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Wire Hardening 1

Instructions on common jewelry tools used to harden jewelry wire when making jewelry by hand:

Making jewelry wire shapes that are strong and permanent is not 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 sections, we will discuss some techniques for making permanent jewelry wire components.

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 intentionally 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 jewelry wire; so this approach will not work in every situation. 

Flattening a jewelry wire component made on a WigJig jewelry making tool using nylon jaw pliers.The second step in hardening and making a jewelry wire component permanent is to manipulate the jewelry wire component to flatten it.  Jewelry 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 jewelyr wire component is using nylon jaw pliers.  These pliers allow you to squeeze the jewelry wire component is several different orientations to flatten and harden the piece.  The one limitation to nylon jaw pliers is that the jaws of the pliers are limited in size.  Larger jewelry 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, will allow you to reach all parts of a jewelry wire component.  The process of hardening a jewelry wire component by manipulating the wire is called work hardening.  Whenever you move the jewelry wire out of its current shape, you will be work hardening that piece.  Work hardening is a very gradual process, but the process of flattening the jewelry wire component using nylon jaw pliers, will work harden the piece. 

Deluxe Duplex jewelry wire component made on WigJig jewelry making toolThe third step in making a jewelry wire component permanent is to use the component in the proper orientation.  Most 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 piece shown at right, the horizontal axis is the strong axis and the vertical axis is the weak axis.  For this reason, we incorporate this wire component in a bracelet as shown below.  By incorporating the strong axis in this piece, this jewelry wire component will be almost as strong as if it were cast.  A good test to prove the importance of the strong axis of a jewelry wire component is to make the Duplex jewelry wire component and try to pull it apart on the strong axis.  Then rotate the piece and try to pull it apart on the weak axis.  Which axis would you want to incorporate in your jewelry?  For us the answer for making bracelets and necklaces is to use the strong axis.  When making earrings, you can use the weak axis because earrings are subjected to less pull when being worn. 

Deluxe Duplex Bracelet jewelry making project, made on WigJig jewelry tools.

Braced V Shapped Yoke jewelry wire component, made on WigJig jewelry tool.The fourth technique in making permanent jewelry wire components can be to employ bracing of your component.  In the case of the component V Shaped Yoke jewelry wire component made on WigJig jewelry making tool.shown at 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 component is very strong and permanent as shown at left. 

The final technique to making permanent jewelry wire Hammering jewelry wire using hammer and anvil jewelry tools.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 jewelry wire with a nylon hammer or a rawhide hammer will not change the shape of the jewelry wire, but will make the finished wire component stiffer.  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.  For the ear wire shown at right, hammering the rounded portion of the ear wire converts the round shape into the shape of an "I" beam which is much stronger.  It also causes the microscopic crystal structure of the metal to align into a stronger crystal lattice.  Both the shape and the crystal lattice make the hammered ear wire stronger and stiffer.  Here are a few do's and don'ts regarding hammering your 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 can cause the jewelry 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 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 on the jewelry wire.


Hammering jewelry wire component when making jewelryNow, we will address hammering wire in more detail.  First, we will discuss hammering wire to harden it and make the shape of the wire permanent.  Second, we will discuss hammering wire to change the shape of the wire.  Finally, we will address some 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 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 wire generates a small amount of heat inside the jewelry wire and this heat helps to cause the microscopic crystals in the wire to align with one another.  In effect, hammering the 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 wire slightly without changing the round shape of the jewelry wire.  Hammering with a soft hammer won't harden the jewelry wire as much as using the metal chasing hammer and actually flattening the wire, but it may be appropriate to create the look required. 

Simple Jewelry Wire Ring Jewelry Making ProjectRunway Jewelry Wire and Beads Earrings Jewelry Making ProjectThe 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 jewelry wire into the desired shape.  When making the ring shown at right or the earrings shown at left, we use a larger gauge of wire to make the final shape permanent.  Because this larger gauge of wire is much stiffer, you will find that you need to hammer the jewelry 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 larger size jewelry wire is too stiff and 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 hammering the wire into 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 jewelry 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 as 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 tools are significantly lighter and smaller.

Finally, we have discussed hammering jewelry 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 wire. 

Tips for Hammering Jewelry Wire

  1. Hammering jewelry wire with the flat side of a metal chasing hammer will flatten the wire.  This can provide extra strength to the jewelry wire in the same way than an "I-beam" is a stronger girder than a rectangular piece of metal with the same weight. 
  2. 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 with a rounded face.
  3. If the surface of your anvil or bench block is not perfectly smooth, the imperfections on the surface can be transferred to your jewelry wire and will mark your wire.  the same can be said for your hammer.  One way to add texture to your wire is to hammer the jewelyr wire into a textured surface or with a textured head on your hammer.  If you can find an antique hammer with a rusted face, or an antique anvil with a rusted top, you can hammer your jewelry wire with that hammer or on that anvil and the results will be a textured finish to your jewelry wire.  To avoid this texturing of your wire, use a smooth, blemish free anvil and hammer. 
  4. Whenever possible, only hammer a single piece of jewelry wire.  Try not to hammer jewelry wire, where one wire crossover another.  The reason is simple -- hammering jewelry wire where one wire crosses another will ultimately cause the jewelry 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 jewelry wire to break at that point. 
  5. Whenever possible don't hammer jewelry wire close to beads.  Obviously, if you accidentally hammer a glass bead, it would shatter. 
  6. 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.  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.


Orientation of your Jewelry Wire Component in your Bracelet of Necklace:

Jewelry Wire Component Made on WigJig Jewelry Tool Showing Strong and Weak AxesOur final topic in making permanent wire components is orientation.  How does the orientation of the jewelry 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 an inherent 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 wire component pull along the weak axis, then it may be possible to pull the jewelry wire component out of shape even though you used large/stiff jewelry 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 jewelry 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 jewelry 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 jewelry 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 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. 

Weak axis of jewelry wire component made on WigJig jewelry tools.
Strong axis of jewelry wire component made on WigJig jewelry tools.
Weak Axis 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 will 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 jewelry 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 jewelry wire component along the strong axis.






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