8

I would like to create wire and wire-wrapped jewelry. I know what gauge wire is appropriate for the size of the piece, but I keep buying wire that is too pliable and won't hold its shape like I would want for thin rings, ear wires, etc.

What factors can tell me if a type of wire will be the right stiffness (aside from actually testing it in a store)? Is there anything I can do to make my wire more or less pliable?

8

There are three grades of hardness in jewellery wire:

  • Full-hard, which is tempered wire that is very stiff. It's rarely used, because it's just too stiff for most jewellery.
  • Half-hard, which is hardened during manufacture but is not fully tempered and is not so hard. It's pliable by hand, but you need to use some force to do it and pliers are often easier. This is the stuff you want for most jewellery (excluding things that need to bend such as necklaces (though you should be looking at chain for those anyway)).
  • Dead-soft, which is just plain wire that hasn't been at all hardened. This needs minimal force from your hands to bend. I suspect you've been buying this kind of stuff.

The hardness also depends to an extent on the material - the cheaper stuff like copper and brass is generally manufactured at softer grades.

Bear in mind that you can also harden existing soft wire by either applying heat to it (i.e. a blow-torch or other high-intensity heat - a match won't do it) and then quenching it (drop it straight into cold water), or applying pressure to it (hammer it - just remember that this also reduces the diameter).

You can ask when you're buying the wire what grade it is, or look on whatever packaging it comes in to see if it's marked.

  • Isn't heating the opposite of what you want to do? The process of annealing or softening the metal is done by adding heat... – Catija May 1 '16 at 23:32
  • @Catija Oh, whoops. Forgot to add the cooling bit :) – Åna May 2 '16 at 12:22
6

Most of the wire I see in the stores today is mostly copper or something bonded to copper and it's usually dead soft. Here are some tips and tricks I have learned over time:

  • Hammering: A regular jewelry hammer will change the shape of the wire unless you use a jewelry hammer with a rubber or nylon head. It really only works on flat pieces and is kind of time intensive.
  • Nylon Jaw Pliers: Pulling the wire through nylon jaw pliers one or more times before you work with it will not only work-harden the wire, it will also straighten out any kinks or bumps in the wire. Use pliers with replaceable nylon pads because they do wear out eventually.
  • Steel Wool: Pulling uncoated (copper, sterling silver, fine silver, brass, gold-fill, etc) through fine steel wool (#000 or #0000 if I recall) will not only clean and straighten the wire but will work harden it a bit as well depending on how many times you pull it through.
  • Tumbling with Jewelry Shot: Placing the finished piece in a jewelry tumbler (assuming any stones used are safe to tumble) with jewelry shot, water, and a little soap is a favorite of mine since the whole finished piece gets thrown in. After several hours the finished piece is hardened and much shinier as well!
  • Buying Harder Wire: Make small rings, earwires, and smaller items with half-hard wire. My personal favorite is 21-gauge half-hard for earwires for earrings that aren't very heavy.
  • Buy Ready-Made Components: I like working with copper wire but I don't like it for ear wires for a number of reasons, it really is too soft and there are some metal sensitivity concerns for some people. I will often finish off copper earrings with purchased rose gold or rose gold plated ear wires. The color still matches and they're much harder than I can ever work harden copper wire.

This list is probably not complete but contains things that I have done and have worked for me. Some things may work for your piece and some may not. You might have to experiment to see what works for the particular type of wire you're using.

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The final answer is experinmentation. To harden the hot/red hot wire, quickly quench it in water. That's try one. Less heat, more heat, less time in the water, more time in the water. Ask an adult, if there is a bottle of OIL around, you can use. you'll have to add some of it to your beater anyway. Take it down barely below where the taper goes away. use a pocket knife. Only if mom says it's ok, use a steak knife "Danger Will Robinson" cut the top off the bottle. Use OIL to experiment the same way. You will get different results. oooooohhhhhh "Dark Arts"

This is why black smiths in the middle ages were considered to be doing a "dark art" being able to shape steel, to make it soft or hard... on it goes (the dark arts)

  • 2
    Could you clarify what you mean in some of these points? Why are you addressing the OP as if they're underage? What type of "oil" do you mean? The wrong kind could be dangerous. – Web Head Sep 26 '16 at 1:53

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