November 1, 2012

Making Copper Ball Headpins

I make a lot of the findings I use to make jewelry.  That includes using my torch to make silver headpins with the round ball on the end.  If you've never made these, there are plenty of resources on the web, including videos, that show you how to make them.  I highly suggest you try it out.

Today, my quest was to see if I could use the same tools and process to make copper headpins.  If you've been reading my blog, you'll know that after shunning copper for most of my jewelry making career, I have recently decided it is one of the best materials on earth for wire wrapping.

I haven't seen anyone on the blogs or forums I read saying they make copper headpins, and searching the web gave me mixed information, so I decided to just give it a try.



My soldering tools are the barest of basics.  I have a solder-it butane torch - the equivalent of a creme brulee kitchen torch, a heat proof fiber tile (not sure what it's called) and a pair of long pliers that I have dedicated to the flame.

If you are looking for a torch like mine, here's a list of butane torches on Amazon.  Look for one that is refillable, self-igniting, has good reviews, has a stable base so you can stand it up, and ideally can be adjusted to a sharp flame. Generally, the flame size is adjusted by adjusting the amount of gas flow (the slide lever just above the black on the handle).

To make silver headpins, I typically cut a piece of wire 1/8 to 1/4 inch longer than I would like the finished headpin.  I fold the end on the side I want the ball - but I've never thought this was absolutely necessary.  I think it just helps you get the same size ball heads on the headpin.  Then, I hold it in the hottest section of the flame (the blue points), it gets red, balls up and I either quench it in water or wait for it to cool a little and put it on my fiber board and continue to the next one.  If I am using fine silver, there are no other steps.

So, I tried the exact same thing using the 24g copper wire I bought at the hardware store - and guess what?


Ta Da!  It works!

Now, the picture is actually a little misleading - because when you are using copper, there are some additional steps, just like when you are using sterling silver.

After the wire pin is held in the flame, it blackens (oxidizes) and the dark color doesn't just wipe off.  It needs to be chemically removed.



The headpins on the left have been cleaned, and the other two piles haven't been.

Before I talk about cleaning up the headpins using pickle (the name for the chemical that removes the black stuff), look closely at the headpins on the right.  Can you see that the head is red?  Pretty cool, isn't it?  What I found was that if you quench the pin in water immediately - while it is still red, the head stays that lovely red color.  If you wait until it cools slightly, it is dark like the pile of headpins in the middle.

So, after the headpins were made, they all looked like either the ones in the center or the right.  I wanted them to be shiny and clean - but I'm not very fond of chemicals.  Pickle can be purchased at jewelry supply places - one brand is Sparex, or you can also use pool chemicals that lower the PH (PH Down).

When I am doing a lot of metal work - I might mix up one of these - but I always try to go the simplest and safest route.  In this case, that means  homemade pickle using white vinegar and salt.  I put enough vinegar to cover 1/4 inch of the bottom of a small glass jar and sprinkled some regular table salt in (not sure how much - but not a lot).  Then I heat the mixture for 30 seconds in my microwave.  When it comes out, I put the headpins I want to clean into the solution, swirl it around for a minute - and the headpins come out the wonderful shiny version you see on the left!  I am positively thrilled with the results!!

I also tried making a headpin using 20g copper wire and... it didn't work!

I just don't think my torch is hot enough.  The wire gets red, it just doesn't ball up.  Honestly, 24g and smaller works just fine for me right now.    I will try and push my luck later and see if 22g will work since that would make a nice 'thin' ear wire.

Update on Making Copper Ball Headpins with Thick Wire


Yes, yes!  You can make copper ball headpins with thicker wire.  It's just a slightly different technique.  Click the link for more information!

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30 comments:

  1. Wow, now this is reeeally interesting information -- especially about folding the end. I had always wondered why there were no heavy-duty 16 or 18 gauge headpins available. I'd also wondered how people got those kind of paddle-y ends on their ball pins. I've been making my own decorative bendy wirework ones, but hadn't tried making ball pins. I have the torch, just no clear place to fire it up.

    Is there a reason why you would need to get rid of the black? It looks neat. Would the black crack off if the wire were bent or does it come off at all?

    I've noticed with PMC silver that if you quench the pieces right out of the kiln, they're brittle. Have you noticed any difference with the maleability or brittleness of the copper after quenching it compared to letting it cool naturally?

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    1. Such great questions Barbara!! I use my torch in the kitchen or in the backyard. One thing that's super important is that you can't use it in bright light - you just can't see the flame well enough. I used to make the headpins over a large (18X18) left over porcelain tile in case any hot metal dropped off. Now I just use the little 8X8 fireproof tile.

      I haven't played with the pins enough yet to know if there's any difference in temper from the quenched vs. unquenched.

      For the black - the reason I decided to remove it with pickle (even though I will probably oxidize the final piece) is that it doesn't polish up at all. I tried that first - and it just stayed black and dull. I didn't pickle the red headed pins because if I do, the red head disappears - and I think it's pretty neat.

      For christmas, I am planning to ask for a beginner enamel set so I can make enameled headpins. That seems like fun!

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  2. Some time ago I managed to make headpins using 20g copper wire, but I didn't use a torch (I don't have one); I used my cooker :o)It did take a while to form a ball, but it was worth waiting
    pss... thanks for sharing how to clean the headpins!

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    1. Maybe I wasn't patient enough? The wire did glow red, it just didn't ball up. What is a cooker?? (wondering if I have one - lol!)
      Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. well, I ment a gas cooker ... like this one for example https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQTQMMn86D4jtDCILuXXi0cKwuMcxCp2s4O5IewNOslPG2CwHv6

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  3. This is a great post Lisa! Very informative and helpful, I love the homemade 'pickle' juice idea and will give this a try once I find my torch! Nice job.

