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Hammered Wire Jewelry: LOVE/HATE earrings

June 3, 2011

This pair of earrings is a nice example of what can be obtained with just a few basic metalworking tools (as detailed in the last post). The wire part is quite simple, and just directs the attention to the central decoration. Both components are easy to craft, making this an excellent first project. The components are linked with small metal rings (available in many craft shops. The central decoration has a hole made with a small hand drill, while the loop-holes in the wire part have been done during bending.


The hammered wire

First of all, cut two pieces of wire a bit longer than the required size (which, obviously, depends on the shape of the earring… measure one if you have an example to copy, or just build a mock-up with scrap wire and measure it), and straighten them as best as possible with hands and/or any tool you may employ (I use a vice, keeping the wire between two pieces of wood to avoid marking the copper). file the two ends of the wire to smooth out sharp edges generated by the wire cutter.

When the wire is straight, place it on the flat side of the anvil and start hammering it gently. The idea is to obtain a wire with a section shaped more or less like a pill: part round and part flat (see the image below). When hammering on one side, the wire will curve up on that side: simply flip the piece every 3-5 hits. In this way the piece will be hammered evenly. This first step ensures that the copper wire is now rigid enough to easily retain its shape, and to give a front/back reference to the piece of wire. This will also help the bending, since we will do all the bends across the rounded sides, keeping the flat surfaces parallel to the work plane.

Now, it is time to start bending… The basic idea is quite simple: hold the piece firmly (with hands, with pliers, in a vice) and gently apply pressure on one side to bend it. Tighter bends will require pressing the side of the wire against a surface (or a round object, or a corner of something hard) while applying pressure to the free end of the wire. Longer, curvier bends may be achieved just with hands: work gently and evenly, to avoid sudden changes in the curve. To help doing tight bending (like spirals or loop-holes) it is necessary to use a round-nose pliers. Additional pliers (straight / flat nose) may be helpful for sharp bends; in any case, use the kind of pliers without teeth, to avoid marking the wire.  Special other jewelry-specific pliers, like the stepped forming pliers, are very useful tools for advanced makers, and can be ignored (at least, for now…).

Planning the order of the bends is a good idea: some tighter bends are best done when the rest of the piece is still straight. Most of times you’ll need a loop hole at one of the ends: this is a good point to start…. then, procede along the piece doing the tighter bends, then, the longer ones. Try experimenting on a scrap wire, until you are familiar with the bends you want to achieve, before going on the final piece.

In order to have two symmetrical earrings, it is necessary to bend the wire accurately:

  • cross-reference the pieces: do one bend at a time for each piece, then overlap the piece and correct any misalignment. It is easy doing it bend-by-bend than at the end.
  • measure where the bend will be: before bending, decide the location of the bend and mark it with a pencil. Also, mark the point on the pliers where you will bend, since most pliers have different diameter or varying shapes along their noses.
  • use a woodboard reference: prepare in advance a wooden board where, for each bend, there are nails for holding the piece in a certain position and other nails to be used as fulcrum when bending. This technique is quite advanced and time-consuming (I may be return on it later on), but it is mandatory to be able to do multiple identical copies.

After this step, it is possible (and advisable) to shape the wire with more hammering.  For example, it is possible to decide to keep one end of the wire almost flat, and the other end more curved, or to increase the flatness along a curve (like I did in this case, along the bottom curve). Texturing hammers (other advanced equipment) may also be used to give to the surface fine details. After this second stage, use some sandpaper or abrasive sponge to remove any unwanted mark on the wire, buff it if you do like it shiny… I do normally prefer opaque finish for copper.

When doing the final flattening, it often happens that the curves in the wire tends to “opening up”. This is normal, and sometimes require a bit of manual re-shaping after every X hammer blows (remember to keep the pieces symmetrical). This two-step flattening is a simple trick to help in better controlling the shape of the object; later on, when this basic technique has been mastered, it will be time to switch to more complex, three-dimensional bends.

The LOVE/HATE decorations

It often happens, in hardware stores, to find large crates of leftovers/old/strange merchandise with lower price. In one of such sales, I bought a set of metal punches (letters and numbers) with the idea of using them in a jewelry project. Punches like these are nice to add wording to a flat metal piece…

Instead of cutting a piece of  metal from a larger sheet, I decided to use washers… the shape is already there and they come in different sizes and materials. The brass washers I found were not exactly flat, but nothing a good hammering could not fix. Once flattened, the size and shape of the available surface suggested that a “wrapping” incision would be a good idea. LOVE and HATE have four letters each, they are quite readable even in a very curved writing, and their juxtaposition seems perfect for jewelry projects. So, the idea was to punch the four letters around the central hole.

To use the punch, it is necessary to place the object to be punched on a non completely rigid surface: trying to punch over the anvil will just ruin the punch and make the object bend too much. The idea is to place between the metal and the anvil something which can offer some resistance to the hammering but, at the same time, accommodate the change in shape of the metal piece. A piece of soft wood or hard leather may be good. I found out that old magazines (the very heavy/dense ones, like National Geographic) are perfect for this task.

  • Keep a steady hand while punching: if the punch moves, there will be multiple impressions. The best way to go is to give a small hit at the begin, to fix an initial position… then, rearrange the punch to line exactly with this first impression and, keeping this position, hammer away until satisfied.
  • Do not strike too hard: a very hard hit will make everything “jump” and… goodbye steadiness. Do not strike too softly: this way there will need too many strikes and the piece will have multiple impressions. Try experimenting until finding a good compromise.
  • When punching, especially thin metal surfaces, tend to curve up around the punched area. It is better to avoid excessive hammering (and excessive strength) to reduce bending. However, if this happens anyway, at the end of the punching, reverse the piece and, with a soft hammer, hit the punched area from back. The soft hammer will smooth out the bending with minimal damage to the punched details.

As usual, it is better to practice a bit on a scrap metal piece, before going for the real deal.

To make the letters more visible, I used a liquid used to make patinas on gilded object and, in general, to give an antique finish: the “Giudaic Bitumen” (Bitume di Giudea). With a brush, apply it to the punched surface (the less even, the better); wait some hour for it to settle (better to wait overnight) then, with abrasive sponge or sandpaper, gently scrub the surface: the raised areas will get cleaned, while the recesses will retain the dark color.

One Comment
  1. Very cute earrings!

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