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Tutorial: Simple Twist Chain

November 12, 2014 , In: Metalsmithing, Tutorials
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I love making handmade chain – it can be time consuming but it is oh-so-rewarding when plain wire turns into something wearable. It’s like magic. And nothing sets off a beautiful focal or art beads (or both!) like custom chain that is funky, rustic, or unusual.

So today, I thought I’d share the simple steps for turning some copper wire into a twist chain. (Disclaimer: you’ll want to ignore the dirty hands with ragged nails in desperate need of a manicure. I work with metal, people!) 
 
Here’s what you’ll need:
  • 14 gauge copper wire
  • 16 gauge copper wire
  • A bench block
  • A chasing hammer
  • A nylon hammer
  • A metal punch
  • An awl
  • Heavy duty flush cutters
  • A jump ring mandrel
  • Sandpaper, various grits
Cut 1-1/4 inch lengths of 14 gauge copper wire. The number of pieces you’ll need depends on how long a chain you’re making, but I usually start with 16 or so. (One or more of them will wind up going into the reject pile, so more is better.)
 
Make sure each length is completely straight and the ends flush cut and sanded smooth. TIP: in order to straighten short lengths of large gauge wire, start by gently hammering one end with a nylon hammer to get a flat section started. Then use the forefinger of one hand to gently roll the wire back and forth as you hammer it. Flip the wire over and repeat to straighten the other end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do this for all your wire pieces.

Using your chasing hammer, forge a flat paddle on one end of a piece of wire. TIP: to get an even paddle shape, make sure your hammer face is striking the wire at slightly less than a 45 degree angle. Turn your wire over every few strokes to help keep the wire from curving to one side.

It will also help to make a very slight stroking motion outward with the hammer face at the end of each strike. I tried to take a photo of this, but it’s nearly impossible so try imagining you are beating an egg… but backwards, away from you.

 

The paddle should extend not quite halfway up the length of the wire. When you’ve hammered the paddle on one side, flip your wire around and hold it with the paddle vertically. Hammer another paddle on the other side of the wire – notice that because of how you’re holding the first paddle, the second paddle is at right angles to it. This gives the wire a twisting appearance.

Sand and smooth the paddles on each end of your links. Don’t be discouraged if they look a little ragged when you first finish hammering them – any irregularity in the end of the wire at the start is going to translate into the forged shape and it takes a lot of practice to get your hammer strikes in the right place, but they’re easy to reshape with the sandpaper.

When all your wire lengths are cleaned up, punch a hole in the center of each end. Depending on what kind of punch you use, you may end up with a burr around the edge of the hole. The easiest way to fix this is to use the ball end of your chasing hammer and gently tap the center of the hole a couple of times.

 

 

Then make a series of jump rings from the 16 gauge copper wire – the jump rings can be as large or as small as you’d like, but remember that their size will change up the overall “feel” of your chain. (Smaller jump rings will feel more traditional, and larger will feel more modern.)

Use the awl to enlarge any hole that doesn’t allow the jump ring to move freely – you want to make sure the chain won’t get hung up or twisted because the ring can’t slide smoothly through the links.

OPTIONAL: If you have a tumbler, string all the paddle links on one piece of scrap wire and all the jump rings on another. Twist the ends closed and tumble for an hour – this step isn’t essential, but it will clean and burnish your components before connect them.

Then, join the components together and add a clasp of your choosing. Voila! You just made a custom chain – wear it as is or add a focal.

Hope you enjoyed this little tutorial!

 
 
 

Francesca Watson

Francesca Watson got bit by the jewelry-making bug in 2008, when she and a few girlfriends took a simple stringing class at a local bead shop. Now, she is co-owner of The Makery, a working and teaching studio and gallery in the Texas Hill Country outside San Antonio where Francesca creates and teaches metals, wire and enameling full time, and indulges an emerging interest in mixed media. She and her husband Nick have been married since 1989 and have one grown daughter.
  1. Reply

    I love these chains, I am going to try one tonight using a cheaper wire for practise (fun)

    • Reply

      I love them, too – make sure you post a photo to the AJE Facebook page so we can see what you came up with!

  2. Reply

    Just the knowledge and encouragement I needed today! Thanks, Francesca!

  3. Reply

    Wonderful chains, thank you for sharing this!

  4. Reply

    interesting tut ! it looks lovely ! But what kind of tool do you use for the holes ?

  5. Reply

    Wow love the chain so simple to do if only I had a hole punch I would give it ago for sure! 🙂

    • Reply

      Hi Christine – they aren't terribly expensive. I put a link to one on Amazon in the previous comment if you ever decide to give it a try!

  6. Reply

    I never wanted to try chainmaking but you post today made me want to try it. Thanx Francesca.

  7. Reply

    Ah, serendipity! I just worked out how to make the little twisted paddle sticks myself but your tips on hammering, and especially getting rid of burrs, have made my day! The ends of my sticks are definitely a bit rustic! I have one of those hole punches. They are excellent! Thank you for this timely post!

  8. Reply

    Lovely chains ! And thanks for the tutorial too . Slowly learning wire working , am going to try it for my next project .

  9. Reply

    These are beautiful links and chains, Francesca! Thanks for sharing your inspiration!

  10. Reply

    Gorgeous chains! I'm inspired! Thanks!

  11. Reply

    This is a fantastic tutorial, love the chains and going tto try tto make them. Would a crop-o-dile on the 1/8'' be small enough for the holes? Have only been jewellery making for about 4 mths Thank you for the inspiration

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