Choosing the Right Temper of Wire for Jewelry

When choosing your materials for an upcoming project, it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you head to the store. Different tempers of wire will behave differently and there is likely one that is best suited to your jewelry project.

The way that wire responds to your hands and tools can greatly affect your successes or failures. Especially if you’re a beginner, it’s best to learn a little bit about the behaviors of each before you invest in something that will make your first projects more difficult.

Read on for some suggestions and tips about wire for jewelry.

Rose Gold fill, yellow gold fill, sterling

Work hardening

One of the most basic concepts in metals is the lesson of hardening and annealing. Simply put, when metal is annealed that means that the crystalline structure of the piece is at its loosest state. This allows for freedom and ease in shaping.

On the other side of the spectrum, when a piece has been “work hardened,” its structure has been compressed and the metal has been stressed to the point when forming will become difficult or maybe impossible without cracking. Work hardening can be a valuable tool when used correctly. Many jewelers and metalsmiths will harden their piece as a last step to ensure that the desired shape is secure well into the future.

Curious about annealing? Head to one of our previous posts on it here. Want to know more about the process of work hardening? There’s a great article on the Halstead Jewelry Blog.

What does all that mean?

While you may be able to find wire that is available in all of these hardnesses, there is likely one that will be better suited to your project than another so read on to learn more. The names will reflect their malleability.

In the past, wire was assigned a number, ranging from zero to four, designating the hardness. The numbers would correlate to the number of times that the wire had been pulled through a draw plate.This is a technique in which wire is pulled through graduated holes in a steel or wooden plate that stretches and forms the metal into wire. It also works to harden the metal. The lower the number, the softer the wire. So a zero would be dead soft since it would not have been at all work hardened. A four would mean hard in that it would have been pulled through four times.

draw plate and silver cheniersPhoto via Wikimedia

Dead soft wire

Dead soft wire has been annealed to its softest point before you begin to work with it. What that means is more flexibility and ease when forming your designs. This would be a great choice if you’re wrapping briolettes and you really want your wire to form to the shape of the stone or if you’re doing lots of small intricate shapes. It’s easy to bend with your hands so this might be a good fit for you if that’s a way that you enjoy working.

Half hard wire

On the other hand, half hard wire has a bit more spring and resistance to it. You’ll notice that when shaping it with your hands, it will be more firm and have a bit more spring. That does have its benefits. If, for example, you’re making hoops or finished wire components, you want your wire to maintain its structure after you’ve molded it. Half hard wire would be an excellent choice in this instance.

As you experiment with half hard wire, keep in mind that the metal has an inherent springiness to it. Because of this, you’ll need to push it slightly past the point where you want it to end. This way, your wire will relax into it’s final desired shape. As an aside, half hard might make briolette wrapping more difficult based on this springiness.

Hard wire

While much more difficult to work with, hard wire will allow you to form more permanent shapes.  So if you’re up for the challenge, it might be a good choice if you’re doing bigger pieces without a lot of small twists and turns.

Remember experimenting is always a valuable tool so try a bit of each and see what works best in your hands. Which gives you more ease when making your projects, feels more secure and works best in your hands? It might be different for each and every one of you.

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