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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Making Jump Rings for Chainmaille – Video

27 11 2014

I have an order for a sterling silver Full Persian chainmaille bracelet, just like the one that I regularly wear. I didn’t have the jump rings I needed for the chainmaille bracelet, so I had to make some. That gave me a great idea: make a video so people can see all the steps to making jump rings for chainmaille.

Full persian unisex bracelet in sterling siver

Full Persian unisex bracelet in sterling siver

In the video below, I’m using 20 gauge (awg) sterling silver wire, 4.5 mm inner diameter. (With this size ring, the aspect ratio is 5.56, which is perfect for this chainmaille weave.)

You don’t see it in the video, but I actually made and cut 7 coils of rings. The video only shows me making and cutting one coil of wire. The video is 10:32, even after I cut out all the boring parts.

Once the bracelet is complete, I’ll put a lobster claw clasp on it and polish it in the tumber for an hour or so. It will be fantastic. The picture on the left shows what it will look like once I finish it–probably tomorrow.

This bracelet is available in the ChainOfBeauty shop in both 20 gauge rings (as shown here) and in larger 18 gauge rings. See the medium sized (20 gauge) bracelet. See the large (18 gauge) bracelet.

Video of Jump Ring Making

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.


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.

Gold-filled Micro JPL Bracelet

1 09 2014


This gold filled handmade bracelet is the smallest bracelet I make: not smallest in length but the chain with the smallest rings. The result is fantastic! A handmade gold filled unique and classy bracelet – what could be finer?

See, some people like big chunky chain, and other people like petite, fine chains. This micromaille bracelet is for the people who like refined, classy chains that provide a bit of flash without being too obvious.

This bracelet as shown is in jeweler’s brass. It is a demonstration. The “real” bracelet is in 14/20 gold filled wire, which means it will be a heavy layer of 14K gold bonded on a brass wire. Gold filled wire keeps it appearance for years, unlike gold-plated wire in which the gold plating wears off fairly soon under regular use.

Why is this the smallest bracelet? I can’t make rings any smaller than these. They are only 2.0 mm inside diameter. My jeweler’s saw can’t cut smaller rings, but that is ok with me. These are very difficult to work with, being so small, especially when just starting the chain. Also, because the rings are so small, making a chain takes a long, long time. Each ring adds about 1 mm to the length, about 0.04 inches. (See more about making this chain here.)


Length shown: 7.5 inches
Material: jeweler’s brass demo-final in 14/20 gold fill
Availability: Available in the shop, starting around $65, depending on gold market prices

More pictures

The micro chainmaille JPL

The micro chainmaille JPL


Classy handmade gold filled chain bracelet

Classy handmade gold filled chain bracelet


Gold accent jewelry handmade chain - Micromaille JPL

Gold accent jewelry handmade chain – Micromaille JPL

Bird on stone

1 09 2014

This artisan continues to amaze me with her creativity. So many wonderful things.

Whispering Iris

I had this stone in a stash of other stones for a few years now. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It’s not semi-precious, so, at first glance it didn’t have a lot going for it. No sparkle, no shine. I decided to do some wire work but wanted to embellish it to give it a little more life. I saw a tip  in one of my magazines about using Staz-on ink to jazz up stones. The ink is permanent and won’t come off, even with soap and water. So, I got myself some black Staz-on ink and stamped a bird image on the stone. This made all the difference without adding too much flare. It kind of has a Zen appeal to it. The final result is shown below!

100_3924 100_3929 100_3931

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Silver Viper Basket Chain Bracelet

1 08 2014

Last weekend, I made a new silver bracelet using the “Viper Basket” weave.

Silver chain bracelet in the viper basket weave

Silver chain bracelet in the viper basket weave

This chain maille weave features criss-crossing rings with larger rings surrounding the inside weave. The overall look of this bracelet design is very nice. It lays flat on the wrist, and the inside weave with smaller rings gives a good visual texture for an interesting appearance.

silver plate bracelet in full view

silver plate bracelet in full view

I’m a bit surprised that more chainmaille artists don’t make this design. It isn’t hard to do and the finished bracelet looks great.

This bracelet uses 18 gauge wire, with 4.5 mm inside rings and 7.0 mm outside rings. The total time to make, including cutting the rings, was around 3 hours.

This bracelet is in silver-plated wire, but I think it would look fantastic with gold-fill inside rings and sterling silver outside rings.

Close up of the silver viper basket chainmaille weave

Close up of the silver viper basket chainmaille weave

I have a similar bracelet in green and silver, as well.

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