Instructions in how to use jewelry tools to harden and make a jewelry wire component a permanent part of a jewelry making design:
Making jewelry wire shapes that are strong and permanent isn't as easy as it might seem. Jewelry wire must be somewhat flexible so that we can bend it and change its shape. The same flexibility that allows us to use jewelry wire to make jewelry can also work against us, by allowing the jewelry wire component to be pushed or pulled out of shape after the piece is completed. In the following pages we will discuss some techniques for making handmade jewelry wire components into permanent elements of your jewelry.
Use the Correct Jewelry Wire:
The first step in making jewelry wire components permanent is to use the hardest wire that will meet your needs. Frequently, the jewelry wire components we make use half-hard wire. This is jewelry wire that is made stiffer during the manufacturing process. By starting with jewelry wire that is already partially hardened, you will have less hardening to do with your finished jewelry wire component. Unfortunately, some pieces, especially jewelry wire components that include a spiral, must be made with soft wire; so this approach will not work in every situation.
Flatten the jewelry wire component using jewelry tools:
The second step in hardening and making a jewelry wire component permanent is to flatten the component. Wire components made on our WigJig jewelry tools will naturally be slightly three dimensional when they are removed from our jewelry making jigs. The best, easiest and quickest way to flatten a jewelry wire component is using nylon jaw pliers jewelry tool. These pliers allow you to squeeze a wire component is several different orientations to flatten and harden the piece. The process of flattening a jewelry wire component invokes the property of jewelry wire in that it will "work harden". By flattening the wire you are work hardening the jewelry wire component.
The one limitation to nylon jaw pliers is that the jaws of the pliers are limited in size. Larger wire components can not be flattened and hardened using the nylon jaw pliers because the pliers may not be able to reach some parts of the component. Where this is an issue, using a larger nylon tool like The Wire Whacker jewelry tool (item 3219 in our Internet store) will allow you to reach all parts of a jewelry wire shape.
Use the proper orientation of your jewelry wire component:
The third step in making a jewelry wire component permanent is to use the component in the proper orientation. Most jewelry wire components made on our WigJig jewelry tools will have both a strong axis and a weak axis. The strong axis of the piece is the axis where you can pull on the piece and it won't come apart. The weak axis is that axis where you could pull the piece apart. In the duplex jewelry wire component shown at right, the horizontal axis is the strong axis and the vertical axis is the weak axis. For this reason, we incorporate this jewelry wire component in a bracelet as shown below, connecting the strong axes of the jewelry wire components. By incorporating the strong axis in this piece, this bracelet will be almost as strong as if it were cast.
Where Appropriate, Employ Bracing to Stregthen Your Jewelry Wire Component:
The fourth step in making permanent wire components can be to employ bracing of your component if required. In the case of the component shown below-right, the "V" shaped jewelry wire component would not have been sufficiently strong to be used as a yoke in a necklace by itself. When we use a second jewelry wire component to brace both ends of the "V" shaped jewelry wire component, the resulting combined component is very strong and permanent as shown below-left.
Where necessary, hammer to harden the jewelry wire component using common jewelry making tools:
The final approach to making permanent jewelry wire components is to harden the piece by hammering it. Jewelry wire can be hardened by hammering it either with a nylon hammer, with a rawhide hammer or with a metal chasing hammer. Hammering wire with a nylon hammer or a rawhide hammer will not change the shape of the wire, but will make the finished jewelry wire component stiffer and more permanent. Hammering jewelry wire with a metal chasing hammer will flatten the wire and will result in a finished jewelry wire component that is much stronger and stiffer. Here are a few dos and don'ts regarding hammering your jewelry wire components.
Do hammer jewelry wire that is one layer of wire like the ear wire shown above.
Don't hammer jewelry wire where one piece of wire crosses another. This will cause the wire to break at the point where the wire crosses.
Don't hammer too close to beads. Obviously, hitting the beads with the hammer can cause the glass to break.
