Hardening Wire: 3 Quick Experiments

Jul 7, 2008

Why I Love Hammering

If you work with wire beyond an occasional wrapped loop, you'll probably end up hammering it at some point.  Hammering wire hardens it, making it stronger and harder.  You can also get some cool effects with flattened wire.  I love hammering  because it's is loud and noisy--and frankly, tremendously satisfying if you need a little stress release.  (At least, it is if you're doing the hammering.  If you're trying to sleep and your sweetheart is hammering her little heart out in the early hours before work, well, not so much.  Oops!  Sorry!)

Over the weekend, I flipped through a couple of books looking for different things to try.  Making Colorful Wire and Beaded Jewelry by Linda Jones had some tips on what not to do, so of course I thought I'd try those things!  Sometimes, as crazy as it sounds, it helps me to make those mistakes and understand the "why" behind the advice.  Once I do, I'm likely to remember it forever.

Three Experiments with Wire

I used a regular hardware store hammer for these experiments, but if you were to pursue more hammering, you'd probably want a jewelry hammer since those are smaller and lighter. I'd recommend making spirals if you want to experiement along with me, since they have a lot of surface area to work with and it's easier to see the results.  You might want to leave a long "tail" to your spiral and hang onto this with your pliers as you hammer.  This way you're less likely to accidentally hit your thumb or turn your spiral into a mini flying saucer.

1.  Hammer on a steel block that is clean, smooth, and dent-free.

If you don't follow this advice, then the wire will pick up the irregularities on the surface--all those dents and dings.  Even if you don't pick up any surprises, you may notice that your hammering is not as effective if you use a different type of surface.  Take a look at these two letter E's that I made using metal stamps.  One I made hammering on a piece of cardboard that I placed on a cement floor.  The other I used a steel block as a surface.   See the difference? 

Of course, the other reason to be careful about your hammering surface is that you could damage it.  Do you really want your legacy to your children or grandchildren to be all those weird indentions in the kitchen table?

2. Don't use small jump rings as this will distort their shape.

I tried a couple of sizes of silver jump rings.  To the naked eye, the jump rings seemed to keep their round shape fairly well, but in the photo close-up you can see the space between the ends of the jump ring has dramatically widened and the ring is no longer the same uniform size all around.

3.  Don't use colored wires as the colored coatings can rub off.

For this experiment, I first used 26-gauge green, permanently colored copper wire from a local craft store.  After a few swings of the hammer, there were definitely some nicks where I could see the copper showing through.

I also hammered some 18-gauage anodized aluminum jump rings and as I expected, the color came off fairly quickly.  (The color of the rings tended to chip with just regular handling.) 

My third experiment was with some 22-gauge colored wire (pictured at right).  This performed the best of the three colored wires with the end of the wire where it was cut showing the most copper underneath.  The spiral itself was in good shape with just a few touches of color missing.  The spiral is not completely hammered flat, so it's quite possible that additional chips will occur by the time it's finished.

Despite this experience, I'm not quite ready to give up on hammering colored wire.  (Yes, I'm stubborn.)  I had a suggestion from a reader that a nylon hammer would be gentler on colored wire.  I'm also curious whether covering my hammer head with masking tape would help.  (The masking tape trick has helped when using pliers on easily marred surfaces.)  Those two ideas are the next on my list of experiments!

One More Tip

One last "don't"--you can overdo it and actually weaken the wire if you hammer it too much.  The good news is that according to Denise Peck, editor in chief of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, "Work-hardened wire can be restored to its original malleability by heating it, which is called annealing." 

Anyone else hammering wire or metal lately?  Own the perfect hammer?  Have you figured out the trick to hammering colored wire--or to the universe in general?  Tell me about it.  I love hearing from you!


 

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Comments

Stephielayne wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 11:58 AM

Two more tips for you:

** If you are using a steel bench block, you may need a pad of some sort underneath it.  Several websites sell a pad that looks like a leather pouch filled with shot.  This can prevent the block from jumping around and can also prevent marring the table with the bench block.

** As you are hammering, keep the hammer's head flat!  This is harder than it sounds.  If the hammer's head is slanted as you hammer, you will get marks on your piece from the edge of the hammer.  Of course, this also makes a fun texture!

on Jul 7, 2008 12:00 PM

I don't hammer jump rings but I do place several on a steel block and then take another steel block and smack them.  Turn the jump rings over and smack them again.  They hold their shape quite well!

