Make OOAK Handmade Chain Using Multiple Wire Gauges (and Morse Code)
Have I mentioned how into wire squiggles I am lately? I've enjoyed using big squiggles and flower-esque focal pieces in designs for several months now, but recently I decided to try scaling back the size of the squiggles. That lead to some interesting little pieces that I thought would make good handmade chain.
I've never even considered using wire to make handmade chain links, because it seemed like it would take for…ever. But I made a complete 20" handmade wire chain in my studio yesterday in less than two hours! There was even some piddling and lollygagging included in that time–plus pauses for picture taking and chair dancing while I listened to some snazzy Cajun music!
It was a very Zen process: I cut all of my wire lengths and then I formed all of my wire chain links, production style, yet each one is different because it's handmade. I hope my little experiment will inspire you to make your own handcrafted wire chain. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be, but here's how I did it.
Making Handmade Wire Chain
I used 12-, 14-, and 16-gauge square copper wire from Indian Jewelers Supply (IJSinc.com). Because I wanted a random design and wasn't working from any sort of pattern (see doodling, above), I didn't bother measuring the wire; I just cut random short and longer segments of wire. My favorite cutters, Xuron metal scissors, cut heavy gauge wires easily, even after all these years! Remember you'll need enough length to form a loop on each end of each link, and this is fairly heavy gauge copper wire, so wire pieces shorter than 1-1/2" aren't too useful.
I used more 16-gauge than 14, and even fewer 12-gauge wire segments. I recommend creating an odd number of the heaviest gauge wire links for the best chain design and balance. I made these and placed them in a temporary layout first, so I would be sure to create a good random design with them well spaced out. I just think it's more interesting to my eye that way, but you could go for symmetry as well, alternating larger and smaller links, working in a pattern (think Morse code–long-short-short-long), or even graduating from the largest link in the front center to smaller links on the ends.
If you create twisted wire links, space them out similarly. You can twist these short lengths of wire by holding each end in pliers with a snug grip and twisting in opposite directions over and over until you have the look you want. Square wire really stands out when twisted.
Hammer your links flat, or leave them with the natural curve they tend to form during shaping. Remember not to hammer where wires overlap or you'll weaken the wire and it could break. If you need to flatten links with overlapping wires, tap with a rubber or nylon mallet, preferably on a "soft" surface like wood or even an old hardcover book. (I keep an old dictionary on my desk for three reasons–I love words; I cut snippets from it to use under resin; and it's a great hammering surface for certain tasks. Oh–make that four reasons–I love the smell of old books!)
Don't forget to finish your wire ends so there won't be sharp edges to scratch the neck. I file down sharp corners and ends right after cutting, before forming, and then I rub my finger over each link after I've formed it to be sure everything is good before connecting them with jump rings.
Why put your handmade pendants on manufactured chain when you can make your own handmade chain for a completely handcrafted piece? Or flip the tables and use a lovely purchased or vintage found pendant on chain made specifically to show it off!
Learn more about making your own chain with Ann Cahoon's DVD Chain Making, in which you will learn the basics of single-loop chain making and then move on up to make four different types of chain: double, two-way, two-way double, and three-way loop-in-loop chain.