Wirework For Beautiful Jewelry: Beginner’s Guide To

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Beginner’s Guide to

Wirework for Beautiful Jewelry

Created exclusively for Craftsy by Kate Wilkonson and Cindy Wimmer

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A Guide to Wireworking Tools and Wire Choosing the Right Temper for Wire Jewelry How to Make Classic Hoop Earrings That’ll Never Go Out of Style How to Make a Wonderfully Versatile Wire Chain Bracelet How to Wire-Wrap Buttons to Make an Easy Pendant Meet the Authors


Jewelry Wireworking Tools and Wire By Kate Wilkonson So, you’ve decided to take the leap to learning wirework? This guide should help you get started making lots of great jewelry pieces with minimal investment. The tools listed here are my personal go-to tools when using wire. They can be used to grip, pull, wrap, cut and straighten, in addition to many other tasks you have yet to imagine.

Essentially, these tools will be extensions of your hands, so try a few different brands and see what is the most comfortable for you. Keep in mind that just because one pair is more expensive than another, that doesn’t necessarily make them better. There are plenty of tools that can be bought on a budget and could be some of your favorites well into the future.


Pliers In addition to helping you make more elegant curves, pliers will help you make loops, connectors and will be instrumental in wireworking. You will notice that most pliers you’ll find will have a spring between the jaws. This helps keep them separated. That way, when you’re working, your hands are working to keep the jaws closed. There are pliers many people swear by that don’t have this spring. I find them to be less than ideal since your hands then work to keep your tools open as well as working to close them. This will just be a matter of personal preference.

ROUND-NOSE PLIERS Before buying the first pair that you see, take a little time and think about what kind of work you’ll want to be doing. If you have pretty large-scale designs with thick wire in mind, you’ll want to look for a pair that are on the larger side of the spectrum. Having that extra heft will help you really move your metal. Thinking on a more delicate scale? Consider a pair of pliers that will help you make smaller circles. I’d also recommend looking to find a pair where the jaws fit pretty tightly from the tips to the bases. If you’re using a pretty thin gauge wire, this will allow for you to use the entire length of your pliers. This is a benefit especially when you’re just learning.

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FLAT-NOSED PLIERS These pliers are my favorite for making sharp turns, maintaining tension and overall assisting the grip on wire when working. Again, think about what would be the best use of them for you and definitely look for a pair that do not have any texture on the jaws. While it might seem like a good idea to grab the ones from your garage, they will make things harder for you in the long run. The texture will mangle your metal and leave you with gouges that will not only give your pieces a less finished look, but that can also create sharp edges that can snag on clothing or skin. It’s a good idea to walk yourself through the entire project before you get started. That way, you can potentially avoid time pitfalls (like extra finish work) if at all possible. The pair on the left are my more heavy-duty pair, which allow me to shape hoops, open and close thick gauge jump rings, and any other heavier duty projects that present themselves. They would probably be overkill on smaller projects. While the big ones get a lot of use in the studio, the pair on the right are my favorite flat-nosed pliers. I find them to be the perfect mix of tiny tips and strong centers. Keep your eyes peeled in any bead stores for a pair that are just what you are looking for.


NYLON-JAWED PLIERS If you’re still learning and find that you continually end up with wire that’s crimped, textured and overall a lot harder to use, these might be the lifesaver you’ve been looking for. Put one end of your wire between the jaws, hold tightly and pull through, straightening your wire as you go. This can be repeated more than once if necessary. Keep in mind that this is a form of work hardening your piece of wire, so you might end up with wire that is a bit more springy and not as easy to manage. Don’t want to invest in these just yet? You can fold thick leather scraps over the jaws of your flat-nose pliers and get a similar result. Give them a try and see if they help you. Mine are an equal mix of well loved nylon and leather — they might not be the prettiest things but they work! WIRE CUTTERS OR FINGERNAIL CLIPPERS It’s important to have a reliable way to cut your wire. Some people prefer flush cutters or wire cutters like the ones on the left, which are great if you’re wanting to cut thicker gauge metal. For the longevity of your tool, it’s best to use the area closer to where the jaws meet so that you don’t wear out the tips. If you’re cutting smaller gauge wire, one of my favorite tricks is to use a pair of fingernail clippers. These allow you to get into tiny areas that bulky cutters can’t. For slightly thicker wire, toenail clippers work great.

