Explorations in Metalsmithing: Creative Chainmaking

 

Lesson Info

How to Make Jump Rings

So now that we've established our first four variables let's actually start to make some jump rings. Right, you guys ready for that? Alright, so jump ring-making at its core is very, very simple. We are going to take a dowel rod and we are going to take a gauge of wire. Let's see what I have here, some 16 gauge, we'll just start with that. So I'm just gonna go ahead cut a length of wire and I'm just gonna start to wrap my wire. Now, what I have learned over time there are a couple things we're going for here. We want this to be as tight as possible so it's really important when we're doing this you see that there's no space in between my wrap, right? I want to lay each one right next to the other. So I wanna go ahead and wrap this really tightly and then I also wanna make sure that I'm wrapping it really tightly around the dowel rod. So I don't want it to be like, I don't wanna do this. Loose and goosey and whatever, that's bad. That's what we won't want. But what I have learned over t...

ime, let's cut that hot mess off here, so what I have learned over time is that I actually have pretty freakishly strong fingers. Not surprisingly from 15 plus years of metal-smithing, right so if you're trying to wrap something and it is not working very well, there are a couple little cheats that you can do. So one is that you can actually just drill a hole in the end of your dowel rod. Insert the end of your wire and start wrapping. I find for a lot of people that's enough extra tension just to get that really tight. Another thing that you can do is actually either put the end of the wire that you're working towards in a vice or you can even have a friend take say a pair of pliers give this a little bend here so that it stays and you can have your friend stand at the opposite end of the room with the pliers and you could roll up towards them. So there's a couple little cheats there. The other thing that you can do if you're working with a metal that's really springy is you could anneal it to make it soft. So annealing is a process of just taking your metal and making it a little bit more malleable. Now obviously if you don't have a torch annealing is not an option for you and I personally don't anneal because I have no problem, but what you may find is that some metals, brass in particular is one, that just tends to be really springy. There's a lot of tension in the wire. So what we can do is anneal our metal and go ahead and make it a little bit softer. So when you're annealing your wire what you're gonna do is take a little coil off. Obviously, we're not gonna anneal it on our plastic thing. And then you can see like, this is pretty springy right now. So we're gonna go ahead, and I just like to kind of wrap it around itself because when we anneal, we want our coil to be nice and tight. And the reason is that annealing is basically a process of heating your metal to a certain temperature and then that's gonna make it softer but we also have to worry because there's a fine line between the temperature where we can anneal something and the temperature where we just accidentally melted it into a blob. So the tighter you can kind of coil it, the better. Then I'm gonna put this here in my annealing pan. I'm gonna grab my torch. And I'm also gonna grab just a little container of water here. Because when we're done annealing, we wanna quench our metal. Turn my torch on. And so when you're annealing you wanna use, first of all you wanna use your striker to turn your torch on, there we go. So when you're annealing you wanna use a fairly large torch tip because we want a kind of nice soft bushy flame. And so what I'm gonna do now is I'm just gonna start to heat my metal and I never wanna stay in the same place for very long because I don't wanna run the risk of melting it. The other thing is that seeing the color temperature in annealing is pretty tricky. So if you're in your home studio, I recommend turning down the lights. Obviously we can't do that for the camera but you wanna go ahead and turn those down. So what we're doing is we're trying to heat up our metal until it gets to a dull cherry red. Every metal has kind of a slightly different color for annealing, but in general a dull red is what we're looking for. We don't want it to be glowing red. The metal that is the really the biggest challenge to anneal is silver because it's so easy to overheat or melt it. So if you're annealing silver, I definitely recommend doing it with the lights off so you can look for that dull red glow, but with silver, because it is a softer metal, generally if you're buying that dead soft you shouldn't need to anneal your silver. So as I'm kind of working around here so what I'm looking for, I'm gonna start to hold, see that kind of like dull red that's starting to come in here? So that got a little too hot. That's what we don't want. But we want that kind of dull cherry red that's sort of just slips in and then slips out. And really all we're trying to do here is just make our metal softer and take the spring out of it. And again, I don't do this, but this is something you can do if your having a lot of trouble wrapping your wire, if you're having trouble getting a nice tight wrap. So that looks pretty good. So I'm gonna turn that off, and then once your do that, then you can go ahead and quench your metal. And you always wanna quench in water you never wanna quench in your pickle, which is your acid. We're gonna get pickle out in the next segment. But I wanna quench in water. It's also really important when you quench that there's no part of it is still red hot, right? We don't want it to be, this not like I don't know... My family we started watching that Forged in Fire show on the History Channel where they like blacksmith knives and they take it out of the forge and it's red hot and they stick it in the quench. We don't wanna do that. We wanna do the opposite of that, which is we wanna make sure that there's no glowing redness before we stick it in the water. In their case, they're actually you know quenching theirs to harden it. We're doing the opposite, we're trying to make ours soft. So that's another option in terms of wrapping your jump rings. If you need that little extra kind of making it easier. Alright, questions about the wrapping part? Alright, let's go ahead and cut some jump rings. So somewhere I wrapped a coil. There we go. I'm gonna slide this back onto my dowel rod. So I personally prefer, get our wire out of our way here. I personally prefer to cut on the dowel rod. I think it's the easiest way to cut jump rings. That's why I like to use wooden dowel rods. But it's not perfect, it's a little bit tricky. So what I actually like to do when I'm cutting my jump rings is I like to go ahead and actually tape my dowel rod to my bench pin here. And it just means it's less that you have to hold. Even with my freakishly strong fingers, I find it's tricky to try to like keep this dowel rod from dancing around. So I'm gonna stick just a little bit of painter's tape on here to keep it from moving. And this works with any size dowel rod. There's no rule here. The other thing that you can do, because see what happens if I'm trying to like pull this down to saw it, this back end wants to pop up. So I also will sometimes just cheat and stick like my steel block or something heavy on here. Just pay attention when you're doing this because you don't want your heavy metal thing to slide off your bench and land on your foot. So be really careful there. So then we can go ahead, put our safety glasses on, and just start sawing. If you are having trouble getting started you can see here you can kind of just come in at an angle and don't be afraid to saw into your dowel rod. But if you're having trouble getting your saw blade started for some reason, you can also take, see that's what we wanna watch out for. You can also take your triangle needle file and just file a little notch in here before you start. Does that make sense? The other thing is if you're having trouble cutting a lot of jump rings, somewhere we've got our burr life. So make sure that your saw blade is lubricated really well. And then what I do is just kind of cut in at an angle. And as they start to come loose, I'll just pull them apart. And kind of keep cutting, see it gets so much easier if we keep that on there. And again, don't be afraid to cut into your dowel rod. Now, if for some reason you're cutting on a mandrel that you can't cut into, say you wrapped it around as steel rod or something or a knitting needle and you don't want to actually cut into that aluminum, you can also just go ahead and kind of hold your coil at the end of your bench pin here