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May 08, 2018

Cotter Pin Copper Chain Free Tutorial

Cotter Pin Copper Chain, Cotter Pin Copper Chain - it sounds like a tongue twister, doesn't it?  Thanks to that observation, I'll probably get dinged by google for repeating keywords, but I doubt it will matter too much.

Cotter Pin Chain Free Tutorial at Lisa Yang's Jewelry Blog

I'll start by admitting I had to search for a name for this chain. Once you see a cotter pin, also known as a split pin, you'll see that it is perfectly appropriate. And far better than me calling this a hammered round loop double open loop chain which is where I was heading. Making this has put me back on a bit of a chain making and metal binge again. It feels good (really good) to hammer metal sometimes.

I also like the assembly line aspect of chain making - or at least that's the way I make them.  Once I've tried a few links and know how I'm going to make it, I cut all of the wire I think I'll need.  I thought that two finished chain links were going to be about 1 inch long, so I cut 40 pins to start. My calculation was off, of course.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

But the reason it was off is because my original chain links looked like these, with a much longer connector.  Obviously, that made for a much longer chain.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Back to my assembly line.  The next step was to shape the links - which was easy but not super easy.  I found the instructions for the chain in the book Handcraft Wire Jewelry: Chains, Clasps Pendants by Kimberly Sciaraffa Berlin, but I didn't follow the instructions from the book, because it required measuring and marking which were way too much work for me.  So, I went about it my own way.

What I found worked for me, using 18g wire, is to find the center of the link by wrapping the wire around the first step of my 3-step pliers until the two ends meet.  The 3-step pliers are still one of my most useful and used tools, by the way. The middle step is sized  perfect for earwires, so it gets used constantly.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Once the ends are even, then I wrap them further around the barrel until the wires have crossed. This is one of the steps in my assembly line.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Repeat until all links are done.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Next, I fold up the sides to make the cotter pin shape.  A cotter pin looks like this link.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

So, basically, each of the crossed wires needs to be bent up so the wires are parallel. Grasp the wire about where they cross using flat nose pliers and bend it up.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

The second side is the trickier one because if you don't grab it in the right spot, you'll have too much of a gap or too much of an overlap where the wires meet. I don't have much advice here, other than practice and look at the picture below. It's a bit fuzzy, but you can see my pliers are aligned to make the second bend about the wire's width past where the first bent wire overlaps.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

When it is bent up, the two are parallel. Next, it's time to hammer the loop.  Finally!  I get to pound on something - including my finger. Ugh!

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

As you can see, the pins above are not perfectly even, but in order to make an even chain, they need to be.  The next step was trimming them all to size.  I knew how long I wanted the 'stem' to be from my practice links, so I trimmed one, made the connector loops and made sure it was the way I wanted.

I haven't really talked about the loops yet, but that's how the links of the chain connect. Each of the straight sides are turned down by making a simple loop. So, here's a practice link and the trimmed pins.

By the way, at each step of my assembly line I save one sample of that stage - so if I have to go back and make more links, I can. I have a piece of the cut wire, I have a sample trimmed pin and a sample chain link.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Trimmed all of the pins.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

The next step is chain assembly. After making the first link, the second link is added by separating the straight sides slightly and sliding them through the two loops on the back of the prior link. Then the link is closed by making two more simple loops.

You will probably need to mark your pliers with a sharpie to make these loops consistent. I did - but for the next chain, I'm going to try making both loops at one time using small bail making pliers. It may not work, since the wire is pretty thick and I found it to be work hardened after the bending, hammering and cutting, but it would be a big time saver to make both loops at once.

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Here's a look at the front and back of the chain. When making the loops, you will need to adjust the wires so one is pushed forward (the one you loop first) and one is pushed backward, so you have enough room to get the pliers in and make the loop.  Think about it like the way you open a jump ring to the side, except above the loop are two parellel wires that are being separated.  I'll try to get a picture!

Cotter Pin Link Chain tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

Update on 5/24/2018: 

I didn't like having to make the two loops separately very much, or mark my round nose pliers to get the loops even. The solution was to buy a new tool!  I bought this 6 step bail making pliers and found that using the smallest step was almost the exact same size as the spot I had marked on my round nose pliers.  And the tool is strong enough to make both loops at once!

The reason this tool is stronger than my bail making pliers is because the smallest round nose sections are only one third of the length of the pliers, so the larger steps at the base give them stability. And it is much quicker and easier to make both loops at once. This plier also has a step the same size as the 3 step pliers that I was using to make the round center portion of the cotter pin links. So, I put down that plier and made a whole new set of chain using these. This might be my new favorite jewelry making tool - but I'll have to make a few more things to be sure.

And now, back to the original post:

Right now, I have made two pieces of chain, each about 8 inches long, 19 links each.  I threw them into the tumbler when I was done to polish and harden them.

I think I am going to make a simple pendant following the instructions in the book that got me started on this chain.  As you can see from the cover, there are lots of other chain designs covered in the book - many of which I've seen before or are similar to other ones I've tried.

Actually, this cotter pin link chain is pretty similar to the horseshoe link chain that I did a tutorial for years ago. That just occurred to me.

horseshoe link chain free tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

And also similar to this variation I tried later that was more of a teardrop shaped link bracelet.

teardrop link chain free tutorial by Lisa Yang Jewelry

The thing I find interesting, is that with each of these chains, I joined them a little differently.

The horseshoe one, I made both loops, then opened the loops to join the links. The teardrop instructions, I made one loop, slid on the new link and then closed the second link. And then this one, made the first link, added the second and then closed both loops. Didn't even realize that until right now when I was looking at the old tutorials.

Making these links were definitely more challenging than the other two chains, so if you are just getting started chain making, I suggest looking at those tutorials first.

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  1. One of my favorite chains. I usually opt for the teardrop shape, rather than the round- just easier for me, and they seem to sell pretty well. (My daughter tells me I chronically under-price my pieces, though.) I really like the round links! Your tutorial helps me understand the steps so I can make consistent components. Thanks, I'm going to get right on one of these!

    1. I like the teardrop shape too - and this is a little more challenging, but still very pretty. Enjoy!

  2. Thanks for your instructions. Beautiful design.

  3. beautiful! I am still in the process of making my first chain - but as I soldered the loops, it's taking for ever to make! I've been filing and sanding for ages! I might have a go at something like this next time

  4. Lisa, your instructions and photos are so clear and helpful. Your results are amazing, professional and elegant! Thank you for all that your share! So happy to find your blog!