Making Chain Maille Jewelry: 8 Great Jump Ring Tips and an Epiphany

9 Jul 2012

I'm (probably) no longer going to complain about how challenged I am when it comes to making chain maille jewelry. I've had an epiphany.

 
The inspiration necklace.
Photo: ABC Family.
I was watching one of my guilty-pleasure ("teeny bopper" as Mama says) television shows the other night and one of the girls on the show was wearing a necklace that caught my eye. The necklace looked like large metal rings interlocked into a necklace . . . kind of like really big jump rings in a chain maille weave. Hmm. . . .

Maybe it's because I knew chain maille was looming scheduled on my calendar this week, but when I saw that necklace, I had an epiphany. A BIG chain maille jewelry-making epiphany.

 
Giant jump rings in progress on a glue-stick mandrel.
I ran to my studio, found the biggest wire I could find, which turned out to be 1.6mm (that's about 14g AWG) soft aluminum armature wire, and then looked around for something to use as a mandrel. Butane canister, too big. Paint marker, too small. Glue stick--just right. I wrapped the wire into a coil around the glue stick, grabbed my saw, and cut the wire off into really big, really easy-to-use jump rings. AHA!

You know how children are given oversized versions of things--really big crayons, utensils with big handles, bikes with big wheels--to help their little hands and minds master the use of those things? This was just like that. Plus I'm intrigued by micro/macro swapping, making normally large things really small or making normally small things really large. This was definitely an experiment in the latter!

Next I grabbed Karen Karon's new book Chain Maille Jewelry Workshop to find a weave to try out my jumbo jump rings. The book is packed with seven different weaves and several variations on each, all resulting in spectacular chain maille jewelry projects. While I was looking for the weave to try with my huge jump rings, I found several great tips for making chain maille jewelry and buying/making/working with jump rings. Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Be sure to buy only saw-cut jump rings, because they have the flush-cut edges needed for perfect closures. If you make your own jump rings, saw them apart rather than using wire cutters, unless you're mindful to properly use flush cutters, every time.

2. Karen recommends beginners use aluminum jump rings when practicing a new weave or technique, because they're inexpensive, which relieves some of the pressure and frees you up to experiment. (And they're perfect for making huge jump rings if you're chain-maille challenged like me!)

3. You know jump rings have an OD (outer diameter) and an ID (inner diameter). Because chain maille is made by linking jump rings through the inside of other jump rings, the ID is the most important measurement and the one to pay attention to when you're shopping for jump rings for chain maille projects.

4. There are two different wire-scale measurement systems, the AWG (American Wire Gauge) and the SWG (British or Standard Wire Gauge). When you're buying jump rings and following a chain maille tutorial instructions, make sure that you're following the proper wire-scale gauge. My 1.6mm armature wire measures about 14g in the AWG, but it's 16g according to the SWG. (There's a wire-scale gauge comparison chart in Karen's book.)

5. Karen points out that the AWG is usually used for jump rings in precious metals from U.S. jewelry suppliers but the SWG is often used for non-precious metal jump rings and by overseas vendors. If the info isn't readily available, you'll have to know the diameter of the wire the jump rings are made of in order to know its true gauge. This is a good reason to order all of your jump rings for a project from one source--it could ruin your project if you mix different gauges unknowingly.

6. Store jump rings labeled with the gauge, ID, metal AND manufacturer information. Then you'll know where to order more to match when your stash gets low.

7. When you make your own jump rings, one mandrel won't necessarily produce the same size jump rings in different metals. When the coiled wire is released, it loosens in what is known as springback. The tension in the metal, determined by the type of metal it is, determines how much springback the metal has. Stiffer metals have more spring, which will produce jump rings with an ID slightly larger than the mandrel. This is important to keep in mind if you intend to mix metals in a project or if you want to make jump rings with an exact ID.

8. If you work with wire and jump rings, you probably know that wire work hardens as you use it. You also probably know that you open a jump ring by separating the ends north and south, not apart east and west. What you might not know is how far is too far--how many times can you open and close a jump ring, hardening and stiffening along the way, until it gets too brittle and breaks. Karen recommends we "sacrifice a jump ring or two to the chain maille gods" in order to know how much is too much. Open and close a jump ring repeatedly, noting how the tension and resistance builds as you go. Keep going until it breaks so you'll know how it feels when it's at the breaking point and when it's time to stop in the future.

