Have you ever sat down and decided that certain beads needed to be put on handmade wire chains? But you have never tried it before and you don’t know how hard it might be?
Well, I can tell you that if you have some experience working with wire, making wire chains is not real difficult. All you really need is some patience, the right tools and some wire of the type and gauge that you want.
So if your ready, let’s look at a few simple chains you can make in a short amount of time. Then you can start designing your own chains for both necklaces and bracelets.
The Basic Tools For Making Wire Chains
First and foremost is the wire. It can be almost any type of wire that you want. I personally use copper, sterling silver and argentium wires.
If you are unaware of what Argentium is, it is a form of silver wire that is tarnish resistant. It has a higher percentage of silver (93.5%), but instead of copper in the blend, it uses germanium. Standard sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. By removing the copper (which is what oxidizes easier) and adding the germanium, it greatly increases the tarnish resistance of the metal.
Normally I use Sterling Silver wire in 14, 18, 20,22 and 24 gauge. The wire comes in round, square and half-round in dead soft, half hard and full hard. Most artists use dead soft wire as it will work harden as you form it into the design. If you start out with to hard of a wire, it could become brittle and break instead of bending unless you anneal it.
Round is the predominate style used for chains. And 20 or 22 gauge will be a good size to use for a sturdy, but lightweight chain.
Since the wire comes in wound coils or on round spools, it has a curve to it. To be useful, it first needs to be straightened out. That way it is easy to measure for the cutting and/or forming.
The tools used for bending and forming the wire into the design are your hands and different styles of pliers. The style of pliers in the picture below are:
Top row Left to right:Round nose or Chain, Flat Jaw and Soft Jaw.
Bottom row Left to right: Bent Needlenose, Cutters or ‘dikes’ and Needlenose
Each has its own purpose and place to be used. But the main pliers for making chains is the Round nose or Chain pliers as the smooth, tapered and round jaws allow you to form the graceful curves and tight circles.
Basic Techniques For Working With Wire
As previously mentioned, since the wire comes in coils, it needs to be straightened. One of the easiest ways to straighten up the wire is by using your fingers to gently take the curve out.
As you are straightening the wire, it is best to use a polishing rag rather than your fingers straight. The rag will help to remove any tarnish that is starting to form and keep your fingers from getting black marks from the tarnish.
Cut lengths of wire the correct size for the loop that you are going to be forming. Then start forming the loop with the appropriate pliers. It is a good idea to have a pattern to compare each link with, so there is conformity from link to link. As you progress through the making of the link, be sure to check it against the template from time to time and adjust as necessary.
I normally use a Chain nose pliers to make the links as most of the links will have curves instead of sharp angles. Sharp angles can cause the wire to crack or break due to a nick from a sharp edge of the tool.
Try to get the form correct the first time. The more you work with the wire and flex and bed it, the harder the wire becomes. The harder the wire becomes, the harder it is to work into the desired form.
If the wire becomes too hard to work well, it will have to be annealed. Annealing takes either an annealing oven or a torch. A torch can be tricky to use to heat the wire to the right temperature without melting it. And the annealing process causes the wire to oxidize and form a scale on it. To remove the scale requires an acid bath which can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.
Wire chains are nothing more than a series of links joined together. It can be the same link used all the way or a combination of different links joining together in a certain pattern.
Making Simple Wire Chains For Necklaces
To make the necklace shown below, you would make the looping links first then use a jump ring through the two end loops. To join the links together I used wire through the hole of the bead and then made a ring put around the link with some length of wire left to wrap around the wire coming out of the bead.
The links that you make for your wire chains can be any size you want to make them. By varying the size of the links, you can change the looks and the length of the necklace or bracelet.
Try drawing new designs for links on paper first to see what they look like. Then try out the design in copper wire to save money. Copper wire and Sterling Silver wire of the same hardness type will bend almost identical. So practicing with copper wire is the less expensive way to develop your talent and muscle memory.
The only way to really learn is to take a class at the local college or gem and mineral club. Both places will normally have a beginners class as well as advanced classes. And of course there is always YouTube videos. We will be having more instructions here on this site as well as a forum to ask questions and share your knowledge with others. And you can show off your latest projects too.
Next Friday we will be discussing some wire wrapping techniques. So come back and check that out.
Please leave me a comment below to let me know if this article was helpful. And let me know if there are any other crafting subjects you would like me to write about.