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Wire Questions and Answers

by Tammy Powley (http://www.tammypowley.com)

Before you can begin making wire jewelry, you need to purchase wire used for this purpose. However, opening up a catalog or going on line and shopping can be very intimidating for many beginners. They have to consider terms such as “dead-soft” and “gauge” before they can buy what they need to get started. Here are some common questions and answers to help get through the maze of purchasing wire for jewelry making.

What size does wire come in?

When referring to the size of wire, the correct term for this is the wire’s “gauge,” and gauge indicates the thickness or diameter of the wire, which is measured in millimeters. In some European countries, they actually just go by the millimeter size, which is understandable since they use the metric system. However, in the United States (for example) they normally go by the wire’s gauge.

The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the piece of wire. Yes, it seems opposite of what it should be, but this is very important to understand when you are ordering wire. For example, if you need a very thin piece of wire, something that will fit through pearls, then you’d want the diameter to be thin. 24-gauge is a good choice for this, and 24-gauge is actually .50mm in diameter.

What shape is wire available in?

The most popular shape of wire used in most jewelry making projects is round. This shape also tends to be the easiest to locate when purchasing wire as well as to work with when making most beginner level jewelry projects. However, wire comes in all kinds of shapes such as square and half-round, which are both most often used for wire wrapping or wire sculpting techniques. These methods often require wire to be connected side by side (thus the use of the square wire) and then wrapped together (thus the use of half-round).

What does hardness refer to when selecting wire?

Most vendors will sell wire in three different types of hardness: dead-soft, half-hard, and hard. Dead-soft, as you would expect, is very soft and easy to bend, especially for small gauges such as 24 or 22. Half-hard is a little harder than soft and while you may (depending on the strength of your fingers) be able to bend some of it with your hands, more than likely you will need to use hand tools such as pliers to more easily bend it. Hard is very hard and not that easy to work with. It’s pretty rare that you’ll need hard wire for any hand-wrapping wire jewelry making. This level of wire hardness is most often used by metalsmiths who will solder or fabricating with the wire.

What is the best wire to use for completing jewelry making projects?

So, once you understand the difference between the different hardness of wire, you need to decide which hardness you will need. Gauge and shape also come into play when selecting the best wire for jewelry making. While this can really vary depending on personal preference and the techniques used, generally speaking, the types of wire most often used for basic wire jewelry making would be round and dead-soft for things like wrapped loops and round and half-hard for things like making a clasp.

Gauges that are helpful to have on hand include: 24-gauge, dead-soft for light-weight beads such as pearls, which often have small holes in them; 22-gauge or 21-gauge, dead-soft for things like making ear wires or for making wire and bead sections (as most beads in the 4mm to 6mm will fit on this size wire); and 20-gauge half-hard for making jump rings and hooks.

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