This I'ble shows how to make a simple wooden jig that will allow you to turn out earwires in 3 different styles, rapidly and with no trouble making pairs that match. It suits 0.8mm to 1mm diameter wire. It can be made out of bits and bobs you probably have lying around in your garage at zero cost.
You can use the jig to make a simple fish-hook / shepherd's crook earwire (Type 1 in the photo), a kidney-shaped one with a safety catch and a twisted loop to which the dangle is attached (Type 2) and another kidney-shaped one with a safety catch that has a slightly neater-looking, non-twisted loop (Type 3). Type 3 is a bit more complicated to make, and it does benefit from a little solder to seal up the loop but that's not essential.
a piece of wood - at least 1 1/4" (30mm) thick, 1 1/2" (40mm) wide and 3" (75mm) long
4 slim steel nails, at least an inch (25mm) long
a thicker nail, about 1/8" (3mm) diameter and at least an inch long
a piece of wooden dowel, about 1/4" (6-7mm) diameter and at least 3/4" (75mm) long
2 bits - one a little slimmer than the large nail and the other the same size as the dowel
a waterproof pen or a biro
a hacksaw or (preferably) a Dremel-type hobby tool
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Step 1: Marking and Drilling
You may think your piece of wood is too long, but don't cut it to size now. It's much easier to work with a larger piece and, once your jig is made, you may decide to keep it longer than is strictly necessary so that it is easy to clamp it onto your workbench, allowing two-handed working. My finished jig measures 1 5/8" wide x 1 5/8" thick x 6 1/2" long (42mm x 42mm x 165mm). I wouldn't want it to be much narrower than that, but it could be shorter if necessary and also a bit thinner.
Print off the PDF - check the scale is right by measuring the line on the right hand side - and use it to mark the centres of the pins and dowels on your piece of wood. The PDF shows the layout twice, once with the path for Type 1 earwires on it and once with the Type 2/3 path. You only need to make one jig because the same arrangement of pins makes all 3 types of earwire, but it helps to mark the path the wire needs to take for Types 2/3 as well. You could do this on the side or underside of the piece of wood if there isn't room below the jig, where I have done it.
You could prick through with a pin straight into the wood, or make the holes first with a pin and then use the biro or waterproof pen to mark the wood through the holes. If you are left handed, you may prefer to mark the wood with the PDF face down so that you will eventually be wrapping the wire in a clockwise direction rather than anti-clockwise.
Clamp the wood to a bench, using a scrap piece of wood under the jaw of the clamp to avoid marking the wood. Drill a pilot hole with the small bit in the centre of the circle where the dowel will go, then drill another hole where the larger nail will go. Go down about half an inch (12mm) for the dowel, a bit further for the nail (but bear in mind the thickness of the wood - don't drill right through it). Using the large bit, drill out the hole for the dowel.
Smooth the surface of the wood with the sandpaper, you won't get another opportunity once the nails are in.
It would be a good idea to draw on the path of the wire with the waterproof pen or biro at this stage, as it's harder to do it when the nails are in place. I did it the other way around which is why the photos don't show it until a later stage.
Step 2: Putting in the Nails
Hammer the big nail into the pilot hole you have drilled for it. It needs to be well in so that it doesn't move when you come to saw off the head, so bang it in to within 1/4" (6 mm) or so from the underside if it is long enough to permit that. You need to have at least 1/4" (6 mm) left sticking out on the top side.
Using a hacksaw or a Dremel-type hobby drill with a suitable attachment, or even an angle grinder, remove the head end of the nail to leave about 3/16" (5 mm) sticking out. Then smooth off the cut edge, removing the burrs with a Swiss file so that it won't cut you when you come into contact with it.
Now for the 4 slim nails, starting with the one nearest the dowel. If your dowel hole has drifted at all from the marked position, and depending on the exact size of the dowel, you may need to reposition this first nail a bit. It shouldn't be so near the hole that the wood splits when you hammer it in, and there needs to be enough space between it and the dowel for the wire to pass around it easily. Having checked the position, hammer in the first 2 nails, again to a good depth so that they won't wobble in use. Then remove the nail heads leaving about 5/32" (4 mm) of nail sticking out of the wood. The best way to do this is with a suitable cutter on a hobby drill (wear eye protection). If you have to use a hacksaw on these slim nails there is a danger that they will move and widen their holes, making them less secure. You can see from the photos that this is what happened when I did it. Knock them back into position if that is the case and drive them home a bit further. Then smooth off the cut edges with a file.
