5+ Tips on Chain Making: Loop-in-Loop

Chain making has been an interest of mine since my early days at Lapidary Journal (somewhere around 1997, to be exact!). One of our graphic artists, Karen Dougherty, author of Metal Style, studied art in college with a focus on metals. She taught me my first chain maille pattern, and my second.

One of the first bracelets I made, mistake and all. Fish charm by Barbara Becker Simon.

One of the first bracelets I made, mistake and all. Fish charm by Barbara Becker Simon.

My chain-making path didn’t end there. Soon, I was editing projects by Jean Stark, working with her directly for advice and help. Oh my gosh, it was like a dream come true—Jean Stark! During a trip to Tucson, I was fortunate to have time to take a workshop at the Tucson Parks and Recreation Center. The metal-arts program at the center was run by Jeanne Jerousek-McAninch. Jeanne is an amazing lady, prolific chain maker, and teacher of metal arts. The Columbus Chain Bracelet is a pattern we discussed while in Tucson and it’s a pattern I still use today. (If you haven’t tried it yet, make one with square wire!)

chain making: Columbus Chain

Chain Making Tips From Locadio Medina

Locadio Medina, another notable chain making artist, was the instructor of the course I attended. He was amazing to watch—I really could’ve just watched him work all day. He was quick, efficient, neat, and made chain really fast. Locadio had high expectations of everyone in class, and so, we worked! I learned so many strong foundation skills from him, many of which I still use today.

Sterling silver round and half-round wire formed into links then assembled to create this finished chain, by Locadio Medina.

Sterling silver round and half-round wire formed into links then assembled to create this finished chain, by Locadio Medina.

One tip he showed involved deburring jump rings. He made his own rings and would debur them as he built chain. Working quickly, he would use his pliers, assemble the links (just the few he needed for that part of the pattern), put one tool down, pick up the salon board, file the joint, repeat. And although this sounds labor intensive, he had such a rhythm. It was like watching music played by a well-seasoned orchestra.

Sterling silver round wire and sterling silver beads formed into links then assembled to create this finished chain, by Locadio Medina.

Sterling silver round wire and sterling silver beads formed into links then assembled to create this finished chain, by Locadio Medina.

Another thing Locadio shared was this little tool that helped when starting a new chain pattern. Brilliant, right? Simple in nature and gives you just enough to hold onto until you get the chain going.

Tool by Locadio Medina, great for starting a new chain-maille weave.

Tool by Locadio Medina, great for starting a new chain-maille weave.

Locadio had other chain making tricks up his sleeve, and he showed us another great tool he made. The tool was a block covered with leather or soft cloth. He would use it when winding wire into a coil. In my mind, it’s like a nylon clothespin wrapped in leather. Its purpose is to hold the wire while forming a coil yet not mar it, all while protecting your hands (we were winding coils using a power drill).

The class was a loop-in-loop single chain. We learned the art of prepping closed loops, forming them, and how to weave the finished loops together. As you can see, I didn’t get far! I remember visiting with everyone, taking notes, and drinking in the whole experience, so I bet I got all I needed from that class even if my chain wasn’t finished.

Loop-in-loop chain in progress.

Loop-in-loop chain in progress.

Chain making is something I still enjoy doing. Here is a necklace that incorporates a chain made from sterling-silver-filled round wire. The loops were formed using Now That’s a Pliers! After forming, the links are hammered to flatten and texture the wire. The links really should be soldered but for now, it works!

Chain made using sterling-silver-filled wire formed on Now That’s a Pliers!

Chain made using sterling-silver-filled wire formed on Now That’s a Pliers!

Ann Cahoon’s Steps for Chain Making

Let’s go back to the loops that are not assembled . . . what to do with them? How about finish what you started! Enter Ann Cahoon.

Words spoken by Ann in her Intro to Chain Making Single Loop-in-Loop video: chain making is practical if you’re a jewelry maker and a fantastic way to build your skills through precision and repetition. I’m in!

