5 Expert Tips for Chain Making: Inspiration, Techniques, and Embellishments

I’ve been so fortunate to spend a lot of time in New Orleans and Charleston this past year, two of my favorite cities. Every trip to these vibrant places adds dozens of pictures to my inspiration file–including many pictures of old ironwork gates, fences, and balconies. The intricate iron designs are ideal inspiration for chain making as well as other wire jewelry designs, like pendants and earrings.
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I think chain making is a really important technique for a jewelry maker to have in their personal arsenal. Once you’ve created all of your beautiful charms, pendants, bezel-set gems, and other focal pieces, hanging them on handmade chain completes the loop (no pun intended!) of a truly handmade piece of jewelry. Handmade chains are also stylish standalone pieces that don’t even need focal pieces, especially when worn in multiples.

Chain making can be a very Zen jewelry-making process for experienced jewelry makers, and because of the repetition involved in most chain designs, it’s great practice for beginners–especially if soldering is involved. Whether you’re on the experienced side or the newbie side, I hope these five expert tips and ideas taken from our chain-making eBook, 10 Easy Chain Jewelry Making Projects, will inspire and inform your handmade chain projects!

New Orleans ironwork inspired the chain making in Lisa Niven Kelly's Scroll Gate Chain

Scroll Gate Chain by Lisa Niven Kelly

1. Wire Accents and Cold Connections for Handmade Chain

Like me and many other jewelry artists, Lisa Niven Kelly is also inspired by the ironwork of New Orleans gates, balconies, and railings. “I love the intricate scroll/spiral work involved in these pieces. Ironwork has a strong place in history,” Lisa says. “A very famous example of this type of work is the balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

“All of this scroll and spiral work got me thinking that I could take some of the very simple and classic elements of this historical work, and create a timeless chain,” Lisa says. “For the larger links, I have used fine-gauge wire to weave spirals together, giving the illusion of a solder or welded point. I have also achieved that illusion by linking with two very small jump rings.”

Industrial chain-making ideas from the hardware store, by Lisa Niven Kelly

Industrial chain-making ideas from the hardware store, by Lisa Niven Kelly

2. Hardware Store Inspiration for Chain Making

The hardware store is a great place to look for all kinds of inspiration, chain making especially. “I often get my chain inspiration by going to the hardware store to see what kinds of industrial chains they are selling,” Lisa Niven Kelly says, “The basics of this chain are very similar to a common industrial chain. But here, I have jazzed it up with beads, coils, and texture. Most chains can be broken down into very basic elements using very beginner techniques. Note how you can take a basic chain and make it modern with more advanced techniques.”

Coily Colored Jump Ring Chain by Sara Graham Richardson

Coily Colored Jump Ring Chain by Sara Graham Richardson

3. Alternative Wires Add Color to Handmade Chain

After you’ve made your basic (or not so basic!) chains, you can stop there or go one step further. Colorful craft wire, as in Sara Graham Richardson’s Coily Colored Jump Ring Chain above, is a great way to add interest and variety to simple handmade chain designs. “I wanted to add a bit more pop to my jump rings for a charm bracelet I was making,” Sara says. “Slipping colored coils onto my rings was the perfect solution. You can use any size or gauge of jump rings, or any mandrel to make the coils, as long as the coil can slip easily onto your rings. Such a simple way to add color to a plain silver chain!”

If you don’t want color but still want a little something different, try using copper and/or brass wire accents on silver chain. For an all-silver design, you can still add contrast by darkening some elements, such as the coils in Sara’s example, with liver of sulfur before adding them to your chain.

Spiral chain-making variations by Lisa Niven Kelly

Spiral chain-making variations by Lisa Niven Kelly

4. Chain-Making Variations in Wire, Beads, and Texture

Not all chains have to be as elaborate as ironwork in a charming city. As Lisa shows with these samples, above, a simple spiral can make great chain–and that spiral can be modified to create a variety of chain making designs. Lisa simply changed the size of the spiral and the gauge of the wire to turn simple spirals into three distinct chain styles. You can also add beads or crystals to add color and even more variety.

Another way to alter simple spirals is by hammering them to add texture. Regarding the middle sample, above, Lisa says, “I hammered it flat with the face of a chasing hammer, and textured it with the round end. Keep in mind if you hammer a loop, it actually shrinks the inner diameter of the loop, and it may no longer be big enough to reach into the spiral, which actually grows when hammered.” So make sure that your alterations don’t alter the shape so much, the links no longer function properly. Otherwise, hammer away and have fun!

chain making creates a unique chain for the pendant in Monolith Birch by Deborah Gray-Wurz

Monolith Birch by Deborah Gray-Wurz

5. And possibly the best chain-making advice of all . . .

It can be hard enough getting two earrings to match perfectly; making dozens of identical links for chain making can be nearly impossible. And that’s OK. “Keep in mind that each link does not have to be an exact duplicate of the first one you make,” says Deborah Gray-Wurz. “It’s what gives this piece an organic appeal.” Chain links with slight differences in length and loop size, etc., look more interesting and show that each one was handmade.

If you’re new to chain making, you’ll learn at least 10 ways to make handmade chains when you download 10 Easy Chain Jewelry Making Projects. And if you’re more experienced, you’ll find at least 10 ways to enjoy meditative chain making in the complete handmade chain tutorials in this eBook. And no matter what your experience level, with 10 Easy Chain Jewelry Making Projects, you’ll be on your way to stylish chain making perfect for yourself or gifts in minutes!