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Wire - Choosing

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Instructions for choosing the right jewelry wire for your jewelry making project:

12G Brass Square Soft 10 ft.

Brass jewelry wire

Style, durability, and hardness are a few of the considerations involved your choice of jewelry wire for a jewelry project.  First and foremost, the finished piece of jewelry must be durable enough to stand up to the wear and tear that is expected for the finished jewelry component.  Second, the hardness of the jewelry wire must be appropriate for the design.  (Spirals don't work well with half-hard or hard wire.)  Finally, the selection of jewelry wire must be esthetically pleasing in both color and size. 

First some background facts on jewelry wire.  Almost all jewelry wire in the US is sold in sizes defined by the American Wire Gauge.  In this standard, as the gauge of the wire increases, the diameter of the wire decreases.  As an example 16 gauge wire is much larger than 22 gauge wire.  To view the size of jewelry wire in each gauge and the diameter of that jewelry wire in inches and mm, please visit here.   As the jewelry wire gets larger in diameter, or the gauge gets smaller, and the jewelry wire becomes harder to bend.  Simply put, it is easier to bend thin wire than it is to bend thick wire.  In general, jewelry wire components for earrings are made in 20 gauge wire, jewelry wire components for bracelets are made in 18 or 20 gauge wire, and jewelry wire components for necklaces are made in 16 or 18 gauge wire.  We like to make rings out of 12 or 14 gauge wire.  18 and 20 gauge wire are relatively easy to bend and durable enough to stand up to the wear necessary.  16 gauge wire is harder to bend and probably isn't appropriate for beginners.  To help you remember how wire size gets smaller as the gauge increases, just remember that zero gauge wire is about the thickness of your little finger and 30 gauge wire is about the thickness of a human hair.  (0 gauge wire is used for lightening rods.)18G Anti-Tarnish SS Round 1/2 Hard 5 ft.

With inexpensive wire, like copper, brass, or Artistic Wire, the jewelry wire is generally made in only one hardness -- soft.  With more expensive jewelry wire like sterling silver, gold, or gold-filled wire, the wire is commonly manufactured in one of five hardnesses -- soft or 0, 1, half-hard or 2, 3, or fully hardened or 4.  For the jewelry making projects described in this web site, we generally only use soft or half-hard jewelry wire according to the project.  Soft wire bends easier than half-hard wire and tend to remain in place once it is bent.  Half-hard jewelry wire is somewhat springy and tends to spring back some once it is bent.  Soft jewelry wire is perfect for making spirals and other rounded shapes, but doesn't make crisp angles.  Half-hard jewelry wire makes crisp angles and wraps around itself well, but because it is springy, it must be pushed beyond where you want it to end up because it will spring back some after it is released.  Please select here for good information on how to work with 1/2 hard jewelry wire.

Another jewelry making issue to discuss is durability.  Jewelry wire is relatively soft by comparison with glass or stone.  The inside of glass or stone beads has small microscopic irregularities that act as the teeth on a saw and will ultimately cut thread or smaller jewelry wire.  Over time and with heavy wear, glass or stone beads can saw through jewelry wire.  This effect can be minimized by using a bead reamer jewelry tool to remove some of the microscopic ridges inside the bead, but it can not be totally eliminated.  Bracelets seem to be most vulnerable to this sawing action, but necklaces are also vulnerable.  Anything that gets a lot of wear and as a result a lot of motion by the beads is vulnerable.  The sawing action of the beads is a consideration whenever you are making a wrapped bead link connecting two jewelry wire components via a wire segment with the wire inside a bead.  In general, it is easier to make a wrapped bead link with thinner wire, but thinner wire is less durable.  22G jewelry wire is recommended for making the wrapped bead link, but for a piece that will get a lot of wear, 20G wire may be a better choice. 

The last jewelry making topic to discuss is hardening jewelry wire.  Just as during the manufacturing process jewelry wire can be made in one of several hardness's, when making jewelry a wire artist can change the hardness of a jewelry wire component.  Most of us have experience in breaking a wire coat hanger by bending it back and forth many times.  With the coat hanger, we were changing the hardness of the wire by "work hardening" it.  Each bend increased the hardness of the wire until we saw one of the drawbacks of very hard wire -- it became brittle and it broke.  With our jewelry wire components we want to make them permanent, so we frequently want to increase the hardness of the wire so they won't bend out of shape while being worn.  This happens naturally as part of manipulating the wire into shape by work hardening.  We can also use nylon jaw pliers to help with this manipulation and by squeezing the piece in the jaws of the pliers we can work harden the piece.  We can even significantly increase the hardness of the jewelry wire by hammering it with a chasing hammer or nylon hammer and anvil.  When making ear wires, using a chasing hammer will be an important step to set the round portion of the ear wire and make it permanent.  (Please note: do not hammer wire where one jewelry wire segment crosses over another piece of wire.  That can cause the wire to break.) 