Do use an anvil, a bench block, or a jeweler's block jewelry tools as the surface for holding the jewelry wire component that you will hammer. The smooth surface of the anvil or the blocks will minimize any marking of the jewelry wire.
More Information on Hammering Jewelry Wire to Harden It:
In the above paragraph we briefly discussed hammering jewelry wire using a hammer and anvil jewelry tools. Here, we will try to address hammering jewelry wire in more detail. First, we will discuss hammering jewelry wire to harden it and make the shape of the wire permanent. Second, we will discuss hammering jewelry wire to change the shape of the wire. Finally, we will address some more do's and don'ts tips on hammering.
A simple example of hammering jewelry wire to make the shape of the wire permanent is hammering the rounded portion of an ear wire so that portion stays round. For this type of hammering, flattening the jewelry wire slightly creates the effect of an "I" beam and strengthens the wire. (If you view a commercially made ear wire, you should notice that the rounded portion of the ear wire is flattened. This is to create the I-beam effect.) At the microscopic level hammering jewelry wire generates a small amount of heat inside the wire and this heat helps to cause the microscopic crystals in the wire to align with one another. In effect, hammering the jewelry wire anneals the wire in very small increments. When hammering jewelry wire to harden it, you can hammer with a metal chasing hammer and actually change the shape of the wire (I beam effect) or you can use a soft hammer (nylon hammer or leather mallet) and harden the jewelry wire slightly without changing the round shape of the wire. Hammering with a soft hammer won't harden the wire as much as using the metal chasing hammer and actually flattening the wire, but using the nylon hammer may be appropriate to create the look required.
The second reason for hammering jewelry wire is that the wire is a large gauge, or is very stiff and won't take the shape you want without hammering. Hammering in this case helps to coax the wire into the desired shape. When making the ring shown at right or the earrings shown at left, we use a larger gauge of jewelry wire to make the final shape permanent. Because this larger gauge of jewelry wire is much stiffer, you will find that you need to hammer the wire into your ring mandrel to make the ring shown, or into a large Super Peg to make the hoops shown at left. Without hammering, the wire won't take the round shape of the Super Peg or of the ring mandrel. With hammering, the jewelry wire is coaxed into the desired shape by forcing the wire to take the shape of the Super Peg or ring mandrel. In this case, you have hammered enough, when you take the jewelry wire off the mandrel or Super Pegs and it remains in the desired rounded shape. In most cases, when hammering jewelry wire to coax it into the desired shape, one would use a nylon hammer or a leather mallet to preserve the round cross sectional shape of the wire. In both the cases shown here, you would not need an anvil or bench block because you are hammering the wire into the rounded shape of the ring mandrel or Super Peg and you can hold either the mandrel or Super Peg in your hand has you hammer. Hammering jewelry wire to force it into the shape you desire, is very much like the old blacksmiths, who hammer steel into various shapes using an anvil and metal pegs set into the anvil, either to make horse shoes or decorative iron work. Only the size of the tools and the amount of heat used are different.
Finally, we have discussed hammering wire to strengthen and harden the wire and we have discussed hammering wire like a blacksmith to shape the wire. Here are some tips to remember when hammering jewelry wire.
Tips for Hammering Jewelry Wire using Common Jewelry Tools:
Hammering jewelry wire with the flat side of a metal chasing hammer will flatten the wire. This can provide extra strength to the wire in the same way than an "I-beam" is a stronger girder than a rectangular piece of metal with the same weight.
Chasing hammers come with either a flat face or a slightly rounded face. The flat face of your chasing hammer will mark your jewelry wire at the point where the edge of the hammer touches the wire when you hammer. A metal chasing hammer with a slightly rounded face leaves fewer hammer marks. We recommend our chasing hammer jewelry tool, Item 0353.
