Daily Wire Tip May 9: Organizing Jewelry Wire

By on May 9, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
May 9, 2011

Question:

After ten years in our current home, we are moving to a larger home where I am so fortunate to have my very own jewelry studio. I won’t have to share that space with anyone, so I want to take this opportunity to set things up perfectly.

So my question is, what’s the best way to store wire? Currently I use drawers, which works well for spools, but not so well for bags of larger gauge wires. I want them stored safely (unscratched), and organized, so I can find what I need quickly and easily accessible. Any suggestions? Thanks!

-Jackie in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Answer:

Hi Jackie, first – congratulations on your new home, especially your new studio space!

It sounds like you already have most of your wire issue taken care of. Keeping spools in a drawer, maybe organized by metal type and shape, is good. Here’s where I go from there.

Organizing and Labeling

For any temper other than soft, I personally prefer coiled wire – that is, wire that is in a wide coil and stored in a plastic bag, often with twist-ties holding the coil together – rather than wire on a spool. I prefer coiled wire because there is no challenge when removing the desired amount and dealing with the “spring” that wants to become a giant slinky. To store coiled wire, most of the WS Faculty members and I place the original bag, or envelope, containing the wire into a gallon-size freezer zip-loc bag. (We use the additional bag so we can just keep adding smaller bags to it.) We like the freezer style because there is a space to write the gauge, temper, shape, and any other information we wish to remember, and it is made of a more durable, heavier plastic. If a bag does not have a label area, simply add your own stick-on label and abbreviate something you will remember, such as 18g R S for 18 gauge round soft wire. For metal type, you can use Ag or SS for sterling silver, Au or GF for gold-filled, C or Cu for copper, Arg for ArgentiumĀ®, etc.

These bags can then be arranged in a box, file cabinet (fixed or portable), expandable folder, or drawer (using a rack and hanging file folders) in the way you want them to be. A suggestion would be to organize your wire by color and shape. Personally, I organize my wire by metal and then shape and temper. I keep each metal in a different, portable box, separated by home-made poster board tabbed pages. The wires I use most often are in front (for me, those are square and half round) and in each section, the wire bags are placed from smallest gauge to largest. So my labels, in order, are: Square Half-Hard, Half-Round, Square Soft, Round (all tempers), Special (meaning larger gauges like 14 and 12, mixed shapes) and Pattern. I separate some categories with a totally different one, so I don’t mistakenly grab soft square when I wanted half-hard square.

Once you have a system down, wire organization will definitely be your friend!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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16 Comments

  1. avatar

    margaret

    May 9, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Jackie,
    Thanks for asking the question…I am cleaning my workroom and have all these bags of wire…thanks to Dale’s answer I will get a file folder box and organize the mess…

  2. avatar

    Ginni Tutterow

    May 9, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I use hanging files pretty much like Dale describes above, but instead of all baggies, I use “file jackets” … closed-end manilla folders…labeled by size, temmper, type & shape. The current coil I’m working from is loose in the jacket, and additional coils are in baggies. That way I always cut wire from the same coil. If the wire is all in baggies, I tend to take wire from whatever baggie comes to hand first, and I no longer know how much wire of a given kind is really left. Is that still a 1 oz coil, or have I taken wire from it? It’s all in a credenza drawer at the side of my work space.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      May 9, 2011 at 10:20 am

      I like your ‘wire system’ Ginni, and I need to add that one of the reasons I keep my wire in plastic is to help prevent tarnish.

  3. avatar

    Dottie

    May 9, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I put each of my wires in a separate plastic bag, mark them with a Magic Marker, and then place them in an expandable folder which has dividers. I sort them by gauge and by type (SS in front, GF in back). It is portable, easy to find the wire, and I have all my wire in one place.

  4. avatar

    Betsy

    May 9, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Great ideas! Thanks.

  5. avatar

    Jayne

    May 9, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Here’s how I organize my metal inventory. I have a box with each type of metal (silver, brass, copper, etc). Then I use the large 8 1/2 X 11 envelopes. Each one labeled with the type of metal on the top of the envelope, then I have a sheet of paper on the front of the envelope with the price, where I ordered it from, and the date I ordered it. (sometimes it helps to know how often I order it, this helps when I order new, for instance if I hadn’t ordered the item for 2 years I would order a smaller amount than if I had just ordered it 3 months ago) I actually keep the list of this info on the envelope, that way I can see how the price of the metal has changed which helps with pricing of jewelry. On the upper left hand corner, I put a number on the envelope (1 through ?) then I put a index sheet in the front of the box so that if I am looking for 18 ga square I know it is envelope #20. Then when I want to use a metal, I remove the entire envelope, take it to where I am working, use what I need and then I can easily refile the envelope where it belongs. This works very well, I have used this system for over 20 years.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      May 9, 2011 at 10:22 am

      Wow Jayne – you are the ‘wire organization Queen’! Thanks for sharing how efficiently you store your wire.

