January 12, 2014

How To Choose Wire for Making Jewelry

Jewelry Wire Basics


Beginning to make wire wrap jewelry can mean a lot of trial and error.  There are a lot of new things to learn; tools, supplies, techniques - with one of the most important being what type of wire to use for a project.

How to choose wire for your jewelry project: Lisa Yang's Jewelry Blog

Choosing the right wire for your jewelry project will make a ton of difference in the amount of scrap and the way your project looks and wears in the end.  This much I tell you from experience (too much bad experience).


Two Important Things To Know About Wire Before You Buy


  • You need to know the thickness of the wire or gauge (g).
  • You need to know how hard or springy the wire is - which is called the temper.

Selecting the Proper Wire Gauge


Wire measurement in the US uses a scale called American Wire Gauge (AWG), but in Europe, wire is measured in millimeters.  I will use AWG, but here is a wire gauge conversion chart if you need it. 

Wire used for wire wrap jewelry making is usually between 14-28 gauge.  The higher the number, the thinner the wire.

You can see the relative size difference of various wire gauges at this link.   Also, here is a handy reference of how each wire gauge is typically used in making jewelry.

I have one of these wire gauge measuring tools just in case my wire gets mixed up while I am working.  There are many different types available, but this one has the wire sizes that are most used by jewelry artists and it is small and portable.

What Wire Will You Use Most?


Everyone is different, but for me, there are 3 wire gauges I always have on hand and recommend for a new jewelry maker:
  • 18 gauge: used to make clasps, wire frames for earrings or pendants, lightweight rings for stacking, links or other components
  • 20 gauge: used to make ear wires, lightweight clasps, beaded or twisted wire link components
  • 22 gauge:  used to make light weight ear wires, for wrapping or embellishing components, coils, wrapped loops
I also like to use gemstones, which have smaller holes than other beads.  In order to integrate gemstone beads into your designs, you will probably need 24 gauge or even 26 gauge wire.  When using these gauges, you need to use wrapped loops or coil the wire since a simple wire loop is not going to be secure.

Selecting the Proper Wire Temper or Hardness


Wire is available in hard, half hard or soft.

  • Hard wire is difficult to bend and brittle.  It is not used in jewelry making. 
  • Soft wire is just like it sounds - easy to bend and pliable. 
  • Half hard wire is in the middle - still easy to bend, but it holds a shape.

Here's one of the biggest wire buying errors I made as a new jewelry maker:


For many, many years, I always purchased half hard wire since it was in the middle and that made it seem like a safe decision.  Now, I always use dead soft wire, unless it is left over from my earlier supply buying.

During the process of working with wire, it naturally hardens.  Therefore, you can always make your soft wire harder by rubbing it with your polishing cloth or plastic coated pliers, hammering, bending or tumbling. However, to make wire soft again requires a torch or kiln to anneal the metal, something that is not readily accessible to beginners.  

Also, learning to make coils and scrolls is much easier to do with soft wire.  The wire stays how you place it without springing out of place. 

Save yourself the headache and learn from my mistake - buy soft wire! *
*Obviously just my opinion

Some wire may not indicate the hardness, in which case you should know that different materials have different tempers.  Copper wire and fine silver are naturally soft, sterling silver is slightly harder, and brass or bronze are even harder.

It is so much easier to shape and bend soft wire knowing that it will stay pretty much exactly how you bent it, than working with half hard that will consistently expand slightly from how you shaped it.  I always found that frustrating - and it resulted in many pieces that weren't how I wanted them to be.

Buying Jewelry Wire for Beginners


Start at your local hardware store! You can find wire suitable for jewelry making in the electrical section and the picture hanging section - and this is perfect for practicing a new hobby.


These packages of wire come in 18-24 g copper, plus they also have galvanized steel (black), and brass (which is a little yellow for my taste, I prefer red brass). I've found different packages of aluminum wire - which is very soft, but can be fun to make some items with.

What wire do you use?


Is there a wire size that you always keep on hand?  What is it and how do you use it?  Please let me know in the comments.

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5 comments :

  1. Great post. I like keep on hand gauges ranging from 18 - 26, but always have 20g in half hard as I like to create my ear wire forms from that.

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  2. Very informative & a useful piece to keep to hand, as a reminder when making your early wire purchases.
    Thank you for posting it.

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  3. Fab article! Personally I love to use 12-28 gauge. I use dead soft for the rings, bangles, components and pendants frame parts. I always have 20 & 24 gauge on hand. I'm good for the structure and the detail with those two gauges on hand.

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  4. I have been polishing beach rocks here on coast of Washington State and have a ton of different agates and just plain polished rocks that are beautiful.
    I have just started drilling holes in some, but some are harder so want to maybe wrap a lot too.
    This site has really helped me with research on how to do the wire thing!
    Thank you!
    Jim Hart

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  5. Thank you for this tutorial. So informative and helpful! 🌺

    ReplyDelete