Russtty wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 12:00 PM

Anodized  Aluminium wire does not "chip" it is an electrolitic coating  not paint, if the surface has chipped, then it was coated with a paint or laquer  not anodized.The colored aluminum wire scratches easily when hammered,you can remove the color by sanding it,fileing it ,or by excess hammering.

this comment  given to you by  H.Russel Howard  GIA

manufacturing jewelery since  1971  

CanadianDot wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 12:07 PM

Another "Don't", or rather, a be-very-careful: Think twice before hammering something where two pieces of wire cross over. This can create weak points, as, if you hammer it to the same thickness as the rest of the piece, each of those wires will be only half the thickness of everything else.

Shannon@56 wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 12:12 PM

I love hammering wire, but I don't like the dull finish it produces.  Am I doing it wrong or is there a good way to shine it up again?  I tried a needle file and that helped a little but still left the wire scratched.  I also tried fine steel wool and that didn't seem to make any difference.

AmyW@55 wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 12:29 PM

I work with colored wire frequently. The key to hammering is being gentle. Usually it works, but occasionally, the coating peels off and I have to start over. Tap lightly with your hammer, flip the piece and tap again. You don't want to flatten colored wire too much - that will surely guarantee that the coating will peel. Same with Artistic wire that has a non-tarnish finish - lightly hammer it. And as with any wirework, don't hammer where wires overlap.

I tried the Beadsmith Wire Whacker but was not satisfied with its results. Save your money on that one.

Jdford wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 12:30 PM

For some very basic wire tips, take a look at Plum & Verdigris on www.TVWeekly.com

pnv.tvweekly.com/player.php

They've usually got interesting shows, and you can actually see the pieces they're working with!  

Knda wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 12:33 PM

I'm in need of some help with hammering wire. I hold my hammer head flat but I'm still getting dented marks in my wire. The head is a little loose on the hammer, does that have anything to do with it?

Thanks for any advice! ~Kendra H.

on Jul 7, 2008 12:36 PM

Shannon,

Three ways to get the shine to return:

1) Tumble polish the piece when you are finished.

2) Use a brass brush in a dremel or flex-shaft to polish the piece and then tumble.

3) Use a "scrubbie" on a mandrel for a dremel or flex-shaft. WEAR EYE PROTECTION!!! Then tumble.

Steel wool will not give you a shiny finish it is great for a matte finish. If you use a needle file you remove the hammered finish.

Sue

LesliM wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 1:06 PM

I would anneal it more often than not and have you tried plastic dip coating for your metal tools.  I use it a lot on the tool that closes rings so as not to mare the surface of the rings.  It comes in a can and is liquid and you can dip any tool in it and more than once after drying if you feel the need for a second coat.  Let it dry very throughly or it will not work well.  They make lots of styles of hammers for repose work, curved, flat, pointed etc.  They also have rawhide mallets.  Hope these ideas help.  Lesli

PaulaK@26 wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 1:24 PM

#1:  Hammering the wire increases the surface area.  The color coating would have to be able to stretch in order not to split and show the underlying copper.

#2:  An old mouse pad makes a great bench block pad.

#3:  Another great book is "Bead on a Wire" by Sharilyn Miller.

Mrswtownsend wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 1:26 PM

When working with a piece that is larger than the head of my jewelers hammer, often times I will put the piece between two larger, smooth sheets of steel and hammer over top of the steel.  I have found that, depending on the gauge of the wire, I can also achieve a nice uniformly flattened and un-gouged piece by placing the wire (between the two pieces of steel) into my vise.

A rawhide mallot is another jewelers tool designed to form metal without scarring it.  This may be a solution for those using color coated wire; the only drawback I've found using the rawhide mallot is, it does not have the weight behind each blow like a steel head hammer has so it takes a little more effort to achieve the goal.

Regarding jump rings, if you can, solder the seams and THEN hammer the ring.  They retain their shape much better this way.  Links soldered on a chain can be hammered individually; separate the link and hammer half the ring at a time.  WATCH YOUR FINGERS!!!

Gina T.

BejeweledKat wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 3:11 PM

DON'T use masking tape unless you want a textured finish. It is amazing how much texture "hard" metal can dtect ... and amplify.

The nylon hammer is your better option. Keep it smooth by sanding the deep nicks. Make it absolutely smooth with fine sandpaper or JUDITIOUS use of a flame The other option is a smooth leather cover for your hammer.