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    1. Thank you! Good luck. Once you start using your torch, you'll find it very addicting.

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  4. Wow Lisa, that is so helpful, thank you! What a thorough tutorial. Combining flames with wirework always seemed so distant but maybe I can give it a try now, since you told me exactly what to do! Thanks! :D

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    1. Glad I could help! Hope you have great results!

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  5. Since I wrote this, I tried making headpins with 22g copper wire. It worked - but it was a little slower to ball up. I tried being more patient with the 20g wire - but no matter what it wouldn't budge! My guess is unless your butane torch gets hotter than mine (is that possible?), you just can't do 20g copper wire with it.

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  6. Hi,

    It was a good experience to read this blog. I have my own business. Defiantly, i use your idea's in my products.

    Keep posting!!

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  7. Great tutorial - I also use vinegar & salt to remove oxidation, it works very well - and enviro friendly to boot!
    I haven't tried copper, but I think I will see if my torch is hot enough for 20 gauge..

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    1. Good luck! I am going to try the vinegar and salt on oxidation from soldering sterling silver too. Hope that works!

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  8. Oooo....this is a great tutorial! I picked up a torch at HF but haven't yet tried to use it. Several years ago, in a bulk buy, I got an ounce of fine silver wire, intending to use it for headpins ... however ... I only recently opened the bag & to my dismay, I found it was half round instead of the round I thought I was getting. Not sure what to do with it yet, but ... I have a TON of copper! I think I have 3 pounds of different sizes! Ah . . . I miss those bulk buy days! =) Thanks for sharing . . . oh, and I was wondering ... do you think I could use a pizza stone in place of a tile?

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    1. That's funny! I bought some fine silver wire in a bulk buy that ended up being square instead of round - I use it for headpins anyway. You can't notice. Maybe you can do the same with the half round? I would definitely try it...
      I don't know about the pizza brick. My fiber board seems to absorb the heat. Doesn't a pizza brick get hot to help the pizza cook? I think that is the opposite of what you want - but I'm the first to admit, I'm still a newbie at all of this.

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  9. Hi Lisa, New follower here. I do lampwork beads and tried making copper headpins today on my torch. Then I needed to clean them. Google sent me to you. Cool huh? Thanks for this helpful post. Hope you will visit my blog: http://dillmansdallies.blogspot.com/

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    1. Hi Carol, Glad you stopped by and I did the same for your blog. I like the variety of crafts and interests you have. Enjoy! Lisa

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  10. Hi Lisa, I just wanted to say thank you for this brilliant blog post! I found it on Google too - and I've just made my first headpins! You simplified the process, which took some of the initial terror out of it for me (!) and the homemade pickle works a treat. Thank you! :)

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    1. Yay! So glad you were able to make ball pins! They are so useful and easy to make. Try hammering the end to make flat circle pins. Just one more step and they make your creations so unique!

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  11. I balled 18 and 16 ga copper. I lay my torch down, so the flame is vertical ( facing up of course) and hold the wire also vertical ( so the flame and wire are almost paralleled, not perpendicular)

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    1. I understand what you mean, and I've had other people tell me that they have been successful balling thicker wire using a butane torch when they held the wire parallel (inside the flame)instead of perpendicular when just the end of the wire is in the flame area. It seems to make sense. I don't think my torch will lay flat like you describe though (or I'm too chicken to try it!), but I will try holding the wire inside the flame when it is on its stand.

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  12. I had heard that the butane torches won't get hot enough to do copper headpins out of 20 ga, so I raided the garage for my husband's propane torch. Voila! Works like a charm. It took a few tries to figure out exactly where and how to hold the wire to get it to form a proper ball, but it works beautifully.
    Thank you for the tutorial - and the great photos. I had wondered why some of my headpins were red on the ends and others weren't. I realize now that I had quenched the second batch and not the first. Makes sense!

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  13. I have never actually thought to do this and I am not sure why, lol. Thanks for the tutorial! Hopefully I will have time to try this today...your newest follower ; )

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    1. Give it a try!! It's so much fun - and so useful. You may also want to read this post to see how to make ball head pins with thick wire: http://www.lisayangjewelry.com/2013/09/how-to-make-copper-ball-headpins-using.html
      Glad to have you as a follower!

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    2. Hello Lisa and thanks for all of your awesome information!

      I am working with copper to make ball head pins and I did the vinegar pickle to remove the black tarnish finish but the copper is no longer shiny but a matte, dull finish. Is there some way to shine them up or this what happens after the pickling process. If I used sterling silver, they will also become black, do I use the same vinegar pickling process as well?
      Thanks up front for letting me pick you brain for a bit.
      Have a great day! :) Lelani

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    3. Yes - I have noticed the same dull surface on sterling and copper after picking but I find that wiping it down with a polishing cloth or tumbling the item after pickling will restore the shine.

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    4. Super fine steel wool works really well too! =)

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  14. Awesome! Thanks Lisa!
    Hmmm... my husband has a rock tumbler, may have to visit that this weekend. I love your blog and want to look at everything you have posted, this could be a major beading weekend!
    From one bead hoarder to another, Happy Thanksgiving!

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  15. Hi, really love your blog!
    I wanted to ask if its possible to make ball headpins out of brass Wire, nickel wire and gold filled wire, thanks a lot!

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    1. I only use copper, sterling silver and fine silver. I think some of the others may release harmful fumes, so I have never tried them.

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