Hardening Wire: 3 Quick Experiments
Why I Love Hammering
If you work with wire beyond an occasional wrapped loop, you'll probably end up hammering it at some point. Hammering wire hardens it, making it stronger and harder. You can also get some cool effects with flattened wire. I love hammering because it's is loud and noisy–and frankly, tremendously satisfying if you need a little stress release. (At least, it is if you're doing the hammering. If you're trying to sleep and your sweetheart is hammering her little heart out in the early hours before work, well, not so much. Oops! Sorry!)
Over the weekend, I flipped through a couple of books looking for different things to try. Making Colorful Wire and Beaded Jewelry by Linda Jones had some tips on what not to do, so of course I thought I'd try those things! Sometimes, as crazy as it sounds, it helps me to make those mistakes and understand the "why" behind the advice. Once I do, I'm likely to remember it forever.
Three Experiments with Wire
I used a regular hardware store hammer for these experiments, but if you were to pursue more hammering, you'd probably want a jewelry hammer since those are smaller and lighter. I'd recommend making spirals if you want to experiement along with me, since they have a lot of surface area to work with and it's easier to see the results. You might want to leave a long "tail" to your spiral and hang onto this with your pliers as you hammer. This way you're less likely to accidentally hit your thumb or turn your spiral into a mini flying saucer.
1. Hammer on a steel block that is clean, smooth, and dent-free.
If you don't follow this advice, then the wire will pick up the irregularities on the surface–all those dents and dings. Even if you don't pick up any surprises, you may notice that your hammering is not as effective if you use a different type of surface. Take a look at these two letter E's that I made using metal stamps. One I made hammering on a piece of cardboard that I placed on a cement floor. The other I used a steel block as a surface. See the difference?
Of course, the other reason to be careful about your hammering surface is that you could damage it. Do you really want your legacy to your children or grandchildren to be all those weird indentions in the kitchen table?
2. Don't use small jump rings as this will distort their shape.
I tried a couple of sizes of silver jump rings. To the naked eye, the jump rings seemed to keep their round shape fairly well, but in the photo close-up you can see the space between the ends of the jump ring has dramatically widened and the ring is no longer the same uniform size all around.
3. Don't use colored wires as the colored coatings can rub off.
For this experiment, I first used 26-gauge green, permanently colored copper wire from a local craft store. After a few swings of the hammer, there were definitely some nicks where I could see the copper showing through.
I also hammered some 18-gauage anodized aluminum jump rings and as I expected, the color came off fairly quickly. (The color of the rings tended to chip with just regular handling.)
My third experiment was with some 22-gauge colored wire (pictured at right). This performed the best of the three colored wires with the end of the wire where it was cut showing the most copper underneath. The spiral itself was in good shape with just a few touches of color missing. The spiral is not completely hammered flat, so it's quite possible that additional chips will occur by the time it's finished.
Despite this experience, I'm not quite ready to give up on hammering colored wire. (Yes, I'm stubborn.) I had a suggestion from a reader that a nylon hammer would be gentler on colored wire. I'm also curious whether covering my hammer head with masking tape would help. (The masking tape trick has helped when using pliers on easily marred surfaces.) Those two ideas are the next on my list of experiments!
One More Tip
One last "don't"–you can overdo it and actually weaken the wire if you hammer it too much. The good news is that according to Denise Peck, editor in chief of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, "Work-hardened wire can be restored to its original malleability by heating it, which is called annealing."
Anyone else hammering wire or metal lately? Own the perfect hammer? Have you figured out the trick to hammering colored wire–or to the universe in general? Tell me about it. I love hearing from you!
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