Experimenting With Copper-Core Wire: Why I Love It, How to Use It
Plated and coated copper-core wire offers a bounty of appealing characteristics. Even if you skip the colored craft wires and stick to alternative metal colors like gold, silver, copper, and brass, there are many advantages to using plated copper-core wires over solid metal wires, such as pure copper and pure (fine) or sterling silver.
I did a few little experiments (coiling, hammering/flattening, flame painting, drawing balled ends and flattening them) to help illustrate how copper-core wires behave in wire jewelry making as compared to some solid/pure metal wires. Here’s what I like about copper-core wire for making jewelry:
Price: This one nearly goes without saying, but it’s great to get the look of silver, gold, or rose gold for less money–especially when it’s durable and long lasting.
Familiarity: In addition to inexpensively achieving the look of silver, gold, and rose gold, I also appreciate knowing what is under that plating. Having a copper core in the wire (as opposed to who knows what) allows me to work with a metal that I understand, whose habits and behavior I’m familiar with. In a pinch, I recently bought some wire at a craft store that was simply labeled as copper, but when I got it home, it didn’t work for electroforming, and I learned later that it wouldn’t ball up or turn color in the flame, no matter how long I heated it. There’s no telling what base metal that wire is actually made of, and it’s useless in the two techniques for which I bought it.
Variety: There are many options available in plated copper-core wire. Round, square, and half-round can be found in any gauge from 12 to 32 in silver-, gold-, and rose-gold-plated, as well as other alternative metals and metallic colors like antique and natural copper, blue and stainless steel, hematite, bronze and vintage bronze, gunmetal, and titanium. There are dozens of bright colors as well. These options allow for the variety of color and metallic finish but in a wire that behaves consistently. Speaking of behavior . . .
Behavior: Because plated copper-core wire has, well, a copper core, it behaves much like copper wire while maintaining the look of more expensive metal. You can ball the ends of plated copper-core wire in a flame just like you would solid copper wire and then make balled or flat head pins or hammer the ball ends flat for paddle-shaped ends. (Note: Sometimes plated copper-core wire smokes when I torch it, so I’m always careful to do it in a well-ventilated room. Never skip safety guidelines!) The fire scale on the remainder of the wire can be removed just like you would remove it on any other wire or metal. I especially love balling the ends of silver-plated copper-core wire, quenching it quickly so the ball is bright shiny pinkish red, and then cleaning up the rest of the wire so it’s bright silver again. Those pinkish-red balled ends make especially pretty tips on rose-gold-plated copper-core wire.
Forgiving: Usually the copper core stays hidden under the plating, but if you have an incident where the copper core shows through on your gold- or silver-plated (or even colored) wire, Leah Helmrich suggested a great fix in her Blossoming Lotus necklace project on the cover of The Best of Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry 2012. Simply use Krylon metallic leafing pens (silver, gold, or whatever color you need) or paint pens to dot the exposed wire ends and hide the copper core.
Bonus: I use Parawire craft wires. I love the fine-silver-plated copper-core wire with a nontarnish coating–it always looks fabulous and shiny. They now have silver-filled wire with a brass or copper core that is bonded in such a way that you don’t see the core when you cut or flatten it. Brilliant!