  6. avatar

    Wendy L.M. Brayboy

    May 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks for all the cool ideas. I especially love the use of index cards That Jayne mentioned. Thanks too Dale, for the information on how plastic can be useful in tarnish prevention.

  7. avatar

    Char

    May 10, 2011 at 1:34 am

    I too use hanging file folders to store wire by type (SS, fine S., arg., GF, brass,alum, etc.), by gauge,and temper each coil in a labeled freezer weight plastic bag for protection from tarnishing. I keep original tags which often has source, etc. & I write cost per foot to help with pricing my jewelry. I keep any “artistic” colored wire in a clear plastic box with spools laid on their side so I can see the color at a glance. Metal plate and heavier wire (6,8,10) is kept separately since for me, it is for special projects.

  8. avatar

    Mint Schlief

    May 10, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Great ideas! As I have many different sizes and shapes of sterling, Argentium and gold filled wire, I have found the easiest for me is to have 2 plastic file boxes approximately 12″ X 16″. One is for sterling silver and Argentium and the other for Gold filled. (When i start working in 14K it will be added to the gold filled box like the Argentium is in the silver box. There are hanging file folders for each size, shape and temper of wire. The Labels are arranged in 3 rows across the width of the box. In the far left column are all SQUARE wire sizes, HALF ROUND sizes in the middle column and ROUND sizes in the far right column. The finest guages are in the front and in ascending order going toward the back of the box. All Half hard tempers are in the front as these are the most frequently used tempers. There is a whole new section which is set up as above for dead soft wire. These file labels are either in a different colored label holder or have the temper highlighted on each tab. This makes it less likely to grab the wrong temper, but still have the convenience of separation. My argentium is in the back of the silver box,. and rose gold filled is labeled with a red pen in the back of the gold box. Patterned wire is in the very back of each box Because the columns are well spaced apart it is really easy to find the shape, etc. quickly and to return the labeled bags or envelopes to the correct spot without hunting. When it is time to reorder it is so easy to simply flip through the tabs by column and write your order keeping shapes together and guages in ascending order. After receiving my last order I also calculated the number of feet per ounce and labeled each bag with the cost per foot for that particular wire. The conversion chart from the Wire Sculpture site helped enormously for the per foot calculations. Hope this is helpful.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      May 10, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Mint – I like the idea of using a red marker for rose gold-filled!

  9. avatar

    Jil

    May 10, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    What a GREAT idea on organizing beads. I have collected a bunch of “altoid type” tins knowing I’d one day find a use for them. PERFECT the tiny beads and findings!!!

  10. avatar

    Maria E. Houser

    May 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I place the smaller bags of wire in a large gallon zip-lock bag just like you but I have a closet in my room and i secure the bag on a skirt hanger then hang all my wire in the closet. I just wanted to share this with you.

  11. avatar

    Adrien

    May 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    There should be a formula given to everyone contemplating making jewellery: 1 hour of creating jewellery requires 2 hours of organizing supplies, maintaining inventory, pricing and ordering (or something like that) !!!
    I too, keep my wire in resealable bags and place them in hanging folders in an upright file drawer. I learned the hard way that coils are much more convenient than spools, both for storage and for dispensing.
    I place a label on each hanging file folder and an identical label on the corresponding bag. I file my wire alphabetically first by metal, then shape, then temper and lastly gauge. I find it very useful to colour code my labels. I use a different colour for each metal, a different colour for each shape and finally a different colour for each temper. I record the gauge in the same colour as the metal.
    It was a bit of work to set it up at first, but once finished, I can now keep my wire organized with a minimum of time and error. It also reduced my propensity to inadvertently use the incorrect temper or gauge or misfile it because the colours act as checks. You can see right away if the labels don’t match.
    It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t and it works for me.

    PS. Reassuring to read that many other share the same challenge.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      May 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm

      Hey Adrien – if it works for you, it works! (Sounds ‘pretty’ too, with all of your color coding.)

  12. avatar

    Dee

    November 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I redid my jewelry room and purchased an old DVD rack and clear DVD containers. I lay the wire coils around the center spindle of the DVD case and then make a label that slips into the outside sleeve. I also added a label on the spine. The old fashion CD jewel cases also work but the DVD cases give you a little more room for larger coils.

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