What Type of Wire Do I Need?
With all the wire types and sizes available, choosing the correct wire for what you want to do can be challenging at best. Here’s a brief overview of how to choose the wire that will best suit your jewelry designing needs.
- What are Silver Filled and Gold Filled wire?
- Filled Wire or Pure?
- Half-Hard or Dead Soft?
- What size should I use?
- Why do different wire brands list different gauge sizes?
What are Silver Filled and Gold Filled wire?
Although it sounds like it should be just the opposite, filled wires actually have pure copper on the inside, with Silver or Gold forming the outer layers (if it helps, think of it as “silver wire filled with copper” or “gold wire filled with copper”). Our silver filled German Jewelry wire is SS/40, which means that sterling silver comprises 1/40 of the material in the wire by weight, and our gold filled German Jewelry wire is 10/40, which means that 10K Gold comprises 1/40 of the material in the wire by weight. The sterling and gold are then chemically bonded to the copper core (rather than simply plated, which can end up flaking off). Additionally, the amount of sterling and gold used in a filled wire is several times that of a plate. By the time you make your way down to the copper core on your wire, you will have visibly diminished the size of your wire.
Filled Wire, Sterling, or Fine?
It is entirely up to the designer whether to use a fine silver wire, a sterling silver wire (also known as 925), or a silver filled wire. Sterling and Copper are so similar chemically that all of these choices tend to feel exactly the same when you are working with them. The biggest reason to choose a filled wire is cost – pure sterling and fine silver will always be more expensive than a filled wire. If you are just starting out and you want something with which to hone your skills, a filled wire will always be best. Since filled wire looks and acts the same as sterling wire, it can be a good alternative that will keep your wire costs down even after you’ve reached the professional level. Sterling wire, on the other hand, has the benefit of coming in both half-hard and dead soft options and is always nice to use when you have semi-precious stones and pearls in your designs. Sterling wire is 92.5% silver, with the remaining 7.5% made up of alloys (mainly copper). This is the commonly accepted high-end jewelry wire, but we now offer one step better for those with truly discerning tastes. Our Fine Silver wire is 99.9% pure silver, for those customers that really want the very best. If you’re going all-out on the beads, why not match that level of quality with your wire? Unfortunately, our Fine Silver wire is currently only available in dead-soft hardness, so sterling is still your top option if you need a half-hard wire for your design. Being able to label pieces for sale as “sterling” or “fine silver” is another nice benefit. Lastly, if you are creating a piece that will be worn and loved for years, you never have to worry about wearing down the copper core if you use pure sterling or fine silver wire– no matter how often a piece gets worn.
Examples of projects using Fine Silver Wire:
Half-Hard or Dead Soft?
The technical bit:
Most metals are composed of crystals which, when most soft (dead soft) are fairly randomly oriented, and pretty well spaced out. As you work metal (by bending, hammering, drawing, etc.), the crystalline structure begins to re-orient itself into a more orderly matrix, the spaces between them closing up. For jewelry making, Half-Hard and Dead Soft wire are the most commonly used wires. Half-Hard wire has been treated (generally by work-hardening) to make it stiffer and hold shapes better. Dead-soft wire is much softer than half-hard wire of the same gauge, and useful for intricate weaving and wire sculpting where the technique requires reshaping your wire several times (tightening the weave, criss-crossing back and forth around a gem, etc.).
How this information applies to your jewelry:
If you’re making wrapped loops, inserting beads into chain, making your own clasps and earwires, or creating wire jewelry components, Half-Hard is the way to go. It is flexible enough to form into whatever shape you imagine, and will hold its shape well even if it’s in your favorite piece of jewelry and worn every day.
Examples of projects using Half-Hard Wire:
For intricate weaving designs, applying textile techniques to wire and making woven chains from scratch, Dead Soft wire will handle tons manipulation before it becomes brittle and breaks. Dead Soft wire is also wonderful for use in embellishing around a larger bead or component, because it will more easily form to the detailed contours of the original piece.
Note: While you can work-harden Dead Soft Wire yourself, the work involved and the delicacy you must use to avoid marring the wire tend to make it easier to simply purchase Half-Hard wire instead.
Our German Jewelry Wire is all Half-Hard, and our Sterling Silver Wire comes in both Half-Hard and Dead Soft.
What size should I use?
We offer wire sizes from 14 through 30 gauge. Wire sizing (like so many of the numbers in the bead world) works opposite how we would expect. The larger the size, the smaller the wire (it may help to imagine that the gauge number refers to how many of that size wire you can fit side by side in a set space). The larger sized wires, such as 14 and 16 gauge are used mainly for creating frames that you then fill with beads and for the funky, chunky looks that are popular right now. 18 and 20 gauge tend to be used for constructing clasps and for creating wireworked components without using a wrapped loop method, and for creating more substantial-looking jewelry pieces. 22 and 24 gauge wires are generally used for creating wireworked components with a wrapped loop effect and for more delicate-looking wirework. 26 gauge wires and smaller tend to be most useful in textile techniques incorporating wirework, wire weaving, and woven chain creation. Additionally, these smaller wires are ideal for finishing off leather cord or suede tape with wire wraps.