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Wire Depending on your supplier, the number of available gauges of wire can make your head spin. No need to get overwhelmed though, there are a few basic sizes that you’ll be able to use for many projects. 24-gauge wire This size is great for projects that need a little extra strength or for beads that might have larger holes. 26-gauge wire This size will fit through the majority of the beads that you get. It’s also hefty enough that you know your wraps will be secure. Be careful not to crimp or bend the wire multiple times, as that will weaken it. 28- or 30-gauge wire If you are using small precious stone beads, you’ll find that often the holes will be extra tiny and you’ll have trouble getting a 26-gauge wire through them. That’s when you’d want to reach for this wire. However, this is probably not the best choice if you are planning on wrapping those stones into a bracelet or a piece that will encounter a lot of wear.



Temper of Wire for Jewelry By Kate Wilkonson When choosing your materials for an upcoming project, it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you head to the store. Different tempers of wire will behave differently and there is likely one that is best suited to your jewelry project. The way that wire responds to your hands and tools can greatly affect your successes or failures. Especially if you’re a beginner, it’s best to learn a little bit about the behaviors of each before you invest in something that will make your first projects more difficult. Read on for some suggestions and tips for choosing the right temper of wire for jewelry.

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Work Hardening One of the most basic concepts in metals is the lesson of hardening and annealing. Simply put, when metal is annealed that means that the crystalline structure of the piece is at its loosest state. This allows for freedom and ease in shaping. On the other side of the spectrum, when a piece has been "work hardened," its structure has been compressed and the metal has been stressed to the point when forming will become difficult or maybe impossible without cracking. Work hardening can be a valuable tool when used correctly. Many jewelers and metalsmiths will harden their piece as a last step to ensure that the desired shape is secure well into the future.

What Does All That Mean? While you may be able to find wire that is available in all of these hardnesses, there is likely one that will be better suited to your project than another, which we'll discuss in more depth below. In the past, wire was assigned a number, ranging from zero to four, designating the hardness. The numbers would correlate to the number of times that the wire had been pulled through a draw plate. This is a technique in which wire is pulled through graduated holes in a steel or wooden plate that stretches and forms the metal into wire. It also works to harden the metal. The lower the number, the softer the wire. So a zero would be dead soft since it would not have been at all work hardened. A four would mean hard in that it would have been pulled through four times.

Photo source Wikimedia Creative Commons, via artist Mauro Cateb


Dead Soft Wire Dead soft wire has been annealed to its softest point before you begin to work with it. What that means is more flexibility and ease when forming your designs. This would be a great choice if you’re wrapping briolettes and you really want your wire to form to the shape of the stone or if you’re doing lots of small intricate shapes. It’s easy to bend with your hands so this might be a good fit for you if that’s a way that you enjoy working.

Half-Hard Wire On the other hand, half-hard wire has a bit more spring and resistance to it. You’ll notice that when shaping it with your hands, it will be more firm and have a bit more spring. That does have its benefits. If, for example, you’re making hoops or finished wire components, you want your wire to maintain its structure after you’ve molded it. Half-hard wire would be an excellent choice in this instance. As you experiment with half-hard wire, keep in mind that the metal has an inherent springiness to it. Because of this, you’ll need to push it slightly past the point where you want it to end. This way, your wire will relax into its final desired shape. As an aside, half-hard might make briolette wrapping more difficult based on this springiness.

Hard Wire While much more difficult to work with, hard wire will allow you to form more permanent shapes. So if you’re up for the challenge, it might be a good choice if you’re doing bigger pieces without a lot of small twists and turns. Remember experimenting is always a valuable tool, so try a bit of each and see what works best in your hands.

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That’ll Never Go Out of Style By Kate Wilkonson Classic hoop earrings are a wardrobe staple that will never go out of style. They’re an easy way to upgrade almost any outfit, and they also make wonderful gifts. Best of all, they are really quite simple to make. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make a wire-wrapped hoop. Once you acquire this essential jewelry making skill, the options for customization are truly endless!


Tools and Supplies You'll Need: • • • • • •

Round-nose pliers Flat-nose pliers Needle-nose pliers About 12" of wire (I’m using 16 gauge 14/20 rose gold filled round wire.) 2 ear hooks Something round to form your pieces on. (I’m using a large round mandrel, but feel free to get creative; baseball bats work great, as do wooden dowels for a more economical option.) • A file (Not mandatory, but just a little extra detail that will help make your piece look finished.) STEP 1: Begin by measuring your wire. This pair will be slightly larger than 6" each. I’ve found that these are a great everyday size for lots of folks, but if you know that you like your pieces smaller, you could go for a 4.5"-5" pair. Cut them both at the same time so you’re sure to have consistent sizing at the end.

