Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday's Methods: Time to Get Wired!

Left Back: Plastic Coated Practice Wires, Right back: Copper Wires, Left front: Gold Filled Wires, Right Front: Sterling Silver Wires.

In this installment of Monday's Methods, we'll be talking about wire. Wire comes in many forms, colors and types, but we'll be dealing with pretty standard fare here.
First, wire comes in different shapes (when looking at it from a cross-section). You can get round (like a circle), half-round (like a half circle), or square (obvious). You can get it straight or twisted to give it a diamond-like look. Here we'll be dealing with round wire for several reasons:
1. I find it useful for almost every type of wire working,
2. It is usually the least expensive, especially compared to square,
3. It is the most easily available, from bead suppliers to wholesalers, to tiny country bead shops, you can find round wire pretty much everywhere.
Different Wire Gauges, From top: 18 ga., 20ga., 22ga., 24ga. (copper), 26ga., 28ga. (gold filled)

You can also get wires in different hardnesses: full-hard, half-hard and dead-soft. For most wire working, full-hard is pretty much useless - any more than one bend and it snaps. Half hard is the wire I use most, as it is flexible and bendy, but will hold its shape. It doesn't snap easily (unless you REALLY bend it back and forth in the same place for a while), and, again, is the most readily available wire. Dead-soft is very useful for intensive wire wrapping applications and I really only use it for that, as it bends like butter on a hot day.
Wire comes in different gauges (ga. for short). For beginners, I recommend getting wire in sizes 18, 20, 22, and either 24, or 26. I use a range from 12 gauge, all the way to 28 in almost all of my wires: practice, sterling, copper and 14karat gold filled. I also have a range of sizes in non tarnish silver plate wire for making things like key chains and zipper pulls.
But wait, what kind of wire should you get first? When first starting out, or when trying new designs, go for the 'practice wire'. Just about every supplier will carry what they call practice wire. It will usually be copper core (or nickel, so be careful when wearing it or giving it to potentially allergic people), and will usually have a colored plastic coating. These are the least expensive, and usually are somewhere between the half-hard and dead-soft range in hardness. Plus, they are CHEAP. You can often buy a few spools of practice wire for the same price as one spool of sterling silver wire. Once you are comfortable with the practice wire, move on the the copper and plated wires, and then up to the sterling silver and 14karat gold filled wire (don't use pure gold wire for wire work, as it is WAY too it is about $8 per INCH).
Wire in a Bag: Always Use Resealable Bags with Anti Tarnish Paper for Uncoated Metal Wires

Of course, as you move up the quality scale, you'll be moving up the price scale as well. When shopping for precious metal wires, search out the best deal. Many stores will have quantity discounts (for when you know you really want to do this more than just once). Most precious metal wire is sold by the Troy Ounce. Some sell it by the half Troy Ounce (usually for gold filled as it is so expensive). Look around, and you'll see some astonishing differences in price. Just keep in mind, there may be shipping on top of that price as well so I always try to find the best shipping rates as well, especially if they don't have free shipping with minimum order amounts.
Organized and Tarnish Free: Stackable, Clear, Resealable Containers Are the Best Way to Store Your Wires

Once you have brought your wire home, you need to think about how to store it. Some stores give you a piece of wire and send you on your way (I HATE that, and try not to buy from them if I can avoid it). Some stores give you wire all coiled up in a resealable bag (the most common). And some will give you your wire on a spool (the most efficient and practical), which is then put in a resealable bag. Regardless of how I get my wire, I always put it in a resealable bag with a small piece of anti tarnish paper. You only need about a 1/4" square per bag to keep everything nice and shiny. You don't need it with coated wires, obviously, and you may not need it with gold wire, but hey, I paid good money for this stuff, I want it looking perfect for as long as I can possibly have it looking that way! It may seem expensive when you first buy it, but anti tarnish paper is going to save you hours of elbow grease, trying to get stubborn tarnish off of your wires.
Once I've got the wire in its own bag, I label it with the size, supplier, and price per foot and then put it in a resealable container with other wire of its kind (sterling with sterling, gold with gold, etc) so that every thing is organized and ready to go. I usually use containers that have been taken of kitchen duty due to a small crack or other nuisance and patch them up with clear duct tape to keep them airtight. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and my wires are all organized!

I hope you have found this useful, until next week, happy experimenting!

Tune in tomorrow for a great Tuesday's Treasures.

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