6 Tips for Successful Hammered Wirework

Jul 27, 2009

The Trouble with Improper Tools

Months ago, I got so excited about advancing my wire wrapping techniques beyond wire-wrapped loops that I had a big success-turned-failure. I didn’t have a mandrel or some of the other cool (and necessary) tools it takes to do slightly more advanced wire jewelry designs, so I rummaged through the garage toolbox and improvised.

I dove right in and reached for a ball-peen hammer from the toolbox. In my stash, I had plenty of wire in various gauges, including 22-gauge half-hard, my favorite. Also, I didn’t have a steel bench block. But that didn’t stop me. I had a large hoop earring finding with five holes in it that just begged for dangles to be inserted. I envisioned five long wire wrapped dangles with a few beads strung on them for color and flared wire ends to hold the beads in place. I grabbed a piece of compressed wood board, my hammer, and headed for the studio.

Flattened Wire Dangle EarringsIntrepid Wireworker Skips a Few Steps

Because the holes in the earring finding would only accommodate 24-gauge wire, I rationalized that the end results would be “delicate.” The word I didn’t consider at the time was “flimsy.” I attached five long pieces of wire to each hole with wire wraps. Then I strung a pewter size 11º seed, a small aquamarine rondelle, and a pearly blue size 8º seed bead to each. Last, I hammered a 1/2” length at the tip of each wire until it flared at the end. A modern masterpiece!

(Check out the photo of those earrings today. They are, as my engineer friend, Michael, would say, “structurally unsound.”)

6 Tips for Successful Hammered Wirework


Recently, while filming Beads, Baubles & Jewels, I asked Mark Nelson from Rio Grande to demo how to make hammered wire dangles. We shot an informal video in the back room of the studio with help from our impromptu camera person (and bead artist) Marcia DeCoster.  Here are Mark's tips:

  1. Use the proper tools: No more foraging in the garage toolbox. Here’s why. The ball end and the flat end of the ball-peen hammer should be smooth. Scratches and dents in the hammer and hammering surface transfer to the metal. If you’ve been wailing on walls with yours, forget about making jewelry with it.
  2. Use a suitable wire gauge: That 24-gauge wire was too fine. A 20-gauge dead-soft wire is probably the thinnest wire to use for a nice flared-end dangle: 16- or 18-gauge would be even better.
  3. Be gentle with metal: Don’t whang away on your wire. As you use thicker gauges of wire, you will increase your hammering pressure a little. A gentle touch does the job—and spreads the metal evenly for equal strength and a better look.
    Wire Wrapped Bird's Nest Pendant
  4. Don’t let your first idea dictate your materials: Creating dangles was a good idea. Creating them for my hoops with small holes was not. It would have been better to have learned the proper way to make the dangle, then chosen a finding suited to a heavier gauge of wire.
  5. Use inexpensive wire to experiment: Copper is affordable for samples and so pretty you may decide to use it for your final project.
  6. Consult experts: Had I just grabbed a copy of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, I could have sidestepped pitfalls. In fact, the new Summer 2009 issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry has a great project by Sally Stevens that shows how to transform 20-gauge copper wire into a neatly hammered pendant.

With Mark Nelson’s help and a subscription to Step by Wire Jewelry, I’m ready to succeed--and so can you!

Do you have some wireworking lessons to share from your own experiments? Please tell us.


