Introduction: Christmas Ornaments/Holiday Presents - Initials

Picture of Christmas Ornaments/Holiday Presents - Initials

In this Instructable I'll be discussing the ornaments that I made for my family this year. The number one thing to keep in mind is that you should try to make due with the tools and materials that you have available to you. That being said, I used brass wire that was given to me from my grandfather however Romex would be a good sized copper alternative. Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always try to make a project your own and unique in some way. Now that the formalities are out of the way, I hope you have as much fun making this project as I did. Happy making!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

The most important material in this project is the wire, this wire came from the OSU jewelry making department. When they stopped the course, the wire ended up with my grandparents and consequently I don't know where to find this wire.

The hammer has a smooth surface to prevent damage to the finish of the ornament.

The solder and the flux are a matching set, lead free silver bearing solder. I used silver solder because people are going to be handling these and having to wash your hands after each time would be rather annoying and if you have animals this could also be problematic.

I used two large blocks of steel for a makeshift anvil, a jewelers anvil or small horn anvil would also work but I didn't have access to either.

An assortment of pliers and some wire cutters would make this job much easier. The two most useful pliers I used ended up being the linesman's pliers and the round needle nose pliers.

In the picture I also have a small piece of scotch brite, however fine sandpaper or steel wool would also work.

*I also used a piece of sheet metal however this was simply because I didn't have a flameproof surface that I didn't mind getting flux all over*

Step 2: Soften the Wire

Picture of Soften the Wire

CAUTION: Flames are hot and have the ability to burn you, make sure you use proper safety precautions to prevent injury. Also, metal does not need to be glowing red to be hot enough to burn you. Adult supervision is advised.

-Note: If you don't want to hear about why this step may be important, skip the next two paragraphs.

I'm using brass wire but if your using copper wire this is an important step if your going to fold the wire in a 180 degree turn. Brass is an alloy of copper and therefore holds some of the same properties, both copper and brass experience work hardening (all metals experience work hardening to a small extent as far as I'm aware). Work hardening is when a material becomes harder the more it is bent or shaped, this could be the obvious bending or the less obvious hitting with a hammer (both of which I did in this project).

To reverse work hardening, you must heat the material. By heating the material, you are releasing the material of the stress induced by working the material. As you work the material, you are compressing the molecules. A good example of this is in my wire, the wire has lines going from one end to the other meaning that it was a much shorter and thicker piece of metal that was extruded and forced through a die effectively reducing its diameter by squeezing it. Work hardening is a problem for this kind of project because the material will/can become so hard that instead of bending it just breaks along the stress line.

There are several ways you can go about heating the material to release the stress. I'm using a propane/mapp gas torch but you could also use a camping stove, alcohol burner, gas range, oxyacetylene torch (or other oxygen torch), or if nothing else you could also potentially use an oven. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that the hotter the heat source is the quicker the material will get red hot and the more likely you are to melt your material. You don't need the material to glow red for the material to be soft however it's the best way to make sure the material is going to have the least amount of stress possible. All you have to do is cut off a strip of wire (about as much as you think you need but having too much is not that big of a deal, you can cut if off later) and heat the wire, the hotter without melting the better.

P.S. Every material has a certain level on heat conductivity (how well heat will travel down the material), keep in mind that metals all have a fairly high heat conductivity and that copper and brass are relatively high on the list, hold the wire at a point well away from where you are heating it and if the material starts to get warm either move your hand down the line or have a pair of pliers handy. Alternatively, let the wire cool and hold onto the other end.

After heating the material, you may find that it has turned black as mine did. I used a piece of Scotch Brite to polish the metal, you can also use fine sand paper (if you don't mind a brushed finish) or steel wool to clean off the oxides. I'm not sure if this step is necessary but it can't hurt. It's a little hard to see but in the last picture you can see that this is the point where you can both straighten and clean the wire at the same time, I use the Scotch Brite to straighten the wire while cleaning it because it can slide across the surface.

Step 3: Preparing for the Final Shaping....

Picture of Preparing for the Final Shaping....

