Wire Questions

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Last updated:  5/10/17

Nancy LT Hamilton


Questions and Answers

Balling up Metal


I have been trying to ball up some headpins with jewelers brass (yellow)..but it just crumbles..am I using the wrong brass?..do I need red brass?


 Balled up bronze.    Balled up brass.

I went and made a few brass headpins myself – just to see. I also made some from bronze, as a comparison. What I found, was that brass was more likely to drop off from the wire – especially with thinner wire. I had more success with thicker brass wire.

The bronze worked better. Don’t know why as bronze contains tin which melts at 449.5F while brass has zinc which melts at 782.2F. You would think it would be the other way around. Either way, have you tried making your headpins from bronze?

I heat my wire above the end of the wire by about 1/4″ – 1/2″ above the end. Pull your heat away quicker too.

If all else fails, you can ball up a small piece, warm the end of the wire and stick it into the molten ball. It takes a little practice…

You can either use a cup bur or make a nail head to deal with the pitting. Here’s a vid of mine where I make nail heads.

Another thing, which I’m sure you’ve already discovered, is that the brass doesn’t ball up beautifully, like fine silver or Argentium silver does. See my comparison chart of balled up metal, using different metals. Somehow, I missed brass!

How to Make Tapered Wire


I have a specific thing that I just haven’t found the right answer for yet and wondered if you could please point me in the right direction. I am using 2 mm wire, primarily copper, and (I) need to find a good way to get a nice blunt taper (on the wire) on the last 3/8″ or so. Hand filing isn’t great and takes a while (I am hoping to do a fair number of these items, and OK, my hand filing isn’t all that).
I have a Dremel, and have been waiting for the right excuse to invest in a Flex shaft, hopefully with one of those little belt sanders. Maybe a grinder? I am stumped. Any suggestions would be gratefully considered.


 I have yet to find a less intensive method for creating a graduated or tapered wire.  That said, there are a few techniques that might be easier.  It all depends on what tools you have available to use or what’s in your wallet.  I’ve included 5 different methods for creating a taper so, read on…

Method one – The Rolling Mill $$$

Perhaps the easiest method is to employ the rolling mill.
But, you need to have rollers with grooves for wire – both top and bottom.  Without the grooves (wire rolling areas) on the rollers, the wire will just flatten out.  The first time you roll a piece of square, round, whatever, through the smooth rollers, you’ll end up with a rectangle.  After that, no matter what you do, the wire will prefer to be on the flat side.  This makes it impossible to roll out a rounded shape or make a taper. The grooves for wire rolling allow the wire to turn evenly and don’t form one flat area.  Hope that makes sense!
This is a quote from Durston’s User Guide on Rolling Wire: “…Reduce wire by rolling two or three times in each groove, rotating the wire 90 degrees on each pass. Rolls should be nearly closed for the last pass before moving to the next groove. Depending on the material, passes of up to 30% can be achieved. The material should be annealed as often as necessary to avoid excessive force when rolling. Indications of excess hardness are frayed edges, wrinkling of the surface, surface cracking or excessive force needed to turn the rolls.”
 It is much easier to taper the wire in the wire rolling grooves. Some like to use square wire for this process. Experiment.
You will still have to file as you’ll have “little steps” on the wire where you started each new pull, roll or you’ll have hammer marks.  Stop whining!  It’s fixable. You can planish some of the marks away with a planishing hammer and/or try using a belt sander.  See below for exciting sanding information!
planishing-hammer Fretz Planishing Hammer at Rio Grande
I only found one video on Forging Wire with a Rolling Mill online.  Guess I need to make one!
Here’s a tutorial by Jewelry Studio of Hans Meevis called:  Jewelry Tutorial – Making Wire.  Hans talks about using the rolling mill and drawplate to create the wire.

Resources for Rolling Mills

I have dug up a few reasonably priced rolling mills:

  • Otto Frei’s Economy rolling mill only comes with two flat rollers BUT, you can buy a bunch of different rollers for this mill.  It starts at $220.00 US and the roller pairs for wire rolling are $75.00.  There are also many different pattern rollers available from $24.00 – $50.00.
  • A&A Jewelry Supply has the carries their Ultima Pro Mill for $245 as well as a wide range of other mills.
  • Contenti carries many different types of mills too.  They have one called:  The Compact Economy Rolling Mill, the second mill down on the page, is the one that comes with the wire rolling rollers.
  • Pepe tools also have a selection of different mills.
  • Otto Frei carries a $465.00 version of Pepe’s mill.
  • FDJ carries 7 mills.
  • Rio Grande carries a large line of Durston Mills.  None are inexpensive.  But, they are the best in MHO. The least expensive Durston Mill, which also has wire rollers is $830.00. But, this machine only has 50mm of the rolling area.  Be sure to consider how wide the flat rollers are:  you don’t want a rolling mill that can only roll out narrow strips of metal.  Determine what your needs are and buy accordingly.  I recommend purchasing the widest mill that you can afford.

