Hardening Silver Wire

15 03 2015

When we were kids, we would open paper clips, bend them back and forth, and see how long it took for the paper clip to break. We thought that by bending the wire repeatedly, we were making it soft enough to break. Actually, though, the opposite was true. When metal is repeatedly hit, twisted, or bent it becomes harder, which makes it brittle enough to break.

This is important to understand when working with silver wire. Pure silver has all of its atoms in a lattice structure, much like crystals. With all the atoms lined up in straight rows and columns, the silver is very flexible and soft. This is why, for example, fine silver (99.9% silver) is not a good material for chainmaille. The rings won’t hold their shape and will open, causing the chain to fall apart.

Making Silver Harder

To make silver wire harder, you have to distort that lattice structure, meaning break down the large crystal structure into much smaller structures, so that all the atoms are not in straight rows. Sterling silver (92.5% silver) solves this problem somewhat. Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and (usually) copper. With the different size atoms, the lattice structure isn’t as perfect, and the metal won’t be as soft and flexible. Even so, however, sterling silver can be quite soft, just not as soft as fine silver.

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Buying Guide for Chain Maille Jewelry

4 09 2014

Chainmaille jewelry comes in a wide variety of quality. Some chainmaille jewelry exhibits high-quality craftsmanship, fine materials, and professional manufacturing techniques. Some chain jewelry shows sloppy work with little attention to detail and uses low-end materials. Most chainmaille jewelry is somewhere in between. If you are interested in buying chainmaille jewelry, how do you know what you are looking at? What should you look for in chain jewelry to determine whether the piece is worth the price?

1. Ring Closure

Ring closure refers to how accurately the cut ends of a jump ring match up. Most chainmaille jump rings are not soldered, so closure is the most important thing to look for. If rings don’t close completely, or if the cut ends don’t quite match up, the rings may scratch your skin and may, over time, pull apart. If the closures are particularly bad, you can see the gaps and mismatched edges easily. Near-miss closures you can feel with your fingers because they will scratch or feel bumpy. Perfect closures are difficult to see and feel smooth. Unfortunately, perfect closures are nearly impossible to create with handmade chainmaille. Even so, ring closures should not have gaps, feel scratchy, or be noticeably misaligned. Here is one of my pieces, with perfect and near-perfect ring closures.

Perfect and near-perfect jump ring closures

Perfect and near-perfect jump ring closures

Here is a lovely Rondo a la Byzantine bracelet from someone else. The bracelet is very nice, but some of the closures could be much better.

Missed.closures

Ring closure affects the price, as well as how much a buyer should be expected to pay. A jeweler has to work much harder to make perfect and near-perfect ring closures and must pay much greater attention to detail. The jewelry will also last longer, move more fluidly, and be more comfortable to wear. Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when the rings are closed well.

2. Ring Cut

Jump rings are cut 2 main ways: with a saw or with clippers. Saw-cut rings will have a flat edge, and clipper-cut rings will have a wedge. Saw-cut rings produce higher quality jewelry because they create a flat surface at the ring cuts. When the rings are closed perfectly, they make a continuous ring. Clipper-cut rings have an additional problem. Because clippers pinch off the ends of a ring, they create a sharp edge, a knife edge that can really scratch your skin. On the other hand, saw cut rings may also scratch because the ring cut can be very sharp if the jeweler had a good saw blade. An imperfectly closed, saw-cut ring will scratch you. As I mentioned above, perfect closures are very difficult to achieve. A difference of less than 0.1 mm will be noticeable. You might not be able to see it, but you can probably feel it. For this reason, I typically file all the cut edges slightly to create a more rounded edge. I have noticed that people who make armor from stainless steel or high-strength industrial wire (such as for armor), tend to use clippers to cut their rings. These types of wire are much harder to saw cut than wire from copper, silver, a similar softer materials. When I first started making chainmaille jewelry years ago, I clipped all my rings. Soon after, I “graduated” to saw-cut rings. The difference in quality was extreme. Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when the rings are saw cut.

3. Ring Density and Specifications

This characteristic is a bit harder to describe. High-quality chainmaille jewelry requires fairly exacting matching of wire gauge to ring diameter. It produces a dense weave in which the rings don’t “flop” out of positions. The weave should hold its shape under a variety of conditions. If the wire is too thin, or if the rings are too large for the wire thickness, the chain will be loose and floppy, and the weave will spread out and lose its shape. What you are looking for is a dense chain (a lot of rings per inch with little “air space” between them). However, the chain needs to be flexible enough to move fluidly. This is a fine line to achieve. Most beginning chainmaille makers don’t understand the issue of Aspect Ratio and use rings that are too large for the weave because it makes the weaving easier. Using too-large rings is ok for learning and practicing, but quality chainmaille jewelry reflects careful matching of ring size and wire gauge. On the other hand, some variation is fine to produce different looks. Here are two of my box chain bracelets using slightly modified ring specifications. The top bracelet (copper) is as loose as possible without losing the design. The bottom bracelet (silver) is a great, dense weave.