Knock in the final 2 slim nails and remove their heads in the same way, but leave them a bit longer, say 3/16" (5 mm). This is to allow for the fact that you will be wrapping the wire right around them, meaning that there must be room for 2 thicknesses of wire on them. The photo shows only 3 slim nails because I added the final one later, to permit Type 2 and 3 ear wires to be made.
Step 3: Inserting the Large Peg and Finishing
Try putting the dowel in the hole. You may first need to remove a little wood from its circumference at the lower end with sand paper. If, like me, you've used a splined jointing dowel, it's a good idea anyway to sand the ridges down a bit. Just make sure you don't sand it so much that it's loose in the hole. (If you do, it's not the end of the world, dip the lower half in wood glue and roll it in sawdust before inserting it into the hole, having first painted some more glue around the walls of the hole.)
Adjust the length of the dowel to leave about 1/4" (6 mm) sticking out. Rubbing the lower end across a piece of coarse sandpaper is the easiest way to shorten it by a small amount. When it is the right length and a good fit, dip the end in some wood glue and then put it into the hole and tap it home with the hammer or a mallet. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any glue that squeezes out.
Step 4: Using the Jig to Make Earwires
Now you have a jig, you can start making ear wires. Practise with hobby wire, or even fuse wire or florists' wire, before you try with silver.
Begin by making a simple Type 1 fish hook. Don't cut a length of wire, use it straight from the spool. Follow the path you have drawn on the jig, using the photos for guidance. If the wire is very stiff you may need to hold the spool end with a pair of pliers.
Hold the free end down on the lower half of the wooden block with your left hand and take the wire from the spool to the right of the 3rd pin down from the dowel. Wrap it around that pin in an anti-clockwise direction and then bend it to the left of the dowel to put a gentle bend in it. Push it down onto the base of the pin with your fingers or a slim piece of wood (like a matchstick or toothpick). Then move the spool end upwards to clear it over the top of the dowel and take it anti-clockwise around the dowel, passing it to the left of the 2 pins nearest the dowel. Take it to the right of the large pin and then bend it around that pin in a clockwise direction. Push the spool end upwards just hard enough for it to follow the path drawn on the jig. Remove the wire from the jig by easing it upwards. Trim the free end just where the wire overlaps itself to form the hanging loop, and the spool end about 1/8" (3 mm) from the bend that was formed around the large pin. Close the loop neatly with a pair of flat nosed pliers (unless you want to leave it open for now to allow the drop to be fitted) and gently round the end that will go through the ear with a Swiss file.
Step 5: Kidney Earwire With Catch and Twisted Hanging Loop
Similar to Type 1, but take the spool end up between pins 3 and 4 (ie to the left of pin 3 this time) and wrap it tightly around pin 3 in a clockwise direction. Then take it to the left of pins 1 and 2 and around the dowel as for Type 1. Leave the spool end pointing downwards, to the left of the large pin (which isn't used). Now pick up the free end again and take it clockwise around pin 4, leaving it pointing upwards as in the photo. Slip the wire off the jig and trim the free end just beyond where it left pin 4. This is the catch. Grasp this little loop in smooth jawed pliers and twist it through 90o as in the "Type 2 - after trimming" photo. Close the ear wire and trim the free end about 1/8" (3 mm) beyond the catch. Smooth it with a file.
Step 6: Kidney Earwire With Catch and Neat Hanging Loop
Hold the free end of the wire at the top of the jig, on the left of the dowel. Take the wire down to the left of the large pin, under the 4th small pin, around it and then clockwise over the top of the 3rd pin and back down. At this point, slip the wire off the jig and back on again, positioning the loop that was made around the 3rd pin to the left of that pin rather than back onto it. See photo "Type 3 - slip off the loop". Take the spool end of the wire, which should be coming from between pins 3 and 4, anti-clockwise around pin 3 and then to the left of pins 1 and 2 and around the dowel as before.
Remove the wire from the jig and turn the catch through 90o with a pair of smooth jawed pliers - see photo. Trim the ends and file smooth as before. You may want to solder the hanging loop closed, but add your dangle first unless you plan to attach it with a jump ring.
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