7 Tips for Using Steel Wire in Your Jewelry Designs

Hundredth Monkey

Does this ever happen to you? You wake up and feel the sudden need to start adding, say, starbursts to your designs. So you do. But then the weird thing is you start noticing starbursts everywhere. In other people’s beadwork . . . on T-shirts . . . wrapping paper . . . on the sides of buses . . . It’s like your great idea blossomed with everyone else overnight! We were talking about this phenomenon in a class I was teaching in Michigan recently and one of the students, Pam Nichols, said, “Well, it’s just the Hundredth Monkey thing, right?”

What? Hundredth monkey? Pam told the Cliff Notes version of Ken Keyes, Jr. story on how once 99 monkeys learn a behavior, the 100th monkey will just “know” it without having to be taught. Pam is right–this “collective unconscious” influence happens to artists all the time! 

My most recent “hundredth monkey” experience was with steel wire. My friend Brenda Schweder suggested I try it out. So I picked some up at local hardware store and made a necklace, thinking I was on the serious cutting edge. But then I started seeing steel wire used everywhere, including on this very website! Denise Peck’s Cool Waters Bracelet and Raku Waves both use steel wire to create wonderful chunky links, spiraling charms, and a rustic clasp. When you think about it, almost any simple project using heavy-gauge wire could be done up in steel wire. Wouldn’t Catch of the Day by Linda Jones look great with a hefty steel wire frame for the fish? Or how about incorporating steel wire as the base for Linda “Sorcie” Smith’s Freewheeling Pendant? Just check out the wirework projects in the store and let your imagination go.

7 Tips on Using Steel Wire

Steel wire isn’t anything new, of course, but it may be new to your jewelry-making studio. It’s actually a nice material to add to your jewelry to get that weathered look that’s become so popular these days. Here are a handful of tips to get you started:

1.  Find steel wire at your local hardware store. The natural kind is used for twisting rebar together—it’s dark brown and about 18-gauge. The shiny galvanized type, which doesn’t rust as easily, is available in more gauge choices.

2.  This stuff is tough and will destroy your fine wire cutters, so only use heavy-duty wire cutters to cut it. Smooth cut ends with a metal needle file.

3.  Bend steel wire with garage-grade pliers or use your previously trashed set of jewelry-making tools. Metal rods and wooden dowels work well for forming nice, even bends. 

4.  When bending this wire go slowly, especially with the thick gauges. A bend made in the thick stuff is just about impossible to un-bend unless your name is Hercules.

5.  Hammering steel wire is quite therapeutic, but make sure to hammer on a steel block.

6.  Wear safety goggles and keep bandages nearby when working with this type of wire.

7.  Steel wire is obviously not for people with metal allergies! And even if you’re not allergic, it’s a good idea to coat even the galvanized type with acrylic spray or another clear shield product to protect your piece from rusting after you’ve finished it.

Have you tried using steel wire yet? Any tips? Or do you have a “hundredth monkey” story to share? Please do so on the website!

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