and cut into it that way, but you can see how this is so much harder, right? You can see it's like now I've gotta balance this thing in air and I have to cut and it gets pretty tricky and the longer our coil is, the harder it is. So that's why I really personally prefer using a wood dowel rod whenever possible. Because I can just cut right into it. It makes like so much easier. And you could also you know clamp your dowel rod down, but the problem with a clamp is that dowel rods are pretty soft. So if I were to clamp this here, I could end up actually like kind of crushing or compressing my dowel rod. And I don't wanna do that, so that's why I just use a little bit of painter's tape stick it on there and do that. Now I know one of the other questions that some of you may be thinking is is it ever okay to cut jump rings with wire cutters? In a perfect world, we always want to use our saw frame and the reason we wanna do that is simply because it gives us the cleanest seam. I don't know if we can see this in our little detail camera here, but you can see that I can actually like get this together nice and tight. It's a nice flush cut, whereas our wire cutters are going to pinch the end. So even if you get flush-cutting wire cutters, you actually then have to cut on both sides. So whenever it's possible, we always wanna cut jump rings with a saw frame. Now that being said, there are times where it actually gets kind of tricky. So if I were to take some 20 gauge wire here, got some 20 gauge brass, and let's just say that I, for whatever reason, wanted to make some pretty big jump rings out of this. So let's grab a big dowel rod here and wrap this. What you're gonna find is that even if I were to anneal this, this thin-gauge wire on this big dowel rod is really springy. And so if I wrap this here really quickly, this is actually going to be really kind of frustrating to cut with a saw and I'm gonna show you guys so that you can see, so first of all you can see how it doesn't wanna sit nice and tight. It's loose on my dowel rod. And that's just again because it's thin-gauge wire big size dowel rod. It just end up being kind of springy. So if I were to sit down here, we'll pull up our painter's tape. So if I were to sit down here and actually try to cut this with my saw, what you'll find is that it's incredibly frustrating. Get a little bit of tape her to try to keep this in place. So I tape this down. Got my safety glasses. And now I'm gonna try to cut this. Put our weight on the end, try to like keep it a little bit intact. And it is just going to ... See what happens, it wants to like pull off the end. So this is a case where I would recommend saving yourself hours of frustration and actually just going ahead and using you know a pair of wire cutters on something like this. So if I take my flush cutters here and I go ahead, I can cut these links. Let me cut a couple and then I'll show you guys in our little detail camera. And I do recommend wearing safety glasses when you're cutting wire. You obviously noticed I was wearing them when we were using that but I also recommend using it when you're cutting wire because you just never know. You may actually catch the end and send a little piece of metal flying and obviously we don't wanna send little bits of metal flying into our eyes. So be safe, wear your safety glasses. So you can see what I've got here if I were to hold this in our little detail camera here. This end here, man my safety glasses are dirty, this end here's got a little pinch to it. So I can just take my flush cutters, cut the other side and now I've got two ends. So basically you have, when you're cutting with flush cutters, you have to cut twice, right? We have to cut through them all and then we have to clean off that other little end where it gets pinched. So you can see how this is actually a pretty slow process compared to cutting with our saw frame unless our saw frame wants to do what it did on these really thin wires, which is like grab them and pull them apart. So I always try to cut with my saw first, but if it seems really frustrating then I'll go ahead and jump to my flush cutters. The other thing that you wanna do when you're cutting is we wanna make sure that we always make more links than you think you need. So usually what I do if I'm working on a chain and I know I'm starting to build something, is I'll cut a few links and I'll start to put them together. So that I can start to get a length. So if I know I'm working on this chain here, let me grab my ruler, I can go ahead here and I can actually measure. So in, say two inches of chain, one, two, three, four, five. Five links, right? Five links for two inches of chain. So if I know that I'm trying to make a sixteen inch chain, then that means I need eight times five, which is 40. So I know I need 40 links to make that chain. But especially if I'm soldering this chain, chances are not all the links are gonna make it through the process, right? Some the solder's not gonna flow right. It's going to kind of clump up. Maybe you accidentally melt one. Maybe you like lose four and they roll across your floor because that happens to me all the time. So if I were making a chain and I knew I say needed 40 links, I would probably cut like 50, 55, somewhere in there. So that I knew I had some extra in case stuff goes wrong. So you always wanna cut extra links than you think you're gonna need. And again you can do, if you're making something long you can do that little test. Two inches is a pretty good amount to kind of tell you how many links you're gonna need for your chain. And this kind of jump ring-making process literally works with all your gauges of wire, all your types of wire, all your size of dowel rods. Later on, in segment three, we're gonna talk about using different shaped mandrels. So we'll get back to that process is pretty similar but there are a few things to look out for on that. So any questions about the basic process of making jump rings? All of a sudden, we have a ton of questions. Yes! I love it, I lov- I know you love the questions. You guys know I love questions. So, rotary saw? So, yes. So ideally this is perfect. Now what I will say is that there are attachments for the flex shaft. So we haven't used our flex shaft yet here today, but a flex shaft or a rotary tool, you can get separating discs. So it's a little disc that you can actually run along and cut your jump rings apart. I personally don't use them for a couple of reasons. One, they just like, they feel a little dangerous to me, right? Like it's a spinning disc, things are flying. Even with safety glasses, it makes me nervous. And I also find that if you don't have a lot of control you can end up kind of chewing up the edge of your metal. But if you're making a ton of jump rings you may want to look into getting a separating disc for your flex shaft or your rotary tool. But I find that you can actually cut with this pretty fast. Actually Megan, I had this question, as did one of our students, so I'll throw it out. Just got myself a brand new wedding ring that's made of platinum and we haven't started you haven't talked a little bit about platinum. Can we address that? So platinum is 100% a metal that you can work with it's also non-ferrous. Obviously it is expensive, so depending on the market it's more or less than gold. This is the challenge of being a jeweler is that silver, gold, and platinum are all metals that are traded on the stock market and therefore fluctuate in price, sometimes greatly and be completely beyond our control. So platinum is often more expensive than gold but not always more expensive than gold depending on the markets. Generally with platinum, what's really important is that you need to keep every thing very clean and so the acetylene torch that we're using here is typically not recommended for platinum. A lot of times what you'll see people work with when they're working in platinum is like an oxygen-propane or an oxygen-natural gas. Oxygen-natural gas is really popular I think for working with platinum because you wanna keep it really clean and not let it get dirty and acetylene, as much as we love it as a torch gas. Acetylene is a very dirty gas, and so you could certainly work with platinum. My recommendation for anyone who's thinking about really wanting to work in gold or platinum is to look into more high-end metalsmithing school. There are programs that really deal specifically with working with those metals. Because obviously, when you melt something or when you destroy something it's a pretty expensive mistake. So I recommend kind of looking into that. So you can certainly use it, but again I would probably stick to our more basic metals for practice, but it is certainly fair game in jewelry.