Two ring densities for a box chain weave

Two ring densities for a box chain weave

Now, for comparison, here is someone else’s bracelet that is far too loose. Notice that the weave is almost indistinguishable. It won’t hold its shape when worn, and the rings will flop around unless the chain is stretched out, meaning they will hang out away from the rest of the chain. This bracelet would have been much better if the jeweler either used heavier wire or used smaller rings.

Box chain with incorrect ring specifications

Box chain with incorrect ring specifications

Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when the chain are dense but fluid, rather than loose with floppy rings.

4. Wire type

I hesitate to discuss wire type because really great jewelry can be made from a wide variety of wire types. Coated copper, anodized silver plate, and stainless steel can make beautiful jewelry. On the other hand, these material types are less expensive to buy and use than sterling silver, gold-fill, gold, and platinum (i.e., precious metals). With that said, plated and coated wires will lose their plating and coating over time, so they don’t stay as beautiful as when you first buy them. Plated and coated materials cannot be polished or they will lose their surface coloration and material fairly quickly. They do make a less expensive option to the higher-quality materials. Most importantly, they allow for lots of colors and interesting designs. For example, although sterling silver will always be sterling silver color (depending on the amount of tarnish, of course), anodized, permanently colored silver plated wire comes in many colors, from the deepest reds and blues to the lightest pinks and purples. Personally, I think lower-end materials are fine for casual jewelry that you use as a fashion accessory. They may not be “fine jewelry,” but they can be quite nice. The main difference is that high end materials cost more to use, have greater values, look and are more expensive, and will stay beautiful over time. Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when it is made from precious metals.

It’s up to you.

When you are thinking about buying a piece of chainmaille jewelry, consider these four issues. Some may be more important to you than others, but they all should affect the price and how much you are willing to pay. If you are a jewelry maker, you, too, need to consider these issues when determining the price to set for your jewelry. For example, a bracelet with poor closures should not be priced the same as a similar piece with perfect closures, much like a silver-plated bracelet should not be priced the same as a sterling silver bracelet. The reverse is also true. If you make high quality jewelry with precious metals, don’t drop your prices to compete with lower quality pieces. Instead, instruct your buyers why your prices are appropriate.





JPL Micromaille Chainmaille

3 04 2014

Very fine chainmaille chain bracelet.

For several months now, I have been wanting to make a micromaille JPL chainmaille bracelet. Micromaille is chainmaille that is typically at or below 2.5 mm inner diameter. It’s little. Very little.

The problem, however, is that I didn’t have any way to coil wire into rings that size. The smallest coiling mandrel on the Pepe is 2.5 mm. I have made some nice JPL pieces in 2.5, but I couldn’t go any smaller. Problem solved!

I am using a 2.0mm knitting needle in my Pepe wire coiler, and a spool of 22 gauge (AWG) wire.  I just stick the needle in the crank, load some 22 gauge wire, and start winding coils. I didn’t know if I would be able to cut the coils into rings, but they cut just fine, thus leaving me with a nice pile of micromaille jump rings for a very this chain.

Will the chain be strong enough to hold up under the pressure of normal usage? Probably. The wire is a small gauge, but the rings are also very small, so I don’t think they will distort or open.

Here are several ring sizes I use:

Jump Ring Size Comparison

Jump Ring Size Comparison

The rings in this picture, from left to right, are 2.0 mm rings (22 gauge), 3.0 mm rings (20 gauge, my most common ring size), 4.0 mm (20 gauge), and 4.5 mm (18 gauge).

I had a hard time getting the chain started because I kept dropping the starting 3-ring mobius. It was very little for my fingers to grasp. Once I got the chain started, though, it wasn’t too bad. On the other hand, it’s going to take quite a while to make this chain because each ring adds very little to the overall length.

For another comparison, here is the chain in 2.0 mm rings compared to my bracelet, which has 5.0 mm rings in 20 gauge.

Box chain (silver) and JPL (brass)

Box chain (silver) and JPL (brass)

I finally finished the bracelet. It took a long, long time, mainly because the rings are very hard to grasp, they tend to move around in the pliers when I’m weaving them, and with the teeny-tiny size, getting the closures acceptable is a challenge.