At this point let's discuss why we use the term jewelry wire instead of just saying wire.  First, there are several types of wire used in making jewelry.  One is beadstringing wire which is made up of many strands of very thin stainless steel wire combined together and coated with an overall coating.  Think of the electrical cord for your toaster.  The stranded stainless steel wire in beadstringing wire is similar in size to the copper stranded wire in the electrical cord for your toaster.  The insulation in the cord for your toaster is similar to the overall clear coating of the beadstringing wire.  Memory wire is another type of wire used in making jewelry.  Memory wire is very, very stiff and will not easily be bent out of shape.  Memory wire is used in making rings, bracelets and necklaces.  When we say explicitly "Jewelry Wire" we mean gold, silver, copper or brass solid wire used for making jewelry.  We don't mean beadstringing wire, we don't mean memory wire and we don't mean stranded electrical cord.  It may seem that we use the term jewelry wire a lot.  We want to be specific about what type of wire to use and what type not to use. 

Here are some do's and don'ts about choosing jewelry wire for any jewelry making project:

  • In general use 20G jewelry wire for earrings, 18G jewelry wire for Bracelet components and 18 or 16 G jewelry wire for necklace components.
     
  • In general use 20 or 22G jewelry wire for making wrapped bead links in bracelets and necklaces.
     
  • In general don't use 22G wire to make a jewelry wire component that must stand by itself, unless that component is very small.
     
  • In general, when buying 16G jewelry wire, buy soft wire, half-hard may be too stiff.
     
  • In general use soft jewelry wire wire for spirals and half-hard jewelry wire where you will have wrapped loops.
     
  • When making an ear wire, consider 20 or 21G jewelry wire.  22G wire is probably too thin and may be uncomfortable to wear. 18G is too large and will be uncomfortable. 
     
  • Do not use Artistic Wire or any other dyed wire for making ear wires.  The dyes may have chemicals that do not belong inside the human body. 

The following table provide additional information on the advantages and disadvantages of several types of jewelry wire.

Advantabes/Disadvantages of Several Types of Jewelry Wire when Making Jewelry:

Wire/Attribute Advantages Disadvantages

 
Soft Jewelry Wire

  • Soft jewelry wire can be used to make spirals and other rounded shapes.
  • Soft jewelry wire can be used for any application.  Some it will do well some less well. 
  • Soft Wire isn't easy to use when wrapping wire around other wire.
  • Soft Wire doesn't make sharp bends easily.
  • Soft wire generally requires hardening of the finished piece. 

 

1/2 Hard
Jewelry Wire

  • 1/2 hard jewelry wire wraps tightly around itself or other wire.
  • 1/2 hard jewelry wire makes sharp bends.
  • 1/2 hard jewelry wire requires less hardening of the finished piece. 
  • 1/2 hard wire can not be used for making spirals
  • 1/2 hard wire requires that you push the wire beyond where you want it to end up, then remove your hands and test to see where the wire ends up once it has relaxed. 


Hard Jewelry Wire

  • Finished Pieces made in hard wire require no hardening.
  • Hard wire is very difficult to work with.
  • Hard wire can not be used for making spirals or other rounded shapes.



Sterling Silver
Jewelry Wire

More Info
  • Jewelry made in sterling silver is perceived to have value
  • Sterling silver can be purchased in soft or 1/2 hard
  • Sterling Silver Tarnishes easily in the presence of sulfur compounds like those found in air pollution. 
  • Sterling Silver is expensive.
  • It is harder to take pictures of sterling silver jewelry.



Gold
Jewelry Wire

More Info
  • Jewelry made in solid gold has very high perceived value.
  • Gold can be purchased in soft or 1/2 hard.
  • Gold is naturally tarnish resistant.
  • Solid gold is very, very expensive.  It is considerably more expensive than sterling silver.