Rolling Mills Outside the USA

  • Australia:  Goldsmith Tools
  • Canada:  Lacy West 
  • Chile:   Rossé
  • India: Tools Impex
  • Mexico:  Bedean
  • South Africa:  BJ Oberholzer
  • UK: Cooksongold

*Check out these suppliers for your other tool and material needs.  Also, please let me know if you have a supplier that is not from a country/area listed (non-USA only please). Back to Table Of Contents

Method 2 – $

wedge-hammer Fretz Jewelers Goldsmith Hammer

You can also forge the wire using a cross pein, riveting or raising hammer (like a Fretz HMR403) or another hammer that has a thin, linear edge.  The process is similar, in concept, to using the rolling mill.
This is a rather slow process. You still have to file a bit to smooth the transitions and sand.

Method 3 – The Belt Sander $$

wolfbeltsander  Belt Sander (Formerly called the Wolf Belt Sander)
Another method to shape wire is to use a belt sander:  I recommend the Belt Sander-Available at Pepe Tools, Otto Frei, FDJ Tool (they have a nice video too)  for its small footprint. It’s a great little tool.  Here’s a video of some different uses for the Wolf Belt Sander (some I’ve never thought of!). Harbor Freight also carries belt sanders like this one:  1″ X 30″ Belt Sander.  This tool takes up a lot more room but, basically does similar things.  The wolf is more flexible, in its use and is very compact.
belt-sander  Harbor Freight Belt Sander
The belt sander method involves a lot of sanding (and the wire gets VERY, VERY HOT)  but, it is much quicker with these electrical tools than sanding solely by hand – although, you will have to do that too and maybe use a file or two.  This is not a technique for the lazy or for those that ever want to make money selling jewelry!  If I had any sense, I would make a couple of these tapers, in a variety of gauges and have them cast!
How to create the taper:
  • Mark where you want the taper to end
  • Use a Ring Clamp (Amazon), Alligator Tape (Rio) or wear leather gloves to protect your fingers from hot metal and sanding them too.  Remember:  really, really hot metal.  Wear goggles and a mask too!
  • Spin the wire on the belt sander.
  • Sand the point the most and gradually sand up the wire, creating a graduated taper. Back to Table Of Contents

Inline image 2  Ring Clamp

Method 4 – The Draw Plate – $$$ – $

 Costs depend on if you use a $$$ Durston Draw Bench, $$ A Table Top Draw Bench or $ Brute Force (Draw Tongs and a “Big Girl” Vise – 4″+)
 You can pull the wire through a draw plate, in steps.
  • Stop the first pull where the beginning of the taper starts.  
  • Go down a hole size, on the draw plate, pull the wire through but, start the pull a few millimeters before the start of your first pull.  
  • Repeat this process, working down the length of the wire until it gets ridiculously difficult to pull through.
  • Then it needs to be filed or planished and yes, of course, sanded. Oh, joy!
In all cases, You can cut a groove in your bench pin to hold the wire while filing and sanding, turning the wire often.
You can also use sanding discs in descending grits, while the wire is in the groove. Robert Dancik’s: Amulets and Talismans book has a picture of just what I’m talking about – regarding filing a wire in a groove.  Scroll down to page 24:  under the heading – Pointed Wire.

Now For a Completely Different Story

Make your wire with one of the great metal clays out there.  There is a “sterling silver clay” (not actually sterling as the composition of the silver isn’t 925 but 900) but, the material is stronger than most silver clays and much more flexible. There are Brass, Bronze and Copper clays too.  Just a thought.
WHY MAKE A TAPER IS IT IS SO MUCH WORK?  Well, tapers are used for pin stems on brooches, for curlicue design elements, for branches and stems, how about a sterling toothpick?  Back to Table Of Contents

How to Work Harden Ear Wires

Please go to this link under Fabrications questions for this discussion. Back to Table Of Contents

How Do You Straighten Half Round Wire?


“I was wondering if you knew how to straighten half round wire so that it looks neat when I work it.”  


Just put one end in a vise (that end will get ruined so, don’t put too much in but, enough so that it holds properly), make sure the vise is secure, grab the other end of the wire with serrated jawed pliers, and pull taut.  Best if annealed.  More difficult with thick wire. Brace yourself so you don’t end up on the floor if the wire snaps or releases from the vise.  This has happened to me.  Ouch!

