Jewelry Making Tip of the week:
Last week I discussed nickel in jewelry wire. I received a very nice e-mail from Jill Fenn who noted that in Europe, nickel in jewelry wire is all but prohibited. Jill noted that the EU has a directive that limits nickel in alloys used in earrings to 0.05%.
This past week I received a question about how to use the Nylon Jaw pliers to harden a wire component. Nylon jaw pliers are a very versatile tool and are often used to help "work harden" a wire component. "Work hardening" is a term that describes the hardening that results from small movements of the wire. Most of us have had experience where we needed to break a piece of wire, like a coat-hanger, and did this by bending it repeatedly back and forth. With each bend the wire becomes stiffer, until finally it becomes brittle and breaks. With jewelry wire, we frequently want to take advantage of the hardening that happens as the wire is bent back and forth, but we obviously want to stop the bending well before the wire breaks. Using Nylon Jaw Pliers is one way to work harden wire.
When making wire components on any jig, there is a tendency for the finished wire component to be slightly three dimensional. At the beginning of the piece the wire is near the bottom of the pegs, touching the jig. As you continue to wrap the wire around the pegs, the wire tends to climb and is higher on the pegs. This is a natural tendency and really can't be avoided. The result is that wire components come off the jig as a three dimensional piece. Most jewelry applications call for the wire component to be as flat as possible. For any wire component that can fit into the jaws of Nylon Jaw Pliers, the pliers are an excellent way to squish the three dimensional wire component into as close to two dimensions as possible.
Whether you are trying to squeeze a wire component into a two dimensional shape, or just to harden the wire so that it will be a permanent shape, the process is the same. Place the wire component into the jaws of the Nylon Jaw Pliers and squeeze. Start squeezing gently at first and change the orientation of the piece in the jaws of the pliers with each squeeze. As the piece settles into its final shape, start squeezing harder. At the end you should be able to give it a good hard squeeze without seeing much movement in the wire component. The end result is that a three dimensional wire component is made as two dimensional as possible and in the process the wire component is work hardened.
Work hardening will not take place unless there is some movement or bending of the wire. You can not harden a straight piece of wire by just squeezing it, but you can work harden a straight piece of wire by pulling it through the jaws of the Nylon Jaw Pliers repeatedly providing that you orientate the pliers so that the wire bends slightly with each pull.
The alternative to Nylon Jaw Pliers are either using your fingers (ouch), your fingers protected by a piece of cloth or leather, a Whackitdown, or a hammer and anvil. Fingers can work, but for most people they are not strong enough to work as well as the Nylon Jaw Pliers. A chasing hammer and anvil works very well for wire that does not cross itself, but can not be used effectively where one piece of wire crosses another. In those instances, the Nylon Jaw Pliers are really the right tool for the job.