Update: June, 2016
Since I wrote this tutorial, I've taught three more years of classes and answered a lot of questions online. I've collected some of this additional info in an expanded tutorial that I sell on my website. If you're interested you can check it out here:
Otherwise, my instructable remains free and useful, so please enjoy it!
About five years ago I was making ceramic pendants and looking for special custom settings when I found wire wrapping. Wire wrapped settings require few materials and tools and use no heat or glue. They are so versatile that once you have the basics down you can create a beautiful setting for anything from a cabochon to a seashell.
Step 1: What You Need:
You can use any kind of nontoxic metal wire, though I prefer to by jewelry grade wire online. Wire Sculpture and Rio Grande are excellent sources. If you're just beginning I recommend copper or bronze. They're inexpensive and look great with polish or patina. To get started buy at least 5-10 feet of 21 or 22 gauge dead soft SQUARE wire and 5 feet of 22 gauge dead soft HALF ROUND wire.
That's it, assuming you have something to wrap. Wrapping a round or oval cabochon in the 30 - 40 mm range will be easiest.
(Shown above: copper wire on a goldstone cabochon.)
Tools are very important. I used cheap jewelry pliers (~$10) for a while, but once I was sure I would stay with wire wrapping, I got good ones (~$50). It made a huge difference, especially in how tired my hands would get. If you do this, hang on to your cheap tools - there's always a use pliers you won't worry about. The basic tools you will need to get started are:
Flat nose pliers
Round nose pliers
Small round mandrel, bail pliers or pen
Later you can add chain nose pliers, jewelry files, bail making pliers and more. I treat myself to a new high-quality tool every so often.
Step 2: Cutting Wire
First, unroll some of the square wire and smooth it with your fingers to straighten it. It doesn't need to be very even, but don't make any kinks in the wire. Next take your cabochon and stand it up at the end of the wire. Note the spot where the cab is touching the wire end and roll the cab along the wire like a wheel until the same spot touches again. Where the cab stops is the circumference of the setting. From this point you need to add 12" - 14" of wire to make the bail and rosettes, depending on how tall you want the bail. With inexpensive metals, better to go too long - you can always cut of the excess later. When you have this length figured out, use your wire cutters and make a perpendicular cut. Then use this first piece of wire to measure a second length off the spool and cut that. Repeat until you've cut 4 pieces of square wire.
Next, cut 3 pieces of 1" half round wire and 1 piece of 3" half round wire.
Step 3: Making Bundles
Pick up one piece of 1/2 round wire and use the flat nose pliers to bend 3-4 mm of the top over. Then angle the bend slightly. Make sure the flat side of the wire is on the inside surface. This will fit neatly around the square wire.
Step 4: Making Wraps
(When wrapping, the front of the wraps should be 90 degrees to the bundle wires. The back of the wraps are usually angled.)
Now hold the square wire bundle with the flat nose pliers very close to where you will wrap the short pieces around. Start winding the 1/2 round wire around the bundle, but stop every time you make a turn and give the wires a gentle squeeze with the flat nose pliers. Expect to be moving the bundle and the pliers around a lot, changing hands when you need to.
Wrap the 1/2 round wire around the bundle this way 4 times and end on the back of the bundle. Cut the excess 1/2 round wire so that it overlaps the back 3 – 4mm.
Step 5: Prepare the Bezel
Following the previous directions, make a set of 4 wraps beginning at each of the side marks. Remember to always start and finish on the bundle back.
Now you should have a bundle of square wires with three sets of wraps.
Step 6: Secure the Stone (or Whatever You're Wrapping)
Then hold your wire bundle against the mandrel by pressing your thumb on the center wrap. Keep the bundle perpendicular to the mandrel and gently bend the sides around until they touch. Now take the bundle off the mandrel and try it around your cab. Use your fingers to adjust the fit. The center wrap should be exactly in the center of the cab around the bottom.
Press the wires around the cab until they meet at the top. A little clearance is fine. Also, you may need to bend the wires away from each other to keep them from getting too tangled, but try to make the ends all go straight up.
Get the piece of 3" half round wire and put a small bend in the top, but don’t angle it. Hook the bend around the back of the bezel and give a very gentle squeeze with your pliers to secure. Hold the top wires together in your fingers and use your other hand to wind the half round up around them. Wind at least 5 times (more, if you want) and end at the back. Leaving a few extra milimeters, cut the excess wire. Use round nose pliers to bend and tuck wire end into the back strands.
Step 7: Set the Stone
1) There are four wire sections between the wraps. Using a finger, pull the centermost wire a few millimeters toward the center. Do this with all 4 sections on the front.
2) Turn over and repeat with the back wires. Now your cab should be held in loosely.
3) To tighten the wires, hold your setting in one hand and round nose pliers in the other. Put your pliers on either side of the pulled wire in one lower front section and give a small twist. Do the exact, but opposite movement on the wire next to it. Repeat with the top wires.
4) Do the same thing to the pulled out wires on the back, but make the twists more extreme.
Your cab should now be securely in its bezel.
Step 8: Make a Bail
First, separate out the top wires with your fingers until you find the 4 front most wires. These will make the bail. Gently bend the back wires off to the sides. Get your pen (or mandrel or other object) and put it behind the bail wires, right above the joined part. Now bend the wires back over the pen. Wires should not overlap. Keeping the mandrel in place, take one of the back wires and wind it around the bail wires and the stem to secure the bail wires. Leave the pen/mandrel in the bail until the wires are completely finished.
Step 9: Finish the Loose Wires
Here’s where the real artistry comes in. The filigree is the delicate looking swirls and swoops that make up the design of the wire wrap. You make it with all the loose ends of wire after the cabochon is set. Exactly what you do is up to you, but here are some basic tips and techniques:
This is probably the most common design element in wire wrapping. You make a rosette by using your round nose pliers to make a tiny round loop at the end of a wire. Then wind the loop into a tight spiral using flat nosed pliers. To do this hold the wire in one hand and rotate the wires in the other hand a quarter turn at a time. You can make the rosettes with twisted or untwisted wire for different looks.
Making loops and shapes with the wire is a lot of fun, but don’t go too big or the wire will bend too easily. Keep swooping wires tight to the setting and find a way to secure the end on another wire.
For a sophisticated look, try making a bundle by taking several of the loose wires and wrapping them with more half round wire. Finish the ends with loops or tuck into the bezel.
Step 10: All Done
Feel the pendant with your fingers for rough spots and then rub the front and back on a piece of fabric. If you find any sharp spots or wires that catch; file, trim or tuck in the problem wires until everything is perfectly smooth.
Now you can add a patina, buff and/or seal your pendant if you want.
When any finishes you’ve added are dry, your pendant is ready for a cord or chain.