 
Proof!
Hopefully, you're thinking, "But what about the ginormous jump-ring experiment?" It took me five tries, but eventually I made a Byzantine weave unit. Yes, me of little (chain maille) faith, I did it! I think I had it on my third or fourth try, but I wasn't pulling enough tension in the finished piece to make it snap to position. Once I figured that out, I held the finished unit in position with tension while I added smaller jump rings and chain on each side, creating a necklace. I love how one little weave unit becomes geometric wire art, just by enlarging the scale.

 
Get your copy of Karen's new book, Chain Maille Jewelry Workshop, and have your own chain maille epiphany for making gorgeous classic jewelry using ancient techniques. It's available as a print book, instantly downloadable eBook, or in a bargain bundle of both!

 


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Comments

annierx wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 6:43 AM

Over-sized rings is a great teaching tool.  After watching a tutorial of Full Persian on YouTube, I use plastic shower curtain rings to teach different patterns to students who have little to no experience with jump rings.  Being able to get a feel for how to weave them together without tools to block the view makes a world of difference before scaling things down to project size.  My students tend to come back for every chain maille class we offer after that !!

BevC@9 wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 7:29 AM

Great post. I teach some chain maille at a local beadshop and you covered all the important things in an easy to understand manner. I always use 16 gauge to make it easier. It isn't too hard to manipulate but not so soft that you can bend the rings out of shape easily. I will warn you though chain maille can be addictive.

Imerrymary wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 9:02 AM

I'm a "femailler" with a couple of years experience.  You say the ID is important, but more important in certain weaves is the "aspect ratio" which is a very specific number that involves the wire diameter.  It's explained in many books and websites.  For example, with rings of the same inside diameter, but different wire guages, you may get a weave that's floppy at one extreme or too tight to weave at the other.  Byzantine is one of those that needs the AR to be within a small range in order to hold its form.  (Imagine using 20 guage wire jump rings that have an inside diameter of 5 mm OR 14 guage rings with an ID of 5 mm.)  

When I learned, we used copper jump rings, which is still relatively cheap at the hardware stores.  We used large rings to learn, smaller ones to practice, and still ended up with pretty chains that are wearable and develop a nice patina over time.

dmcb37 wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 9:59 AM

I like the idea of jumbo chain maille rings as I'm having a rather difficult time with the smaller rings.  Maybe if I master the jumbo rings I can master the smaller rings or perhaps I'll stick with the jumbo version.

ispawlak wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 10:42 AM

I loved your article!  It really opened my eyes!  I got into chain maille about a month ago, and after trying the byzantine weave, gave up.  Looks like I need to practice on some big rings, which is great advice!  It's kind of like growing up.  We learn to read from Dr. Seuss, not Shakespeare!  

Keep up the great work!

Irena

www.etsy.com/shop/DVLaMela

Vicky Feller wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 11:36 AM

Tammy, try the Japanese lace, aka "flower" weave...I bought a kit from Blue Buddha Boutique in 2011, and made myself a really nice copper bracelet, and learned the basics of chain maille in the process.  I had enough left over to make single flower earrings to match as well.  I always get compliments on both when I wear them.  Both have patina'd and I actually prefer the antiqued copper look more than the shiny, bright copper.  The whole aspect ratio thing can be daunting to a newbie, so I definitely agree with you that buying a kit from one place takes that out of the equation and helps enormously!  Try the "flower" pattern -- it really is gorgeous and is truly easy.  Copper is a good choice w/ silver prices being what they are now, as well.

TammyJones wrote
on 9 Jul 2012 12:53 PM

Thanks for all your comments and tips! I'm happy to finally find a way I can "do" chain maille. I admire the look of it and have always been oh-so-impressed with the work people produce--I've just never had the patience for it. I'm glad to have found a way to play with chain maille and not pull my hair out in exasperation ;o) Using these big jump rings gave me visible results and satisfaction more quickly than I could've ever gotten in regular weaves. Now to make smaller jump rings, say, the size of a finger ring, and experiment with that scale :o)

saksmoving wrote
on 12 Oct 2012 6:56 PM

Hi I am seeking empty plastic spools and I understand that chain maille jewelry makers have the sizes that I'm looking for 3/4 inches tall (laying down) and 2 1/8 diameter.  Any suggestions to find 10-20 would be well appreciated.  

Regards,

John