Jewelry Basics: Understanding Wire

Wood Lily Hat PinSo what is there to understand about wire? Maybe more than you think. It isn’t hard, but it can be a little confusing unless you learn the basics.

There are three basic things that you need to understand about wire:
1. What the wire is made of.
2. How hard is the wire?
3. What gauge is the wire.

Let’s look at each of these issues in turn. First, what is the wire made of?
Many crafts people use brass or copper wire, because they like the warm colors, the wire is easily purchased at craft and hardware stores, and it is inexpensive.

If you are using a craft wire you need to read the packaging carefully to determine exactly what the wire is made of. Some wires are made of just one metal and some have a core of one metal and a covering of another.

But why does it matter what a piece of wire is made of? Well different metals will work harden at different rates and some may actually break much sooner than others. As you work with your wire I recommend keeping records of how the different wires that you use behave. It will help you choose which wire you use for a specific project and improve your chances of success.

Many colored craft wires have a brass or copper core and some sort of surface coating. How good that craft wire will be is determined by how sturdy that color coating is. Generally name brand wire has better coatings than the cheap stuff. Some of the older coatings had a tendency to peel, so be aware of that when using older wire.

Another type of wire that comes in colors is niobium. These wires come pre-colored, by a process known as anodization. The colors can be very intense, but you do need to be careful about damaging the coating when you are working with it. The ideal solution to this problem is to anodize the wire after you are finished working, but the equipment that is required to do that is generally beyond the means of the average crafter.

A step up from brass and copper wire is silver wire. NOT silver colored wire, but wire made from real silver. There are three kinds of real silver wire commonly found in the market: Sterling silver, Argentium silver, and Fine silver. Sterling silver and Argentium silver are both 95.5 % pure silver. The big difference is that Sterling silver tarnishes fairly easily and Argentium silver is very tarnish resistant. Fine silver, is 99.9% pure silver and is less susceptible to tarnish than sterling silver. It is also softer than Sterling silver. Real silver wire can usually only be bought from a jewelry supply store.

Wire is also available in gold and platinum metal, but that is an entirely different world. With gold at over $1200 an ounce and platinum at over $1350 an ounce, working in these metals is usually reserved for professional jewelers. If you decide to work with these metals you need to thoroughly understand what you are buying and be certain of your source.

I hope that this brief article on wire helps you achieve greater success with your jewelry endeavors.

Next time: Understanding Wire Hardness


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