Timaree wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 3:18 PM

All these tips are great and I don't have any to add.  I just laughed that you have to purposely do something wrong to learn from the "mistake".  I seem to do quite enough learning even when I am trying hard NOT to make a mistake!

Timaree

RobynO2 wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 5:30 PM

LesliM, where do you get the plastic dip?  How long does an application last?  Are there any tools you wouldn't recommend using it on?  I hate getting scratches from my pliers, and that sounds more functional than bending things with tools in ziploc bags.  LOL  It's a passable method if you're really stuck, but it gets annoying after a while.

IngridS@16 wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 6:30 PM

I've done a bit of hammer forging on various metals. You can keep your rings round by angling the hammer slightly so you hit the outside curve more than the inside. Not a lot of angle, just a little.

If you have problems with nicks, dents or dulling, polish your hammer face. And your anvil surface. Wet/dry sandpaper works well for that. Get it wet and use some elbow grease. Start with a course grit, about 220, and work up to 600 or 1000. If your striking surfaces are polished, you won't get dents in your wire. You can even improve a dull surface with a smooth hammer. Its called "hammer polishing".

You can also buy a planishing hammer, which is designed for hammer polishing. Its a funny looking hammer, with a broad, flat face and a small rounded back end.

One of my favorite books is All Wired Up, I can't remember tha author off hand, but its a great tutorial on how to work with wire.

Ingrid the Crafty

LesliM wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 7:17 PM

Robin O.  I've not purchased it in some time, but I used to just look for it in hardware stores.  It used to come in a can the size of a tennis ball can or a bit smaller.  It even came in colors and I've used it on all sorts of tools that I don't want to leave marks on.  The sharp edged tools will obviously cut through the plastic quicker but you can get quite a few applications before having to pull off the plastic and redip.  Try looking on line, as I've not bought it for some time.  I hope they still make it, I'm guessing they do since they still plastic coat the handles of jewelry tools.  It's a great product but does dry out after time and it has to be replaced.  Good luck. Lesli

LesliM wrote
on Jul 7, 2008 7:24 PM

Robyn O.  I just found some on the internet called Plasti-Dip and it comes in a spray can too.  I found it at Amazon for 5.69, so cheap too.  Keep looking at hardware stores too, apparently it's still out there.  Lesli M

JudyO@14 wrote
on Jul 8, 2008 7:40 AM

Try a chasing hammer for most workl.  You can use the back side to texture as well.  If you must hammer colored wire then use a rawhide hammer and be gentle.  It can work.

And for those of you talking about coating your tools try Tool Magic.  You can get it at almost any jewelry supply.  This allows you to recoat your tools whenever you like. Very easy to use.

Kelli@23 wrote
on Jul 8, 2008 8:41 AM

This "Don't" is really more of a cautionary tale: As I hammered away with my ball peen hammer on my new steel block, happily oblivious to everything but the task in front of me, I was suddenly interrrupted by a literal cascade of seed beeds raining down upon me and my work surface from above. I was utterly oblivious to the vibrations my hammering was causing to my stacks of bead boxes above me. About a kilo of seed beads lay scattered all over my studio. It's funny now, but there was some slippin' and slidin' until I got them all scraped up. Even now I look at that bag of bead soup and remember my motto, Hammer Softly and Look Up Every So Often.

--Kelli P.

malexander33 wrote
on Jul 8, 2008 11:42 AM

advice requested -

I'm starting to make chain (or, chain mail, however it is properly named).  I have a lot of "dead soft" wire.  it hardens some as I wind it on a mandrel before cutting individual jump rings.  I also tumble the cut jump rings before working with them.  I'm told that neither of these steps will really harden the wire enough.

Instead, the advice is to use half-hard wire for chain.  good advice but I'd like to use up my dead soft wire first!

one suggestion to harden dead-soft wire is to stretch a section of wire between the closed jaws of a vice and the chuck of an electric drill.   then, turn on the drill at a low speed and slowly twist the wire till it breaks at one end or the other.

this works but it hardens the wire too much, in my opinion - it is very hard to close the jump rings properly and the wire is brittle.

does anyone know a better method to harden dead soft SS wire so that it becomes more like Half-Hard SS wire?

thanks,

Mary

ShelbyR@3 wrote
on Jul 8, 2008 4:29 PM

I work with Artistic Wire and I found that if I'm careful, I don't mar the polyurethane coating. I use a steel block and then I put the jewelry component on a piece of leather and fold the leather over the top. (I use a piece of leather that is about 8 inches long and 2.5 inches wide that I cut from one of my husband's old wallets.) then, I hammer away. The coating seems to survive. I use a planishing hammer.

