a week. I use mixed shot for polishing everything. I always rinse my steel shot after each use and spread it out on a towel to dry thoroughly before I store it.
I've had mine for three years now and it still works like new. I've never had a problem with it and it is so easy to use.
Adding the Design to the Ear Wires
To add my designs to my ear wires, I bend the loop of the ear wire off to the side like I would a jump ring, slide my design through the backside of the ear wire and close the loop.
Opening the Loop of the Ear Wire
Opening and closing the loop of the ear wire is much like opening and closing a jump ring. Here I added a video that shows the proper way to open and close a jump ring.
Marquise Ear Wires
Marquise ear wires are made about the same way, but with these shown, I don't ball the ends, I just loop them. I shape them around a bottle of Elmer's glue, hammered them at the bends, used a cup bur to file the ends, and polished them in the tumbler.