6 Tips for Successful Hammered Wirework

The Trouble with Improper Tools

Months ago, I got so excited about advancing my wire wrapping techniques beyond wire-wrapped loops that I had a big success-turned-failure. I didn’t have a mandrel or some of the other cool (and necessary) tools it takes to do slightly more advanced wire jewelry designs, so I rummaged through the garage toolbox and improvised.

I dove right in and reached for a ball-peen hammer from the toolbox. In my stash, I had plenty of wire in various gauges, including 22-gauge half-hard, my favorite. Also, I didn’t have a steel bench block. But that didn’t stop me. I had a large hoop earring finding with five holes in it that just begged for dangles to be inserted. I envisioned five long wire wrapped dangles with a few beads strung on them for color and flared wire ends to hold the beads in place. I grabbed a piece of compressed wood board, my hammer, and headed for the studio.

Flattened Wire Dangle EarringsIntrepid Wireworker Skips a Few Steps

Because the holes in the earring finding would only accommodate 24-gauge wire, I rationalized that the end results would be “delicate.” The word I didn’t consider at the time was “flimsy.” I attached five long pieces of wire to each hole with wire wraps. Then I strung a pewter size 11º seed, a small aquamarine rondelle, and a pearly blue size 8º seed bead to each. Last, I hammered a 1/2” length at the tip of each wire until it flared at the end. A modern masterpiece!

(Check out the photo of those earrings today. They are, as my engineer friend, Michael, would say, “structurally unsound.”)

6 Tips for Successful Hammered Wirework

Recently, while filming Beads, Baubles & Jewels, I asked Mark Nelson from Rio Grande to demo how to make hammered wire dangles. We shot an informal video in the back room of the studio with help from our impromptu camera person (and bead artist) Marcia DeCoster.  Here are Mark's tips:

  1. Use the proper tools: No more foraging in the garage toolbox. Here’s why. The ball end and the flat end of the ball-peen hammer should be smooth. Scratches and dents in the hammer and hammering surface transfer to the metal. If you’ve been wailing on walls with yours, forget about making jewelry with it.
  2. Use a suitable wire gauge: That 24-gauge wire was too fine. A 20-gauge dead-soft wire is probably the thinnest wire to use for a nice flared-end dangle: 16- or 18-gauge would be even better.
  3. Be gentle with metal: Don’t whang away on your wire. As you use thicker gauges of wire, you will increase your hammering pressure a little. A gentle touch does the job—and spreads the metal evenly for equal strength and a better look.
    Wire Wrapped Bird's Nest Pendant
  4. Don’t let your first idea dictate your materials: Creating dangles was a good idea. Creating them for my hoops with small holes was not. It would have been better to have learned the proper way to make the dangle, then chosen a finding suited to a heavier gauge of wire.
  5. Use inexpensive wire to experiment: Copper is affordable for samples and so pretty you may decide to use it for your final project.
  6. Consult experts: Had I just grabbed a copy of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, I could have sidestepped pitfalls. In fact, the new Summer 2009 issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry has a great project by Sally Stevens that shows how to transform 20-gauge copper wire into a neatly hammered pendant.

With Mark Nelson’s help and a subscription to Step by Wire Jewelry, I’m ready to succeed–and so can you!

Do you have some wireworking lessons to share from your own experiments? Please tell us.

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