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Comments

Dusty@10 wrote
on Jul 27, 2009 9:40 AM
The real problem here is that you hammered the whole wire and the guage is small. I make a similar but I might add much more trendy (lol I think) but I only hammer the very end of the wire so what ever decoration I use won't slide off. Would be happy to send a picture. Fred Castle www.hunterscreeksilver.com
AndreaM226 wrote
on Jul 27, 2009 11:13 AM
My first hammering experiment was, well dissapointing. I too started with 24 ga wire and a little bitty hammer that I had for banging rivets - of course I didn't have an anvil so I used a small 2 pound round weight from my weight lifting set - big mistake - every ding, dent, bit of peeling metal transfered beautifully to my wire - so I tried sanding and steel wooling the the little weight and it still left marks on my wire. My hopes for perfect little paddles at the end of the wires were also dashed. I was whacking way to hard. I finally broke down and bought the right kind of hammer, a little 4x4 anvil and a plastic mallet - I can now make most of my own jumprings but those perfect little paddle ends to my wire have eluded me, anyone with suggestions, please share. I'm still whacking away at my wire, with better and better results. The book "Getting Started Making Wire Jewelry" was helpful.
DebWAZ wrote
on Jul 27, 2009 4:24 PM
Marlene - thanks for giving me a smile. I'm glad to know I'm not the only person that gets an idea in their head and takes off with it before knowing how to do it! I love rule #1 - my hubby's favorite rule, too - especially when he catches me using a table knife as a screwdriver! Step by Step Wire is the BEST magazine for wire working! I don't usually work wire, but a I've been inspired a few times by projects in Step by Step.
HeatherM@78 wrote
on Jul 28, 2009 6:05 PM
I have raided the garage for many tools to make jewelry. My favorite tool I used was the flat side of a hatchet for a bench block! I kept thinking that one day my hubby would go to use it and the head would fly off because it was loose from all of my hammering. I did eventually get a block of my own and I love that I can keep it inside at my table. But in a pinch...a hatchet is great!
SusieW@13 wrote
on Aug 2, 2009 7:15 PM
Dear Marlene: I'm sorry it took me a while to write this comment. I was kind of embarrassed to contribute after reading the comments from the pro's. I was impressed (and a little intimidated) by their suggestions. But I'm a novice and I'm not writing to teach you what I know, I'm writing to share my interesting story about my experience with wireworking. Case in point is the To Be Shore Bangle Interweave pattern that's featured here. I purchased the supplies about 1 1/2 years ago off of e-bay, because I thought I was getting the best prices. Yes, I made sure I got sterling silver items, but I didn't pay attention to the type of strengths! To me 1/2 hard and full soft weren't that different. Sterling and pure silver? What was the difference? I was an ER nurse. What was a little jewelry project to me? Well, once I actually looked at the directions, I realized I was in over my head. It took all that time for me to work out the steps in my mind. I finally brought the magazine in the bathroom with me and read it while on the throne. Days became weeks, weeks became months, you get the picture. When I finally felt ready, I attacked the project. Also, I was making it for my mom and she was arriving in a few days. I thought "what could possibly go wrong?" A lot, it turns out. I had no idea what it was like to work with a butane torch. Thinking I was saving money, I bought the cheapest pencil type. I tried to get the sterling wire to ball up & the torch kept going out and the wire didn't even get red. I kept adding butane and trying to heat the wire. Then I saw the copper center. I seem to remember from my intro to chemistry class that copper has a higher melting temp than silver. So, I decided to hold it up to the heat longer and when it didn't melt, longer still. More butane. More flame, more butane, flame, butane and WHOOSH! My eyelashes, eyebrows, hairline and eyeglass leash (that I spent 2 wks on) went up in smoke. I miss that eyeglass leash most of all. We now have a no butane torch rule in the house. Since I got the jewelry making bug, I ran my PayPal account into the ground. Seems I made a few transactions (well, more than a few) that I didn't transcribe to my checkbook. After closing my PayPall account, I e-mailed the vendors that had the correct wire I needed and asked if they would take a money order. A lot said no, but a few did. I'd love to share their names and websites with you and your readers. The best thing that came of it is I know where my money is going and I don't feel as if I've lost control of my funds. Sometimes I got confused with the small print. It wasn't their fault, it was mine. The last thing I did was swallow my pride and write to the artist, in spite of my fear of being ignored. Guess what? She wrote right back to me! All because of one project. Learning can be a painful experience. But what a great feeling when I got to the other side. I haven't finished the project yet, but I will. If I have any advice for the novice, it's don't mess around with the gauge or strength of the wire for a while. Experiment with color all you want, But wire-it can be a very expensive-and humbling-experince. Susie Wise
robbsl wrote
on Aug 3, 2009 4:58 AM
Maybe I did it the boring way, but I took a couple of classes before going out and playing on my own. I've also purchased books on the different techniques that I want to learn. I love Susie's story about what not to do! One thing you are is VERY brave to jump right in with the torch before learning basics like wire gauge and metals. I have't bought a torch yet, because I want to make sure I get the right one for the job, and I've been content and busy enough with wire wrapping for now. Thanks for sharing your story!
poufdone wrote
on Oct 27, 2009 9:47 AM
Any suggestions for getting a hammering block vs an small anvil ? Also, can you get a block larger than 4 x 4. I haven't been able to find one online. I was in a jewelry store that was selling a thick resin block 3" x 4"for whacking wire. Does that make more sense than using hammers ? ie. Less marks ?