Her basic overview of loop-in-loop chain making involves these steps:

  • anneal wire
  • coil and cut jump rings
  • align jump rings for fusing
  • fuse
  • shape for weaving
  • weave
  • draw
  • finish

Chain Making Overview and Tips

To follow are a few tips and basic overview of the steps Ann covers in how to make loop-in-loop chain. She covers way more than I could ever write up and fit into this article!

1. Prepare the Wire

Anneal wire with a trinket or beehive kiln. In this example, Ann uses 22-gauge fine silver. In every example, Ann also shares alternate methods so you’re not limited to her first choice. She also shows how to anneal a bundle of wire with a torch and acetylene fuel.

annealing wire in beehive kiln

2. Form a Wire Coil & Cut Rings

Don’t use wooden mandrels! The wood will compress as you coil your wire and your rings will be inconsistent. Ann uses a jump-ringer system and shows how to form a coil of wire using this tool.

Form a coil of wire on a mandrel to create a consistent-sized coil.

Form a coil of wire on a mandrel to create a consistent-sized coil.

You can also use a vise to create a coil, which Ann also shares.

chain making: coiling wire with a vise
Once the coil is made, you need to cut the rings. Ann shares how to use a jump-ringer cutting tool and includes all the safety and tool information you need to finally get the tool out of the box and into use! (Yes, I’m talking to myself!)

Ann, sharing how to use the cutting tool correctly to cut rings from a coil of wire.

Ann, sharing how to use the cutting tool correctly to cut rings from a coil of wire.

True to her style, Ann also shares how to cut a coil of wire using a jeweler’s saw.

3. Fuse Rings

Close jump rings so the seam is barely perceptible. Assemble rings on a charcoal block. Note: Charcoal is important when fusing. It creates a reducing atmosphere, which sucks up the oxygen/reduces oxidation (not as important with fine silver but helpful). Charcoal also feeds heat back to the work, helping with the fusing.

chain making: jump rings on charcoal block
Place all joints at the 12:00 position (or at a position you like that is the same each time you fuse). Ann fuses at 12:00 and solders at 6:00. This helps keep things organized, so you can keep track of where you need to heat the jump ring.

Heat and fuse the rings.

Ann likes a small bushy flame but recommends you find the flame you prefer and with the size torch tip that works best for you.

Ann likes a small bushy flame but recommends you find the flame you prefer and with the size torch tip that works best for you.

Ann attempts to show what not to do when fusing, but she has such great success, she can only tell us what our failures will look like. I literally laughed out loud. Ann offers hope in the failures she knows we’ll make and encourages us to just keep going! Her last thought on the subject is that as your fusing skills improve, so shall your soldering skills.

4. Form Fused Links

Form the rings into ovals. Ann shares all the steps of how to do this, flings a ring or two off into the studio, and offers tips on how to do this to keep the oval rings consistent.

Use round-nose pliers to shape the rings into oval links. Ann is a big proponent of tool modification and offers insight on how to create our own modified tool to assist us in this task.

Use round-nose pliers to shape the rings into oval links. Ann is a big proponent of tool modification and offers insight on how to create our own modified tool to assist us in this task.

5. Weave the Links

Further shape the links to prepare them for weaving. Using a key set of simple tools, which Ann covers, weave links together so you form a consistent chain of links. Again, Ann offers troubleshooting and tips and ideas for making this work for you, no matter the tools you have on hand.

from Further Explorations in Chain making for Complex Woven Chains with Ann Cahoon
With all Ann shares, you will soon be able to create links that are smooth, consistent, and refined. Follow Ann into her other chain-making video, Further Explorations in Chain making for Complex Woven Chains, for more great tips, tool information, and lots of chain-making!

–Tammy
Group Editorial Director, Bead & Jewelry

For a great overview of other chain ideas you can make, read 10 Chain-Making Projects to Link Your Jewelry Designs.


Jump further into chain making with these great resources!