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STEP 2: If you’ve used wire cutters, you’ll probably have crimped ends. These will end up being smack dab in the middle of the finished piece, and, for the detail-oriented, can be quite an eyesore. You’ve gone this far, why not finish the ends? Just grab your file and flatten the ends. Then, when wire ends meet, you’ll have a nice clean connection. STEP 3: Likely, your wire will have been spooled when you purchased it and this is one of those rare moments when that actually works to your advantage. Note which direction the curve swoops and imagine that being the inner diameter of your hoop. Hold it in your hands so it swoops upward and to the right. Now, using your needle-nose pliers, make a small circle backwards so it ends perpendicular to your original curve. You’ll want this to be large enough for the other end of your wire to fit through but not too large that it’ll look sloppy when finished.


STEP 4: Find the general center of your wire and line that up with the mandrel or round object you’ll be using. It doesn’t need to be perfectly center but it’ll help you in the long run if it’s closer than not. You’ll want to choose the depth of the curve you want at this point. If you form your hoop around the larger part of the mandrel, you’ll have a wider, more circular shape. Whereas, a smaller form will create an elongated teardrop shape. STEP 5: Put gentle pressure on both sides of the wire as you begin to shape it around your mandrel. Moderate is key here — if you push way too hard that can lead to some misshaping. Best not to have to fix silly problems in the long run. Go slow and you’ll make make fewer mistakes until you get the hang of it. STEP 6: As the two ends begin to meet one another, press a tiny bit harder on the end with no loop. Just enough so it will just barely fit into the hole on the other side. You want to make this fit as soon as you can so that you don’t get extra bending in your wire.

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STEP 7: Using your needle-nose pliers, form a small circle (as close to the same size as your original one), so the filed end meets the neck of the teardrop.

STEP 8: Use your flat-nosed pliers to adjust any parts that may have gotten a little wonky. There you have it, you’re finished your first hoop! STEP 9: Repeat Steps 1-8, making sure that you use the same spot on your mandrel and pliers so you’ll have a matching pair. Attach ear wires and you’re all set! 15

Have fun playing around with different shapes of wire or types of metal. Square wire is one of my favorites and 14K gold fill is an all-around crowd-pleaser, but you might want to try craft wire or copper until you’ve got this technique nailed.

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Wonderfully Versatile Wire Chain Bracelet By Cindy Wimmer Learning to make handmade wire chain is a great foundation for jewelry designers interested in learning how to make wirework jewelry. All sorts of chain can be made, depending on the types of wire used and shape of the links made, from simple to complex. Only a handful of tools are needed to make wire chain, and it can be made without having to solder. In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to make a textured wire chain bracelet with a handmade clasp.


Tools and Supplies You’ll Need: • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Two Sharpies Round-nose pliers Flat hand file Flat-nose pliers Flush cutters Chasing hammer Ruler Steel bench block Sandbag 22-gauge half-hard sterling silver wire 16-gauge pure copper wire Liver of sulfur (optional) Fine steel wool (optional) Rotary tumbler with stainless steel shot (optional)

STEP 1: Tape two Sharpies together with packing tape to create an oval-shaped mandrel. STEP 2: Cut 3 ½"of 16-gauge copper wire. Place the Sharpies on the center of the wire. Press the wire up and around the bottom section of the mandrel (the black area of the Sharpies). Press the wire firmly against the mandrel to create an oval shape.

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STEP 3: Continue pressing the wires around the mandrel to make an oval shape with the wires oriented in the opposite direction. STEP 4: Find the center of the oval shape. Insert the flat-nose pliers under one of the wires, with the edge of the pliers at the center of the shape. Bend the wire up so that the tail is perpendicular to the oval shape.

STEP 5: Measure the tail wire to 5/8" and trim. File the cut end of the wire. Bend the tail wire back 90 degrees. Mark the round-nose pliers approximately ¾ of the way from the tip with a Sharpie. You will use this mark to make a simple loop. STEP 6: Grasp the end of the tail wire with the round-nose pliers at the mark. Roll the wire forward to make a simple loop. Readjust the loop as needed so that it is centered on the oval link shape. STEP 7: Trim the excess wire from the remaining tail. Line the cutters up with the simple loop and make a flush cut. Grasp the wire with the flat-nose pliers and wiggle the cut wire back and forth as you would a jump ring, so that the cut end of the wire is flush against the edge of the loop. 19

STEP 8: Place the link on the steel bench block. Hammer the outside edges of the oval to flatten. STEP 9: Turn the hammer over and use the ball end to add texture to the wire link. Readjust the open end of the wire so it lines up flush with the loop, as it will shift while hammering. STEP 10: Cut 3 ½"of 22-gauge silver wire, leaving a short tail to grasp hold of the wire. Wrap the longer end of the wire around the copper link tightly. Make four wraps (you can vary the number of wraps depending on your preference) and leave a small space. This space allows room to attach the links together. Make another four wraps around the link. Trim the wire on the same side — this will be the back of the link. Press the cut ends down with the flat-nose pliers to secure. Note: These wire wraps help to keep the links centered on one another once they are linked together. Without these wire wraps, the links will slide around when the bracelet is worn.

