Introduction: Making Jump Rings - Quicky and Easily
Each design of a jump ring chain or a chain maille weave requires large numbers of rings that are precise in size, are well shaped without any nicks or scratches, and have square cuts so they close without a noticeable gap. Here's the process I teach in my jewelry classes to make large numbers of uniform rings quickly and easily. There are three steps - finding the right size mandrel, winding a coil of rings, and cutting the rings apart.
Step 1: Getting the Right Size Rod
Jump rings are made by winding a wire around a rod or tube. Common sources are knitting needles, wooden dowels and metal stock from hardware stores and hobby shops. But finding the right size can be a problem. Minor changes in the size of the jump rings can make a big difference in the final "look" of the chain, so it's important to have a variety of mandrels to choose from.
Jewelry catalogs sell selections of straight rod mandrels for $50 or more, but my choice is from Harbor Freight. They have a set of 28 sizes, from 3/32 inch to 1/2 inch, for under ten bucks. It's called a Transfer Punch Set. The catalog number is #3577. www.harborfreight.com
Step 2: Winding the Rings
If you need just a few jump rings, it's easy to grab a mandrel and wind a couple of them. But when you need a large number, some form of winder saves a lot of time. A variable speed screw gun makes quick work of winding the coils.
To wind a coil, just bend a right angle on the end of the wire about 3/8 inch long and insert this into the screw gun chuck. Then wind slowly, keeping a tight coil. I like to rest the end of the mandrel on the edge of the table or bench pin.
One note of caution - if you are winding an entire length of wire, be careful as you get near the end of the wire. If the end passes under your thumb, it can cause a nasty scratch or cut.
Step 3: Cutting the Rings From a Coil
The difficult part of making jump rings for me has always been holding the coil while cutting off the individual rings. No wire cutter has ever given me a square cut on the end of the wire, and this is essential for hiding all the joints in your design. I use a jewelers saw to get the best fit when closing the rings.
I've seen all sorts of suggestions for ways to hold the coil, but the one that works best for me is this little jig made from scrap wood. It's about 2 inches wide and 4-5 inches long with a groove cut down its length to cradle the coil of wire and a thin stop attached to the front end.
To cut the rings, use a fine blade like a 6/0. Thread the saw blade through the coil, hold the coil down in the groove and against the front stop. Tilt the saw at a 40 degree angle as shown. Saw frames and blades can be found at jewelry supply companies like www.riogrande.com
Don't forget to use some wax or oil on the saw blade. It really does make a difference. If you don't believe me, do an experiment while you're cutting some rings. Count how many rings can be cut before breaking a blade, first without lube and then with some every 6-8 rings.
That's all there is to turning out jump rings quickly and easily. More of my jewelry tips can be found in "Bench Tips for Jewelry Making - 101 Tips from Brad Smith" on Amazon.