I regularly receive emails asking me about types of wire, what ‘half hard’ means and where people can get certain supplies. All sorts of questions are asked and one day, whilst replying to an email, I thought it might be useful to add a FAQ page to my website. So here it is, I will be adding to this on a regular basis, so if there is something you want to know, just ask – I will do my best to help.
If you would like details of online suppliers for beads and wire, have a look at my links tab.
The information given on this page is designed to partner my tutorials. This includes materials and tools which I commonly use but they are not definitive lists.
As with anything – get the best you can afford. For years I worked with economy pliers and wire cutters, which was fine but it wasn’t until I got my ‘decent’ set that I realised what I had been missing!!! I now use Wubbers and can’t believe how much easier they make things. The jaws of your pliers should be smooth so that they do not mark your wire, but should also grip it firmly, so that it does not slide about while you are working.
1. Wire cutters = there are 2 main types, flush cutters and side cutters. I recommend the use of flush cutters, for this detailed style of wire work, you need to be able to get in really close and make a neat and tidy cut, without any burrs. The jaws of your cutters should meet perfectly, right down to the tip.
2. Flat nose pliers = used to shape wire and make accurate angles and bends.
3. Long nose or chain nose pliers = again used to shape your wire (also a favourite with chainmaillers) but also to get into those awkward spots where you need to tuck a wire end in.
4. Round nose pliers = used to create loops and spirals
5. Nylon jaw pliers = used to flatten shapes you have made, straighten kinked wire, they can also be use d to harden wire slightly.
6. Ring mandrel = used to make ring shanks and large circles and loops. There are two types, tapered and stepped. I use a tapered, stepped mandrels are used to make large thick shanks.
These are investment tools, that you may want to consider getting to aid your wire addiction!!
1. Chasing hammer (jewellers) = for flattening and shaping wire.
2. Rawhide hammer = for hardening wire.
3. Jewellery tumbler (and steel shot) = for hardening and high polishing your finished pieces
4. Bracelet mandrel = for shaping bracelets and cuffs.
5. Jigs = used to create shapes, ideal for making multiple identical links. There are many varieties on the market, the most well known being Wig Jig. They are generally a drilled board with removable pegs, which you position in the desired layout and then wrap the wire around.
The sizes I have detailed below are the ones I most commonly work with, there is a whole array of other sizes available. The gauges I have given are in AWG (American wire gauge) this is most commanly used by wire suppliers, there is also SWG (Standard wire gauge), which some UK suppliers do use.
1. 28 gauge or 0.315mm, this is very, very thin wire, used for coiling and weaving, it is not suitable as structure wire.
2. 24 gauge 0r 0.5mm, this is great for binding or wrapping briolettes, can be used for spirals as long as they are not supportive.
3. 20 gauge or 0.8mm, this is used mainly for creating spirals and wire details, it can also be used for structures when there are other supporting wires available.
4. 18 gauge or 1mm, this is used as structure wire.
5. 16 gauge or 1.2mm, this is used as structure wire and is ideal for handmade clasps.
6. 14 gauge or 1.6mm, great for heavy duty designs like barrettes
7. 12 gauge or 2mm, as above
There are 3 different hardnesses for wire, the one you choose to work with is really up to personal preference.
1. Soft = as the name suggests, soft wire is very pliable and easy to shape, it takes longer to work harden and is therefore less likely to snap, however it does not tend to hold its shape as well as the others and generally requires hardening once your design is complete.
2. Half Hard = this is the hardness I generally work with – it is the happy medium as it is soft enough to be able to shape without too much trouble and yet hard enough to hold its shape.
3. Hard = this is very hard – too hard for me to work with, but for some designs that need to be very rigid whilst you are working on them, you may want to consider this option.
Types of wire:
Learning to work with wire can be an expensive process. When you first start you will find that you get through a lot of wire, just learning the basic techniques, this can be all the more frustrating if you are working with precious metals, as every mistake is an expensive one. I always recommend that when you are learning or trying out a new technique you work first with ‘practice wire’ while you master it so that you can move onto precious metals with confidence.
There are some general rules to follow when working with wire too:
1. Do not allow your wire to kink. This is essential when weaving and coiling with thin wire, whilst you are working, always pay attention to what your wire is doing, if a loop forms, stop what you are doing and untwist the loop – loops become kinks and kinks snap!!!
2. Be aware of work hardening. As I have previously mentioned, wire becomes work hardened, the more you work it, the harder it gets and will eventually snap, which can be really annoying as you can guarantee it will always snap at a crucial point. Try to handle your wire as little as possible, when shaping try to get it right first time, you can re-do it once, maybe even twice without a problem, but any more than that and you will compromise the strength of your wire and run the risk of it breaking. When working with thin wire, always hold it at the very end (treat it like a needle) and try to avoid running it through your fingers, as this will make it springy and likely to for loops (and you know what that means!).
3. Be careful of plier marks. Getting the right grip on your pliers is vital – take some time to practice this. If you hold too tightly you will mark your wire, hold too softly and the wire will slip again marking it.
4. Don’t let the wire win!! Sometimes wire has a mind of its own, don’t allow it to get the better of you. If it is being particularly disagreeable, stop, put it down and go back to it later, with your fresh eyes and hands, it will be no match for you!!!