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.
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!