Anti-Tarnish Sterling Silver
(Argentium)
Jewelry Wire
  • Jewelry made in sterling silver is perceived to have value
  • Sterling silver can be purchased in soft or 1/2 hard
  • Argentium sterling silver has a natural tarnish resistance.
  • Argentium sterling silver when tarnished, the tarnish is a light yellow color and can be washed off with soap and water.
  • Argentium Sterling Silver is more expensive than ordinary sterling silver but is far less expensive than solid gold. 
  • It is harder to take pictures of sterling silver jewelry.
  • Argentium Sterling Silver comes from the manufacturer with a light coating of tarnish.  It is recommended that you wash this wire with soap and water before you use it to make jewelry components.








Gold-Filled
Jewelry Wire

More Info
  • Gold-filled jewelry wire appears and wears exactly like solid gold.
  • Gold-filled jewelry wire is slightly stronger than solid gold.
  • Gold-filled jewelry wire can be purchased in soft or 1/2 hard.
  • Gold-filled jewelry wire has the same natural tarnish resistance as solid gold.
  • Gold-filled jewelry wire has 5% gold alloy squeezed around a gold colored metal core.  For this reason the gold on the wire can not be scratched off by normal wear and tear.
  • Gold-filled wire costs more than sterling silver, but much, much less than solid gold.







Silver-Filled
Jewelry Wire
  • Silver-filled jewelry wire appears and wears exactly like solid silver. 
  • Many times silver-filled jewelry wire will be made with fine silver and will therefore have tarnish resistance not found in sterling silver..
  • Silver-filled jewelry wire is slightly stronger than solid sterling silver.
  • Silver-filled jewelry wire can be purchased in soft or 1/2 hard.
  • Silver-filled jewelry wire has 5% silver alloy squeezed around a silver colored metal core.  For this reason the silver on the wire can not be scratched off by normal wear and tear.
  • Silver-filled wire costs less than sterling silver.




Silver-Plated
Jewelry Wire
  • Silver-plated jewelry wire is inexpensive.
  • Silver-plated jewelry wire appears like sterling silver for jewelry items that receive limited abrasion like earrings. 
  • Some silver plated jewelry wire has an anti-tarnish enamel coating.
  • The silver plating is 1-2 molecules of silver thick and can be scratched off by normal wear and tear.
  • Silver-plated wire can tarnish.
  • Silver-plated wire is only available as soft wire.
  • Most silver-plated wire contains traces of nickel.




Gold-Plated
Jewelry Wire


More Info
  • Gold-plated jewelry wire is inexpensive.
  • Gold-plated jewelry wire appears like 24 kt gold and is suitable for jewelry items that receive limited abrasion like earrings.
  • Gold-plated wire appears like 24 kt gold and can be hard to match to jewelry components made of other gold alloys.
  • The gold plating is 1-2 molecules of gold thick and can be scratched off by normal wear and tear.
  • Most gold-plated wire contains traces of nickel.


Copper Wire
  • Copper wire is relatively inexpensive and for this reason is frequently used for practice wire
  • Most inexpensive copper wire is not sold with a defined hardness. 
  • Copper will tranish over time.



Brass Wire
  • Brass wire is relatively inexpensive and for this reason is often used as practice wire. 
  • Brass wire often is sold with a defined hardness. 
  • Brass wire will tarnish over time. 





Craft Wire
  • Craft wire comes in many style.  One style is plastic coated wire.  Another style is enamel coated wire.  Both the plastic coating and the enamel coating minimize tarnish on the wire.
  • Craft wire is inexpensive.
  • Craft wire normally is sold without a defined hardness.  The hardness is often soft, but can be any hardness since it is not defined.
  • The plastic or enamel coating on craft wire can be scratched off by contact with sharp metal objects.
  • The enamel and plastic coatings are soft and not as durable as bear metal. 
  • The enamel and plastic coatings can change color due to exposure to ultraviolet light.






Artistic Wire
  • Artistic Wire is one brand of craft wire and the advantates and disadvantges of craft wire apply.
  • Artistic Wire has a third type of wire called silver-plated, enamel coated.  Silver is plated on the wire, then dyed to color and the dyed silver-plated wire is then enamel coated to preserve the silver plating.  This wire tends to have more vibrant colors. 
  • Artistic Wire is one brand of craft wire and all the disadvantages of craft wire apply to all three types of Artistic Wire. 

 

 

 



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