Wirework and Metals Q and A

1. What is wirework?

Wirework is forming coils, loops, twists and other shapes with wire. Wirework is one of the most popular ways to create jewelry with beads. Basic wirework in jewelry is attaching beads to beading wire or findings with simple loops or wrapped loops. Express yourself more creatively by manipulating wire into complex designs. You can even make your own clasps and other findings with wire.

2. What gauge wire should I use for jewelry?

Wire is measured by gauge - the higher the gauge number, the thinner the wire. The appropriate wire gauge is determined by the technique you will use and the type of bead that the wire will go through. In general, 24-gauge wire is appropriate for most semi-precious gemstones. Gemstones that have been drilled with very small holes may require a thinner wire, such as 26 gauge. Glass beads usually have larger holes and can accommodate a thicker wire, such as 22 gauge. For pieces of wirework larger than a wire-wrapped loop, such as a clasp or design element, you may want to choose thicker wires, such as 14-20 gauge.

3. What's the difference between half-hard wire and dead-soft wire?

Half-hard wire has been treated, either by annealing or drawing, to make it stiffer. Dead-soft wire is much softer than half-hard wire of the same gauge and has a longer work time before metal fatigue occurs.

4. How do I finish memory wire?

Use a pair of sturdy round nose pliers (not fine jewelry pliers) to make a small loop on each end of the wire.

5. What is the percentage of silver in sterling silver?

Silver is a natural precious metal. When silver is combined with copper in a 92.5% / 7.5% ratio, it is considered sterling. Adding copper to silver makes the silver harder and easier to work with. Sterling silver wire will tarnish over time but can be polished easily.

6. What is the percentage of silver in Thai Hill Tribe silver?

Thai silver contains 95-99 percent pure silver and a small percentage of alloyed metal. The higher silver content makes it slightly softer than sterling, which makes it more pliable for the intricate stamping and forming done by Hill Tribe artisans of Thailand.

7. What is pewter?

Pewter is an alloy consisting of mostly tin (normally at least 91 percent) and very small amounts of antimony and copper, which are added mainly for strength and color. The higher the tin content, the more silver the final color.

8. Does pewter made today still contain lead?

The pewter beads and findings we carry contain an alloy composed of 92% tin, 7½% antimony and ½% copper. Tin is refined from ore that contains other metals, including lead. A chemical process is used to remove the lead, but trace amounts still remain. The casting alloy is routinely tested for lead content, yielding results ranging from 179 to 300 parts per million (PPM). This is well below the Food and Drug Administration's standard of 500 PPM deemed safe for pewter used for culinary purposes in contact with food. Although all pewter contains trace amounts of lead, the term "lead-free pewter" is sometimes used to describe pewter that meets the stringent FDA standard.

9. Are your gold-plated products plated with real gold?

The gold-plated beads and findings we carry are lead-free pewter cast beads with high-quality 22kt luster gold plating.

10. Are your silver-plated products plated with real silver?

Our silver-plated beads and findings are lead-free pewter cast beads with high-quality silver plating.

11. What is gold filled?

Our gold-filled beads, wire and chain are composed of 14kt gold fused onto a base metal core - usually brass – that results in a permanent bond. The gold layer on gold-filled products is thicker and will wear better than gold-plated products.

12. Why does copper turn my skin green?

Copper can react with perspiration on your skin to form copper sulfate (the green stuff). Loose-fitting jewelry is far less likely to turn your skin green than a tight-fitting ring because the copper needs sweat to react. To reduce the reaction with your skin, remove copper jewelry before taking showers or washing your hands, and limit the time that the jewelry is worn.

13. Will gunmetal or brass turn my skin green?

Brass, bronze and gun metals are copper alloys, so they could potentially turn your skin green or black but are not as likely to as pure copper is.

14. What is the largest wire gauge that will fit through Swarovski crystals?

If you use 20 gauge wire or finer, it will fit most Swarovski crystal beads easily. With 3mm bicone crystals, use a 22 gauge or finer wire.

15. How can I use stones without holes in my beading projects?

With wireworking skills and a little practice, you can wrap wire around a cabochon (a flat, undrilled stone) or any undrilled stone to create a pendant. All Wired Up (BK1000) by Mark Lareau has illustrated instructions for basic wireworking techniques as well as more advanced techniques such as wrapping wire around an undrilled stone.

16. What kinds of tools do I need for wireworking?

Basic wireworking tools you will need to make jewelry are chain nose pliers, round nose pliers, and flush cutters. Chain nose pliers, which have flat jaws that taper to a point, are used to grip and bend wire. Round nose pliers have conical jaws for making round wire loops. Flush cutters enable you to snip your wire with a clean, close, flush cut that leaves no burrs. For more advanced techniques, you may want a hammer, mallet, bench block, file or other tools. For more information on using wireworking tools, please see our Techniques on making a simple loop and wire wrapping.

17. My sterling silver wire has become tarnished. How can I make it shiny again?

You can make tarnished wire (or any piece of tarnished silver, such as a finding) shiny again by rubbing it gently with a polishing cloth.

18. How do I securely open and close an open jump ring?

Unsoldered (open) jump rings can be opened and closed laterally with chain nose or flat nose pliers. One common method is to hold the jump ring between two chain nose pliers with the opening at 12 o’clock while holding the tips of the pliers at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Use the pliers to move the ends away from each other with a twist of your wrists -- one towards you and one away from you. Close the jump ring by doing the same steps in reverse, wiggling the ends together to close. This method allows the jump ring to hold its shape and strength.

19. What is German style wire?

German-style wire has a copper core and features an anti-tarnish coating. The wire is half-hard, giving it the perfect temper and finish for most jewelry wire wrapping uses.

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