Projects using 18 gauge wire:
Projects using 20 gauge wire:
Projects using 22 gauge wire:
Projects using 24 gauge wire:
Why do different wire brands list different gauge sizes?
Like so many of the translations between standard measurements and metric systems (just think of the speed limit when you drive in Canada), the conversion between an exact metric size (such as 4mm diameter) to the less exact gauge system does not translate exactly. Our German Jewelry Wire, for example is manufactured in Germany to precise millimeter diameter measurements. A true American Wire Gauge measurement for 20 gauge wire is 0.813mm diameter. Our German wire, crafted to 0.8mm is closest in size to 20 gauge wire. Depending on where wire is manufactured, it will either conform exactly to the American Wire Gauge (and therefore be a strange decimal when measured using the metric system) or it will conform exactly to a precise millimeter measurement (and therefore be slightly off of the American Wire Gauge system). Generally, these slight differences are not enough to cause a noticeable difference between wires, but in the rare case that your freshwater pearls fit on German wire but cannot manage an American-made wire, that 0.013mm difference could solve the mystery.
What Stringing Should I Use?
With all of the stringing options available to you today, it can be confusing to determine which you want to use for each project. Here’s a brief listing of the various types of stringing materials available and what projects they’ll work best with
Flexible cable bead stringing wire (Beadalon) is by far the most common stringing material. Any time your design calls for covering all of your stringing material with beads, this is the one to use. It finishes off simply with crimp tubes and a clasp and comes in many sizes to fit nearly every possible bead. Beadalon is now also available in many fun colors to broaden its uses — now instead of beading the entire wire, you have an additional option to create fun “illusion” type necklaces that show the colored beading wire between your beads. This is by far the strongest stringing material, and its protective nylon coating prevents fraying even when your bead holes are not entirely smooth.
Now Beadalon, the flexible cable stringing material you already love, comes in different widths for your different projects:
(.010) — Available in 19-Strand
Choose the smallest diameter (.010") for any woven projects, large multi-strand projects than need to finish in just one crimp tube, or for stringing semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls with extra-tiny holes.
Examples of projects using this width of Beadalon:
(.012)—Available in 7-Strand & 19-Strand or (.013)—Available in 49-strand
Use the medium size (.012") or (.013") for moderate multi-strand projects (three strands will still fit in one crimp tube), for stringing regular semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls, or for projects that call for two or three strands of stringing to fit through one bead.
(.015) — Available in 19-Strand
Best used for single strand projects and is thin enough to fit _most_ bead holes (with the exception of some semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls).
(.018) — Available in 7-Strand, 19-Strand & 49-Strand
Pick the largest diameter (.018") for single-strand projects, pieces involving extremely heavy beads, and for stringing beads with large holes (which will hang better on thicker stringing).
Supplemax (or illusion cord) is a clear stringing material specifically for creating an illusion of “floating” beads on a piece of jewelry. It is specially treated to withstand UV radiation (which can make fishing line and other “clear” products brittle over time), and is made completely clear (rather than with a green, blue, or brown tint like so many “clear” beading materials) so it blends into virtually any skin tone.
Silk is by far the strongest fiber stringing commercially available. Up to ten times stronger than nylon, silk only breaks if it is strung through beads with rough holes. Silk is the best option for any project involving knotting between your beads, and is lovely for a “float” type necklace made with knots rather than crimps. Silk is finished off with knots coated in clear nail polish and enclosed in bead tips or calottes (which then attach to your clasp). Our 2 meter long silk cards come with needles already attached so you don’t need to worry about fitting two widths of silk through your bead holes at any time.
Projects using Silk:
Memory Wire is a stainless steel wire designed to hold its circular shape regardless of how often it is unbent. Memory wire does not ever require a clasp, and makes wonderful chokers, bracelets, and rings. Additionally, ring sized memory wire is ideal for making wine glass id charm holders – no need to clasp two ends of your wire, just use enough ring sized memory wire that the ends overlap and you can slip the wine charms on the glasses at the beginning of your party and off when it’s time to do dishes! Memory wire can be finished off either with memory wire end caps (attached with jewelry making super glue) or with wire loops (made with round nosed pliers) from which you can dangle charms. Since Memory Wire is stainless steel, it tends to give a more industrial look to finished pieces unless it is completely covered with beads. The stainless steel in Memory Wire is stronger than the metal in most wire cutters, so it is important to only cut Memory Wire with Memory Wire Cutters to prevent nicking your good jewelry making wire cutters.
