Making A Wire Wrapped Bead Necklace

How to make a wire-wrapped and bead necklace using brass or sterling silver wire. Necessary tools are suggested as well as appropriate wire to use.

Making jewelry using the wire-wrap technique is easy to learn and the techniques can be used to create unique and beautiful pieces of wearable art. You will need some specialized jewelry-making tools to begin, but your investment will be repaid quickly once you start producing pieces.

BASIC TOOLS REQUIRED

Before you start making wire-wrapped jewelry, you will need a few tools. Several sets of pliers including round-nose, chain-nose, and flat-nose are needed as well as a pair of side cutters. A pin vise is very handy for holding the wire while you are working with it. You will also need a ring mandrel for bending smooth curves and sizing rings, a rawhide mallet, a millimeter gauge, needle file, steel ruler, and steel scribe. You should be able to get all of these items for under $60.00 from a good craft shop or company that specializes in jewelry tools and equipment.

OPTIONAL BUT NICE TO HAVE

There is always some tool that is utterly essential for doing one thing only and if you are doing that one thing a lot you can't live without it. A wire twister tool falls into this category. You can do small amounts of wire twisting without it, but if you decide that you really like using this technique in your creations, you will want to own one. They cost less than $30.00, so this is not a huge investment.

A really useful gadget to get for wire wrapping is a bending jig. This tool will help you make uniform bends and curves in your wire. A very nice jig is called the Wigjig® and consists of an acrylic board with holes drilled in it. You insert metal pegs in the holes to create patterns around which the wire is wrapped. They cost $30-50, depending on size. A very serviceable jig can be had for less than $10, however and until you learn the techniques it would make sense to start with this one.

If you are going to be making a lot of necklaces, by all means get a bead board. These are inexpensive and make it much easier to lay out your designs. Some are made to hold multi-strands of beads and some only one. All of them have little open compartments for holding your extra beads while designing.

Tweezers and hand-lenses are always handy when dealing with small beads. Also, a pair of end-cutters are useful to have as well.



TYPE OF WIRE TO BUY FOR WRAPPING

There are many choices available for wire wrapping. Start out with 18 - 20 gauge wire. The best metal for the beginner to learn on is brass, also known as Jeweler's Bronze or Merlin's Gold. Brass wire is very inexpensive and is sold in 1-pound coils. You should expect to get approximately 340 feet of 20 gauge brass wire in a pound for about $12. This will be plenty to learn on and if you make mistakes you won't feel bad about wasting precious metal. Brass is attractive for jewelry and many people like it instead of gold or silver.

In addition to brass, there is copper, sterling silver, gold-filled, and niobium to choose from. Niobium comes in lots of interesting colors, including teal, purple, blue, and gold. Niobium is very popular for costume jewelry and easy to work with, but is more expensive than silver. Gold wire in 14K or 18K it the most expensive metal to work in and should not be used by beginners.

You should buy wire designated "half-hard" except for brass. Buy "full-soft" brass wire because brass is much harder than sterling silver, gold, or copper. You can do wire wrapping with "full-soft" silver but it will not be as durable and will bend out of shape easily. "Full-hard" will be very difficult to work with.

Catalogs from companies that specialize in selling tools and materials for jewelry making usually have lots of useful information throughout, suggestions on correct gauge wire to purchase for a specific job, how to use different and unusual materials, etc. Many companies also have toll-free phone numbers for customers with questions.

HOW TO DO IT - MAKING A NECKLACE WITH BEADS AND WIRE

Start by selecting the beads you will be using for your necklace. Large glass or stone beads will be your best choice. Make sure the beads you want to use all have holes large enough to slip easily onto the gauge wire you will be using. Lay out your beads in the bead board or on a towel. Fiddle them around until you have a pleasing arrangement, leaving space between each one to allow for the wire connections. A nice touch is to select a single unusual bead or shape as the central piece. This can be either one large and two flanking smaller beads or a special carved pendant that matches the other beads in the necklace. This will create a bit of visual interest and mark the lowest point of the necklace.

Using either "full-soft" brass or "half-hard" sterling silver wire in 18 or 20 gauge and your round-nose pliers, begin at one end by making a hang-man's noose ring as one half of your clasp. Estimate how much wire you will need for the large ring and smaller ring and cut off this length. Make the larger ring first and wrap the free end of wire around at the base of the loop, then make a smaller ring to attach to the next in the series. Cut pieces of wire the approximate size you think you will need (as you become more experienced this will get easier) and make a small loop in one end, insert the long end through a bead and make another loop. Cut off the excess wire. Continue this way until all the beads but the last one have been wired.

Using the flat-nose pliers, open each loop slightly and begin to connect them, closing the loop (as for jump rings) as you go. On the last bead, you will need to make a hook to fasten into the loop on the first bead to close the necklace. Cut a piece of wire approximately the correct size and make a small loop like in the other beads. Bend the longer end of the wire in half and back onto itself to form a hook to fasten a closure. Wrap your ends neatly around the shank of the hook and snip off any extra wire.

This is a very basic necklace using the wire-wrap technique. You can make it more interesting by adding more links of wire and using fewer beads. This is where the bending jig comes in handy, for making unusually-shaped links and having them all come out the same.

FINISHING

Examine each loop to make sure they are closed tightly. File smooth any sharp or rough edges. Buff the metal with a polishing cloth and rinse the beads if they have become smeared with fingerprints.

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