While figuring out how exactly I was planning on doing these ornaments I figured that my wire would be both too thin and too fragile to hold up to those who were receiving them. My thought was that going with two wires side by side would fix the wire being too thin and would add some strength and the solder would have a nice contrasting look while adding even more strength. The next issue I ran into was that it would be hard to bend two pieces of wire to end up perfectly the same so that I could solder, my work around was that I could take a single piece of wire and fold it over before I shaped it and that worked for all but the B which I will talk about later.

The best way I found to fold the wire over was to take my linesman's pliers and bend it 90 degrees (first picture), then finish that with squeezing with the pliers (second picture), the problem was that this didn't end up particularly straight and had a gap at the bend of the wire. After taking it to my makeshift anvil with the hammer it ends up quite straight and there is no gap.

After getting the all important bend, this is a good time to get the rest of the wire as straight as possible by spending some time getting all the twists out and the little bends that are causing gaps all the way to the end. This is important because if you don't do this you will have trouble soldering and getting the wire to stay together when it comes time to solder.

Step 4: Final Shaping

Picture of Final Shaping

And finally it's time to get a little creative, its time to bend the ornaments into their final shape. As you can see in the picture I'm making an O and I have a tool I made to help with curves. This tool is definitely not needed but before I made it I did some testing on soldering before bending by using a hammer and an edge of the anvil, the results were promising however I didn't do the same testing with this tool yet but I will update this when I do so. The tool is simply a piece of square stock with two holes drilled and tapped, with shoulder bolts (with their heads turned on the lathe) screwed into them. The bolts are about 1/4" apart while the wire I have is a little under that distance while folded over on itself.

The only thing that makes some of the letters difficult is that I wanted to hide the ends of the wire, to do that often meant that the loop for the hook was directly over where the two ends met so that the solder would cover them up. For the K it was fairly easy because it was hidden in the middle but for the S I hid them at the very top and positioned the loop correctly. This step, however, is not needed but I liked the idea of it looking almost impossible. I will include sketches of how I did certain letters or how I might suggest doing other letters if anyone is interested.

Step 5: Flattening and Trimming

Picture of Flattening and Trimming

The first thing to do is to trim off any extra wire as you can see me do in the first picture. If however you cut the wire and the two ends are hitting each other and preventing the whole thing from being flat (if they are forcing each other to overlap) just trim off a little extra or try bending the whole loop to fit together better. If there is a small gap between the two ends, I wouldn't worry about it too much because the solder will fill small gaps.

The next thing to do is flatten the ornament as best you can. For me, this was an important step because of the way my setup went but the more time you spend here the more professional it will end up looking. The first thing I did was to try and eyeball it, just to get it really close. The result was the third picture. The difference between the third and fourth picture is that in the fourth picture I'm pushing down on the wire in just one spot, you can see that there are spots that are lifted off the steel while I'm doing this. While pushing down on the wire, I simply look to see where the wire starts to bend up and align that spot over the edge of the block and push down. This causes that spot to be bent in the other direction ultimately flattening the wire. Just repeat this process all the way around, possibly flipping the whole thing over and doing it on the other side as well.

One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the two wires don't want to stay together and one will be bent up and the other will be bent down. If this happens to you, just take the two wires and bend them in the same manner but one at a time instead of both at the same time. This will allow better control over the flatness of the ornament.

Step 6: Hanging Hardware

Picture of Hanging Hardware

All we have to do here is take those pieces we cut off earlier and make hooks to attach later. You can do this in many ways and this is where you can come up with some cool way(s) of doing this, but I decided to go with a loop that I can loop a hook on. This step is greatly a matter of opinion, so find something you think looks good and try to make it something either repeatable for each ornament or something different for each one, I had to come up with two different designs and you can see the difference between this O and the D shapes I did.

Also I added a video of me making mine; you will have to excuse the poor quality as I couldn't seem to do this well by looking in the view finder, the whole reason I made this video was because the camera didn't want to cooperate.

