Wire Fusing, Coiling, Wrapping, Chain Making, Findings, and More: Our Best Wirework Tips from Denise Peck

2 May 2012

I've been digging through the Jewelry Making Daily wire articles and found that Denise Peck's blog on how to finish your wire jewelry professionally is our most visited blog *ever*! Here are her tips from that blog along with a few of her other great wire tips from the JMD archives. -Tammy

Wire Jewelry Making Tips and Techniques

By Denise Peck

Fine silver fuses to itself like magic, without solder.
Long before I knew how to make jewelry, I'd often go to craft shows to ogle (and frequently buy) beautiful handcrafted jewelry. I've always found artisan jewelry irresistible. It was at a craft show in Toronto that I came across a young woman who was selling fine chain necklaces that she'd made herself. She used very thin wire, maybe 20 gauge, and soldered together a series of small, 12mm rings. I'm not sure I even knew, at that point, that you could make your own chain. I had to have it.

Make Your Own Chain

Years later, when I learned how to work with fine silver wire, I made my own primitive chain necklace. Turns out, it's not all that difficult with rudimentary torch skills and fine silver wire. Fine silver will fuse to itself when heated with a torch, unlike sterling. No solder needed, and no oxidation or fire scale that needs pickling. Very easy, very clean. And you're not limited to round links, you can make any shapes you want. Make sure the ends come together flush, so that when the wire is heated, the silver flows together. After fusing the first link, each subsequent link is connected to the last and then fused. I've even fused fine silver decorative balls onto fine silver rings, like a granulation technique.

 
Lots of options for fusing wire with just a butane torch.
You Don't Need a Whole Studio

Even if you're dying for one, not everyone has the room in their home for a full jewelry studio. But you can still do some metalsmithing, right on your kitchen table. Handheld butane torches are an easy, inexpensive way to do some simple metalwork. Cover your table with something fireproof, like a piece of sheet metal from Home Depot, and use a charcoal block to help retain and reflect heat back onto your piece, and you're good to go. And even if you have a full oxygen/acetylene setup, a butane torch can be a quick tool for some small, fast jobs.

Fusing Wire and Micro Torch Safety

Some safety tips to keep in mind when fusing fine silver wire (or working with any torch): 

  • Always work on a fireproof surface.
  • Wear safety goggles made for filtering flame flare.
  • Dedicate some cheap pliers for your flamework so you don't ruin your good tools.
  • Never touch your pieces right out of the flame. Have a quenching bowl of water to cool your pieces.
  • Remember the end of the torch remains very hot even after you turn it off.

My Aqua Waters earrings. Really? You call those wraps??
My Switching Gears earrings--with good matching wraps!
Cost-Effective Design Trick

Chain is hot these days. (No pun intended.) It's a versatile design element that adds fluidity and interest to a beaded or metal piece. It's also a cost-effective addition to help a few exotic, expensive beads go a long way. I added chain on the sides of a short piece of Viking knit to make a bracelet. That meant I could break up one piece of Viking knit that I'd made into four bracelets.

Sweat the Small Stuff

I've said it before; I'm an immediate gratification kinda gal. When I was in jewelry school, I knew pretty fast which techniques I'd continue doing and which were just way too labor intensive. It's not that I'm lazy, I just have too many things I want to do in my life to spend too much time on any one. Call it classic B-type personality, but the positive in that is that I don't spend too much time sweatin' the small stuff.

However, in jewelry making, I will be the first to admit, that the small stuff is the stuff that really counts.

How many times have you heard "file the end smooth and tuck in"? I see it in almost every wire jewelry project that crosses my desk. That's a finish technique that is pretty much essential in wire jewelry. If you don't do those two things, you or your customers are destined to be poked with very sharp wire ends.

Readers of Step by Step Wire Jewelry are the first to write to me to point out any sloppy work that got through our editing process. It's given me a whole new appreciation for meticulousness. And, it's made me just a wee embarrassed about some of my earlier work! Now I still work fast, but I make sure I've done the few little things that mean the difference between good and great.

4 Tips for Professional-Looking Wire Jewelry

 
When making your own jump rings, make them as tight as possible to keep the seams imperceptible.
Here are a few things to watch for when you're making your jewelry.

  1. File Ends Smooth: There are a couple ways to smooth the ends of your wire. You can use a wire file, or a cup bur. Particularly when you're making ear wires, you want to smooth the ends of the wire that go through your ear, or that can be very painful!
  2. Make Flush Cuts: When you cut a piece of wire with a flush cutter, you will always get one nice straight (flush) cut side and one pointed cut side. The end of the wire that remains on your piece of jewelry should always be the straight, flush side.
  3. Imperceptible Jump Ring Seams: Jump rings should be closed so neatly that the join is imperceptible. If you run your fingers over the seam, you should not be able to feel it.
  4. Keep Wraps Tight: Making wrapped loops and coils are some of the first things you learn in wire jewelry making. But the trick to looking professional is to have all the wraps tight against one another. And if you have more than one in a piece of jewelry, or a pair of earrings, the number of wraps should all be the same. Squeeze in the last wrap with pliers so it doesn't stick out. And one more trick: if you snip the wrapped loop on the SIDE of the coil, it's less visible to the naked eye.

 
If you want some inspiration on making wire chain and using chain in your jewelry, Jane Dickerson's Chain Style (in convenient eBook form!) is a must. It's filled with fabulous designs that all incorporate chain, some in the most unexpected ways! Store-bought or handmade from wire, chain can take your artisan jewelry to new lengths! Pun intended.


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Comments

teariana wrote
on 2 May 2012 10:55 AM

I am just starting out, I don't have the special files, my flush cutter (well it's just sad, I used it to cut what I thought was soft wire, NOT) so I use files that I used to buff my nails etc.  While they do create a nice finish and really smooth out the ends, and I will continue to use them for some applications, they are not designed for tiny spaces, like finishing your wraps. Nor do they quickly cup the ends of ear wires.

I know eventually I will be able to get the necessaries, but in the meantime, the finish is so important.  So make your goals folks, no time like the present. :)

One thing I have learned though is that inexpensive can sometimes end up costing you more money in the long-run, so if ya have something that is purposed for something else but works ok, use it while ya save up for the good stuff.

posox2000 wrote
on 2 May 2012 12:39 PM

My first "studio" was a spear bathroom in apartment. And propane torch (same as one for "Creme brulee") was working absolutely perfect for first experiments in soldering.

To start you need really small number of tools, but this number will grow exponentially as you will outgrow your limits.