Introduction: Jewelry Wire 101
As I've probably mentioned in one of my other Instructables, when I get an idea stuck in my head, I tend to run with it. That's how I ended up with a ton of craft/jewelry wire that I had no idea what to do with and a bunch of miscellaneous tools I had no idea how to use. Some of this stuff, I'm not kidding, I've been hanging onto since high school (which was in the late 90s, so...yeah).
This Instructable will hopefully help others with the basics of using wire for jewelry making purposes. First I'll explain some common tools and their purposes, how to use etc. and then we'll get into the wire. Keep checking back as I will be updating this Instructable with links for wire and metal projects soon. Insert "thumbs up" emoji here.
Step 1: BoM
Step 2: Blocks
The metal block is for hammering wire and other metals. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just a solid piece of strong metal. You can pick up a suitable block on Amazon for like $10.
The rubber block to dampen the noise because it can get loud. I bought this rubber block from one of my favorite suppliers on Etsy. You can also use an old mouse pad.
Step 3: Craft Drill
To twist wires or braid them together, a pin vise comes in very handy. This is a small tool that has an adjustable end that can be twisted open/shut to accommodate a variety of wire sizes. You slide your wire(s) into the "mouth" (for lack of a better word) and then twist the barrel until the pin vise is secure around the wire(s).
I have not been able to find a pin vise, except on Amazon (which is like $2+ more than what I see online at Lowes/HD) so I use my craft drill as it also has an adjustable end piece that is able to serve the same function as a pin vise. Besides, multifunction tools are better.
Step 4: Hammers
Ball peen hammers are good all purpose hammers to have around for jewelry making. The teal hammer is used mostly for metal stamping and texturing. The texturing hammer has multiple faces that can be changed depending on the design/texture you want to stamp. The mallet is for softer hammering, lighter impressions.
Step 5: Pliers & Cutters
Wire cutters or metal shears are good for cutting wire. Pliers are good for holding onto and shaping wire.
Step 6: Metals
You can find craft and jewelry making wires in a variety of metals:
A lot of the wires available in craft stores are plated.
Step 7: Gauges
Wire comes in a variety of sizes (gauges). The higher the gauge, the thinner the wire.
26-30 gauge wire is extremely thin and breaks easily. These sizes are appropriate for crocheting, weaving, and some coiling. I keep a couple around for securing beads to structure wire, but not for making jump rings or wrapping around heavy objects.
26 gauge is strong enough to be used for headpins and wrapping around lighter stones/beads.
24 gauge wire is good for all of the above, plus binding, spirals, wire wrapped links, and smaller jump rings.
20-22 gauge wire is good for all of the above as well as ear wires, chain links, jump rings, and small clasps.
18 gauge wire is suitable for the above plus structural wire/frames, jewelry bails, bracelets, rings, and clasps.
10-16 gauge wire will most likely require the use of jewelry tools for forming/shaping wire and can be used for structural/frame pieces, bracelets, rings, and clasps.
Step 8: Shapes
The most common and easy to find wire shapes are round, square, and half-round. All of these shapes can be hammered or twisted.
Round: Round wire is what you're most likely going to find in your local AC Moore/Michaels. Round wire can be bent or twisted into pretty much anything.
Square: Square wire is flat on 4 sides and can be used much the same way as wire. Sadly square is not pictured above as I apparently don't have any.
Half-Round: Half-round wire is wire that is rounded on one side and flat on the other. It's actually very cool. All the half-round I currently have are in 20-26 gauge and extremely hard to see.
Twisted: Twisted wire can be either a single strand of wire that was twisted or two strands of wire that has been twisted together. Either way they book look very cool and can add interesting textures.
Step 9: Hardness
The hardness of a metal basically means how much it will resist bending. Also, different metals have different hardnesses. Dead soft aluminum will feel different than dead soft silver will feel different from dead soft copper etc.
Work hardening is the process of working soft metals/wires until they become harder, this is easily done through bending/forming and hammering. Work hardening also happens just through the process of shaping your metal into whatever piece you are making.
The color craft wires you find at Michaels/AC Moore are generally dead soft. I have yet to see either store carry anything labeled.
Dead Soft: little-to-no resistance. Very easy to bend, but doesn't hold its shape well. Can be work hardened, but can take a long time.
Half Hard: soft enough to bend and hard enough to hold shapes, can be used in wire wrapping, making spirals/coils etc. Is easy to work harden, doesn't always need it.
Full Hard: a lot of resistance and difficult to bend, but shapes will hold. However, also has less workability so you can only form it a few times before the wire will start to break. It's extremely hard to form tight shapes or create spirals with full hard wire. Should not be work hardened, full hard wire is already hard enough.