Elasticity is the stringing material for making “stretchy bracelets” and elastic necklaces. Beads should cover the entire elastic for a finished look, but no clasp is required. As long as the jewelry is large enough to not be stretched when it is actually being worn, elasticity lasts practically forever. Unlike fabric store elastic (the kind that looks like it’s wrapped in tiny threads), rubberized elasticity does not fray as long as the beads you are using have smooth holes. Simple to finish off with a regular square knot painted in clear nail polish, elasticity is both easy to use and easy to wear.
Nylon is a strong fiber cording that can be used for knotting and with which you can use knotting techniques that do not require tools. Often, nylon comes in vibrant colors that you won’t find in silk, which can be a good design reason to choose nylon. Nylon is not as strong as silk, so you’ll always want to use a double-strand when you’re stringing with nylon. Additionally, nylon can be an asset when you need a thin, flexible stringing material that can be knotted but that does not need to bear the weight of your piece. Nylon is finished with a knot coated in clear nail polish and enclosed in a bead tip or calotte.
Silamide is a thin, strong, bead weaving thread. Silamide stretches just a little to provide some give for weaving techniques such as Right Angle Weave, where your stringing material will have to continually make its way around corners and circles. Silamide comes in a variety of colors so that any bits that show between your beads will blend into the general color palette of your piece.
Nymo is a thin, strong bead weaving thread that does not stretch. Nymo is ideal for any linear stitch (peyote stitch or brick stitch, for example) and now comes in a variety of colors to better blend into the color palette for your project.
Projects using Nymo
How Do I Decide Which Tools Are For Me?
Information coming soon
How Do I Stretch Silk?
To stretch your silk, simply tie something relatively heavy (such as a dinner fork) to the end furthest from the needle and make a slip-knot in the end closest to the needle. Hook the loop of the slip-knot over a door hinge or plant hanger and allow the silk to hang overnight. If you prefer, you can tie a regular knot in the end furthest from the needle and string your beads in order on the silk so their weight stretches your silk for you and your project is ready to knot the next day.
What Size Silk Should I Use?
You always want your silk size to match the diameter of your beads as closely as possible. Silk diameter is listed along with its size. For small semi-precious and freshwater pearls, you will probably need size 2 silk. For larger stones and pearls, size 4 or 6 will work for you. If you are knotting glass or ceramics, which generally have a larger hole size, size 8 or 10 will work best for you. Always pick your silk size to best fill the bead hole size, so the silk will fit through but the knots won’t!
How Do I Crimp?
You will need:
- Crimping Pliers
- Crimp Tubes
- A Clasp
- Beadalon or other appropriate stringing material
To Crimp Your Tube:
1) String on a crimp tube, one half of your clasp, then string back down through your crimp tube.
2) Squeeze the crimp tube with the bottom set of teeth on your crimping pliers (the set that looks like a jelly bean). This will make your tube look "U" shaped.
3) Then use the top set of teeth to fold your crimp tube together.
How Do I Use a Memory Wire End Cap?
Place a drop of jewelry glue on one end of your coil of memory wire.
Slide a Memory Wire End Cap over the glue.
Be sure to let the glue dry completely before stringing the rest of your design onto the memory wire.
Once you've finished stringing on your design, place another drop of glue on the open end of the memory wire and slide a Memory Wire End Cap over the glue.
What Are Your Pewter Beads Made Out Of?
Information Coming Soon
What is Tool Magic?
Tool Magic is a heavy duty rubber coating that you apply to the tips of your pliers. Application is quick and easy - just dip the tips of your pliers into the handy sized jar, slowly draw them out and hang them up for a few hours or overnight. Once dried, the coating won't chip or crack. Tool Magic dries smooth and soft so your pliers will really grip without ever marring your wire again.
How Do I Apply Tool Magic?
Information coming soon.
How Long Does Tool Magic Last?
How long Tool Magic lasts depends on how heavily you use your dipped pliers. Our class pliers that get used approximately 20 hours a month get re-dipped once a month. The professional jewelry designer will probably have to re-dip their pliers closer to once a week and the weekend-hobby jewelry designer might be able to go an entire year without needing to re-apply Tool Magic. Fortunately, the coating on your plier will start to show wear at least a day before you need to worry about re-dipping them. Just check your dipped pliers for signs of wear periodically and you shouldn’t run into too much trouble. Our 2 ounce jar of Tool Magic should be enough for at least 100 applications, and a tightly sealed jar of Tool Magic has at least a two year shelf life.
How Do I Keep My Reamer's Drill Bit Wet?
Dip your drill bit in a small cup of water before beginning to drill and periodically throughout drilling process (preferred method for electric reamers). Just be sure to remove the drill bit from the bead whenever it starts to “stick” – a sure sign that friction is building up.
Ream your bead in a shallow bowl or basin of water – it’s easy to keep the bit lubricated if you’ve got it completely submersed in water!
Ream your bead under running water (not recommended for electric reamers).