10 Essential Expert Tips for Chain Maille Jewelry Making
Even though I still struggle with making chain maille jewelry, it isn’t for lack of trying. It’s all my fault, really–I’m just too impatient for all those little jump rings! But my chain maille jewelry efforts have sure taught me some great tips. In honor of our great collection of chain maille jewelry-making products bundled into an amazing bargain for you this month, I’ve compiled a collection of my own: the 10 most helpful, brilliant and wise chain maille jewelry tips ever. In the whole world. Ever.
1. Embellish your chain maille jewelry: Karen Karon, author of Chain Maille Jewelry Workshop, writes, “The even, consistent patterns of chain maille lend themselves to embellishments of all kinds. Add a watch head or a special focal piece to your jewelry. Connect beads, crystals, pearls, semiprecious stones, and charms to your jewelry using loops and other simple wireworking techniques. Introduce new materials into your designs, such as rubber O-rings, leather, scales, and premade cable chain.”
2. Be prepared with extra supplies. Karen says, “Always be sure to have more jump rings than you need in case a jump ring gets bent out of shape or dropped and lost-it happens! I like to have at least one extra inch worth of jump rings in my supply stash.”
3. Buy from a single source. “When you are ready, I recommend that you purchase as many jump rings as you need to finish a project from one source,” Karen says. “Making substitutions can be tricky as subtle variations in jump rings from a different manufacturer could create a noticeable line of demarcation in your finished piece of chain maille.”
4. Be sure to buy only saw-cut jump rings, because they have flush-cut edges for perfect closures. If you make your own jump rings, saw them apart instead of using wire cutters, unless you’re mindful to use flush cutters properly every time.
5. Store jump rings labeled with the gauge, ID, metal AND manufacturer information. Then you’ll know where to order more to match when your stash gets low. (Learn more about ID, OD, and other jump ring and chain maille details here and here.)
6. When you make your own jump rings, one mandrel won’t necessarily produce the same size jump rings in different metals. When the coiled wire is released, it loosens in what is known as springback. The tension in the metal, determined by the type of metal it is, determines how much springback the metal has. Stiffer metals have more spring, which will produce jump rings with an ID slightly larger than the mandrel. This is important to keep in mind if you intend to mix metals in a project or if you want to make jump rings with an exact ID.
7. Know how far is too far. If you work with wire and jump rings, you probably know that wire work hardens as you use it. How many times can you open and close a jump ring, hardening and stiffening along the way, until it gets too brittle and breaks? Karen recommends we “sacrifice a jump ring or two to the chain maille gods” in order to know how much is too much. Open and close a jump ring repeatedly, noting how the tension and resistance builds as you go. Keep going until it breaks so you’ll know how it feels when it’s at the breaking point and when it’s time to stop in the future.
8. When making chain-maille jewelry with flat-nose pliers, chain maille expert Scott David Plumlee opts for square-tip pliers with a shorter jaw. The shorter jaw allows you to work with less pressure from your hands but still achieve more pressure at the tip. It’s all about leverage, you know! This will cut down on hand fatigue.
9. JMD member karo4751 shared this tip on an earlier blog I did about chain maille. When you wrap a mandrel with wire, making your own jump rings, you’ll create a wire coil that has to be cut into individual jump rings. “Before cutting the rings, run a piece of craft wire thru the coil. After cutting them, fold in half and twist tie the craft wire. Throw it in the tumbler as is and when you’re done tumbling, your rings are still on the wire and not just a big mess in your shot. It also allows you to tumble different sizes at the same time.” Simple and brilliant, I love it. Thanks for sharing, karo4751!
10. Think below the surface. If you’re using gold, opt for “14/20” gold-filled wire instead of gold-plated wire for chain maille. It’s called 14/20 because 1/20th of its thickness is 14kt gold. This is quite a bit thicker than the thickness of gold on gold-plated wire, and with all the moving around and metal-against-metal rubbing in chain maille, the thinner gold on gold-plated wire can wear off. Similarly, don’t tumble anodized aluminum jump rings, because the color is just a surface treatment and can wear off during tumbling.
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