Top Tips for Beginning Wire Jewelry-Making

30 Aug 2010

A wire gauge is an essential tool for determining which wire is perfect for your project.

Denise Peck is the
editor of Step by Step
Jewelry and the
senior editor of
Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist


When you start working with wire to make jewelry, I know it feels like there's a lot to learn about it. For instance, there are several hardnesses, different gauges, numerous shapes, and various metals. Even after you grasp that the higher number gauges are thinner wire and lower number gauges are fatter wire, there's still always the questions about which wire gauge works best for which elements. One of the questions I get the most is what gauge is best for ear wires. (The answer is 20 gauge.) Once you make wire jewelry for a couple years, it starts to become second nature, just as it is when you're learning anything. 

Wire Primer
Here are some basics to know when working with wire.

The diameter of wire is known as the gauge. In the United States, the standard is Brown & Sharpe, also known as American Wire Gauge. The diameter of wire in inches or millimeters is translated into a numeral from 0-34. The higher the number, the thinner the wire. Most findings are made from gauges ranging from 14g-24g. Working with heavier gauge wire is more difficult by nature.

Additionally, jewelry suppliers will sell wire in three hardnesses: dead soft, half hard, and full hard. All wire will get harder and stiffer as you work with it (that's called work hardened). So if you're going to be weaving or coiling wire, you should work with dead soft. But if you're making head pins or ear wires, you want it to already be stiffer, so that it maintains its shape. In that case, it's best to buy half hard. Remember, you can always harden wire more by tumbling or hammering with a nylon or rawhide mallet. Nylon and rawhide will harden without flattening. 

Some examples of the different sizes and shapes of head pins you can create with different wire gauges.
Your Best Bets
One great tip? You can make perfect ear wires by bending the wire around a Sharpie pen.

Making simple findings is one of the easiest things you can do with wire, and by far the most useful. Imagine the money you can save if you never have to buy headpins, ear wires, jump rings, and hooks! Some general rules for the wire gauge to use for each are:

Ear wires: 18g-22g  (Some people can't tolerate a wire as fat as 18g, and 22g must be very hard to hold its shape. I find 20g half hard to be perfect for ear wires)
Head pins: 18g-24g  (Of course, your bead holes will determine the size headpin you need. Pearls need the finest gauge for the tiny holes)
Jump rings: 16g-22g  (Again, your particular project will determine how thick a jump ring you need. The finer the gauge, the less secure they'll be)
Hooks: 14g-18g  ( Heavier gauge wire will make a chunkier, more substantial hook clasp. Hooks made with finer gauges should be tumbled or hammered to stiffen them)


Once you're comfortable with making your own simple findings, you can create beautiful jewelry with custom clasps and ear wires. And you never have to run out of jump rings and head pins again.

Now you're ready to dive into the sumptuous designs in Step by Step Wire Jewelry. Each issue offers over 14 new projects for every skill level. Why not treat yourself to full year of six issues? Be inspired!





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kimari wrote
on 30 Aug 2010 11:31 AM

Thank You   Very useful for a beginner in wire.  I mostly do fused glass and am trying it incorporate wire into the design.  

grammajojo wrote
on 30 Aug 2010 11:31 AM

Good tips, I have just started making my own findings and  what I have found that works best for me when making my ear  hooks, is the plastic coated handle of one of my pliers.  It's always right there on the table with me, it's the perfect size, (my tools are fairly small), and the plastic coating keeps the wire from slipping away from me.

mhoward48 wrote
on 11 Jan 2011 4:51 AM

Thank you

For someone just beginning, this is very helpful.

I appreciate you sharing it with us all.

sister2six wrote
on 4 Nov 2012 12:07 PM

I just started making jewelry not long ago.  I was wanting to try to make my own clasps, headpins, etc but was very intimidated and confused by all the information out there.

Thank you for making this so easy to understand!  Now I need to go buy some wire!

on 14 Jul 2013 4:34 PM

Whats the best gage to use for ring making?