If the surface of your anvil or bench block jewelry tool is not perfectly smooth, the imperfections on the surface can be transferred to your jewelry wire and will mark your wire. One way to add texture to your wire is to hammer the jewelry wire into a textured surface. If you can find an antique hammer with a rusted face, or an antique anvil with a rusted top, you can hammer your wire with that hammer or on that anvil and the results will be a textured finish to your wire. To avoid this texturing of your wire, use a smooth, blemish free anvil and hammer.
Whenever possible, only hammer a single piece of jewelry wire. Try not to hammer wire, where one wire crosses over another. The reason is simple -- hammering jewelry wire where one wire crosses another will ultimately cause the wire to break at the point where the wire crosses over. One piece of wire will see the opposite piece of wire as a chisel and it will ultimately cause the wire to break at that point.
Whenever possible don't hammer jewelry wire close to beads. Obviously, if you accidentally hammer a glass bead, it would shatter.
If you want to harden jewelry wire without changing the round cross-section of the wire, use either a nylon hammer or a leather mallet jewelry tool. They won't harden the jewelry wire as much as a metal chasing hammer would, but they also won't change the shape of the wire.
Proper Orientation of your Jewelry Wire Component:
Our final topic in making permanent wire components is orientation. How does the orientation of the wire component in your piece effect the permanence of the piece? The answer to this question is rather simple. Many jewelry wire components are built with an inherent strong axis and a weak axis. If the piece is oriented in your jewelry so that the forces pull on the jewelry wire component along the strong axis, then the piece will be strong and permanent. If the forces on the jewelry wire component pull along the weak axis, then it may be possible to pull the wire component out of shape even though you used large/stiff wire and hardened the piece properly after you made it.
Please see the piece at right showing both the strong axis and the weak axis for a wire component. The simple test for this is to use your fingers and pull the piece first on the strong axis and then on the weak axis. If you pull the piece by grasping the top loop in the picture in one hand and the bottom loop in the picture with your other hand you will find that you can pull pretty much as hard as you can, and it won't pull apart. By contrast if you pull by grasping the initial loop at the left side of the jeelry wire component in one hand and the final loop at the right side of the jewelry wire component with your other hand, you will see that if you pull hard enough, the wire component can be pulled out of shape.
How do you use this information? The answer is simple, when connecting components in a bracelet or necklace remember to consider the strong axis and weak axis. Connect the chain in your bracelet or necklace to the strong axis of your jewelry wire component and the finished jewelry item will be much stronger. Please see the two pictures below to view necklaces connected on the weak axis and strong axis.
Some jewelry wire components won't have a strong axis. When you are making new jewelry wire components you should consider the strength of the basic wire component. For earrings, you can align your component along the weak axis because if the piece were to be pulled hard enough to change the shape of the wire, the wearer of the earring would be mighty unhappy. For bracelets, you should almost never orientate your wire component along the weak axis. Bracelets can get snagged while being worn and will pull out of shape. For necklaces, with proper hardening and wire size, you can orientate your wire component along the weak axis for your personal use, but we don't recommend selling jewelry with wire components oriented along the weak axis. Best practice is to always orientate your wire component along the strong axis.
Summary of making permanent jewelry wire components using common jewelry tools:
There are two basic concepts that should always be considered when you make any jewelry wire component into a piece of jewelry. First you should always consider the orientation of the piece so that you can employ the strong axis of the piece along the axis of the jewelry item. Second you also need to consider hardening the piece using common jewelry tools. Hardening can consist of work hardening using nylon jaw pliers. Hardening can also consist of hammering the piece with a metal chasing hammer, with a nylon hammer or with a rawhide hammer and and anvil or bench block jewelry tool. For many jewelry wire components you will want to hammer the component but not change the shape of the wire. For other jewelry wire components, like ear wires, you will want to flatten the jewelry wire to create the "I" beam effect making that shape much stiffer and more permanent. If we had perfect jewelry wire, we wouldn't need to consider hardening the wire. Since we don't have perfect jewelry wire you will need to harden many jewelry wire components after you have shaped them properly.
Please select here to return to our beginner's jewelry making skills web page.