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Wire Working Basics
Working with wire can be a lot of fun. Learning the basic tips will help prepare you when working on your projects. Wire can be used to make rings, bracelets, earrings and findings. You can find many wire working projects in books, magazines and on the Internet. Whether you are making findings, creating wire beadwork or wire sculpture jewelry, it is always helpful to learn the basics.
Copper wire is best for beginners because it is inexpensive, easy to work and is very pliable. As you become experienced and comfortable with your skill level, you may want to move on to sterling silver wire. Of course, your design may very well determine if you choose copper or sterling silver.
Wire comes in different sizes or gauges. The higher the number, the thinner the wire. Copper and silver are the most commonly used for wire work. Most projects call for 22 or 24-gauge wire. Heavier gauges such as 16 and 18-gauge may be used for more substantial projects such as brooches. If you are working with beads, the hole size in your bead will determine your wire size.
Wire is available in three tempers, which define the hardness. They range from very pliable to very stiff. The three tempers are dead soft, half-hard, and full hard. Most projects call for dead soft wire, as it is the most pliable of the three. Half-hard wire has more resistance and retains it shape better. When strength is important and less manipulation is required, half hard wire may be your best bet.
You may find a need to straighten your wire. There are several ways you can achieve this. Nylon jaw pliers are usually your go to tool for straightening wire. The first step is to make a small loop on one end of the wire. Grasp the loop in one hand, place the wire between your closed nylon jaws and pull through the nylon jaws. You may have to repeat this step several times until your wire is straight. You may also use a piece of leather. Place your wire between a folded piece of leather and draw the leather along the length of the wire. The third way is to lay your wire on your bench block. Hold the wire loosely in one hand and twirl it as you gently tap the wire with your nylon hammer. These techniques will also assist in hardening your wire.
Wire, just like metal becomes work hardened. Depending on your project you may need to anneal your wire. Usually a small butane torch works well for annealing wire. Prepare your wire for annealing by wrapping it into a loose coil; wrap the ends loosely around the coil so you have a secure “nest” or circle of wire. Place your wire on a firing brick or charcoal block. Hold your torch so the tip of the blue cone of the flame is running over your wire. When the wire turns a very light pink, it is annealed. Quench in water and place in pickle. Remove from the pickle and scrub lightly with a toothbrush and dish detergent. You are now ready to work with your wire in a soft malleable state.
Handy tools for working with wire include wire jigs; wire twisting tools, or you can even purchase a wire wrap kit. Try out a new wire tool and see what it can do for your designs. Sites such as Amazon, Rio Grande and Otto Frie are just a few resources you might want to explore. Watch my site for articles on tools to use when working with wire. Have fun!
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