- Jewelry wire gauge
Jewelry wire gauge is a measure of the diameter or gauge of
wireused in jewelrymanufacture.
Wire is a single, usually cylindrical, elongated strand of drawn metal. This definition is currently correct, but was not correct when wire was first invented over 2,000 years BC. Wire was first made from gold nuggets pounded into flat sheets. The sheets were then cut into strips and the strips were first twisted and then rolled into the round shape we call wire. This early wire was used in making jewelry. This early wire, made from sheets of pounded metal, can be distinguished from modern wire by the spiral line along the wire created by the edges of the sheet.
Modern wire is manufactured by a different process. Wire is made by pulling a solid metal cylinder through a
draw platewith holes of a defined size. This approach to making wire was something that was discovered in Ancient Rome. Frequently, smaller sizes of wire are made by pulling wire through successively smaller holes in the draw plate until the desired size is reached.
Today, wire is used extensively in many applications from fencing to the electronics industry to electrical distribution and finally in the making of
wire wrapped jewelry. Originally, when wire was first used, its use was limited to making jewelry.
All metals have a property called hardness. Hardness is the property of the metal that resists bending. Soft metals are pliable and easy to bend. Hard metals are stiff and hard to bend. The hardness of metals can be changed by heat treating the metal in a process called annealing or by simply bending the wire in a process called work hardening.
Wire, like all metals, will have this same hardness property. Most modern manufacturers of jewelry wire will make the wire with a defined hardness, generally labeled as a hardness of 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. Historically, these numbers were associated with the number of times that the wire was pulled through the draw plate. The wire becomes harder or stiffer after each time it is drawn through the drawplate. A hardness of 0 meant that the wire was drawn only one time and was as soft and pliable as possible. A hardness of 4 meant that the wire was drawn five or more times and the wire was as stiff and hard as possible. Currently the designations 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 no longer correlate to the number of times that the wire was drawn because the hardness of the wire can be changed by heat treating the wire. Practically, most jewelry wire is sold now as either dead soft, half-hard, or hard, with dead soft being wire manufactured with a hardness of 0, half-hard being wire manufactured with a hardness of 2, and fully hardened wire being wire with a hardness of 4.
Dead soft wire is extremely soft and pliable. It can be easily bent and is excellent for making rounded shapes including a spiral. The disadvantage of using soft wire is that the finished piece can be bent out of shape if not properly handled.
Half-hard wire is slightly stiffer than dead soft wire. Half-hard wire is excellent for making tight, angular bends, for making loops in wire, and for wrapping wire around itself. Finished pieces made with half-hard wire are often more permanent than pieces made with soft wire. Half-hard wire does not do a good job of making spirals.
Hard wire is very stiff and tends to spring back after being bent. This can make it harder to work with when using a jig. Hard wire will not make a spiral. The advantage to hard wire is that the wire components made out of hard wire are difficult to make but very permanent.
As in many things, no single wire is perfect for all applications. Soft wire is easy to bend and shape, but the finished product may be bent out of shape if squeezed. Hard wire is difficult to bend, but makes very permanent shapes. Half-hard wire is a compromise between the two. The ideal wire will be easy to bend, until in its final shape, but then very stiff. Obviously this ideal wire does not exist, so when making
wire wrapped jewelrythe wire is often hardened as part of making the jewelry. Hardening the wire can be accomplished by hammering, or by manipulating the wire in a process called work hardening.
Historically, all wire was round. Advances in technology now allow the manufacture of jewelry wire in several shapes. The "shape" refers to the shape of the cut end. These include round, square, and half-round. Although round wire tends to be more versatile, square and half-round wire are available and have their purpose. Half round wire is often wrapped around other pieces of wire to connect them. Square wire is used because of its aesthetic value. The corners of the square add interest to the finished jewelry. Square wire can also be twisted to create interesting visual effects.
Currently wire is manufactured in a variety of sizes for a variety of applications. The sizes of wire are in general defined by one of two methods. There are two wire gauge sizing systems in common use in North America and the United Kingdom: The
American wire gauge(AWG) and the Standard wire gauge(SWG) systems. AWG is usually, but not always the standard for defining the sizes of wire used in the United States, and SWG is usually, but not always the standard wire sizing system used in the United Kingdom. With both the AWG and SWG systems a larger wire will have a smaller gauge and smaller wire will have a larger gauge. 0 gauge wire will be roughly the size of a pencil and 30 gauge wire will be roughly the size of a human hair. In Europe, wire is generally defined by the mm diameter of the wire.
For making rings, generally 10 to 16 gauge wire is used (2.5 to 1.3 mm). Bracelet and necklace wire components are generally made out of wire that is 16, 18 or 20 gauge (1.3 to 0.8 mm). Earring components are frequently made out of 18 or 20 gauge wire (1.0 to 0.8 mm). When making
wire wrapped jewelry, these components are connected to one another with wire that is generally 20 to 26 gauge (0.8 to 0.4 mm). Frequently the connections between wire components will include a bead on the wire connector in a technique called a wrapped bead link. Most glass beads (but not all) are manufactured with a hole that is 1 mm in size. This will accommodate 20 gauge wire, but will probably not accommodate 18 gauge wire. Some glass beads, almost all freshwater pearls and some gemstone beads will have smaller holes and will require the use of wire smaller than 20 gauge. (The largest wire that can go through the beads is generally chosen. Beads and gemstones are much harder than the wire and will over time saw into the wire, so thicker wire will last longer.)
Larger wire is more difficult to work with. Wire that is 16 gauge and larger is harder to bend and may not be appropriate for beginners.
Wire wrapped jewelry
*Ogden, Jack, 1992, Interpreting the Past -- Ancient Jewelry, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-08030-0
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