My Great Chain Maille Adventure, Part One: Making Jump Rings

15 Jun 2011

Well, I finally did it. I started my adventure of learning chain maille.

Those of you who have been reading along with Jewelry Making Daily for a few months (thank you!) know that I've resisted chain maille because I'm just too impatient for it. The last time I wrote about my reluctance to attempt chain maille, however, so many of you wrote me with encouragement and suggestions that I felt I simply had to give it a try. And I did!

I got a wonderful lesson on chain maille last weekend with our new Make Chain Maille Jewelry! DVD featuring master wire and chain-maille instructor Scott David Plumlee. Scott has taught hundreds of workshops over fifteen years, and watching the video, it's easy to see why. His calm demeanor is an ideal match for such a delicate jewelry-making technique requiring so much concentration and focus . . . and patience!

 
Before beginning chain maille or any wire jewelry, straighten your wire. Hold one end with your nondominant hand and hold the other end of the wire in a cloth or bandana in your other hand and pull firmly a few times, straight toward you. This will also make the wire a little more "springy."
One of the best perks of learning a new jewelry-making technique via DVD is the ability to watch and rewatch the instructor demonstrate, as many times as you want. Having learned a new technique now strictly from watching a DVD on it, let me tell you--that is SO true! I don't know how many times I hit the rewind button to get a closer look at the subtle movements of his hands so I could mimic them. Plus you see it all from his perspective, so you won't get flustered trying to flip-flop the image from your eyes through your brain to your hands.

Now that I've tried something new, you know me--I have to share! But first things first. After a complete introduction to wire jewelry-making tools and chain-maille supplies, including some of Scott's own personal tool tips and unique supply ideas, he gets you started off right: making your own jump rings, several ways, in any metal that you like. He demonstrates hand coiling the wire on the mandrel (a knitting needle) and how to use a power screwdriver to do the coiling for you; then you learn how to cut the wire coil into jump rings using wire cutters or a jeweler's saw.

So it's up to you; you can hand coil the wire and use the saw, or power coil the wire and use cutters, or hand coil the wire and. . .you get the idea!

Make a Jump Ring Wire Coil: Hand Coiling vs. Power Coiling
Either way you decide to do it, here's the basic how-to for making your own jump rings.

   
Using a knitting needle as a mandrel (or piece of pipe for larger rings), bend one end of the wire a few inches to create a "tail" of wire to hold onto the mandrel. Then hold the wire at a 90-degree angle to the mandrel and start wrapping the wire onto it, keeping your coils close together.

If your wire is at less than a 90-degree angle to the mandrel, your coils will overlap, and if your wire is at more than a 90-degree angle, you'll have gaps in your coils, which will create wonky jump rings. Both are undesired, so be sure keep your wire at a 90-degree angle.  

 
Remember you can also insert your knitting needle in the chuck of a power screwdriver. Let the motor turn the mandrel while you hold the wire between your fingers right next to the knitting needle to keep it in place (at a 90-degree angle) and feed it where you want it to go. The chuck will also hold the wire tail to get you started coiling. This quick method is ideal for impatient crafters like me--plus I love power tools!

When power coiling, be mindful when the end of the wire is coming; it can be sharp and has quite a bit of tension built up in it, which could cause it to whip through your fingers and cut you.

When the wire is all coiled on your mandrel, slide off the coil. You've made a spring! Now to turn that spring into jump rings. . . . 

Cutting Jump Rings: Wire Cutters vs. Jeweler's Saw
You can cut your wire coil into jump rings in two ways, too.

 
Using side or flush cutters: Start by cutting the jump rings, one at a time. Because the cutter's blades are concave on one side, cutting will create a small pointed bur or convex end on the wire, which prevents jump rings from closing snugly. Scott shows what I call the flip-and-snip method for removing that pointed end: Flip your cutter over and snip off that sharp bur, then flip the cutters back over to create a jump ring with a straight cut on each end, and repeat! You'll end up with a pile of proper jump rings (and some tiny sharp burs--be sure to save those and recycle if they're precious metal!). You can also use double flush cutters if you have them, which will save the flip-and-snips and create flush cuts on both ends of your wire.

   
Using a jeweler's saw: Unstring the blade from the saw and slip your coil onto the blade. Then restring/tighten the blade in the saw and hold the handle of the saw against you with the blade facing up and hold the coil between your fingers also facing up. Scott slides the coil back and forth over the blade (sort of at an angle to cut one ring at a time), cutting each jump ring from the inside out. Don't go too fast or you might cut your fingers! Scott also notes that this method creates lots of metal dust that you shouldn't breathe, so consider having a vacuum on hand to clear the air.

Tumble your new jump rings with a silver flower (instead of steel shot so you don't have to fish through all those pieces to find your jump rings), water, and some soap to remove raw edges.

Now you're ready to make chain-maille jewelry greatness! Scott demonstrates how to assemble the rings into single-, double-, and Byzantine-chain maille weaves--and then how to take those fundamental chain-making techniques and embellish them with beads to create bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. (Watch for more on that aspect of my chain-maille adventure in coming weeks!)

I used to think it would be hard for me to learn a new technique completely from scratch by watching it on a DVD, but having tried it, I'm all for the idea of watch-and-learn jewelry-making DVDs. It totally worked for me. I know you'll enjoy it as much as I did, so hurry on over to the Jewelry Making Daily Shop and grab your copy of Scott David Plumlee's Make Chain Maille Jewelry! for yourself, asap! (Now to work on my lack of patience. . . .)


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Comments

on 15 Jun 2011 3:56 AM

Hello good day!

I liked the technique using drilling machine to wrap the wire ...

I'm like you I have little patience ...

Congratulations for posting ...

A hug.

Carlos.