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STEP 11: To make the hook clasp, cut 4"of 16-gauge copper wire. Repeat Steps 2 through 4, but leave a 1"tail instead. Hammer the very tip of the tail wire with the hammer and bench block to flatten slightly. Grasp the end of the wire with the tip of the round-nose pliers to make small loop. Grasp the wire under this loop with the back of the round-nose pliers and rotate forward, creating a hook. STEP 12: Open the simple loop of each link and attach to the next link by closing the loop in between the silver wire wraps. Note: I recommend oxidizing the bracelet in a liver of sulfur solution to bring out the details in the wirework. After oxidizing, brush off the excess oxidization with fine steel wool (#0000), then add to a rotary tumbler to polish and work harden the wire links. And that’s all there is to it! See how easy how easy it is to make your own bracelet from wire chain?

If You’re Looking to Get Creative, Here Are Some Ideas for Variations on This Chain: • U  se a round-shaped mandrel instead of oval. • Change the types of wire used. Use sterling silver as the base with goldfilled wire for an elegant look, for example. • Try adding different types of texture on the link. Instead of texturing hammers, use metal design stamps. • Vary the size of the links — one small, one large — making a new chain pattern.



to Make an Easy Pendant By Cindy Wimmer

If you’re drawn to vintage style and antiques, chances are you have a jar or two of pretty old buttons. Carved mother of pearl buttons are especially popular to collect. With just a little wire and a few jewelry making tools, you can make an easy button pendant with basic wirewrapping techniques. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to wire-wrap buttons with a technique that can also be used for lampwork discs and other flat components.

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Tools and Supplies You’ll Need: • B  utton or lampwork disc of your choice (I used a 24mm button) • 18-gauge wire (I used dead-soft sterling silver) • Round-nose pliers • Chain-nose pliers • Flush cutters • Ruler • Sharpie

STEP 1: Cut a 5" piece of 18-gauge wire. STEP 2: Measure the wire and make a mark at 1 ¼" with a Sharpie. Slide the button onto the wire and place on the mark. STEP 3: Bend both wires up, pressing the wires snug against the button. STEP 4: Bend the wires so that they cross over top of the button. Be sure to leave a small amount of space between the button and wires so that the button can move freely.


STEP 5: Bend the long wire up with the tip of the chain-nose pliers. Bend the short wire forward. The wires form a 90-degree angle. STEP 6: Grasp the short with the chain-nose pliers and wrap around the longer wire twice. Trim the wire. STEP 7: Bend the long wire back 90 degrees. Place the middle of the round-nose pliers at the bend and make a wrapped loop. You’ll want to make this loop large enough so that you can slide it onto a necklace chain. STEP 8: Wrap the tail wire over top of the previous wraps, keeping the wraps parallel and neat. Trim the wire on the back side of the button and press the wire down. Check your wirework and be sure that the wire on the top of the button is in a straight line with the loop, creating a precise and finished look. Now you are ready to slip the pendant on to a finished chain or leather cord — it’s ready to wear! Tip: For a more rustic look, use pre-oxidized wire or oxidize the pendant after it is completed.

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Once you get the hang of this easy wire-wrapping technique, you’ll find there are many variations to try. You can vary the type of wire and use twisted wire. Try making pendants with different metals, such as brass or copper. Bring out your stash of art beads and make a wire-wrapped pendant with lampwork or ceramic discs. Stone focal beads like these are also perfect for making wire-wrapped pendants.


Ready for more? Learn how to finish your designs like a pro with custom jump rings, head pins, ear wires, clasps and more in the online jewelry class Make Your Own Wirework Findings, taught by award-winning artist Lisa Niven Kelly. Click on the button below to enjoy special savings on video lessons you can watch anywhere, anytime, forever.

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Cindy Wimmer of Sweet Bead Studio is a jewelry designer with a passion for combining vintage elements with modern wire design. Her jewelry has been published internationally, and she has contributed designs to the books Wire Style 2, Bead Soup and Unexpected Findings. Cindy is author of The Missing Link. She lives in Virginia with her husband and four sons.

With a background in fashion and industrial design, the world of jewelry always called to Kate Wilkonson. She currently lives and works in Denver, but wanders the globe in search of inspiration and unique supplies. Kate especially loves the custom side of her business, Arcatus Jewelry, where she gets to help people celebrate, honor and create pieces that fit them, their loved ones and their lives.


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