Here’s another comparison with the Full Persian bracelet in my hand, to give you an idea of how much smaller this is:

The micro chainmaille JPL

 





My Two Favorite Weaves

4 01 2014

At last count, I create 17 different chainmaille weaves. You can see the list here.

However, two are my favorite: The JPL and the Rondo a la Byzantine.

The Jens Pind Linkage (JPL)

 

Silver bracelet with gold accent--very classy!

Silver bracelet with gold accent–very classy!

 

This weave makes a very classy chain for jewelry. It’s less intricate than the byzantine chain and similar rope weaves, by far, although it is also far harder to get started and requires much more specific ring sizes.

As a chainmaille weave, there is not much I can do with it other than make it longer or thicker, or to add other weaves to it on the end. But that’s ok. The weave pattern is very nice and, as I said, has a very classy, refined look.

Rondo a la Byzantine

Sterling silver, high shine, amazing!

Sterling silver, high shine, amazing!

This weave makes for a broad and highly sophisticated bracelet. It does not make a chain, by normal definitions, but it is chainmaille jewelry. Indeed, this weave shows best how chainmaille techniques create not just chainmaille but also jewelry.

The Rondo a la Byzantine combines helm weave (on the top and bottom) and single byzantine units (the middle section). This weave takes quite a long time to create, compared to JPL. But the result is worth the labor. It also contains a lot of wire, making a noticeable weight. This image shows the Rondo a la Byzantine in Sterling Silver, and it contains around 1.8 ounces of silver.





Wire Length Calculator for Chainmaille

19 10 2013

If you read this chainmaille blog occasionally, you may have seen my post complaining about wire suppliers incorrectly measuring wire I purchase. In brief, I used to order wire by troy ounce, and the actual weight received would be slightly different. As a result, I don’t always get enough wire for a project. I decided to start ordering by length.

This leads to a problem. How much wire do I actually need to order, i.e., how long is the wire? If I know how long the wire is in a piece of chainmaille jewelry, I know how much wire I will need to make the jewelry again.

Why a Wire Length Calculator Is Useful

If I’m using silver plated wire or copper wire, I don’t need to worry about the length because the wire is so cheap, and I always have a lot on hand. However, when I use sterling silver wire or gold-filled wire, this question is important. I usually order just what I need for a particular piece because these wires are more costly.

Let’s say I made a bracelet in silver plated wire, and now I want to make the same bracelet in gold-filled wire. How much wire do I need to order? How long was the wire in the original silver plated bracelet? I will need the same length in sterling silver or gold-filled wire.

To answer this question, I start with 2 known facts: feet per ounce for silver plated wire and weight of the bracelet. First, I use my digital scale (new window) to determine weight. Then I look up the feet per troy ounce. And then I do the math. I’m good at math, but this gets tedious.

I like making chainmaille, and I like using Excel. With these two interests, I created an Excel spreadsheet to calculate wire length. Now, I only enter weight and gauge, and Excel does all the math for me.

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No Inch Fractions for Chainmaille – Use Metric

2 09 2013

If you are going to get good at making chainmaille, you will end up doing math. You can do it the hard way by using inches and fractions of inches, or you can do it the easy way by using decimals and millimeters, i.e., metric system.

Note to people who make chainmaille tutorials and provide instructions: Make it easy on people, please! USE METRIC!

If math is not your “thing,” then this post IS probably for you. Sure, it has a lot of numbers and formulas, but I’ll walk you through them and tell you what they mean. If you are not careful, your math skills might actually improve! If you learn anything from this post, learn that chainmaille is easier when you use metric.

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Dragonscale Speed Weaving Tutorial PDF

25 08 2013

16

When I show people my dragonscale chainmaille bracelets, I generally get the same question: “Wow! How did you do that?” My typical response is “With a lot of patience.”

Although I have posted advice for making dragonscale, I have never really answered the question. Now, I’m answering it fully.

I just created / wrote a dragonscale speed weaving tutorial in PDF for people who want to make this exceptional chainmaille weave. It goes through the process step-by-step.

Every step contains photos, highlights, particular things to notice in the images, and helpful hints from someone who has made a lot of dragonscale–me! I also provide advice for using different ring sizes and weaving different widths.

In this speed weaving technique, all the smaller rings are pre-closed. Doing it this way is much, much easier than adding each ring individually. It’s also faster (which is why it’s called speed weaving, right?).

Availability: The tutorial is available for instant download from Etsy.

Cost: $4.95

Images from the dragonscale PDF tutorial:

(Click for a larger view.)

DragonTut.P8

DragonTut.P14