Step 7: It's Solder Time

Picture of It's Solder Time

The moment has arrived for this whole project to come together. As I mentioned before, I'm using a metal plate to do this on because I don't have a surface that I don't mind getting covered in solder. However if you don't mind having a surface get a little scorched or covered in flux then you don't have to worry about this. In the second picture you can see how I'm laying the loop for the hook and the letter so that I can hide the ends of the wire with the solder. The third picture shows the letter right after soldering with no cleanup. I also have a video of me soldering this particular ornament.

Tips:

  • I found that soldering the ornament with the front facing down led to a better looking ornament, my theory is that the solder wants to flow downward and thus having the front downward will allow all the solder to collect there.
  • Use flux, you can never use too much but be warned that the more you use the more likely you are to make a mess.
  • Don't over heat the wire, this causes oxidation which the flux has a hard time cleaning and the solder won't stick to.
  • You can use almost anything that gets hot to solder. For me the torch was my best option because while making these I didn't have a heat gun to try and a soldering iron would have been slow (now that I have a heat gun I might do some testing to see if it will work for this; if you're only making one or two you could use a good soldering iron to get a lot of control over the solder allowing for a potentially better result).
  • Solder is drawn to heat so if the solder is not flowing exactly as you would hope, try heating where you want the solder to go.

If you have any more tips for me to add here, let me know.

Step 8: Cleanup and Wrap Up

Picture of Cleanup and Wrap Up

Here is the most time consuming part, at least it was for me. The first step is to wash off the ornament, the flux I was using says to wipe off with a damp cloth however I found that washing it in warm water with a good soap (dawn would work really well) works best. In the second and third pictures you can see what the ornament looks like after I washed it, you could potentially leave it like this but I wanted to take it further. I used a piece of Scotch Brite to clean all surfaces and on the ends of the hook I used sand paper and a file to remove sharp edges and burrs. I also found that there tended to be pits in the solder filled with a brittle black substance that the Scotch Brite couldn't reach so I used the tip of my knife to clean these but a needle would have worked too.

The last picture shows the final ornament just before I gave it to my niece. In hindsight this ornament didn't turn out as well as the others I made for a few reasons. The biggest reason this ornament didn't turn out as well is because I decided to solder it a different way then I normally would have because I was trying to keep the video short. Normally I would have cut short pieces of solder and spread them out along the ornament before even turning on the torch (some people call this precision soldering and it seems to work a lot better in the end). Another thing was that I was trying to hurry to get this done because my niece and nephew were over and I was trying to get the ornaments to them as soon as possible, this led me to not pay attention to the flame and I over heated the wire causing it to oxidize; the solder wont stick to the oxidized wire and the flux doesn't do a good job cleaning that heavily of oxidation. You can see this happening in the video, when the wire turns black before I get solder on it then there is too much oxidation for a good soldering joint.

Step 9: Final Thoughts

All in all this project was really fun and in some ways a little frustrating. The reason most of my projects are fun and frustrating for me is because I like to look for inspiration and figure things out on my own. I'm not sure if this project has ever been done in this way because I didn't look to see if someone beat me to it. I figure this all out on my own with some suggestions from friends and family. The most frustrating thing about this project was trying to figure out how to do certain letters, some letters took me over a month to figure out how to do and the most fun thing was getting to cross those letters off my list. The way I see projects is that you should look for inspiration in anything and everything, if you find a cool idea from someone else you should think about how to make that project your own.

If I could go back and do this project all again I might think of a way to do a standard size; some of the ornaments ended up rather large and some ended up rather small and that messes with the little bit of OCD I have.

I guess I would like to end with this note: if you have any suggestions, questions, or if you made any mistakes please consider sharing them with everyone so that we can all learn and better this project. I would also ask that you really consider the "be nice" policy because we all come from different backgrounds and skill levels: just remember that when we start off doing something, we don't go into it knowing all the tips and tricks of the trade.

BONUS: My grandma said that she wants to turn this into a necklace, this would be extremely easy to turn into any piece of jewelry. A necklace would be the easiest, instead of using a hook you could just string a lace of some sort through the loop. If you made the letters small and light enough you could also turn them into earrings. Though it is possible to turn these into bracelets I might suggest against it unless you solder on two loops to string it with, that way its not dangling around everywhere.

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