TammyJones wrote
on 15 Jun 2011 9:14 AM

Hi Carlos! Thank you for reading :o)

Shaktipaj wrote
on 15 Jun 2011 10:28 AM

Hi Tammy - I very much enjoy reading about your paths to discovery with different methods and media in jewelry making!

Mr. Plumlee's work has always had an attraction for me, too. Sharing some of his working tips here is a wonderful resource for many people.

But I'm cringing right now over one caption : "Before beginning chain maille or any wire jewelry, straighten your wire."

Here is why:  One size or method does not fit *all* in the wire jewelry world. While this is great advice for chain maille, and some border wrap styles in wire, it is the *worst possible advice'* to give people who are working with fine gauge wire on many wire jewelry styles. This practice hardens the wire before you start - great for rings - but a *sure* path to great frustration for manipulating and wrapping fine wire, as it leads to almost certain breakage later on.

As a matter of fact, I have to warn nearly all of my students to avoid this practice for my classes - so instead of saying this should be done for *any* wire jewelry, it might be better to just stick to recommending it for the specific type of work.

Thanks for the wonderful articles,

Perri Jackson

Shaktipaj Designs

TammyJones wrote
on 15 Jun 2011 11:19 AM

Hi Perri, thank you for writing! And thanks for your kind words :o)

I really appreciate you pointing out your concerns and sharing your expertise with me and JMD readers. I've always been taught to gently pull wire through my fingers in a cloth to straighten out the coil it gets from being on a spool, otherwise those big coils can turn into little kinks as you work, which can be heartbreaking for wirework, as I'm sure you know. I should have emphasized the "gently" part so that the straightening doesn't lead to work hardening, and you're absolutely right that one method doesn't fit all in jewelry--or in most of life, for that matter. I'll rework the caption.

Thank you again for writing and for reading Jewelry Making Daily!

wchick84 wrote
on 15 Jun 2011 11:42 AM

Oh, goody! Anything from Scott is an excellent resource.  But a DVD from Scott is the perfect acquisition for the person (like me) who learns something better from visual instruction than written instructions.  I have had the pleasure of meeting and taking classes with Scott. He is very personable and a patient instructor, with absolutely no condescension despite his expertise and artistry. When you learn from Scott, he will not only show you the correct way to achieve a skill, but why.  He shows you how the details are important so that in the end, you will be satisfied by the creation of something well-constructed, not just "decorative".  Naturally, I can't wait to get my hands on this DVD!

rubyinnc wrote
on 15 Jun 2011 6:17 PM

Thanks so much for this article!! I'm looking forward to learning so much more!!

studiojewel wrote
on 15 Jun 2011 9:29 PM

Really great, detailed...well written post!

Thank you Tammy!

~ lisa @thebeadgirl

derflinger wrote
on 18 Jun 2011 2:44 AM

I use a drill, but I picked up a set of long Allen wrenches (aka hex keys) which are normally packaged in sets (standard -US and GB sizes, or metric).  This allows you to pick your internal diameter to a standardized size.  

Normally these come with a right angle end to help you put a little pressure on he Allen nut. Just watch out for the right angle of the wrench when you are wrapping your wire.  There are some straight ones - but they can be real hard to find and expensive.  Often the straight Allen wrenches individually cost more than a set of the right angle ones.  If the angle really bothers you just cut it off.

Oh, and be careful, just don't wind the wire too tight, it can be really hard to slide off if you do.

SmyliH wrote
on 18 Jun 2011 11:19 AM

I wrap the wire around wood dowel rods, then use a jeweler's saw to cut my jump rings.  Works great!  One thing to watch out for is wrapping the coil too tight which will 'dent' the wood rod.

on 18 Jun 2011 2:55 PM

I've really enjoyed reading about the chain maille.I've just started working with chain also and really enjoy it.

                                                        Hazel Collins

TammyJones wrote
on 27 Jun 2011 9:46 AM

Thank you all for your comments! I love coming back from vacation (or anytime!) and seeing all these notes from you and hearing about your own chain maille adventures. You have great tips for making your own chain maille and jump rings, too! Thanks for sharing.

on 27 Jun 2011 10:45 AM

What do you mean by tumbling the rings with a "silver flower" instead of steel shot? I'm not sure what a silver flower will accomplish...

TammyJones wrote
on 27 Jun 2011 11:31 AM

Hi FeatheredGems,

Scott uses the three rings linked together (as shown in the photo above) in the place of steel shot to tumble his jump rings. Imagine how hard it would be to separate jump rings and steel shot! So using something like the silver flower will allow you to easily remove it from the jump rings after tumbling. The silver flower (along with some soap and water) works the same as the steel shot, tumbling away the raw edges of the jump rings.

m2negri wrote
on 28 Aug 2011 9:47 PM

Any suggestions on where to purchase silver flower rings like the ones Scott uses in his DVD?  Thanks!

on 27 Jan 2012 2:04 AM

I'm wondering about the silver flower, too...is he using simply a sizeable object of silver, and would that be .925, .999, or not any grade of silver but something of steel or another metal?  Would appreciate clarification, if it isn't too late.  Thanks in advance.

TammyJones wrote
on 30 Jan 2012 11:43 AM

Hi folks, thanks for asking about the silver flower. I asked Scott about it and here's his response:

"The ‘silver flower’ is used for polishing loose un-assembled jump rings in a rotary tumbler to remove any metal burr from each ring’s joint, created by the coil-cutting process. The ‘silver flower’ is created from three interlocking 10-gauge silver wire rings with a 2-1/2-inch inside diameter, which were each individually soldered secure.  I use this ‘silver flower' versus adding steel shot with the loose rings in the tumbler, because it would then require hours to separate the rings from shot."

Hope that helps! Thank you all for reading JMD!

-Tammy