Daily Wire Tip Aug. 29: Options for Practice Wire

By on August 28, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
August 29, 2010

Question:

I saw a website which had 20-gauge practice wire for sale. Would practice wire be suitable to create a piece of gemstone jewelry and sell it? What metal is practice wire made of? Does it tarnish, peel, or turn green? What does it do with aging?

-Mary in Lawrence, Kansas

Answer:

When choosing a wire to practice with, you need to look at both the temper (hardness) as well as the shape (round, square, half round, etc) before purchasing it. Without knowing what the metal is, there is no way that I can tell you whether or not the wire will tarnish or if it will react chemically with the stones or beads you plan to use this wire with.

My suggestion is to find a pattern or two that you would like to practice and choose the specific wire gauge (size) shapes and hardness that the author of the design(s) recommends. If you are looking for a general practice wire, I personally recommend copper wire, in the gauge, temper and shape you need for whatever designs you plan to practice. Brass wire is also a popular practice choice.

If a website does not specify the details of a product, you might email them to ask for a detailed description, or find another supplier.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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11 Comments

  1. avatar

    mary

    August 29, 2010 at 9:32 am

    When learning a new pattern, what better way to work it out than in practice wire. With the prices of precious metals jumping up and down, one wants to save the good stuff for when you have learned a pattern. But then again, due to this metal market craziness we are seeing that the base metals are now acceptable for designing and do not fall under the title of practice wire like they used to. Case in point, I work alot of stuff in copper and enjoy the look of it as well as my silver and goldfilled.

    Since you just gave a general gauge size and not whether it was round, square, etc. nor what type of wire, like Dale has stated, it is hard to really answer your question without a full breakdown of all types of metals. So go with the copper and have fun as you learn. Try the square and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprized at just what you can create.

  2. avatar

    Casey Willson

    August 29, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I work exclusively in copper, silver and brass. My work sells just fine. But I do use a polymer dip on the metals before I work and then lightly brush the wires again after I work so the metals take an awfully lot of wear before they tarnish.

  3. avatar

    Barbara

    August 29, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I have been making jewellery for only two years and this summer I had to toss or take apart all the stuff I had made with so-called “practice” wire. It was corroding and/or rusting and/or the clear coating was noticeably fraying at the ends or where I’d hammered parts.

    Believe me, it’s worth it to graduate to silver or gold after you’ve figured out how to form something, however argentium sterling is to my mind preferable to sterling as it’s very slow to tarnish and that is the biggest sticking point with my customers when they’re considering buying something from me.

    Also, they bring pieces that have gone wrong that they bought from other people to ME to fix, because if that person couldn’t make it properly in the first place, why would you take something back to them? Trust is a huge component of making and selling jewellery, I’ve found. If something goes wrong with something I’ve sold, I replace it, fix it or upgrade it immediately and in doing so I learn never to use that component/technique again.

    Having said that, copper wire is gorgeous to work with and cheap to buy (at hardware stores you can buy almost any gauge). It’s versatile and looks great mixed in with a bit of silver or gold, so you can keep your prices down. Yes, it will discolour, but that’s part of its appeal for a lot of people and a lot of jewellery styles. In any event, it’s easy enough to clean. Tinned copper is another fun one to use, because when you hammer it, the copper starts to smoosh out. It can be buffed up to a nice pewtery glow, too.

    I also discovered the hard way that it’s easier to design pieces from the get-go that can be taken apart for easier cleaning, because so many stones (pearls and turquoise in particular) cannot be cleaned using chemicals or even soap and water.

    As a service to my customers, I tell them that they can bring their piece back any time and I will clean it properly for them while they shop. In the meantime, with expensive pieces, I inlude one of those half-size cleaning cloths (as well as having them on my table for sale) and which I buy in bulk now, and I always provide either an anti-tarnish bag or strip with each silver purchase and explain how they work.

    All these “extras” (aka customer service) are paying off big-time for me in repeat customers who are now bringing their friends to me.

    Hope this helps!
    Barbara

  4. avatar

    Bonnie DeHart

    August 29, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    My husband and I cut and polish lots of different stones. While I primarily use the sterling silver and gold filled wire for my wire wrapped jewelry, I am doing a little more with the copper square and half round wire. Have not had any problems thus far and people really love the visual warmth and of course the cost of those items. Would I use it for a really nice, expensive cabachon. No, but for a fun item, why not!
    Bonnie

  5. avatar

    DeLane

    August 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I have long wondered just what “practice” wire is. I have used colored telephone wire to “practice” a design and get the correct length before cutting gold or silver. But no other wire works the way gold or silver does, so what is the point of practicing with a wire that is not going to give you the same working feel that the real stuff does. It may be cheaper, but it is not worth it to me in the long run to use something less than what I would use and sell.

  6. avatar

    V

    August 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Copper is nice for practice… and as an added bonus, it has recently become a fashion trend. So, a nicer price, warm distinctive color, and in the fashion spotlight all at once!

  7. avatar

    Hyla Bucy

    August 30, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Greetings.. This helped me a lot. I also new to wiring. I made a pair of earrings for a friend. She wanted short earrings and in a cluster. I couldn’t get out at the time and used regular copper wire (stripped it and used it to wrap). Is this wire ok to use. Will it go bad. Because I can get plenty of it.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      August 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm

      Hyla, yes you can safely use copper wire from electrical sources.

  8. avatar

    V

    August 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    If “practice wire” doesn’t say what it’s made of, then it could be made from anything. All it means is that you can get a lot of it for cheap. I would not want to sell something I could not vouch for.

  9. avatar

    Judith B.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Casey (or anybody):
    What kind of polymer dip? Do you have a brand name to share? Do you dilute it? Does it chip and scratch like coated costume jewelry used to?
    I have tried Renaissance Wax on copper wire. The wire still darkens somewhat with time, but looks better than without it.
    I tried copper chain bracelets, but without the wax, and the one I wore everyday for two weeks looked terrible. You can dip copper in vinegar or lemon juice to brighten it, but it still needs repolishing. I can repolish in a tumbler, but most customers won’t have a tumbler. I tried Flitz on my discolored copper bracelet and that made it worse.
    I’d like to try your method, as I love the look of new copper. I don’t want to make jewelry that will turn so ugly that it will turn up in a yard sale a month later.

  10. avatar

    Lacyblu

    August 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Colored craft wire works well for “practice”…Since most of the vibrant colors chip if twisted or worked too much, it lets you gets sued to making turns and twist carefully, avoiding nicks when you start suing silver or gold wire…I have used Argentuim, gold filled, and copper wire, most usually in a 20 gauge…I use dead soft or half hard for custom pieces, in the copper, I use just 20 gauge…I made a few pendants using both gold filled and copper, and then Artentuim and copper…The wire wrapping s were unique and different, they sold right away…I like the gold filled and copper together, it have a rich quality and makes the loops and twists beautiful…Copper has become a new fashion in jewelry, along with the “steam Punk” jewelry, which incorporates little gears and springs…When using colored “practice” wire, be careful not to over work the wire or the paint will chip off…It’s very frustrating at the end of a piece to chip the paint…

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