Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Here is what wire I use for which project, again, nothing is written in stone, my main considerations are what will fit through the bead hole, and if the wire size is in balance with the size of the stones or beads used.

For earring hooks, I generally use 20ga HH (half hard).  That seems to be an all around good size for everyone's ear holes.  18ga seems a little bit of an overkill and can be too thick for piercings, and 22ga just seems to flimsy, even if you hammer it.  I have used it in a pinch, especially with more delicate earrings, but it isn't my preference.  Some wire resources offer 21ga which is also a good choice, but in all my years of wire working I've never purchased 21ga wire.

For beaded links, where you link beads together to make a bracelet or necklace, I generally use 22ga (HH) wire.  If my beads are between, say 4mm and 8mm I think this is a good choice.  Sometimes I like the look of a b it heavier wire with 8mm beads and might go up to 20ga (HH) if the bead hole allows it.  The highest I have gone for linking beads is 18ga (DS) dead soft, and usually use that size for chunky, larger beads where I want a substantial silver look to it, otherwise I stick with 20ga (HH).  So all in all, for bead linking I use 22ga and 20ga (HH) the most.

For fishhook/shepherd's hook clasps  I pretty much use either the 18 or 16ga because I hammer them to harden them to keep their shape.  I will use 20ga half hard on more delicate pieces and hammer them well to harden them, and that seems to work very well too, but I would not go any smaller than that for a clasp.  You might be better off using a commercial spring ring clasp (which I will use myself).

For wrapping briolettes I try to use the largest wire that will go through the holes.  Generally, gemstone holes are poorly drilled,   26 and 24ga wire are usually the best wires of choice.  It's thin and can become brittle and break if overworked, so I usually recommend using DS.  These are also great knitting and coiling wires, so I always have a few oz of each in my inventory.  Pearls also have notoriously small holes, but I have been fortunate to be able to get 24ga wire through them without having to enlarge the hole.  This is much easier to do than to try to enlarge gemstone holes and a topic I will cover later.

For headpins, again my rule of thumb is pretty much whatever will fit through the hole.  Headpins should always be HH.  Length is also a consideration, I don't like using short headpins, they should be at least 2" in length and longer.  If you want to fit more than one bead on it you need to leave enough room to be able to make a loop and have enough 'tail' to wrap around a couple of times to make a secure wrapped loop.  You can make a simple loop as shown in the beginning of this link:   but I personally never, ever use that type of open link.  It's way too easy for the loop to pull apart and have your jewelry break.  You can probably get away with it for earrings, since there really isn't any tension on it, but I'd never use it to link beads together in a necklace or bracelet.

Well, that's all I can think of for now about the basic uses of wire.  I will end here by telling you what I normally stock in my inventory so I have what I need at the ready.  I will highlight in red the wire that I think you, as a beginner, should start out with and you can add more as you expand in your wirework.

26ga round DS
24ga round DS & HH
22ga round DS & HH
22ga square DS
20ga round HH
18ga round HH - this one isn't an absolute necessity and you can leave it off if you don't think you'll use it for the purposes I"ve outlined above, but I personally think it's nice to have some on hand.
18ga 1/2 round DS
16ga round DS or HH (some places only have the DS but because of the thickness of the wire, DS is pretty strong and easier to work with and you can hammer it in some cases to harden it further).


Ok, not professing to be an expert by any means, just passing along information that has served me well in my years of making jewelry.  There are several levels of wirework, from simply needing to link beads together to the more intricate coiling or knitting and crochet work.  Understanding the terms used for gauges of wires and tempers is the first step and creates the foundation on which to build to whatever level you wish to attain.

Gauges:  AWG is the American standard of measuring wire, it uses numbers such as 22ga, 20ga etc.  SWG is the actual measurement of the wire diameter using the decimal system and commonly used in Europe.  There are plenty of places you can Google for conversion tables so I won't go into specifics, but for the sake of what I am comfortable using, I will be using the AWG standard.

In AWG the higher the number, the smaller the diameter of wire.  For example, 22ga is smaller (thinner) than 16 ga wire.

Temper:  Wire comes in 3 basic degrees of hardness; dead soft, half hard and full hard.  IN my experience, dead soft is good to use when you will be manipulating the wire a lot, as in wire sculpture.  Half hard is good for making wrapped loops, findings such as headpins or clasps.  I have never used full hard wire, although if you were making something such as a pin (broach) it would well because it would hold it's shape and has a strong 'spring back'.  Think of a safety pin and how securely it's held closed because of the force of the sharp end tries to 'spring back' against the part that holds it closed.   Also, try and manipulate a safety pin, it's not easy to bed is it?  It's not really a wire for a novice and in my experience even for an advanced wire worker, it really has very limited and specific uses.

Dead soft wire will harden somewhat as you continue to manipulate it, this is called 'work hardening', so the finished product will hold it's shape.  I personally do not recommend using dead soft for simple projects such as wrapped bead links, I find the links easily bend out of shape and tend to look sloppy.  There is something you can do to harden dead soft wire if that is all you have to work with.  My method requires a pair of pliers and a hand drill.  I cut a length of wire and close one end in the chuck of the drill, hold the other end of the wire in my pliers, hold it taut and twist the wire until it breaks (usually at one end) or  just before it breaks.  You get pretty good at guestimating after you've done it a few times.  I probably wouldn't use this method on wire thinner than 22ga because it can become brittle.

You can also harden it for things like hook clasps or earring hooks by hammering it with a rubber mallet.  The rubber mallet will harden without flattening the wire, but you can also use a chasing hammer (or hardware store regular old hammer) which will flatten the wire as well as harden it.

Wire shapes:  round, square and 1/2 round.  Round is probably the most commonly used wire, I normally carry round wire in 26, 24, 22, 20, 18 and 16ga.  It is ideal for making wrapped links, findings, coiling.  I use square wire when sculpting because it usually requires two or more wires together and square wire allows the wires to lay flush side by side and are much easier to bind together with the 1/2 round wire.  You can also twist square wire to get that lovely twisted/faceted effect.  Half round is exactly what it sounds like, domed on one side and flat on the other, and is most commonly used to bind other wires together

Although you can Google wrapped loop tutorials and find tons of them, Here is one for you to begin with:  I would like to add after viewing this video one more tip.  Chances are the loop will be off to one side, so just slide your round nosed pliers into the loop and gently straighten the loop so it sits more evenly above the wrapped part.