Wire is one of the most essential components of many types of jewellery. It is invaluable for making ear wires, jump rings, wire wrapped pendants, headpins and clasps.
However, when I first started jewellery making it all seemed very confusing. I had many questions such as; what was meant by half-hard wire and which thickness of wire did I use for which project and why was the thickness of the wire sometimes described in millimetres and sometimes in gauges?
I hope this page will help clear up a few of your wire related queries.
Types of Wire
The most common wires available are brass, copper, silver and gold.
Copper and Brass Wire
Round copper wire is inexpensive, easily sourced and is soft and pliable to use. It is a good wire to practice with. Brass wire is usually stiffer than copper.
Silver wireSilver plated wire is one of the easiest wires to obtain. It is usually made from sterling silver over a copper core and is easy to use and relatively cheap.
Precious metal silver wire is more expensive and is available in two grades, Sterling Silver and Fine Silver.
Sterling Silver wire, is 92.5% pure silver, and for this reason is often called 925 silver, Fine Silver Wire is 99% pure silver. The other 7.5% of Sterling Silver is usually copper; this makes the wire harder but also more prone to tarnishing than Fine Silver. Sterling Silver wire is easier to find than Fine Silver wire.
Pure gold wire is very expensive and hard to find, alternatives are Gold plated wire or Gold-filled wire.
Gold plated wire has a layer of 10k or higher gold over a core of base metal, usually copper. Gold-filled wire has a thicker layer of gold (10k or higher) over a core of base metal. The gold must account for at least 1/20th of the weight of the item to be referred to as gold-filled.
In both cases the gold will wear off over time, although it should last longer on gold-filled wire, as the plating is thicker.
Enamelled wire comes in a variety of colours and can be used to make some very beautiful jewellery. It is made by coating copper or silver-plated copper wire with a thin layer of coloured enamel. It can be an advantage to use nylon jawed pliers with this wire as the enamel can mark easily.
Memory wire is a strong resilient wire that keeps its shape even after bending and twisting. You can buy it in bracelet, necklace and ring sizes.
Memory wire is made from heat-treated steel and is useful for making jewellery to fit any size. It is a very hard wire and it is important not to cut it with your favourite wire cutters because it will ruin them. You can buy special memory wire cutters or you can keep an old pair of strong wire cutters just for cutting it.
This wire can be made a little easier to cut if you heat if first in a candle flame, for a few seconds, until it turns red, and then cool it by plunging it in water.
To finish the ends of memory wire you can buy beads that you glue on using superglue or bead glue, however, I have found that these often fall off. The best solution is to turn a small simple loop at each end. These are permanent and can be disguised by adding a dangly bead on a head pin.
The hardness of wire refers to how malleable and easy to shape and bend it is.
The question of hardness only comes up when you are using precious metal silver wire. This wire comes in two categories of hardness: half-hard and dead-soft. Half-hard and dead-soft wire may sometimes be grouped together under the heading of soft wire.
Dead-soft wire is much more malleable and easy to work with than half-hard wire. It is easy to bend with your fingers but doesn’t hold its shape as well as half-hard wire.
Which wire you choose depends on your project. If you are making coils or using very thick wire that needs to be easily manipulated you should opt for dead-soft wire, however, if you are making something that needs to hold it’s shape, such as a clasp, you should opt for half-hard wire.
Working with wire causes it to harden and become stiffer. You need to be careful not to over work it or it may become brittle and snap. This is more likely with half-hard wire.
If you have made something that needs to be stiffer you can hammer it on a steel block or anvil to harden it. This will flatten the wire, but can in itself can give an attractive finish. However, this technique is best kept for pure copper or silver wires as hammering a plated wire may cause the inner core to show though the plating.
It took me a while to realise that wire comes in different shapes. As well as round wire you can get triangle, half-round and square wires
Triangle wire has a triangular cross section, square wire has a square cross section and half-round wire has a half circle or D shaped cross-section.
Half round wire can be used effectively to wire-wrap a bead or an object.
The flat side can be placed against the object to make it easier to wrap
and to give it a neat finish.
The gauge of a wire is a measure of its thickness. Confusingly the lower the gauge of the wire the thicker it is.
In this country we refer to the thickness of wire in millimetres, whereas in the USA they refer to it by gauge. I often find it hard to flip between the two when I am reading American bead magazines so I use a wire gauge conversion chart.
The thicker the wire the harder it is to manipulate but the better it keeps its shape.
2mm and 1.5mm wire
Are very thick wires, best used in projects that need to be very rigid, for example bangles, neck wires and clasps that take a lot of weight
1.25mm and 1mm wires
Are very sturdy wires and are good for making medium duty clasps, large jump rings and chain mail.
0.8mm and 0.6mm wire
Are good general purpose wires, they are stiff without being too thick and are good for making simple loops, head pins, eye pins and jump rings.
Is not quite as easy to bend as 0.4mm but also not quite as thick as 0.6mm. I find this size is a good compromise for making head and eye pins for pearls which often have very small holes
An good easy to bend wire which I find invaluable when making tiaras. If you twist two strands together you end up with an attractive flexible wire that is sturdy enough to hold its shape