Go beyond the basics of handmade chainmaking and discover your own creative voice.

There’s no need to buy boring, store-bought chain. In Explorations in Metalsmithing: Creative Chainmaking, you’ll learn the basics of creating your own handmade chain (including how to get comfortable soldering with a torch) and how to take the basics of chainmaking and add endless variations to create designs that are uniquely yours.

Designer and metalsmith Megan Auman has built her own jewelry line by discovering her signature style in chainmaking, and now she wants to help you do the same!

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Make and solder jump rings into a basic link-in link-chain.
  • Create variation in your chainmaking through wire gauge, link size, shape, and more.
  • Hone in on your aesthetic to find a style that’s uniquely you.
  • Finish your chains so they’re sturdy and stunning.
  • Turn your chainmaking explorations into amazing earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

Whether you’re just getting started in metalsmithing, or you’re looking to inject some creativity into your jewelry designs, you’ll leave this class with the skills and ideas necessary to create your own unique chain. Plus, you’ll explore your ideas by creating a series of chain-link statement earrings - perfect to wear, share, or sell!

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • Megan' an excellent instructor and lays things out very clearly, with a lot of good tips based on her extensive experience. I've experience making wire wrapped chain and have taken a beginning metalsmithing class before, and this class had some good refresher information. I particularly appreciated seeing her techniques and process for streamlining production.
  • Megan is an awesome teacher! She is genuinely enthusiastic about sharing her metalsmithing skills with us. I am really looking forward to trying my hand at designing and making a chained necklace on my own soon.