Curvilicious Curlicues: 8 Tips for Forming Kink-Free Spirals, Coils, and Tubes with Wire and Metal Sheet

spiral forms in nature

“Artists have used the spiral as a form of inspiration since ancient times. It’s an appealing form. Generally people love them; it’s a visceral thing. . . Everyone can identify with that shape. So many forms in nature come from spirals–galaxies, plant life–everything spirals outward,” Helen Driggs says in her video, Create Spirals, Tubes, and Other Curves for Jewelry Making by Helen Driggs.

It’s no secret that curves, coils, and spirals are attractive design elements that look great in jewelry–the problem is The Kink.

If you’ve ever tried to turn a piece of wire or metal sheet into a curved shape of any sort, you know about the dreaded kinks. And if you’ve never tried to turn a piece of wire or metal sheet into a curved shape, trust me–it’s deceptively difficult to do so without bending and kinking the metal. No matter how well annealed the metal is, no matter how slow you go or how good your tools are, the kink can just happen. And it’s nearly impossible to undo it.

learn to make spiral metal and wire for jewelry making

Fortunately Helen’s video is packed full of demonstrations and tips for making these curly, swirly, curvy shapes, without falling victim to the kink or–bonus!–breaking lots of saw blades, plus lots of other great advice. Here are 8 great points and tips that I picked up from just the first half of her video.

1.       Always start with annealed sheet with cleaned-up edges. You manipulate the metal with your bare hands a lot in these techniques and you don’t want to slice your fingers on sharp edges–plus it can be really difficult to file and finish metal edges after you’ve formed it into coils and spirals.

steer wire with hand around pliers to make spirals

2.       Use the long tail end of your wire to steer the spiral around your mandrel (pliers, etc.), to avoid getting kinks in the wire. Helen says holding the beginning end snugly in pliers and moving the tail end around it is key to getting smooth, graceful spirals.

make flat wire coils in pliers

3.       When making coils, use flat pliers to hold the wire securely while you wrap the tail end around it, making sure to keep the coils close together. As you turn the coil in the pliers, the pliers support the coil.

4.       When sawing spirals out of metal sheet, drill holes every quarter to half inch in the negative space of the spiral. Then thread your jeweler’s saw blade through the holes and saw out the shapes. Having those holes every so often cut down on the turns you have to make with your saw, making sawing easier and helping prevent sharp turns that can break your saw blade.

drill holes and saw a spiral from metal sheet

5.       Start in the innermost hole and saw toward the middle, and then from the next hole and saw toward the middle, slowly removing those segments (or “bridges”) of metal in the spiral, Helen says, and you will not break your saw blades.

spiral shapes and clasps in jewelry

6.       An important rule we often forget: When sawing spirals and curves in metal sheet, turn the metal, not the saw.

7.       If you solder something onto a tube or other closed form, you have to drill a small hole somewhere in the structure to allow gases that form from the torch heat to escape from the inside. If not, the structure will collapse or burst–both bad ideas!

saw jump rings from the inside out

8.       You’ve heard tips for making your own jump rings before–but don’t miss this one: After creating a tight coil/spring of wire, you probably know it’s best to saw the rings using a jeweler’s saw instead of wire cutters for perfect flush cuts. But Helen takes it a step further into Smartville: Thread the wire coil onto your saw blade and saw from the inside out. You’re better able to support your saw and the coil that way.

coiled and spiral tubes in metal for jewelry

I love seeing how creative I can be with wire, how substantial the jewelry is that you can make from something so simple. If you do, too, you’ll enjoy the hands-on wire forming in Helen’s video, Create Spirals, Tubes, and Other Curves for Jewelry Making. You’ll learn fun and unique ways to use mandrels and vises–even some unique hardware-store mandrels and vises that you’ve possibly never seen–to create interesting spirals, curves, and coils. You’ll learn to use a mandrel and then a draw plate to form metal tubes, how to curve a metal tube without creating kinks, and much more.

wire coil brooches

After completing the lessons Helen demonstrates, you’ll end up with spirals and coils that you can link together to create handmade chain, a wire coil brooch, spiral tubing that you can use to make bracelets or metal beads, and other finished jewelry pieces and components. It’s an informative, versatile video that every metalsmith should have! Instantly download the video or order the Create Spirals, Tubes, and Other Curves for Jewelry Making DVD.

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