The more I learn about making wire jewelry, the more it brings out my inner science geek. I mean, really, how many people get excited when they start hearing about the molecular structure and malleability of wire when they sit down to make a wire jewelry project?
But, knowing what I know about metals and wire has actually come in handy when I'm trying to troubleshoot my wire jewelry projects lately. It seems that I haven't been paying attention to the wire temper, and that's been causing me some problems when my finished wire jewelry pieces start to break and fall apart. Whether you're a new wire jewelry enthusiast or a seasoned wire artisan, it pays to understand how and why to work harden your wire.
What is Wire Temper, Anyway?
To me, wire temper sounds like a wire that has a tantrum when it doesn't get its way. But really, wire temper refers to how stiff your wire is. When making wire jewelry, it's important to know how stiff your wire is, because that will dictate how easy it is to bend and shape it, and even more importantly, if your wire will retain the shapes you twist and curl it into.
Soft or dead-soft wire is most appropriate for wire jewelry making projects that involve sculpting, weaving, or coiling. Thin dead-soft wire can also be used for wire embroidery, similar to what I did with my metal and leather cuff bracelet project a few weeks ago.
Half hard wire is stiffer than dead soft, and more appropriate for wire wrapping and making ear wires. Half hard wire doesn't need to be work hardened as much as dead soft wire, though some work hardening will definitely make it hold its shape better.
Full hard or spring hard is the stiffest temper of wire you can work with. It's generally only recommended for making elements like pin backs or other functional wire jewelry findings.
Wire thickness isn't necessarily related to wire temper. Some metals are inherently harder than others, and pretty much all gauges of wire can be purchased in all tempers.
Why Should You Work Harden Your Wire?
If you want your wire jewelry project to hold its shape better, work hardening is the way to go. There are a couple of easy ways to do it:
Hammering your wire is one way to work harden it for your wire jewelry making projects. To hammer your wire, make sure that you are using surfaces and tools that are dedicated only for wire jewelry making, and be aware that sometimes hammering can change the appearance of your wire. The look of hammered wire can sometimes be a good thing in your wire jewelry making projects, but if you want your wire to remain smooth and straight, use another method.
Squeezing the wire in segments using a nylon jawed pliers is my choice for work hardening my wire. All you have to do is grip a section of wire in your pliers and gently squeeze it for a few seconds. The wire will harden a bit, seemingly by
magic, and retains its shape much better! Work your way around your design, squeezing gently the whole way around to avoid making marks in your wire, and you're good to go!
Ready For More Wire Jewelry Tips and Projects?
So, armed with my new knowledge of how to work harden my wire and improve the durability of my wire jewelry projects, I'm ready to pick up my pliers, my wire, my beads, and get back to work! And to get myself inspired, I've got a whole stack of Step By Step Wire Jewelry
magazine at my fingertips. I learn new ways to use my favorite wire jewelry tools and beading supplies, get inspiration for adding color to my bead and wire jewelry projects, and find out the latest and greatest tools and products for making wire jewelry.
Subscribe to Step By Step Wire Jewelry magazine and learn how to coil, wrap, and weave your way to great wire jewelry making projects!
Have you ever had a stubborn wire jewelry problem that you just couldn't solve? What was it? What did you do? Share your stories and experiences here and leave a comment on the Beading Daily blog!
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