If the metal is really brittle, as I find anodized aluminum usually is, I use a leather or plastic hammer.

I use "Tool Magic" to coat my pliers - especially the round-nose pliers.  I got mine on E-bay. My husband who is an electrician says electricians use it all the time to coat tool handles, so someplace that caters to electricians might have it.

I always use dead soft wire - unless I'm really desperate or working with brass. :-)  It's usually quite hard by the time I'm done working with it, but if it's not and it needs to be cleaned I tumble it in my rotary tumbler with stainless steel shot, 1T dishsoap and enough water to just cover the mixture with the jewelry in it. After that it is super hard and I can't bend it without re-heating it.

I hope that helped!!

Best wishes,

Shelby

HeatherM@78 wrote
on Jul 9, 2008 4:41 PM

I hammer colored copper wire and non-tarnish wire all the time.  The trick is that you cannot flatten it, but hammer it to work harden it.  

First place your wire on a pad of newspaper.  Then hammer with a rubber mallet or hammer.  This will not mark or flatten the wire, but will harden it.

Heather

from PA

SonjaM@8 wrote
on Jul 14, 2008 11:33 AM

If you are going to be doing any type of stamping I would suggest that you use a brass hammer.   Steel hammers will eventually damage your stamp.  Also the brass hammer is heavier and has more of a flat surface so there is not so much error when trying to stamp your metal.  And not as much effort needed to get a good stamp since the weight of the hammer does most of the work for you.

Opus wrote
on Jul 15, 2008 11:45 AM

Just a few quick comments about your article.

The reason the jump rings don't come out evenly when you try to hammer them flat is because more metal is used in the outer portion of the ring than the inner.

Think about the differential on your car.  When you make any turn in either direction, the outside wheels must go faster in order to keep up with the inner wheels because they have a greater distance to travel than the inner wheels.  The differential is the equipment that makes this happen.

A track runner on the outside lane must run faster than the runner on the inside lane because he has a greater distance to run.

It's the same with any round object.  The perimeter of the outside is larger than the perimeter of the inside of the ring, so therefore when you hammer them flat, they're going to be misshapen.

Also, I don't hammer my coloured wire.  In order to flatten it completely, I put it gently through the small, flat piece of my BlueMoon Beads round-nose pliers and work it through, gently pressing it flat when I go.  With a piece of tape on the inside flat portion of the pliers, it protects the colour of the wire, and keeps you from using large portions of money needed to invest in an anvil and bal-peen hammer.

Best,

Opus

JanineB@7 wrote
on Jul 17, 2008 5:27 PM

 IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR RUBBERIZED TOOL COATING

IT IS CALLED GRIP DIP....ANY HARDWARE STORE OR AN

AUTO PARTS STORE WILL CARRY THIS PRODUCT.

THE MANUFACTURER IS  HOMAX.

IT IS A GREAT FRIEND OF MINE....PREVENTS MARKS FROM GETTING ON THE METAL I AM WORKING WITH

LIFE IS GOOD,

JANINE

TinaS@33 wrote
on Jul 17, 2008 5:52 PM

I have found that not all hammers are created equal. Some hammers make a mark that looks like a deep scratch, some like a dot, some oval, some hammers are so flat that they make no mark at all. I took a piece of metal and went to the store. I tried out 10 hammers all the same style and brand before I found the one I loved.

Thought this information might help someone.

Tina

Keking2 wrote
on Jul 17, 2008 7:03 PM

All my suggestions were very well covered in the responses.  I do have a question though, you mentioned that to soften wire you would heat it to anneal it - any ideas on how hot that would need to be.  I order my sterling wire from a smelting company who charge extra for annealing their half hard wire, so I want to soften my wire myself - any suggestions?  Thanks  Kathy

pst2 wrote
on Jul 18, 2008 8:55 AM

I actually rather like the colored copper wire you shaped into a spiral and then flattened. The copper showing through gave the piece a bit more visual interest.

I hadn't thought about hammering the pieces flat. I need to give that a try

Sue