Now that you’ve read up on the basics of wire wrapping and some of the history of this wonderful craft, perhaps you are feeling ready to try your own hand at it. What kinds of supplies do you need? Happily, this is one of the few crafts you can get started on with a very minimal budget. You can purchase everything you need to make your first wire wrapped pieces of wearable art for about $35.00. That includes pliers, wire, and beads to work with. Let’s talk about the basic supplies, their costs, and what each of them is used for.
You are going to need two pliers to wire wrap effectively. One pair is used for cutting, and the other is used for wrapping the wire around.
- Needle-nose pliers. A small pair of needle-nose jewelry pliers will cost you around $10 to $15. These pliers have a comfortable grip and come to a very small point at the end. With these pliers, you can pull wire through loops that you cannot reach with your fingers, as well as do other wrapping tasks that require a little more force than you can exert by yourself. You will probably still do most of your wrapping without them, but they are an indispensable supply.
- Side-cutting pliers. These pliers should also cost you around $10 to $15. This type of pliers is very small, like the needle nose pliers, and has a comfortable grip. The side-cutter jaws allow you to make a nice clean cut through your wire. These pliers are strong enough even to cut steel wire. The box joint construction of side cutting pliers keeps the jaws aligned to keep the cut line even.
Wire is probably the most complex aspect of supply shopping for wire wrapping. There are a lot of different types of wire which are appropriate for wire wrapping. Let’s break down the different materials, gauges, and strengths of wire so that you understand what you are looking at when you are shopping.
Many different materials can be used for wire. The most common is copper. Copper may be plated with silver or gold, or coated with a color (red, blue, green, purple, black, etc.). Copper is the least expensive type of wire you will find. You may also find steel, brass, nickel, silver, gold, and other materials. Each material has its own unique characteristics which change the wrapping experience. Brass for example is very springy, which can make it challenging to work with.
Wire comes in different shapes and sizes. Most wire is round, but you may also find square wire and other shapes (square wire has edges and corners, whereas round wire is the typical smooth, cylindrical wire you are probably used to seeing). The size of a wire is called its gauge, and refers to its thickness. Very thick wire is tough to bend but will hold its shape beautifully. Very fine wire is extremely easy to bend, but will not hold shape well. It is great for embellishing pieces and holding things together. Medium gauges are ideal for most work. You will probably want to buy several gauges when you get started. Here are some common ranges for gauges:
16-18 gauge: These gauges are pretty thick and hard to bend, but hold shape well. Great for wire sculpture or for creating strong frameworks for pendants, bracelets, or other pieces that require strong structural stability.
20-22 gauge wire: These medium gauges are great for most applications. They can create reasonably strong frameworks, and may be useful for some embellishments.
24-26 gauge wire: These two gauges are great for fine, detail work, and embellishment.
Recommended gauges for beginners: I recommend purchasing a spool of 20-gauge wire and a spool of 26-gauge wire. The 20-gauge is your “go-to” gauge for most projects. It is the most versatile, useful gauge for the majority of purposes. The 26-gauge wire spool will serve you well for embellishments.
One more aspect of wire to be aware of is its strength. Regardless of the main material used in wire (many wire spools are made of alloys), the strength may vary. Wire is usually broken down into three strength categories:
- Hard wire. This type is hardest to bend, but holds its shape well.
- Dead soft. This type of wire is extremely malleable. It is very easy to bend, but it will generally not hold its shape well, even at a medium gauge.
- Half-hard. This is your “go-to” option if in doubt. It is the most commonly used type of wire. It is relatively easy to bend, but not as malleable as dead soft wire. It holds its shape reasonably well, though not as well as hard wire. This is the type you should start with as a beginner.
Coated vs. Non-Coated Wire
Finally, one last note on coated wire is necessary and often overlooked in beginner’s guides. The majority of the wire you will find for sale has some kind of tarnish-resistant coating on it. This is great if you want your wire to stay shiny without polishing. It is however not desirable if you are planning to let your wire tarnish and take on a patina for an aged look. Coated wire will basically never tarnish, and no amount of effort will get you through that coating. So be mindful of what you are purchasing.
Beads and Stones
You will also need something to wrap! Strings of beads will not be as helpful to you as they are to other jewelers, unless you plan to do a lot of large elaborate pieces. One great starter supply is a box or bag of “extra” beads. Many stores sell these loose beads at bulk discount prices. The beads are often large enough to wrap, and because of the nature of your art, you do not necessarily need a lot of matching beads. You can get a pretty big bag of these for around $5.00. They are great for pendants. Strings of beads will be most helpful for bracelets, crowns, necklaces, and other large projects. You will also need matching beads for earrings.
Gemstones are wonderful centerpieces to wrap. Wrapped gemstones are beautiful to behold, and are also very attractive to buyers. You can wrap pretty much any gemstone if you are careful, even those that are liable to flake apart (like mica, danburite, and so forth). Quartz, agate, obsidian, tiger’s eye, petrified wood, and many other gemstones look beautiful wire wrapped. Tumbled stones are easier to wrap than rough-cut stones, but both can have a wonderful effect. Stones with holes bored through their centers are easiest to work with, as are flattened stones. Round stones pose extra challenges.
- You are going to have some loose ends of wire on your pieces. Most of the time you can simply tuck these out of the way, which will prevent them from scratching a wearer. You can optionally sand these down with sandpaper to smooth them out.
- Liver of sulfur. This cool chemical compound reacts with metal to provide a nice tarnish. It works in a matter of minutes, and can make your pieces look antiqued. Great for bringing out texture and providing a different look.
- A jewelry hammer and anvil set can be used to flatten wire. This again provides a different look and texture to a piece.
Now you have a complete guide to wire wrapping supplies. You can find most of these supplies at a jewelry supply shop or online. Two pairs of pliers should run you around $20 to $30. Starting beads should cost about $5 if you find one of the aforementioned bags of extras. The cost for wire can range quite a bit, depending on how many yards come in a spool, what material you are purchasing, and whether there are fancy color coatings or not.
Expect to pay around $5 to $7 for most spools of copper wire (color-coated or not). Sterling silver, gold, and other materials may be more expensive. It is best to start out with copper wire for your first few pieces. It is less expensive, and will be more suitable for the learning curve. As you progress, you may decide to invest in more expensive wire wrapping supplies. In our next installments, we will teach you what you can wrap and introduce you to some starting techniques.