Wire 101comments (5) April 4th, 2008
Whether you’re a beginning beader or you’ve been making jewelry for quite awhile, you probably have plenty of favorites in terms of wire—both materials and gauges. But if you’re wondering what the best choice for a project might be, or whether craft wire or sterling is the better bet, here are my recommendations for what to use in your jewelry-making projects.
Craft wire, also known as base metal, is very affordable and comes in a spectrum of colors, from basic silver, gold and copper to bright colors, sophisticated hues, and just about anything else you’re looking for. Three things to keep in mind are that some people are sensitive to the mix of metals in craft wire; pliers marks or dents in the colorful coating can reveal the dull gray alloy underneath; and craft wire is generally softer and more pliable than precious metal wire of the same gauge. It’s best for projects that won’t take a huge amount of weight or wear and tear—and it’s perfect for forming loops easily and winding tight coils without resistance, and practicing all kinds of techniques.
Precious metal wire, like gold-filled and sterling silver, are more expensive; the price of these materials tend to fluctuate with the market so many shops change prices weekly. These wires come in two hardnesses: dead soft and half-hard. For most beading and jewelry-making purposes, I prefer half-hard, which has “body” or resistance for holding its shape. Keep in mind that this quality can also make it resist complex looping or arrangements, though. Dead soft is less versatile but it is much easier to use in heavier, thicker gauges, when trying to bend or shape half-hard would prove challenging. Precious metal wire tends to keep its finish and shape nicely, though it may tarnish or oxidize—just polish it back to its original gleam.
This is a general overview of what gauge, or thickness, of wire works well for what project—whether it’s a handmade earring hook or clasp, crocheting with wire, or connecting beads via loops. Try experimenting with different thicknesses for effect—you may find that you like a lighter or heavier gauge to work with after trying a few, or that one holds its shape especially well.
Gauge is measured in even numbers, in increments of 2, and the lower the number, the thicker the wire is. Personally, with precious metal wire, I love working with 18 gauge for making clasps, 20 gauge for plain loops and earring wires, and 24 for wrapped loops. If I’m using craft wire, I go a gauge thicker to add durability.
14-16: heavy clasps or jump rings
18: medium-weight clasps or jump rings
20: plain loops and bead connectors; medium-weight clasps or jump rings
22: wrapped loops and bead connectors; lightweight jump rings
24: wrapped loops and bead connectors
26: lightweight wrapped loops
28-30: crochet or other delicate wire