Wire Gauge and What to use when.....
As you begin to learn about wire wrapping and jewelry component making, you will realize that often the sizes of these materials is measured as gauge. If you re anything like I was in the beginning this will be a "What the Mackerel does that mean?" moment.
Let me explain. Gauge is the measurement used to define the thickness of a wire. The Larger the number the smaller the thickness. For Example a size 12 gauge wire is quite thick and a size 26 gauge is very fine. Gauges are usually seen between 26(super fine) to about 16 (thick) in most local craft stores in the jewelry wire section. You can get wires in an even larger range at wholesale on-line craft stores such as Rio Grande and Fire Mountain Gems as well.
So what does this mean to the making process? Well it can depend on what type of metal you are using as well as what you want to do with it. What I mean is if the metal is soft you may need a thicker wire to do the same or similar job as what a harder metal can do with a thinner gauge. That is why, when you go looking for what gauge is for what situation, sometimes you find lists that show a range of gauges for the same jobs. But let's start with the basics.
According to one of my favorite inspiring how to books, The Earring Style Book by Stephanie A Wells the break down looks like this for size and use.
26(super fine)- Single and double wrapped loops, teardrop loop and wrap, wrapping single beads and attaching beads to frames.
24(very fine)- Eye pins and head pins, single and double wrapped loop, teardrop loop and wrap, wrapping single beads to frames.
22(Fine)- Eye pins and head pins, loops, teardrop loop and wrap, attaching beads to frames.
20(Medium)- Ear wires, jump rings, eye pins and head pins, connecting frame pieces.
18 -14 or larger(thick)- Frames
I used this guide often, when I was first learning the art of wire wrapping to decide where to begin on a project. However as my experience has grown I have found that softer metals will need to be at least one size thicker in gauge for the same results of strength. That being said it is only comfortable to go up to a size 19 gauge at the largest, for ear wires. Anything thicker can be heavy and cause irritation on the wearer. Another way to get around this is to gently hammer the ear wire, at the u-shape part, to strengthen it.
As you begin to work with wire, you will find your own comfort for different operations. I find that I do not like the very fine wires to work with because most of the wrapping I do involves ends that are never tucked under. When using the fine wire this in usually suggested because they are too soft to stay in place otherwise and will unravel during polishing(at least this has been my experience with dead soft metals, copper and aluminum) So for my designs I usually will not use a wire smaller than 19 gauge or 18 gauge for attaching beads to frames and wrapping stones. I also find that the finer gauges are too soft to hold as jump rings, unless tempered, or hammered, if the metal is dead soft. I also work with much larger sizes of aluminum because it is extremely soft and even gentle hammering can only harden it slightly.
Most of the wire I work with is either dead soft or soft, what this means is that it will shape much easier. I love the look of the hammering effect so I prefer it over the hard wire in most cases. I also believe that when you start learning it is a better choice so you can get your technique worked out before trying the harder metals. Copper is fairly inexpensive to work with and will give you a chance to experiment with your learning. I also suggest starting with just two sizes to begin, and from my point of view 20 gauge and 16 gauge is a great for many of your first projects.
I hope this helps to clarify the gauge matter and gets you to the wire isle soon. Have fun and see what works for you.
Feel Free to visit my Gallery/Shop to see examples of different jewelry pieces made with different gauges and metals.
I am a self taught jewelry designer and artist. I studied fashion design and come from a very creative family.
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