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January 12, 2014

How To Choose Wire for Making Jewelry

Getting started making wire wrap jewelry can mean a lot of trial and error finding the best supplies and tools.

There are a lot of new things to learn including what jewelry tools you need, 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).

There are a couple of important things you need to know about your wire before you buy it.
  • 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.
Let's start with the 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. If you do beadwork, that is similar to the scale used for seed bead sizes. The higher the size number, the smaller it is.

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.

Having a wire gauge measuring tool is very helpful in case your wire gets mixed up while you are working.  

There are many different types of wire gauge tools available, but this one has the wire sizes that are most used by jewelry artists and it is small and portable.

To use a wire gauge tool, slide the wire through the slot opening next to each wire size. The smallest size opening that the wire will fit through will tell you a range for the wire size.  

For example, if my wire fits in the slot marked 14, but does not fit through the slot next to 16, the wire is either 14 gauge or 15 gauge. Since 14 gauge is a more common size - and in my case, it really fits perfectly through that slot, it is 14 gauge wire.

What Wire is Used Most in Jewelry Making?

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 use gemstone beads in your jewelry designs, you will need 24 gauge or even 26 gauge wire. 

When you use smaller gauge wire, you need to use wrapped loops or coil the wire since a simple open loop is not going to be secure. It is too easy for the wire to bend out of shape and the loop to open.

Selecting the Right Wire Temper or Hardness For Jewelry Projects

Wire is available in 3 tempers: hard, half hard or soft.

  • Hard wire is difficult to bend and brittle.  It is not used in jewelry making. (at least by me)
  • 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. I'd say this wire is springy.

Wire buying mistakes to avoid:

I recommend you choose dead soft temper wire over half hard wire.

For many, many years, I 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. 

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

It is 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.  

One other mistake I made was to start with sterling silver wire. Even though it was relatively inexpensive at the time, it always held me back from experimenting because I didn't like to waste too much wire.  When you are learning - I highly suggest copper wire or copper based craft wires.

If you prefer silver color, then try a craft wire like silver Artistic Wire or ParaWire.  Craft wire is available in lots of colors. You can read my review of ParaWire craft wire.

Colored wire can be challenging for beginners because the coating can scratch if your grip is too tight. 
With some of the color coated wire, the color can flake off. 

In my experience, the silver, gold, hematite and bronze colors are pretty durable. Most are copper wire with a surface treatment to add color.

Buying Jewelry Wire for Beginners

Don't be afraid to start you by buying jewelry making wire 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 learning a new hobby.

The picture hanging wire comes in 18 to 24 gauge copper, plus they also have galvanized steel (black), and brass (which is a little yellow for my taste, I prefer red brass). 

I have found packages of aluminum wire at the hardware store that I use for jewelry making. Aluminum wire is very soft, but can be fun to practice bending and making shapes 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.

Updated 12/30/2022


  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.

    1. Me too! I like 20g for earwires and the frame shapes for earrings.

  2. carona1961May 18, 2015

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

  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.

    1. 12 and 14 gauge are pretty thick. I love them, but my hands don't. It can be a lot of work to get them to shape.

  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

    1. Glad it helped you! Lucky you to be able to find great polished rocks at the beach.

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

  6. AnonymousMay 27, 2017

    I see a lot of wire at hobby stores that are marked 'German' wire. What is that ?

    1. I think it is a silver colored craft wire, but I don't have any to be sure.

    2. In essence...CRAP. Its mostly nickel and is, in my opinion, too hard and very difficult to work with, especially a beginner. If you want silver you can always use a sterling silver FILL, which is great bc you can still patina it, etc. Parawire makes a good one (a 1/2 oz. roll about $15) or rio Grand sells the least expensive and nicest i think. Stay away from German silver, it will probably make your customers break it and never return if u are planning to make someextra $$ from your creations. Namaste.

  7. Is there a very good site(s) for buying silver, copper wire, all gauges on line with reasonable shipping?

    1. Hi Boni, I don't know of any places in Canada. Plenty in the US, but I understand it gets expensive shipping across the border.

  8. This is so helpful. What gauge would you use to make a seed bead bracelet?

  9. Hello, I am trying to make rhinestone jewelry. My question is: when using fancy stones with metal claw 4 hole, i want to run wire thru the holes to strand them. 24 gauge is too stiff. will 28-30 gauge help to give more motion to the piece? I don't know what to buy. Help please.

  10. Hi my name is lisa also..I keep on hand 20 &24 gauge wire. Will 24 work for ear wires? Plus I have alot of undrilled stones..can u recommended and info for a beginner wire wrapper to help guide me in good techniques..btw...very informative.. will keep on hand. Thanks