For thick wire, anneal, place the flat side of the metal on a piece of steel, place a piece of wood over the area to flatten and hammer the wood part of your: steel, wire, wood, sandwich with a mallet. 

How do I ball up wire on both ends?


“I’m a new and instantly hooked follower of your youtube videos. I haven’t been able to find thorough tutorials on making rivets with a ball on both ends. I did see a picture on your earring video where you did the twisted wire hoops, but you didn’t address that particular pair. They were like balled headpins that were kind of loose, not a tight rivet, and balled on both ends. I’ve only seen one other video on it and they were using very tiny oxygen and gas tank. I use the same tanks that you do.

And on that same note, I had an instructor that told me I only had to bleed the hose if I wasn’t going to solder for an extended period of time, like a couple of months. Totally freaked out after watching your video and reading about it on your website! Thanks again for all of your info and tutorials. You have really opened some doors for me!”


  Rivets, with balls on both ends, are a pain! Having an oxy/gas setup (like the Smith Little Torch) is imperative. You need a tiny, tight, fast, hot flame – AND you also have to not melt anything next to it! When I ball wire (on one side), I apply the heat to a place about 5 – 10 mm above the end. This seems to work the fastest and the best. For the second ball, If you can direct the torch tip above the end, you may have more success. But, you usually don’t have that much room. So, a hot torch is necessary.

I have found that it can be difficult to create two, exactly matched balls.

Practice determining how much metal should be left, on the second end, to create a similar ball shape. I’d write down my measurements including gauge, length, and metal type, for future use.

  I missed brass!  Here’s an image of it:  I like to use fine silver or Argentium wire when balling up wire, as the balls are smoother and don’t have weird gaps like sterling, bronze, brass or copper can get. I just ran a test on 5 metals and fine silver had the smoothest surface, after balling it up.

To avoid melting nearby objects, you can try laying/clipping a cross-lock on the part you don’t want to melt. The cross-locks act as a heat sink, pulling heat away from the metal. But, remember that cross-locks can crush silver – if the silver gets too hot.

Another option is to solder a ball to the end of the wire. The end of the wire needs to be flat and smooth and the ball needs a flat area – made on a flat piece of charcoal perhaps. I pre-apply solder to the ball. I would use easy solder – especially if stones are present.

Hadar Jacobson has a video on balling up wire on both sides:

Yikes! Is my response to your instructor teaching to not bleeding the torch! My studio is attached to my house. If a cat (or a rat – although, there aren’t any in the house – at this moment) chews on the hose…??? Do I want Acetylene gas floating around my studio? Probably not. As stated in Murphy’s law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Also, the pressure in the line puts pressure on the baffles in the regulator. The regulator will need servicing earlier than a torch that is drained regularly. Smart you!

Making Tubing from Coiled Wire


“I am learning much from your videos and on one of the videos you mentioned how to make tubing using coiled wire, however, I have not been able to find a video on your website illustrating this?”


  I make coiled wire tubes like I make jump rings. Have you seen my jump ring making video? Basically, wrap the wire around a mandrel but, don’t cut it into individual jump rings – just leave it whole – except to cut the tubing to size.

  Try to keep the coil really tight and compressed.  I used ring shank tweezers (link is to Amazon with my affiliate code) to hold my coil.  You can try using binding wire – lengthwise, to hold the coils tightly – it depends on the gauge and size of the wire tubing that you are making on how easy it is to place the binding wire.  The tubing I made was with 20g wire and a smallish mandrel so, it was a pain in the butt to use binding wire – make your decision, whether to use binding wire or not, based on your frustration level!

You can just solder the ends or the entire piece.  If you want the tubing flexible, just solder near the ends, bend and then decide if you need more solder.

I recently made some tubing for my Introduction to Metalsmithing: Soldering video.  This video and other full length, in-depth videos, will be found on my new video page – which is not done yet!  I’ve filmed the first video but, it needs hours of editing yet.  Anyway, the point is that I made tubing out of jump ring coils, this past week so, the process is fresh in my mind (always a good [and rare] thing!).

  I stick soldered the coils because there were so many places to apply the solder.  Stick soldering involves holding a piece of wire solder in your cross-locks or hands (if it is long enough), heating the metal up to solder-melting-temp, while also heating up the solder.  When the metal reaches the right temperature, touch the wire solder on the place where you want to solder.  Be careful – you can overflood the area – the solder runs fast.  Dab the solder in and pull back, then dab in and out again, until you feel that you have enough. I’d practice!

  I used bristle discs for cleanup and polishing.

Coiled tubing can be used for bails, tube setting, decorative elements, etc.

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